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Tom Murphy
Professional Agricultural
Contractors of Ireland

A simple question?

There are times when you lose the will to live; trying to get simple information from local authorities or government departments are times when you could happily ask the good Lord to beam you up. 

We in PAC Ireland pride ourselves on dealing quickly and efficiently with the many queries our members ask. Many questions are straightforward; we have heard them before and can give immediate advice. Sometimes the question may be about a legal issue where we can save members significant time and money. Occasionally, you get a query where you know the answer but need confirmation. Such was the case recently, where the opinion held by the local authority was at odds with a government department. A member of PAC rang the office saying that when paying the motor tax on a recently purchased agricultural tractor, she was asked what the tractor would be used for. Replying, she said it would be used on farm and for off-farm, agricultural-contracting silage operations. She was then told by the official that agricultural contracting attracts the higher motor tax rate of €333. Even though she had other tractors taxed at the lower rate of €102, they would not budge. She was asked to sign a form, in the presence of a Garda, confirming the tractor would not be used for carrying out off-farm silage work. Of course, she couldn’t do this. 

Here, started six days of back and forth. First, we spoke to the local authority concerned (I will save their blushes by not naming them) and advised that they were incorrect in charging the higher rate and for demanding that the above-mentioned declaration be signed. No joy.
Next, we contacted the motor tax head office in Shannon and were directed to the Department of Transport, which is responsible for creating motor taxation policy. 

We asked if there had been any change in policy that might cause the local authority in question to issue such a demand. 'Sorry, it’s above my pay grade to answer that, someone else will call you back.' Now, it’s Friday afternoon, I phone again: 'Will you please contact the errant authority urgently and tell them they are incorrect in the action they are taking?' I said. 'No, sorry, the boss would be the one to do that,' I was told. 'Great, may I speak to them?” I ask. 'Sorry, he’s out of the office and won’t be back until Tuesday.' Meanwhile, we’re back and forth to our member explaining the situation.
The next week, we start again, and to make it simple, I inform the person, whose pay scale is not very high, that the department had previously given a reply to a parliamentary question regarding the motor taxation rates for tractors used for farming and by agricultural contractors and I quoted that reply. To my knowledge the law is still the same and I asked if they would explain to the local authority in question that they had made an error. On Thursday, the issue was resolved. After an amicable telephone conversation with a senior official in the local authority, amendments were made to the declaration form to include tractor use by agricultural contractors for farm-related work. Although the local authority has made things right, at the time of writing there has been no response from the Department of Transport.

One does have to beg the question as to why it took so long to resolve such a simple query.  Passing the buck backwards and forwards would drive you to drink! What chance does an average person have if we, as professionals, who are well versed dealing with such problems, are left tearing our hair out? 

For those who remember the television comedy Yes Minister, this scenario would have made for a brilliant script. We would all say it’s a bit far-fetched, but truth is stranger than fiction.