Everyone can have a ‘bad day at the office’ – just ask Michael Creed

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Micheal Creed, should never have been made to look foolish regarding the implications of the stamp duty changes announced in Budget 2018.

Admittedly, this is quite a technical issue. But the fact that the minister was left flustered just two hours after the delivery of the main budget speech gives rise to a number of questions.

The first relates to the influence which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has when it comes to finalising the details of the budget.

The other is one for the conspiracy theorists among us and centres on the possibility that Creed was, actually, shafted by his cabinet colleagues.

But irrespective of what did, or did not, happen during recent cabinet meetings, Creed should not have been left exposed during the press conference held on budget day.

The Department of Agriculture is filled with guys who are paid lots of money to advise their minister on the entire gamut of technical issues that could come up at media events.

Surely someone should have spotted the stamp duty issue as one that could arise, in an agricultural context, prior to Creed facing the press.

For the record, I think Michael Creed is doing an excellent job in his current position. Calls for his resignation, in the wake of the budget day gaffe, are totally over the top.

So much for the background; the real issue now is that of seeking clarification on whether or not farm land sales are, actually, included in the new stamp duty measures.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy is already calling for meetings with both Michael Creed and finance minister Pascal Donohoe on the subject.

Speaking on last Thursday’s Morning Ireland programme, he made a very strong argument for the 2% stamp duty rate to be maintained.

Quite rightly, the IFA supremo pointed out that the relative return generated by farmers from their land base is extremely small, when compared with the profits that can be made by businesses in other sectors of the economy.

We also need to see productivity levels within agriculture ramped up significantly, if the Food Wise 2025 targets that have been set for the industry are to be met.

In practical terms, this means getting land into the hands of expanding farmers with the vision and commitment to develop a career within the industry.

In today’s farming world, developing a critical scale of operation is everything. And this won’t happen if people seeking to purchase land are crippled by a three-fold increase in the stamp duty levy.

Budget day 2018 will not go down as Michael Creed’s finest hour. But he can make up for all that by putting a strong case now for the retention of a 2% stamp duty rate, where farm land sales are concerned.

To push for this should not put the government’s revenue projections that much out-of-kilter, given that specific parcels of land in Ireland only come on to the market once in every 400 years.