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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 1

Impaired Farm Credit Bill 2022: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a sui generis Debt Management Protocol for the farming sector— A. to provide for the disaggregation of lands charged with repayment of farm debt into two parcels, the "Farmlands" and the "Farmhouse", B. that debt secured on the parcel designated as the farmhouse be governed by the legislation, general law, and regulatory codes of conduct pertaining to a debtor's principal place of residence, and to take account of the special position of any co-owner thereof, C. for the role and regulation of receivers as credit servicers and as agent of the debtor, D. that possession and sale of the farmlands by the secured creditor be deferred until after a moratorium affording the debtor space and time to engage in preparation of a proposal of a "Farm Debt Settlement Arrangement”, E. further provisions relevant to early discharge of farm debt, following the approach of Directive (EU) 2019/1023, F. that the said measures be modelled on the company examinership provisions in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 1990, as to a moratorium and otherwise, but also reflect the provisions in the Personal Insolvency Acts, 2012 to 2015, regarding the Court's discretion to enforce on creditors a Farm Debt Settlement Arrangement proposal which modifies the terms of the secured loan but also satisfies section 71(1)(d)(i) and section 115(A)(9)(e) and (f) of the said Acts as to fairness for each class of creditors, and allows the farmer a fresh start for a farm with ongoing viability,G. for measures to open access to cross border liquidity for second mortgages at sustainable cost, and H. for the option of returning overindebted lands to State ownership in the interests of the patrimony, food security and the climate change agenda.

This innovative Bill aims to protect the family farm from vulture funds and provide for the availability of low-interest credit to Irish family farmers who have for far too long been treated despicably by our pillar banks. The Bill is sponsored by my Rural Independent Group colleagues, some of whom are here with me. It has been carefully drafted on our behalf by the former Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmund Honohan. I really cannot thank him enough for that.

For too long the Government has facilitated vulture funds and banks to seize and sell family farms in Ireland. This Bill would create a policy platform to tip the scales back in favour of landowners and farmers, and it is all about protecting the small man or woman against predatory financial institutions. It is sad we must have this Bill but it is vital and necessary in 2022, in the middle of our decade of centenaries.

The agrifood sector and the role of farmers in the Irish economy are critical, generating gross added value equating to €14.4 billion per year. Furthermore, the sector employs one in every ten workers in this State. Farmers are under attack from all quarters. First, the Government is targeting deep cuts at a farmers' ability to earn a living with climate action reductions and an inadequate new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme. We have now seen how the one we have will not even be accepted by the bureaucrats in Europe. Second, banks and vulture funds continue to seize and sell farms all over the country, with Government policy stacked in favour of those institutions. We have observed first-hand the destruction and crippling impact these forfeitures and seizures have caused to families in rural communities. It has brought devastation. That is why we have brought forward this imaginative new Bill today.

As I have said, this Bill would not have been possible without the exceptional and invaluable voluntary contribution of the former Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmund Honohan, his staff and loyal supporters, who are in the Gallery today. He intended to be here but has been held up in traffic. Mr. Honohan's first-hand knowledge of the difficulties faced by farm families and his exceptional legal expertise have been instrumental in the publication of this Bill. On behalf of countless families that have spoken to me, my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and, I am sure, many other Teachtaí Dála, I note the fairness, the protection and the humane way in which he treated the people who arrived in the courts system before him. They are grateful to him for his stewardship, courage and dignified treatment of people. It is what we all expect from the institutions of the State.

My colleagues and I in the Rural Independent Group are very pleased to introduce this Bill today. Later today in the audiovisual room, our group will be pleased to have Mr. Honohan and his colleagues to address matters in this Bill and answer questions for any Deputies or Senators. We would like to see as many people as possible coming and getting their teeth around the issues in this Bill. If there are questions, they can be explored also. The session will be in the audiovisual room and addressed by Mr. Honohan, and all Deputies are invited to attend.

Following from today, we sincerely hope all Deputies will join us and fully support the Bill and the farm families it seeks to assist. There are many such families. We all have them in our constituencies. We have all had occasions where we have tried to help and found the tide too strong in favour of the institutions, whether they were banks, vulture funds or whatever. Much legislation has been introduced, including the hearsay legislation, that has opened the floodgates for the vulture fund carry-on.

Without substantial local agriculture in local ownership, such as family farms or otherwise, our towns will be blighted and rural Ireland will continue to decline. For too long the pillar banks have woefully and wilfully used and abused the farming sector in this country. Our Bill would pave the way for a new State-run institution to extend low-interest credit to all farm enterprises in a specialised manner. It would be a major shift in allowing access to capital for rural Ireland, boosting an entire rural economy and providing regional development in the process. This is badly needed, especially after Brexit, Covid-19 and everything else, as well as the current pressure from the price of oil. I hope the Government can see its way to accepting the Bill at this Stage and we can get cross-party support for it.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

The Bill is a Private Members' Bill and Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.
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