Friday 30 September 2016

'It's like an All-Ireland for Galway' - farmer Joe Healy wins IFA president race on first count

Published 19/04/2016 | 17:55

Joe Healy, from Athenry, Galway
Joe Healy, from Athenry, Galway

A farmer from the West of Ireland has won the race to be the 15th president of the Irish Farmers' Association for the first time in 20 years.

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Galway dairy and cattle farmer Joe Healy will be tasked with rebuilding the organisation following a pay controversy that caused ripples throughout the farming community.

Mr Healy (49), who was seen as an outsider to the IFA farm centre as he was not on the national executive, secured over 50pc to be elected on the first count.

A chorus of the Fields of Athenry rang out at the Castleknock Hotel in Dublin 15 after he surpassed the quota of 14,047 with 14,122 votes, ahead of the other candidates Laois man Henry Burns on 8,540 and Kerry's Flor McCarthy on 5,431.

"The first thing on the agenda and the priority always for the IFA is farm incomes and a margin there for farm families, as at the moment almost all commodities are selling below the cost of production," said Mr Healy, a former Macra na Feirme president and marts columnist with the Farming Independent.

"I wouldn't underestimate the challenge that it is. It is enormous the challenge because there is a challenge within the organisation there is a lot of sorting out to be done within the organisation. There is a lot of credibility to be restored and trust to be rebuilt."

Mr Healy said he believes the farmers have "spoken quite clearly" with their vote and sent out a clear message.

He pointed out that he had talked about the need for "transparency" throughout the hustings and he sees an "awful lot of good in the organisation".

Mr Healy, who will fly out to Brussels on Thursday in his new role, warned that farming must be not be a "sacrificial lamb" in new trade deals being discussed at EU level such as the Mercosur deal that would see an influx of beef from South America.

The father-of-three said he had enjoyed the 29 hustings and campaigning around the country, as he praised his team including manager Ann Mitchell who had travelled the country with him.

Mr Healy described it as an 'All-Ireland' for Galway, as he thanked everyone who had taken part in the campaign.

"The organisation needs us to put the shoulder to the wheel and work together," he said.

"We've been through a tough period," he said, adding they would come out "stronger".

"We see a case of almost all commodities being sold below the cost of production," he said, pointing to all the farmers that are suffering.

He said it was only through a "united organisation" that they would achieve a viable cost of living for farmers.

"There is a huge job of work there for us all," he said, adding they needed the support of the government and Brussels to safeguard the future of agriculture.

Mr Healy said on a personal level he would like to thank his family, neighbours and friends and stated that he felt both Mr Burns and Mr McCarthy would be a great help to him in the future.

He also acknowledged the former president Mr Downey who was in the audience and the amount of work he had put in.

Mr Burns said he could not bring himself to criticise the organisation during the campaign with the honest work and endeavour that had gone throughout the years.

Mr McCarthy wished the new president well and described "good banter" between the three candidates. He said Mr Healy had his "100pc" support and he believed in the IFA

as an organisation that worked for farmers.

He said they were treated with the "utmost respect" for those on the ground.   

Members had been left angered over pay within the organisation that saw former general secretary Pat Smith leave the organisation after it emerged his pay package amounted to almost €1m over two years.

The election is underway to fill the seat of former president Eddie Downey, who attended yesterday's count, and stepped down after the pay controversy erupted late last year.

Members were also voting for a deputy president with Limerick's Richard Kennedy, Monaghan's Nigel Reneghan and Kildare's Pat Farrell all in the running.

Mr Reneghan was eliminated on the first count with his votes of 7,924 votes to be distributed.

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