By Gordon Deegan

The state is to challenge a district court ‘tractor’ ruling that could pave the way for cheaper fuel for owners of vehicles engaged in forestry work on the roads.

At Ennis District Court, Judge Patrick Durcan threw out a state prosecution against the owner of a low loader truck with a wood pulper / chipper on top.

The owner of the truck, Ballynoe Agri Services Ltd, was charged with using marked mineral oil which is chargeable at a lower rate of excise duty and VAT.

However, Judge Durcan has dismissed the prosecution after finding that the truck is in law an agricultural tractor and can avail of the lower rate of excise duty and VAT.

In his judgement, Judge Durcan stated: “I am satisfied that ‘forestry’ in its current meaning of that term, is a form of cultivation of the land, in an organised, disciplined, regulated and legislatively controlled manner.”

He added: “In the ongoing debate in relation to the reform of CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] and in achieving a balanced form of agricultural production, forestry plays a vital role in achieving that balance and is an essential ingredient in determining how the overall cultivation of the land is controlled by government.”

Judge Durcan stated that in Ireland, in dealing with forestry issues, one deals with the Department of Agriculture.

He stated: “This is practical de facto recognition that forestry comes properly under the ambit of agriculture – the cultivation of the land.”

The judge concluded that forestry is a form of agriculture and not a totally separate form of social or economic activity.

Judge Durcan stated that it follows that the ‘contraption’ at the centre of the case “is indeed an agricultural tractor”.

State Solicitor for Clare, Aisling Casey, told Judge Durcan in court that the decision raises an important legal issue which the state believes should be tested in the superior courts “as it would have a significant impact on this type of prosecution going forward”.

Solicitor for the company in the case, Daragh Hassett, stated after court that his client runs a small but successful family business with a loyal customer base.

He stated: “Their livelihoods rest on the efficient use of this machine which has resulted in a criminal prosecution by the state.”

He added: “By its very nature, a mobile wood chipper has to travel on public roads to customer sites… The cultivation of forestry land, the court agrees, is agriculture, and a well reasoned, sensible decision was arrived at, ultimately awarding the respondents their costs.”

He stated: “The decision gives the mobile wood chipper exempted status, entitling it to use marked mineral oil which is intended for use by agricultural machinery.”

Hassett stated that the decision by the state to appeal the decision “is disappointing but not unexpected”.