Thursday 29 September 2016

IFA candidates clash over no-confidence motion

Published 02/03/2016 | 02:30

Pat Smith. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Pat Smith. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Two of the candidates for the IFA presidency have clashed over the circumstances surrounding the no confidence motion against the association's former general secretary Pat Smith last January.

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As the hustings debates heated up in recent days, there were shouts for retractions from farmers at the candidates' debate in Carlow after Kerry's Flor McCarthy said the IFA's livestock chair and presidential candidate Henry Burns had supported the general secretary when it came to the crunch vote on Mr Smith's position.

"We've had massive confusion in the whole livestock industry. There was a motion on the floor of council in January 2015 - the livestock committee on that date supported the general secretary. I abstained in that vote as I had major issues with the way the general secretary dealt with the livestock issues," said Mr McCarthy.

"We had the livestock chairman supporting the general secretary that day," he claimed.

Laois man Mr Burns took to his feet to refute Mr McCarthy's claim. "The motion came from my county - (so) that is a complete inaccuracy," said Mr Burns, amid raised voices and calls to Mr McCarthy to "withdraw" it.

Mr Burns said the Laois motion was linked to the beef issue that had seen farmers reluctantly drawback from picketing factory gates over low prices.

"The motion was changed on the day into a motion of no confidence on the general secretary," Mr Burns said. He added he had abstained from the vote on the new motion.

"I did not speak in favour of the general secretary," he said.

He then claimed that the first time he tried to "get the beef protest through at the council" Mr McCarthy had failed to support the protest.

Mr McCarthy, the current IFA rural development chair, accepted that Mr Burns "abstained on the motion" (on no-confidence in Pat Smith) but claimed he had spoken in favour of Mr Smith.

Amid strong support from the floor in his neighbouring county, Mr Burns said the record would not show that.

The third candidate, Galway's Joe Healy said he had never allowed himself to be "overpowered by people in my own organisation when right" was on his side.

"This organisation requires a president who can think on their feet, negotiate, be clear and concise and above all retain composure at all times, even when the going gets tough," he said.

Beef grid

Another heated issue was cattle prices and the controversial beef grid.

Mr Healy said he was unhappy with the weight restrictions coming in as "good continental animals were only coming into their own at 450kg".

He stressed 99pc of beef farmers were unhappy with the grid, the payment gap with Britain, and the beef forum.

Mr Burns said the grid was built around a "science based" approach.

"Renegotiation of the grid is a misnomer, there is no negotiation of the science."

He said he has been "crystal clear" that the weights issue does disadvantage the better cattle and they were arguing against it "every day".

He added that the agreement in the forum on not penalising the heavier cattle was not "time limited".

Access to low cost finance was also a key topic with all three candidates highlighting the importance of lower interest rates.

Mr Healy said the banking system currently has its "claws closed" on finance while Mr Burns said Irish farmers can't continue to operate with "hands tied behind our backs".

Replying to a question directed at him, Mr Healy said he had wanted "active working farmers" to be supported amid the changes in CAP that led to a flattening of payments.

"I don't take this as an East/West thing at all," he said, highlighting that some small intensive farmers had lost out in CAP. "Any supports have to be towards the active farmer," he said.

Mr McCarthy said no one was happy with the compromised deal struck.

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