Sunday 25 September 2016

Association to take hit now, but will be better off in future

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

'The dawn of a new era appeared to be on the cards yesterday as the report by Con Lucey was released to the media'
'The dawn of a new era appeared to be on the cards yesterday as the report by Con Lucey was released to the media'

With lawsuits pending, and farmer levies plummeting, the IFA will be financially poorer after this whole episode is over.

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But it will be so much better off.

The dawn of a new era appeared to be on the cards yesterday as the report by Con Lucey was released to the media.

Never before have both IFA members and the general public been given insight into the workings of one of the most powerful lobby groups in the country.

Yes, there were more shocking revelations. The notion that an IFA president would be paid an additional year's salary of up to €175,000 as a golden handshake at the end of their four-year term makes a mockery of their assertion that any payments were simply designed to cover the cost of farm labour in their absence.

The audacity of the former general secretary to push €45,000 of his annual bonus into his annual salary to allow it to qualify for generous pension top-ups will only add to farmers' dismay at the complete absence of any corporate governance at the top of their lobby group.

But to me, this was the first sign that IFA has finally grasped the nettle that has continued to dominate national headlines for over a month.

Detailed breakdowns of both presidents' and general secretary pay levels, pensions, bonuses, top-ups, and perks such as cars, were laid out in easy-to-understand tables.

It showed that whispers that the general secretary's pay package was worth close to €500,000 a year were spot on.

And that the €205,000 in fees, pay and perks for the most recent president, Eddie Downey, was one of the lowest amounts paid to an IFA president in the last seven years.

The former IFA chief ­economist also deserves credit for championing the original whistle-blower in this saga.

He noted that Carlow county chair Derek Deane, who raised concerns over the pay of the general secretary early last month, received "little consideration" from the executive council.

In addition to laying out the figures in detail, Mr Lucey also identified the nuances in how the organisation operated at the highest level that ultimately led to the biggest crisis in its 61 year history.

He highlighted the inadequate balances in the system to provide the president or executive council with a "counter-view" to that of the general secretary.

The recommendations are practical and obvious. The president doesn't need to be paid any more than is required to hire a good manager.

In addition, the idea that the €50,000 that the IFA president gets in fees for sitting on boards should simply be paid into IFA coffers was another no-nonsense recommendation contained in the report.

IFA members will also take comfort from Mr Lucey's conclusion that pay for executive staff at the lobby group is not way out of line with their counterparts in the Department of Agriculture.

It may take the rank and file some time to come to terms with the fact that if they want to have the best in the business representing their interests with top level public servants and ministers, then they are going to have to get used to the idea that they will be on six-figure salaries.

At least now they can make up their minds based on facts, rather than the innuendo and rumour that was starting to tear the organisation apart from the inside out.

This is just the first step in a process that will see the IFA with brand new faces in leadership positions, and fresh structures to work for the benefit of the grassroots.

Farmers won't bite off their noses to spite their faces. They know that their incomes depend to a greater or lesser extent on the ability of their lobby group to maintain clout.

While the levies that farmers once happily paid at marts, meat factories and dairy co-ops are taking a hammering, the vast majority still want to hang on to their membership so that they have strength in numbers.

Irish Independent

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