An independent TD highlighted the issue of forced farm sales during a Dáil debate on Thursday, November 27th.
Deputy Carol Nolan said the vast majority in Ireland are trying to live with Covid, but “the same cannot be said of everyone”.
“Some financial organisations are only too happy to prey on misery and distress, some of which has been generated by the Covid pandemic.”
The deputy said this is particularly true in the case of vulture funds who have initiated a “vicious” cycle of ruthless activity involving the forced sale of hundreds, if not thousands, of farms across the state.
“This has involved the adoption of an extremely aggressive approach by these lenders since the end of the Covid-19-related moratorium on forced sales.”
Media, earlier this week, revealed that there has been a renewed upsurge in forced farm sales by vulture funds.
The same report also noted that personal insolvency practitioners have been sounding the alarm on this issue for years. However, she added, “nothing has been done by the Government.”
Forced farm sales
Nolan described the picture emerging across Ireland as “absolutely horrendous” and revealed she has taken calls from “very distressed” constituents.
“This matter is of profound concern to many farmers who are trying their level best to engage with lenders regarding debt management and repayment.”
“As I understand it, personal insolvency practitioners have also sounded alarms on this issue. They have stated that some farm sales are even being forced through without any prior notice being given to the farmers involved.”
“I am aware of one case where a farmer was informed by his neighbour that his farm was up for sale online. That is disgraceful. We need Government action on this issue.”
“As I understand it, several of these forced sales have been denied through the application of protective certificates under the personal insolvency legislation.”
She called for “much more” action from Government as she stressed that this is not a new issue. “We cannot allow this ruthless activity on the part of vulture funds to continue.”
In 2018, farm organisations, including the IFA and the ICMSA, warned the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, that there was an urgent need to put in place a greater degree of enforcement by the Financial Regulator in respect of the protections offered to farmers.
The 2018 IFA submission noted that “vulture funds take a short-term approach to the loans acquired and are not generally interested in working out a long-term debt resolution with the customer”.
Nolan said: “This generates real and lasting damage, as the sale of assets damages the underlying viability of family farms. This is a particular problem for farms where the value of security held is often far in excess of the debts.”
“Here we are, almost three years later, with a hard Brexit overshadowing Irish agriculture and a reformed fair deal scheme for farmers still not finalised. Yet, there is no movement on this issue.”
“Where are the protections for farmers against vulture funds? What is this Government going to do to stop this ruthless aggressive activity?” she concluded.