Thursday 29 September 2016

IFA presidential candidates set out their agendas

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Derek Deane. Photo: Steven Humphreys
Derek Deane. Photo: Steven Humphreys
Henry Burns from Mountmellick.
Joe Healy with his daughter Anna on their farm near Athenry, County Galway. Photo: Ray Ryan
Flor McCarthy

Carlow IFA chair Derek Deane plans to fully outline his case to re-enter the race to lead the association out of the pay controversy at the next meeting of the executive council.

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The county chairman and former deputy president, Mr Deane, whose address to council led to the revelations about the €535,000 pay package paid to former general secretary Pat Smith becoming public, said he wants the council to decide on if he should be allowed run.

"It is clear we are getting the same response now from the leadership of the IFA as to the Con Lucey letters," he said.

Mr Deane said he had outlined his motion for the pay package of Mr Smith to be made public to council in November and it was rejected. However, he said that within 14 days the grassroots were all backing his call for openness.

He said that with just 15 minutes to go until the deadline he had the backing of his last required county to enter the race, with the support on the basis that his rival for the last spot deputy president Tim O'Leary was out of the race.

Mr Deane said a technical problem prevented it being lodged. However, Mr O'Leary has insisted he was still in the race for nominations.

The IFA headquarters has maintained a determined silence on Mr Deane's call for a review of his circumstances.

It has set out a timetable for elections in April, with the three candidates (interviewed below) putting together their campaign teams.

A new code of conduct for this election discourages door-to-door canvassing and all are required to detail any significant business interests outside of farming. Nominations are now being sought for the positions of deputy president and the regional chairmen.

IFA candiate profiles:

HENRY BURNS, MOUNTMELLICK, CO LAOIS

A veteran of the 'IFA trenches'

Henry Burns (46) believes his "experience in the trenches" within the IFA over the past 10 years, and how he "challenged the system all the way" on beef prices in late 2014 will convince farmers that he is the best person to become the new leader of the organisation.

Also being up to speed with the current issues facing farmers and having built up "huge contacts" with other farmer groups across Europe, he feels he will be in a position to hit the ground running, should he be elected.

The majority of the IFA president's time is spent on issues surrounding farm income, whether that be in terms of input costs, product prices, or the cost of compliance, says the current livestock chairman and he anticipates that this will continue.

However, the short-term focus will be on rebuilding the organisation. Henry (inset left) firmly believes that it is possible for one organisation to represent all farmers, and points to his time as chairman of the sheep committee where lowland and hill farmers pulled together for the common good and achieved results.

The beef, sheep and tillage farmer describes the collection of farm levies by processors as "controversial" but is reluctant to commit to their abolition until he has some alternative suggestion to put forward.

As for whether it should be the president that fills the IFA on various boards, Burns' answer is a blunt "no". However, he adds that this may be crucial in some situations, for example, Bord Bia. In terms of setting the president's remuneration, the Laois man says this has to be done "totally independently and transparently".

More specifically, he says he would not expect to make profit out of being IFA president and thus would want to be covered for vouched expenses and replacement labour "so the farm will be standing when you get back."

He is also eager that the work done in the Lucey report in terms of pay revelations would continue further, "so we can learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes".

Married to Claire O'Brien, a journalist who also teaches German and English, Henry is excited by the prospect of the election.

"Because of the recent turmoil and short time-frame, it will be a campaign like no other but, on the other hand, people have never been more engaged".

JOE HEALY, ATHENRY, CO GALWAY

'There is a genuine appetite for a fresh start in the IFA'

Athenry's Joe Healy (48) says "there is a genuine appetite for a fresh start by someone outside the perceived hierarchy of the IFA" and believes he can unite farmers if elected as its next president.

The Galwayman feels his lack of involvement at high level in the organisation will not be a disadvantage, rather pointing out that he has a good working knowledge and experience of the key commodity areas.

The former president of Macra runs a dairy and beef farm, as well as producing pedigree sheep and is an active member of his local dairy discussion group. He has also been in regular contact with beef and sheep farmers on the ground as livestock editor of the Farming Independent for over a decade.

He is also a member of the IFA farm business committee and has been involved in a variety of local and national farming bodies including the Milk Quota Appeals Tribunal.

His first job as president would be to rebuild the trust of members "to establish IFA as a credible powerful organisation again.

"There is power in numbers. Everybody will not be satisfied all the time but a lot of what is achieved by the IFA is because it represents 80,000 plus farmers."

He firmly believes the branch structure is critical to the organisation's vigour, pointing to his time in Macra "where the most active clubs are the ones who get the most out of it".

Longer-term, farm incomes are the perennial issue. He also believes the IFA needs to become more pro-active, in terms of taking the lead in national policy formulation, pointing out, for example, that there should have been greater farmer involvement in setting up the BDGP.

He contends the collection of farm levies was an issue long before the recent upheavals and said "nothing will change the perception" that this is compromising the IFA. Thus, he is committed to examining alternatives.

As for remuneration, Healy believes the IFA presidency is an honorary job and, if elected, says he would be happy just to be covered for "vouched expenses and labour on the farm".

Married to Tipperary native Margaret, a nurse, the couple have three children, aged from 12 down.

"It is a difficult time for the IFA but also exciting," says Healy, who is relishing the challenge of fighting for the chance to represent farmers at the highest national level.

FLOR MCCARTHY, KENMARE, CO KERRY

'It will be an effort to rebuild trust but the model is still strong...'

Flor McCarthy (53) believes the IFA president's pay should not be a matter for the president himself and says he would be happy to accept whatever package is set by an independent committee. "The situation where the president and general secretary set their own pay will never again arise."

"I could give the popular answer and say I would work for nothing but, in the real world, that's not going to happen.

"I run a fairly big operation (56 suckler cows, beef finishing and 100 mountain ewes), my wife Mary works full time on the farm and we have a child in college with three younger ones in school."

His priority is to unite the organisation.

"It will be an effort to rebuild trust but the model is still strong." In particular, he acknowledges the perception that Bluebell is too powerful. "We have to turn this around, members need to feel that they are setting the agenda."

McCarthy is also concerned at the perception that the collection of levies by processors and marts influences IFA behaviour.

However, he says getting rid of the levies would be the easy part. But what do you do instead?

What services do you cut out or do you increase the membership fees?

The Kerryman says he is "more than hopeful" of winning.

While he is the current rural development chairman, he views himself as "a clean pair of hands".

He points out that he is the only candidate from Munster, which accounts for 40pc of the vote, and so he hopes to take his "corner" en masse and believes he will also have support in the west. He is hoping that his long experience in the IFA will stand to him.

"I made a big difference in every (presidential) election I have been involved in and hopefully I can do the same for myself."

As to how he sees the campaign panning out, McCarthy is somewhat coy, saying "whatever the other team does, I'll have to match it. The tougher the going gets, the tougher I'll get."

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