Tuesday 27 September 2016

Sackcloth and ashes on the IFA campaign trail

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 08/03/2016 | 02:30

The IFA held a protest in Dublin to highlight what they claim is below-cost selling of Irish produce by German discount stores. Photo: Caroline Quinn
The IFA held a protest in Dublin to highlight what they claim is below-cost selling of Irish produce by German discount stores. Photo: Caroline Quinn

IT's purely coincidental that there's a considerable overlap between Lent and the current IFA election campaign. But, given the nature of what is presently unfolding in the latter, it seems quite fitting. Read on.

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Lent is traditionally about self- denial as a way of cleansing the soul.

For the IFA presidential runners, and those vying for the vice-presidency, the campaign is long and intense as well as being physically and emotionally gruelling.

The protocol introduced for this election means there is less door-to-door canvassing; this means the main point of contact between IFA members and the candidates are the county executive head-to-heads.

These are held on week nights and often run into the wee hours. The following morning, it's on to the next county to meet supporters, visit a mart or other agri-business before heading back into another debate.

Whoever emerges as winner will certainly have proved their stamina.

It's not just the organisation of the campaign that has echoes of Lent.

Last week I attended the South Tipp debate in Cahir. It was one of the nearest geographically to me. And at number 13 out of 28 debates, it was also almost the mid-point in the campaign and I also felt it was close to a level playing pitch for the three contenders.

Henry Burns is from a neighbouring county, Joe Healy's wife Margaret is from Nenagh and Flor McCarthy got a nomination from the region.

Presentations over, it was time for questions from the floor and it was clear that many members still feel badly stung by the financial revelations which precipitated these elections and are looking for more penance from all involved.

Incomes are the perennial issue and they have been joined on this campaign by farm levies and, in particular, whether the association needs to reveal its financial arrangements with senior personnel prior to the period covered by the Lucey report.

One of the biggest rounds of applause came for Anne Kehoe, a former IFA sheep committee member, who urged the association not to make the same mistake as the church and to now go for full disclosure.

But there is an even deeper source of anger.

Even before the financial revelations erupted, there was growing discontent about the performance of the IFA, a sense it had strayed from its core functions and lost some of its effectiveness. Is this because of the battles picked or the way they were tackled?

Results

Each candidate has emphasised the need to rebuild trust among farmers, but that will only be achieved by delivering results, which will not be easy for a weakened association.

While the ecclesiastical Lent culminates with a resurrection, it's hard to tell if something similar is in the offing for the IFA and whoever its next president will be.

I was a long way out of the money last week in my reading of the weather and trying to predict the outcome of this contest is even trickier.

Henry Burns is steely and vastly experienced; he will be hoping there is enough clear water between him and the previous regime.

Joe Healy is very articulate and having been more peripheral than the others, he is hopeful of now being seen as a bright new start.

Flor McCarthy is a capable and innately shrewd operator.

Right now, all three candidates are still very much in the running.

And remember that unless one candidate secures over 50pc of the vote in the first count, it will be the distribution of the second preferences of the third placed finisher that determines the winner.

Indo Farming

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