Monday 26 September 2016

Eddie Downey: Negotiator with long-standing IFA pedigree

Published 24/11/2015 | 02:30

IFA President Eddie Downey
IFA President Eddie Downey

He was only the second IFA president ever to hail from Co Meath, and yet Eddie Downey has become the second Meathman to abdicate the farming throne in a cloud of controversy.

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While his predecessor Tom Clinton was a firebrand who ended up resigning after becoming embroiled in a milk quota scandal, Mr Downey was a much more conciliatory personality, believing strongly in the power of negotiation over thumping desks and protesting.

So the sequence of events that led to last night's 'stepping back', as the experienced spin machine that is the IFA delicately put it, will rankle with the articulate 54-year-old.

While the tillage, beef and poultry farmer from near Slane has devoted a large part of the past 25 years of his life to various voluntary roles within Ireland's largest farm organisation, he wasn't always seen as a future leader of the 80,000-member lobby group.

It was his stint chairing the farm business committee that really propelled him into the consciousness of the farming community, through a series of well crafted proposals that secured a slew of tax breaks for farmers looking to address age-old issues of farm fragmentation and transfer to the next generation.

Ironically, it was the IFA's chief economist, Con Lucey, who was the man supplying the well-aimed bullets for the up-and-coming farm leader.

Ironic because it would be Mr Lucey's principled stand on the pay and remuneration of the IFA top brass that was the genesis of the mess that finally brought about Mr Downey's announcement last night that he was stepping aside as president.

While perceived by some farmers as being too soft on the beef processors during a heated protest last year, Mr Downey was probably more guilty of being too compliant with the advice that he was getting from inside IFA HQ in Bluebell than anything else.

His IFA pedigree was never in doubt, having held his father's hand during those first farming protests back in the 1960s when he was just a boy.

He will only be sorry that, midway through his four-year term as president, he now has to step back from the organisation to which he had given so much.

Irish Independent

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