Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 June 2017

Calls for new IFA pay probe

Former IFA general secretary Pat Smith
Former IFA general secretary Pat Smith
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Further calls for more information on IFA pay levels before 2009 were aired at the association's recent presidential debate in Meath.

The pay packages for the long-serving general secretary Michael Berkery, past presidents and staff being paid more than €50,000 per year were demanded by local farmers who said that the Con Lucey report did not go far enough.

During the scandal that rocked the organisation late last year, the IFA admitted that there was a "cost saving" when Pat Smith replaced Mr Berkery as general secretary of the IFA.

All three presidential candidates have opened the door to another probe to go further back into the IFA's accounts.

"Nothing is off-limits regarding transparency and money - and I mean nothing," said Henry Burns, who insisted that nobody left in the IFA had anything to fear by the truth coming out.

Kerry's Flor McCarthy said that "full disclosure" would be required, while Joe Healy said that he wanted "everything out in the open".

"The last thing that I want is different revelations coming out in one or two years time," he told the meeting.

The candidates promises came in the same week that the IFA revealed that it's €4.7m levy income had fallen by 12pc, or €560,000. But the candidates had mixed opinions about the alternatives for the lobby group.

Mr Healy said that IFA levies are a contentious issue and if they are to be retained the collection must be transparent.

"I'd love to say that we don't go there anymore, but...if we put it on the tags, suckler farmers won't be happy," he said. He also added that if a flat-rate increase was applied it would be unfair on the smaller farmer.

Mr McCarthy said that farmers still needed a well funded organisation, but the levy could be done away with if the IFA could become "fitter and leaner".

"Increasing the membership fee will only lose members. Small members are already contributing more because it's their numbers that gives us the strength when we are lobbying," he added.

Mr Burns argued the case for keeping the existing levy system on the basis that it was fair and proportionate, and that it fixed "a broke organisation" when it was introduced. In response to a suggestion that the levy could be put on the supply chain that profits from farming, the Laois farmer said that it had to be "farmers' money". "We have to be independent - every other method would be controversial and compromised.

No knock-out blows were landed during the Meath hustings, with each of the candidates match fit after three weeks of constant meetings and debates.

Issues such as pylons, governance in the IFA, young farmers, and farmers' public image were all raised, but it was the legacy of the revelations last year that dominated proceedings.

One of the most telling moments of the evening was when Laois's candidate gave an emotional insight into the close-knit, but sometimes fraught, relationship with his former leader, Mr Downey.

"We would've had differences. I drive hard, and Eddie drives hard.

"But there is the human side of this. Eddie Downey came to my father's funeral at Christmas, and that was really appreciated. It meant a lot to my family," said Mr Burns.

He insisted in front of Downey's home-crowd that "we would be better off if Eddie Downey was still president".

"I'm personally sorry that people [the Downey family] have had to go through the pain they have had to go through," he added.

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