Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

IFA leadership limbo as grassroots revolt

* Fresh demands for executive board to step down
* Farmers are cancelling memberships and mart levies
* No election for president likely until next spring

Darragh McCullough, Greg harkin and Joe healy

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

Tim O'Leary, deputy president, Brian Barry, acting general secretary of the IFA and Con Lucey former chief economist, review the situation following last Wedensday's marathon 17-hour meeting at IFA headquarters. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Tim O'Leary, deputy president, Brian Barry, acting general secretary of the IFA and Con Lucey former chief economist, review the situation following last Wedensday's marathon 17-hour meeting at IFA headquarters. Picture: Steve Humphreys

The IFA is facing a leadership limbo with elections for a new president not likely to take place until well into the New Year.

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Under the IFA constitution, an election for a new president must be held within 60 days of the previous president's resignation.

However, an IFA source said: "It just would not be physically possible to have a sound election that wouldn't end up being legally challenged.

"There's a whole process where every branch has to be registered first. With most county officers holding out until the national executive meeting on December 15 to hear the recommendations of Con Lucey, it just won't be possible to hold elections until well after January 25," said the senior officer.

Pressure also continues to increase on the current IFA executive board with a number of counties supporting former president John Donnelly's call that the entire executive board should step down in the best interests of the association.

And concerns are mounting about a potential haemorrhage of funds from the IFA as farmers vent their anger at the association by cancelling their levies on sales at marts.

Carnew mart auctioneer David Quinn told the Farming Independent that only one of the 35 sellers at their midweek sale opted to continue paying their levies to the IFA.

"To be fair, that was a smaller sale, but even on Thursday there was probably a 25pc drop in the number of sellers that were willing to pay over their levies," said Mr Quinn. A number of marts contacted by us yesterday reported several dozen cancellations at the ringside during sales over the last week.

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However, others like Wicklow auctioneer Mr Quinn first noted that the dramatic fall off in IFA levy payers began 12-18 months ago.

"I'd say that we had 85-90pc of our sellers automatically paying their levies back in 2014, but it's close to half that level now, and I can see it falling further over the coming days and weeks." Mr Quinn remarked how local county chairmen were relating that they couldn't dare ask farmers for membership payments at the moment.

Damaging

"It's terribly damaging to the organisation and I really feel for the lads that have been so hard-working for it over the years," he said.

Waterford IFA county chair, John Fitzgerald, said the collection of levies may have to be re-examined as part of a "cold hard look" at the running of the organisation.

Mr Fitzgerald said the withdrawal of levies was a way for farmers to "protest" and give the "organisation a kick" while remaining a voting member.

Simon Ryan, chair of Tipperary South, said a number of his branch's members had already warned they would withdraw their levies.

The European Involvement Fund (EIF) levy is understood to be a key source of income for the IFA, delivering around €4.7m last year or 36pc of its overall income.

At grassroots level at least six county boards - Galway, Mayo, West Cork, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal - have passed various motions calling for the entire executive board to step down. Others expressed little appetite among members for an election in busy winter days, with many holding back to await the outcome of Con Lucey's to review pay and governance due on December 15

John Donnelly, IFA president from 1994 to '98, said he has received full support from farmers since he called for the entire executive board to step down and the county and commodity chairs to run the organisation temporarily.

He added any election should be put off until the summer months. Mr Donnelly said it was not an easy decision for him to speak out but he did so in the best interests of the organisation.

In West Cork a motion was passed for the board to step down, while Sean Brosnan, the Kerry chair, said they would be leaving it up to members to decide if there should be an election.

In Wexford, chair Pat Murray said they had received a clear mandate from over 300 farmers at a meeting that they did not want an election. There was confidence in the board and they were willing to await Mr Lucey's review, he added.

Indo Farming