Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath has called for a tax to prevent wealthy landowners snapping up large tracts of land.
The independent TD called the continuous purchases in his native county and across the southeast as “unacceptable and immoral”. He told ThatsFarming.com:
“These big businesses are not farmers, they are conglomerates. They’re not much short of a vulture fund and they’re distasteful.”
The businesses he refers to are those in the equine sector, such as Coolmore Stud. He acknowledges the good they’ve brought to the region but is concerned about the effect it is having on farmers.
“I recognise their prowess, our equine industry is known across the world after all. But if we allow things to continue as they are then we won't have a family farm in our communities, and we won't have schools. Medium farmers won't have a farm or land, they’re not being given a chance,” he explained.
Taking inspiration from Michael Davitt’s Land League over a century ago, McGrath wants to see a body formed that can deal with the issue.
“I'd be looking at getting a land commission, now that's going to take some time. I thought Michael Noonan would take a look at it for the Budget but that didn’t happen in the end. I would like to see a tax kick in for 750 acres. There’s no need to have that amount of land, it’s obscene.”
Farmers are often under pressure from the larger competitors for a variety of reasons, according to the deputy. “Red tape” impedes smaller scale farmers from buying land, who then see the acres being sold to someone on “behalf of a conglomerate who comes into the bank with a cheque”.
McGrath, who was in Fianna Fáil before going solo, believes the situation has gotten to where it is thanks to the industry having “too much influence over the government”. He says this can be traced back to the days of Charlie Haughey, who had close links to the horses (to the extent that he would spend the early days of his retirement making films about the industry).
“They were bosom buddies with Fianna Fáil and now they’re bosom buddies with Fine Gael. Backbenchers in Fine Gael were bused down to Coolmore and entertained which doesn’t seem right to me,” he claimed.
“We’re commemorating 1916 but we’re in this situation. Where we're going back to the landlord days, where the peasantry wouldn't be allowed to walk the land, and there is security everywhere stopping you. It is distasteful in the extreme.”