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Tuesday 6 December 2016

IFA elections 2016 - deputy president candidates make their final pitch

Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30

Pat Farrell
Pat Farrell
Richard Kennedy
Nigel Renaghan

Voting in IFA elections begins next Tuesday. In addition to the presidential contest, farmers will be asked who they want as deputy president. The three candidates for deputy outlined their final pitches to Martin Ryan.

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'My ambition is to protect and increase EU payments'

Pat farrell, Kildare beef farmer

The "lack of farm incomes" and the desire of IFA members "to see the organisation put back together" were the key issues from the IFA election hustings for suckler and beef farmer, Pat Farrell.

"The levies continued to come up and we have to see what can be done about them because the farmers are not happy with them," added the Kildare and West Wickow IFA chairman as the campaign enters the final week.

If elected deputy president he "would hope to be able to influence delivery on the main issues".

"Before the recession we were exporting €8bn in farm produce. Now we are doing €11bn but the farmers share appears to have got evaporated - now is the time for us farmers to get our fair share out of that," he claimed.

The former environment chair farms full-time with his wife, Caroline, their family of four children, and his brother, Tom, on the Laois side of Athy.

"I am sure that IFA can influence delivery on the key issues - it's the main reason why I am going for the position. We can't continue to survive at 25c/l for milk, and €3.90/kg for beef when Teagasc says it's costing €4/kg to produce. Those prices are not sustainable," he said.

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Pointing to a recent example where "the potatoes in a small plastic bag were costing less than the whole bag" he sees a role for the deputy president to get the message on the farmers' share of the retail market to consumers.

Describing his ambition to become a "reforming deputy president", he wants farmers' votes "to finish the job I started" - a reference to the fact that he was one of the four in the IFA executive council who put forward a motion of no confidence in former general secretary, Pat Smith, in January 2014.

Within the reform of the IFA structure he wants the commodity committee to be given more power and more meetings between the national chairmen and the board of the IFA. He also wants a separation of the role of the general secretary, who Mr Farrell said "must be a man to put farm incomes first".

He also claimed that his "whole ambition will be to protect the single farm payment and try to have it increased because the last time was the first time the Minister came back with less money".

At the end of his term he would like to be judged by "what I delivered and hopefully I will be able to deliver for all commodities".

'IFA is seriously damaged. That's why I decided to run'

Rchard Kennedy, Limerick Dairy farmer

Dairy and beef farmer, Richard Kennedy is in no doubt as to the main issues concerning farmers coming to the end of the election hustings.

"The return of trust and credibility of the organisation is the main concern for most farmers. Farm incomes are a very big issue, but most people realise that unless we can get back the trust and credibility to the IFA we won't be able to deliver on any of the other issues.

"It is seriously damaged. That is why I decided to run in this campaign," said the former chairman of the IFA national dairy committee who farms at Clarina.

"I would not have come back, after being off the national council for five years, unless I felt totally committed to restoring the trust that is required in the organisation to go forward," said Mr Kennedy, who also ran for the presidency in 2009.

The Limerick man was also president of Macra na Feirme in the 1980s and he has served on the Irish Dairy Board, the National Dairy Council and in the umbrella farming group at EU level, COPA. Mr Kennedy was Limerick County Chairman from 1996-2000, and he is a board member of Pallaskenry Agricultural College, and is current chairman of Limerick Agricultural Show. His wife, Helen, has been chairperson of Limerick IFA Farm Family Committee for the past four years.

On the need for reform in the IFA he said that the Con Lucy report was "a good start", but that it needed to go further.

"We need to have someone look at the cost of governance within the association and we have to get transparency," he said.

He believes that IFA members must understand and know where the money is going.

"On the other hand our members have to realise that if we want to have the organisation that we need, we must have the best people working for us and we have to pay them the going rate," he said.

"I am heartened by the number of people who are coming out to meetings but under the surface people are very hurt over what has happened. They feel betrayed because they never expected that it could have happened in IFA," he added.

Asked how he would like to be remembered after two years in office, he replied "that I have made an honest effort to achieve what I set out to do".

'I know how much of a  struggle farming has become'

Nigel Reneghan, Monaghan poultry and beef farmer

Farmers' anger over "Bord Bia, levies, farm inspections and prices" is the message that Monaghan's Nigel Reneghan has carried away from the election hustings over the past seven weeks.

"As a poultry and beef farmer myself I know how much of a struggle farming in Ireland has become, especially for the younger generation of farmers who often find that despite working 12-13 hour days, supporting a family on farm income is barely a viable proposition," said the IFA's poultry chairman.

Mr Reneghan also keeps up to 80 head of beef animals, mainly Angus, on the farm at Clontibret. His wife, Bernice is actively involved, along with the older of their six children.

"All farmers, both full-time and part-time, need a strong, united and effective national organisation to represent them more than ever," he said, pointing to his efforts to unite poultry producers as an example of how the organisation can deliver.

"I am not going to promise farmers that I can control prices, because I can't, but I would hope to support the president in his role on farm incomes for the benefit of all farmers," he added.

On the issue of IFA levies, the Ulster man's solution is that "IFA Telecom has 13,000 members generating almost €600,000 a year profit. If we had 50,000 members using IFA Telecom it would replace the levy income and we can walk away from the levies and get on without them if they are a concern to farmers".

He is adamant that IFA must face up to transparency in the organisation and that includes wages being paid.

"People who work for the organisation should not look on it as a job for life if they are not performing for farmers. The president and deputy president is replaced every four years I believe that the staff should equally be in a situation where their performance is reviewed every four years," he said.

"We are a voluntary organisation to better farmers and the officers are elected for a maximum of four years to do the best possible job to influence income for farmers - that's what I want to do," he said.

"I find it hard to accept that half the Teagasc budget is going to pay pensions - it's costing €67m annually out of the Teagasc budget of €135m.

"That cost should be carried by the government to allow Teagasc use the funds to appoint additional office and advisory staff to help farmers with farm schemes and inspections on the ground," he suggested, noting that this would be a core objective if he sits on the Teagasc Board as deputy president.

He hopes to be judged at the end of his term on his performance, and he believes he can deliver on farm income because of his extensive negotiating experience.

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