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Sunday 4 December 2016

New IFA president vows to 'rebuild trust' in farm body

Healy secures 'protest vote' in the wake of pay controversy

Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30

Joe Healy celebrates with his wife, Margaret, and daughters
Kiara (14), Anna (11) and Nicole (15) after his election as IFA
president in the Castleknock Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers
Joe Healy celebrates with his wife, Margaret, and daughters Kiara (14), Anna (11) and Nicole (15) after his election as IFA president in the Castleknock Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers
Click to view full size graphic

The new president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has called on all farmers to "unite" to move the farm body into a new era, after a pay controversy rocked it to its core.

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Galway dairy and cattle farmer Joe Healy (49) appeared to have secured a 'protest vote' by IFA members looking for change. He said all farmers now needed to put their "shoulder to the wheel and work together".

Amid jubilant scenes, Mr Healy was elected on the first count, securing just over 50pc of the votes to deliver the top job west of the Shannon for the first time in 20 years.

"We've been through a tough period," said Mr Healy, who was viewed as an 'outsider', as he was not part of the key IFA national executive council. However, he vowed the organisation would come out of it "stronger".

The three candidates - Mr Healy along with Laois man and IFA livestock chair Henry Burns, and Kerry farmer and IFA rural development chair Flor McCarthy - all pledged changes to the organisation.

It followed revelations that former general secretary Pat Smith's pay package amounted to almost €1m over two years.

The former president Eddie Downey stepped down after controversy erupted last year.

"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'.

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"I wouldn't underestimate the challenge that it is," said the former Athenry mart manager, whose family were on hand to mark the celebration at the count in the Castleknock Hotel in Dublin. "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."

His 'Number Two' will be Limerick dairy farmer Richard Kennedy, who received 14,531 votes to take the deputy president post on the second count. Mr Kennedy said he felt he had to stand as the IFA was vital to "speak" for farmers.

With a plane ticket freshly booked in his name to Brussels tomorrow, Mr Healy said it was only through a "united organisation" that they would achieve a viable cost of living for farmers.

After pointing out the number of miles clocked up by his campaign team led by Ann Mitchell, Mr Healy said he believes the farmers have "spoken quite clearly" with their vote and sent out a clear message.

After a day-long count that saw over 28,000 of the 75,500 voting members cast their ballot, Mr Healy secured 14,122 votes, just over the quota of 14,047, with Mr Burns behind on 8,540 and Mr McCarthy on 5,431.

Challenge

The last West of Ireland president, John Donnelly, described Mr Healy as a "very able" person for the job.

"A particularly huge challenge lies ahead with the state of farm incomes and prices on the floor," he said.

Mr Donnelly said the challenges of rebuilding the organisation was one every member must help to tackle.

Former president Mr Downey, who said he stepped down to allow the IFA to "heal", pledged to support Mr Healy.

"Everybody has to back that person and understand why they make certain decisions at certain times. If that is miscommunicated to people on the ground then you have a difficulty," he said.

Mr Downey said it was a 24-hour-a-day job and the IFA must ensure the new president's farm and business do not suffer.

He felt the issues surrounding pay were aired publicly, but said a process was under way to deal with it in a "structured manner" in-house.

Irish Independent



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