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When reading written judgments, it can be easy to forget that the legal struggle reflects a more personal struggle for many litigants.
In Reid v. Industrial Development Agency (Ireland), the IDA had sought to exercise its statutory power to purchase lands compulsorily ‘to provide or facilitate the provision of sites or premises for the establishment, development or maintenance of an industrial undertaking’ (section 16 of the Industrial Development Act 1986). In other words, the purpose of the acquisition was not to provide for a road or national infrastructure - it was to provide land for a private development. As the court noted: ‘The lands although unzoned for industrial use are of interest to the IDA as the Intel campus is nearby.’
The lands sought by the IDA belonged to a farmer named Thomas Reid. His family had lived in the house and farmed the land for over a century, and he was reluctant to sell the property to the IDA at any price. He challenged the entitlement of the IDA to purchase the lands.
The High Court ( IEHC 433 (Hedigan J, 19 June 2013)), took careful note of the international competition that the IDA was engaged in, in seeking to attract industry to the country. It concluded that the national interest should outweigh that of the individual: ‘The need, never greater, to increase employment and generate business demands that many sacrifices be made.’
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed this decision ( IESC 82 (McKechnie J, 5 November 2015). The court noted that the IDA was engaged in ‘landbanking’, in that there was no immediate use for the lands, but that they wanted to have them available for immediate use in case a particular development should seek to develop them. As the relevant legislative provision did not provide for such landbanking, it was not necessary to consider whether the legislation infringed the Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights.
A 2018 film, The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, depicts the personal struggle behind the litigation. Directed by Feargal Ward, the film shows Mr Reid in his day-to-day life, farming his family’s historic land, and living in a house that has not been modernised. It is a slow-moving profile of a man who has chosen a particular way of life, despite the comforts that would clearly have been brought to him by the money on offer for the land. In fact, it is not clear that the farming life brings him much happiness. It is easy to think that he would probably benefit from leaving the land and choosing the different life that would be on offer.
But the property rights enshrined in the Constitution are there for a reason, and it is not for the State nor the IDA to choose what life a particular individual should live. The Constitution provides that the regulation of property rights should be in accordance with the ‘exigencies of the common good’, suggesting that there there should be an urgent need for any such interference, not the prioritising of one private use over another.
First Published in Law Ireland in February 2019