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Finance Bill 2014

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Deputy Tom Barry

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Snippet Contents:

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill 2014.
This is a very important budget and I would like to discuss the measures it introduced relating to agriculture. It is an extraordinary budget for the agriculture industry that is based on taxation review. While the review may have passed by some people, it was long-awaited and it is very in-depth and captured the essence of what we need to do in agriculture. This should be compared with the view of previous Governments which described agriculture as a sunset industry. We all know to where that led. I heard one Deputy saying earlier that it was unfair to give agriculture such prominence and that Fine Gael was an agricultural party. I have news for him. Somebody has to protect agriculture and there are people across this House who will protect it because it is vital to protect this indigenous industry. I suggest that before shouting for Dáil reform, these commentators should inform themselves before they criticise.
There are a few elements of this Finance Bill that need to be tweaked, the first of which is the definition of an active farmer. We need to be flexible in this regard because the definition of an active farmer can be broad. Essentially, it must reflect practicalities. If a person is making all the decisions on a farm and all the moneys are moving from his or her account to pay suppliers, such persons need to be defined as active farmers even if they are unable to do all the tasks themselves or may need to employ contractors. One cannot just say that a person must spend 50% of his or her time farming because some people are very good organisers. I am an active farmer and I would be very disappointed if somebody suggested that I was not. It reminds me of the clause that used to be in the old retirement scheme which stated that once an elderly farmer retired, he or she could no longer farm, which was nonsense. It is just a matter of tweaking the definition.
The other issue I wish to raise relates to income averaging. I am delighted that the Minister increased the period from three to five years for income averaging. This makes sense at a time of market fluctuations. The price of grain has collapsed this year while the price of beef is down but we know these prices will change again. We need flexibility in our taxation regime and this is exactly what this change does.
The Minister introduced a revolutionary measure in the budget. He has allowed the allowance for off-farm income to be included in income averaging. This is important because it shows that our policy with regards to agriculture is to encourage diversification. I cannot over emphasise the importance of this; it is exactly what we need to do. Businesses will crop up because of the shared resources of people in agriculture. In the legal framework proposal for CAP before it started, there was a suggestion of a grant for people who would diversify on farms. We may not attract large businesses into rural areas but we will increase the number of small businesses and encourage them to employ more people.