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Saturday 3 December 2016

IFA could face legal action on levy system

And marts are threatening to withdraw from collection role

Darrgh McCullough and Martin Ryan

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Eamon O Cuiv
Eamon O Cuiv

The Irish Farmers' Association's automatic deduction of levies from farmers could leave them open to a legal challenge.

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As a growing number of members cancel their payments through marts, meat plants and dairy processors, calls have increased for a review of all funding to the IFA.

"The whole structure of the levy is a very questionable legal basis," said Fianna Fail's agriculture spokesman, Éamon Ó Cuív.

"I don't know of any other voluntary charge that is levied in such a way that it is taken before you agree to it.

"The fact that it is collected across the board, whether you are a member or not, makes it even more dubious.

"In addition, I think it weakens the IFA to be dependent on the same people for collecting their income that they are charged with challenging on behalf of farmers," he said.

"If it is ever successfully challenged in court it could create a massive liability for the organisation."

New questions over how the levies are administered have emerged, including how much is paid to levy collectors such as the meat factories in administrative fees, and a breakdown of what farmers are paying the money.

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Marts

However, the IFA refused requests from the Farming Independent this week to reveal more information on their €4.7m levy income. It did confirm it receives scant information from factories or processors on who is paying the levies or the number of animals or quantity of milk it is for.

It is understood that the management boards of some marts are considering completely withdrawing from collection of the levy.

Limerick IFA county executive has been called upon to endorse a motion that all IFA levies be reduced by 50pc as a gesture to members, with the issue expected to come up for discussion at the next meeting.

Eddie Scanlan, the former Limerick county chair, said all options must be reviewed for funding.

"Farmers have been very suspicious of the IFA being too dependent on the factories to collect money for them - it is not a healthy situation when the farmers are unhappy with the prices being paid for cattle," he said.

Former member of the IFA national livestock committee, Donal O'Brien, said questions must be asked on whether the IFA needs the commodity levies or if membership fees and business interests would be enough to run it.

The levies were introduced in the 1970s to help fund a permanent office in Brussels, which cost the IFA €681,000 last year.

In addition to the €4.69m paid to the IFA, farmer levies contributed €332,000 to Macra. Around €290,000 went to the ICMSA from milk collections and meat factories, with the majority signing to have levies deducted. The ICSA is not in receipt of levies.

One mart in the west has reported more than 200 farmers withdrawing from payment of the levy, while others describe queues of farmers lining up to 'sign out', while in the south Cork Marts group says that the fall out is less than expected.

Seamus O'Keeffe also manages Kanturk mart said that in excess of 60pc of the farmers have cancelled payment "through personal calls, phone calls, and some very angry letters".

PJ Buckley, chief executive, GVM Mart Group, the country's second largest livestock mart group, confirmed that farmers had withdrawn from levy payment, but he declined to disclose exact numbers.

It is understood the IFA have received a significant number of submissions from members and staff into the report on senior level pay and governance by former chief economist Con Lucey which is due to be delivered next week.

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