Farm Ireland
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Friday 22 September 2017

'Disconnect' blamed for low turnout in IFA polls

Newly Elected IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy is congratulated by his wife Helen, at the IFA Presidential Elections in the Castleknock Hotel In Dublin. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
Newly Elected IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy is congratulated by his wife Helen, at the IFA Presidential Elections in the Castleknock Hotel In Dublin. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke

Martin Ryan

The outcome of the IFA election has delivered a crystal clear message that the grassroots want change.

It is the first time in the IFA's 60-year history that its two most senior officers have been elected from outside of it's key decision- making body, the national executive.

But the organisation will need to change more than the faces at the top to arrest the worrying decline in turnout at the polling booths for the third consecutive time.

A 'disconnect' with ordinary members has been blamed as the key issue, with the spring workload also being touted as a factor. Excluding the big surges in voter turnout in the home counties of Joe Healy and Flor McCarthy, the overall poll was back 20pc on 2013. It was almost one-third down on turnout in 2009.

"I met it on the campaign and I am absolutely clear that the organisation has to connect more with the farmers on the ground," said the new deputy president, Limerick farmer, Richard Kennedy (pictured).

"It is one of the things that I am looking forward to because a lot of farmers have said to me that it is not good enough that decisions are being made upstairs."

Mr Kennedy also acknowledged that getting the vote out was a challenge because "farmers who were busy with calving, lambing, and tillage had to be very committed to come out to vote." Turnout fell in 23 out of the 29 executive regions. The biggest decline was in Meath where the turnout was down by 72pc and the largest increase was in Joe Healy's home turf of Galway where the turnout was up 66pc on 2013 election.

Mr Healy was seen as an outsider having never served on the national council, although he held several high profile positions including the farm business committee, the Macra presidency, as well as writing the Farming Independent's mart reports for over a decade.

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Some 12 executive regions recorded a drop of more than 25pc in members voting compared to 2013.

Newly elected Munster regional chairman, Cork farmer John Coughlan, warned that thousands of family farmers are facing "a cash crisis", which threatens their survival with commodity prices at less than the cost of production.

"We have to get a process in place for credit facilities for farm families to be able to survive over the coming months - not only those with high borrowings - because there is no farmer who will be able to meet repayments this year," he said.

There has also been change afoot on the committees with Cavan farmer Joe Brady elected chair of the IFA rural development committee succeding Kerry's Flor McCarthy.

John Finn from Galway was elected chairman of the liquid milk committee to succeedCork's Teddy Cashman.

Wicklow's Angus Woods takes over as chairman of the livestock committee to replace Henry Burns, and Thomas Cooney was elected the environment chair, after Cork's Harold Kingston vacated the position.

However, the role of western chairman remains vacant with the nomination in the region unresolved.

Indo Farming