IFA's blunt warning to vulture funds over loans

Association warns of tough line to defend farmers trying to pay off loans

Tipperary Star reporter

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IFA's blunt warning to vulture funds over loans

IFA president Joe Healy

The IFA has issued a blunt warning to vulture funds that they are not to be taken lightly whe it comes to dealing with farmers.

The association has revealed that it plans to deal with the funds on the basis of “one for all, and all for one”.

Its president Joe Healy said that he wanted to send a strong and clear message that anybody who tried to take on farmers who were genuinely attempting to resolve their credit difficulties was taking on the IFA.

He was speaking at the launch of the IFA guiding principles on dealing with vulture funds.

““Vulture funds want to exit the Irish market in a very short timeframe of three years or less. This is unacceptable, as it leaves absolutely no scope for the borrower to propose a medium or longer term solution,” he said.

He accused them of taking a a short-term and ruthless approach to farmers whose loans they had acquired.

“We cannot have a situation where farmers could be forced to sell their land when restructuring arrangements would allow them to pay off their loans over time.” he said.

The IFA president set out five key principles on which negotiations must be carried out, where the farmer is willing to engage in a reasonable way to reach a solution.

“There is a fear of the unknown among the farming community. I want to reassure farmers with credit difficulties that IFA will provide strong support to help them to reach a sustainable solution,” he said.

The association's principles are that there will be no forced sale of farming assets, which undermines the viability of the family farm, and where the farmer has meaningfully engaged to find a workable solution; full and final agreement must be reached between the borrower and loan owner prior to the disposal of any assets; assets must be sold for their full market value and with proper advertising; no forced collection of debt that is not yet due, and Where delays in arriving at a decision are due to the loan owner’s actions, there can be no interest or penalty accumulated on the outstanding debt in that time period.

Meanwhile, the IFA Farm Business Committee is also strengthening the IFA’s support network to assist individual farmers in trying to resolve credit cases.

IFA Farm Business chairman Martin Stapleton said that this will consist of a team of farmers who had experience in dealing with credit cases.

“The number of cases involving credit difficulty that will come to a head in the next year or two is set to increase. We are encouraging farmers to seek assistance and to engage as early as possible. To loan owners, we are very clearly saying that IFA is standing strongly behind and directly supporting farmers to find a sustainable solution that protects the family farm,” said Mr Stapleton.

IFA has written to the Minister for Finance outlining its concerns on the damaging impact on, and threat to, family farms resulting from the purchase of distressed farm loans by vulture funds in recent years.

IFA has proposed that the funds that have purchased loans must be regulated. The Financial Regulator can only have proper oversight if they have information on the loan owners, the number of loans they own and the profile of borrowers. IFA also believes that farmer and other borrowers should be allowed to engage directly with the loan owners, and not operate through third party agencies only.

IFA has identified that there must be some means whereby information on the actions of these funds can be made publicly available, through Oireachtas scrutiny.

Overall, IFA has sought a stronger, and public, Government commitment to rebalancing the power between borrowers and loan owners.

The IFA Credit Phone Helpline is: 1890-924853