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Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tom Barry: Information on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom Barry] Off-farm income allows for a balance in that it makes a bigger contribution in poor years for farming. I know what I am speaking about because I created a business in this exact manner, and it is something I feel very strongly about. We need joined up thinking, however, because some county councils are not reflecting this approach in their policies. We may need to change the county development plans, especially given that county councils are more business-oriented, with CEOs and local enterprise offices. They need to start encouraging businesses. Currently, when a county council official arrives on a farm, there is an air of suspicion. That has to stop. We cannot allow a situation to arise in which planners order that a farm that received planning permission for agricultural activities 20 years ago be subjected to a review because the activities have changed. We cannot stifle diversification. There is a logjam at local level which has to be removed. While I welcome the policy on diversification, we need to ensure local authorities take it into account. The diversification strategy is a clever way of encouraging people to stay in the workforce, especially where spouses may have the skills required to start a business. A previous speaker suggested that this budget was not good for job creation. I will not take lessons from somebody who has never created a job. This is a good budget for job creation and it is a good time to grow a business. That kind of nonsense is irritating, especially when it is not founded on facts.

Section 18 of the Bill deals with land lease income exemptions. This is a provision I will seek to amend slightly on Committee Stage because it could be important. At present we do not have a retirement scheme for agriculture, but this provision could substitute for a retirement scheme if it were amended slightly to allow income exemptions to be provided to related parties or companies. If somebody is going to let land for a term of 15 years or longer, which is necessary in order to make it accessible to younger farmers, the section as it stands only allows an exemption if the land is leased to an unrelated party. Most of the land in this country is passed on to sons, daughters or nephews for the good reason that the owner of the land will have to live with them for the rest of his or her life and must therefore be able to trust them. Many of the issues in land succession and long-term renting arose because people were blackguarded. That tends not to happen when the land is leased to one's own. This would also allow elderly farmers to remain on the farm and be available to advise and help out. Many elderly farmers do not want to retire completely because farming is what they have done all their lives. Perhaps we could amend the parts of section 18(b)(i) and (ii) which state "is not connected to the qualifying lessor or with any of the qualifying lessors" to include the phrase "unless the lease has bona fide commercial terms and conditions." By renting the land under commercial terms and conditions, the arrangements will be up-front. The related party's money is as good as anybody else's money. We want long-term land availability to succeed so that young farmers can remain in the sector. I was fortunate to take over our farm when I was 25 years old because it allowed me to expand our activities significantly. Thankfully, we now employ a significant number of people because we had time to grow. If a farmer takes over in his or her mid-40s, his or her potential is strangled. I urge the Minister to consider this amendment favourably.

This budget has been a revelation with regard to agriculture in that it fundamentally changed Government policy for the sector. A few more tweaks will make it an outstanding budget for agriculture and for job creation. If we encourage small businesses in rural areas to employ one or two more people and get the local authorities to work with businesses and farms, as opposed to some sections working against them, we will create a fantastic environment for job creation. I am incredibly excited about the potential in this regard. Irrespective of whether they are working in the Civil Service in Dublin or are farming, people understand the importance of indigenous job creation. Our agricultural industry has not let us down to date and it will not let us down in the future.

If the issues I have raised could be addressed, I would be very grateful to the Minister. We have an opportunity to change the mindset of previous Governments which called farming a sunset industry. Their idea of crop rotation was beet, wheat and bungalows. We know what happened to the bungalows and the beet. They left us with nothing and we are rebuilding our agricultural economy from scratch. We have done a mighty fine job of it in a short time.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I thank the Minister for Finance for framing this Bill in a way that will have a positive impact on Irish households. The primary changes it introduces to income tax and universal social charge rates, which I am sure will be welcomed by all income tax payers, provide a clear indication of our progress and recovery. In a move carefully designed to assist families who are struggling to make ends meet, the Bill raises the threshold at which USC can be imposed on gross income from its current level of €10,036 to €12,012. This will alleviate the fiscal burden on hundreds of families and put an extra few bob in their disposable income.

The Bill, which is based on our budgetary policies and strategies, demonstrates to families and young people who pay income tax that we are supporting them. For families and individuals who are not currently paying income tax, it encourages new employment opportunities through the extension until the end of 2015 of relief from corporation tax on trading income and certain capital gains for new start-up companies for their first three years. Earlier this year we saw an increase of 47% in the number of Irish technology start-ups. These figures, in tandem with the Finance Bill, will encourage more qualified and experienced people to enter business in the coming year, thereby giving rise to more employment. The Dublin Web Summit taking place in the RDS this week is a clear indication of the appetite for start-ups among Irish people. It is in our psyche. We have a responsibility to nurture and facilitate this thirst and enthusiasm, and I am delighted to see it reflected in the Bill in the form of extended relief for corporation tax on trading income.

Yesterday I outlined the solution proposed by New Beginning to the mortgage crisis of non-performing loans. Despite the progress that has been made to date, families continue to face repossession and the grim prospect of losing their homes. We have an obligation to prevent this crisis from recurring. A strong deterrent to its recurrence can be seen in the relief from DIRT on savings for first-time buyers, who will be able to apply for a refund of DIRT paid on interest, earnings and savings used for deposits. The problem of increasing rents and the scarcity of rentals in Dublin and elsewhere will be also alleviated through this provision because it will be easier for first-time buyers to enter the property market. It is no secret that the availability of rental properties has plummeted across the country, particularly in Dublin. In addressing this issue, the Finance Bill makes a welcome modification to the exemption from income tax, PRSI and USC on income received in respect of rooms rented by homeowners in their principal residences. Home owners will now be exempt from the aforementioned taxes where the rent received does not exceed €12,000 per year. That is an increase of €2,000 from the current exemptions.

The Bill will repeal provisions contained in the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 on the notorious "double-Irish" loophole. This is a positive step in the Government's radical reform of Ireland's fiscal policy.

This Bill seeks to address the difficulties that Irish people have bravely endured over the last number of years. It is a welcome move in the right direction and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to support it.

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