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Johnny Healy Rae 'Kerry farmers work for €2 to €3 an hour with no pension scheme or social welfare'

I own a small farm at the bottom of Mangerton Mountain. It’s far from the land in the Curragh but I wouldn’t give it away for all the gold in China, writes Johnny Healy Rae.

I HAVE BEEN a member of Kerry County Council since 2011. It is an unusual place to be at the best of times, but last Tuesday something changed for the worse with the introduction of levies on new farm buildings.

In my council constituency, which is the biggest in Ireland and covers two and a half peninsulas, Iveragh, Dingle and Beara, there is no doubt that these places and their people are some of the finest in the world. They depend mainly on farming, fishing and tourism.

I want society to understand the difficulties that the people I represent are facing.

Small and barely viable farms

In Kerry the majority of farm holdings would be small and barely viable. Most farm families would have an off-farm income to keep themselves going, as they would not be able to maintain a household otherwise.

I believed, or at least I did until these development levies, that our local authority and its elected officials understood the difficulties farm families face, farming marginal land in between mountains.

The issue at hand here is development levies which are a source of income for local authorities and are, of course, extremely important to maintain services. They are liable to be paid on all new houses, industrial and commercial buildings, wind farms and telecommunications masts. There’s a list as long as my arm, but for the first time levies are required to be paid on new farm buildings.

These farm buildings are required to meet European environmental policy standards and there are grants available to help farm families to bring their buildings up to standard.

Farmers have just come through difficult years

It seems, in my view, to be completely ridiculous that a local authority would now want a cut of that grant for farm buildings that should be exempt from this, and had always been exempt before.

Farmers have managed to come through a few difficult years, the same as everyone else, and they pay income tax, road tax and property tax. They also pay commercial water charges and have been doing so for about 25 years, that is if they were lucky enough to be near a mains water supply.

If you are not one of the lucky ones you would have to drill your own well, pay for it and be delighted if the water is of an adequate standard.

These levies are not the single worst thing to ever happen farm families and they have survived way worse but once they are now introduced, these levies are there forever more.

Other counties

In Cork there are no levies. Limerick has no levies. Clare has an exemption up to 800 square meters. Kerry County Council’s exemption is 250 square meters; this is approximately the size of a 4 bay shed with pins.

Piggeries, for instance, now have to provide extra room for each pig under new EU laws. This means they will have to rebuild all their sheds where they will be liable for these levies and in turn put jobs in rural places in jeopardy.

I thought we understood that most farm families were farming for the love of the land and the way of life. But when you hear some councillors say that myself and my sister Maura are only looking out for big farmers, they obviously have forgotten that Kerry is made up of small holdings, most of which was inherited from their parents and all Kerry farmers want to do is to make a living and hand the farm onto the next generation.

That is of course if they are willing to work for €2 to €3 an hour with no pension scheme or social welfare, along with spending two years or more in agricultural college to qualify for anything. They must also be willing to have another job on top of the farm if they want to survive where they were born and reared.

I wouldn’t give it away for all the gold in China

I own a small farm at the bottom of Mangerton Mountain on a road called the Bog Road, where the people before me sold turf for to make an extra income off the land.

It’s far from the land in the Curragh but I wouldn’t give it away for all the gold in China. It was left to me by my grandfather and I hope to leave it to someone belonging to me some day.

This is how all farmers feel about their land, in spite of every regulations, they continue to look after their farms. They’re custodians of it and wouldn’t harm it in anyway. An Taisce and others should remember that the next time they criticise farmers or put an unfair levy on them.

Farmers should be encouraged to stay at this work and not be slapped with levies on a shed that might never make a return.

Johnny Healy Rae is an Independent Councillor for South and West Kerry.

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