Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an mBille seo agus ar na fadhbanna a bhaineann leis a chur in iúl. Whether this Bill turns out to be significant in the good or bad sense is one thing but it is clear that the powers it will confer on the LDA are enormous: the regulation of relevant public land to develop and regenerate the delivery of housing and to develop and manage housing on that and other land; to enable the agency to provide services to local authorities in order to assist in the performance of their functions relating to housing; to provide for the acquisition by the agency of relevant public land, including by means of granting it first refusal on a proposed sale; and to provide for the compulsory purchase of the land by the agency. Each of these provisions on its own could easily absorb an entire day's debate in this Chamber. The constitutional issues with respect to the compulsory purchase order, CPO, alone will raise significant concerns, especially in rural Ireland. I raised these concerns last April when the previous Government's proposal on CPOs for agricultural land became clear. I said at that time that if it were implemented, it would certainly undermine and endanger any efforts to maintain financial viability through farm expansion, and I also called it a land grab. These concerns were amplified by reports that the CPO proposal would seek to implement key recommendation from the Kenny report of 1973, which states, "It should be possible for local authorities or government agencies to 'CPO' farmland for house building, by paying the landowner agricultural value plus a 25% 'top-up'." However, it is disingenuous to make the claim that farmland is property like any other and that it must be subjected to the restriction of constitutional property rights that are currently allowed in law. This is to ignore totally the plain reality that farms and farmland are, in the vast majority of cases, also homes, which enjoy additional constitutional protections. The Minister may recall the suggestion in this regard by the Master of the High Court, Mr. Justice Edmund Honohan, in 2016. He recommended that the State use of CPOs to buy back residential properties that were sold to vulture funds. At the time, Mr. Justice Honohan pointed out that legislation could be introduced so the properties could be purchased for the same price for which they were sold. I do not recall any legislative rush to limit the rights of vulture funds equivalent to that which now pertains to farmland. The rights — indeed, the birth rights — that farmers enjoy to maintain control of their land must not become collateral damage in the race towards this Government's creation of a new land agency.
I will not be supporting the Bill because I have serious concerns. Local authorities should be given many more powers and funds because they are doing great work.
There is also the issue of one-off rural housing. What powers will the LDA have with respect to this matter? Rural housing is a major issue. The Government and its predecessor talked about depopulation in rural communities. Is it any wonder that there is depopulation when people cannot build houses on their own land? This must be addressed by the Government. Rural Ireland is suffering ongoing discrimination and it is being impacted negatively. People should have the absolute right to build a house on their own land and remain within their own community and parish. I hope the Government will have the goodwill to try to resolve this ongoing matter, which is causing great distress among rural families.
As far back as June 2019, I was calling on the then Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to provide an immediate timeline for the publication of the new rural planning guidelines. We are aware that a working group was established to review and, where necessary, recommend changes to the 2005 planning guidelines on sustainable rural housing. I hope these guidelines will be published and that they will be fair to rural families who are being discriminated against in terms of one-off housing.