Monday 26 September 2016

Darragh McCullough: Farmers are still in shock after 10 days of turmoil

Published 28/11/2015 | 02:30

Pat Smith
Pat Smith

The IFA has just endured the worst 10 days of its 60-year history. The drip-drip of revelations kept one of the most powerful organisations in the country constantly in the headlines, and ended up being a textbook example of why attempts by public bodies to circle the wagons backfire spectacularly in this era of 24-7 news cycles.

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By the end of the week, the internal squabbles were on show for everyone.

What was originally a story that only held interest for the farming community burst onto the national headlines when it emerged that the IFA's former general secretary, Pat Smith, earned pay of €535,000 in 2013.

That's more than €10,000 a week in the same year that farmers were left reeling from a fodder crisis that saw an estimated 27,000 animals dead.

Mr Smith's departure from the IFA headquarters in Bluebell quickly followed, but the rumour mill was in overdrive about the severance deal Smith was supposed to have agreed with President Eddie Downey.

In the following days, an emergency meeting of the 53 key farm leaders that make up the IFA's executive council was convened.

The marathon 17-hour meeting saw farming veterans shed tears in anger over revelations that had shattered the trust of 88,000 grassroots members.

But the revelations kept coming. The emergency meeting heard how Mr Downey had signed off on a €2m golden handshake with Mr Smith, on top of the €2.75m pension pot.

It was inevitable that another head was about to roll, but the IFA PR machine was still in top gear, orchestrating the statement containing Mr Downey's resignation to be released just as the nine o'clock news was going on air.

While the organisation attempted to control the story, tales about disaffected members pulling their lifelong membership and levies began to mount.

Ordinary IFA members in the 947 branches around the country are appalled to see their once all-powerful lobby group reduced to a mud-slinging match.

There are major challenges ahead for the organisation and its members.

Irish Independent

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