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'Local Hero': A new documentary revisits a Kildare farmer's battle with the state

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is showing at selected cinemas now.

Thomas Reid
Thomas Reid
Image: FSE FILMS

DRIVING PAST THOMAS Reid’s Blakestown home one afternoon, documentary filmmaker Feargal Ward noticed handwritten protest signs perched on the farmer’s garden wall. 

“I’d seen them for months. I knew he was beside the Intel factory, that it had to do with that,” says Ward. “So I had to stop one day.”

Ward started speaking with Reid by the roadside. Months later, he was invited onto the farmer’s 18th century homestead and its 72 acres of surrounding land which had become the subject of a high-profile court battle.

By that stage, says Ward, Thomas Reid had already lost his High Court case to prevent Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) from forcing him to sell up and leave his home.

He was in a pretty low place. He had an eviction standing over him.

As a trust built up between the pair, Ward asked Reid could he make a film.

His new documentary – The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid – follows the farmer as he successfully fends off the State in its attempt to force him off his ancestral home. 

‘Lonely Battle’

Once he’d turned down US corporation Intel’s initial offer in 2011 to purchase his land – located beside its Leixlip facility – Reid’s battle began.

Six months later, the IDA stepped in and tried to use a compulsory purchase order – its first since 1988 – to purchase his land.

For director Ward, here were David and Goliath. 

“I felt that people should know about this,” says Ward who, along with Tadgh O’ Sullivan set about filming a psychological portrait of a man who, in the state’s eyes at least, came second to the national interest.

Following his High Court defeat, Reid immediately appealed his case to the Supreme Court. 

It later transpired that the IDA spent almost €1.4 million in its attempt to try to force Reid off his land, although it did not set out who the land would be used by. 

At the time of Reid’s legal battle, local politicians argued that thousands of possible new construction jobs could have been created, with up to 800 future jobs in Intel.

Yet Thomas Reid had lived in that house his entire life, says director Ward. He was holding firm.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid takes place over several months as Ward brings each legal proceeding into focus.

‘Victory’

In November 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Reid’s appeal. The farmer had won in what he described as “a good day for Ireland”. 

Justice Liam McKechnie said at the time that the only reasonable conclusion from the evidence presented by the IDA was that it wanted Mr Reid’s lands “not because such lands are presently required by the IDA but rather that such are for future use”.

For director Ward, Reid’s case shows how quick the state can move, through the CPO process, to protect private interests.

Remnants of Reid’s battle are strewn around his 18th century home to this day, he says.

It took such a toll on him. His house is just full of every document from every court sitting, every transcript.

Earlier this year, the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 was introduced in the Dáil, in direct response to Reid’s case. 

Aimed at giving greater legal certainty to the CPO process, director Ward worries that the State “might break it out and come after him again”.

Most of the 85-minute documentary takes place on Reid’s farm, says Ward.

Based around reconstructions of the court proceedings, the film follows Reid in his daily farming life. 

Above all else, Reid – “a local hero” to Ward – values “history and ancestry and doing an honest day’s work.

Here is a man who lives alone, almost in a time forgotten, almost from another century. Beside one of the most modern high-tech factories in the world. He’s a man who literally has no price.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is now showing at selected cinemas.

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