News Comment

Friday 21 October 2016

New role will take Healy far from fields of Athenry

Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30

Amy Fahy, left, and Sarah Donoghue, from Galway, nieces of Joe Healy, celebrate his victory. Photo: Damien Eagers
Amy Fahy, left, and Sarah Donoghue, from Galway, nieces of Joe Healy, celebrate his victory. Photo: Damien Eagers

Howls of delight erupted as the name of the 15th IFA president was announced.

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In front of a bank of TV cameras, supporters of victorious Galway farmer Joe Healy burst into a spontaneous chorus of 'The Fields of Athenry' in reference to his hometown.

But it is a place he's unlikely to see much of over the next two years, with the hectic schedule of the IFA's top role now his priority. Today, he is straight into a meeting with Glanbia, and he'll be on a red-eye flight to Brussels tomorrow.

It's a job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, with the constant battle to maximise farm incomes coming on top of the task of healing the deep wounds and mistrust caused by the pay controversy that engulfed the organisation last November.

It was the high-profile resignations of both the then-president Eddie Downey and general secretary Pat Smith that led to yesterday's contest, and in the corners of the count centre at the Castleknock Hotel, campaigners still spoke about the fallout.

"The anger was unreal. You'd spend the first 10 minutes of every phone call with the phone away from your ear," admitted Henry Burns campaigner Liam Delane.

Many of the campaigners yesterday said they would not be claiming any of the travel and phone expenses clocked up over the last three months.

Rebuilding unity in Ireland's largest farm organisation will be a real mountain to climb, but Mr Healy appeared to be up for the challenge.

"It's only as a united organisation that we'll deliver for farmers. We've a huge job of work ahead of us all, and it's probably more difficult than ever before. We've been through a tough period, but we've come out the far side tougher and stronger," said Mr Healy during his acceptance speech.

He also acknowledged the calibre of the two men he beat for the job - Laois's Henry Burns and Kerry's Flor McCarthy.

"I want to acknowledge two great IFA men. I was up against the best in Henry and Flor," said Mr Healy, before remarking that he'd known Mr Burns since 1990, when the Laois man beat him into second in the all-Ireland sheep stock-judging competition.

"I was a long time waiting to get back that one."

Mr Healy also acknowledged the man he claimed had been the "biggest influence on my working life", former IFA president John Donnelly.

The fellow Galwegian said he had insisted Mr Healy think long and hard about going for the role, when the 49-year-old dairy and beef farmer approached the IFA old-timer before Christmas.

"But when he decided he was going for it, I was never going to support any other. He came to do his work placement on my farm on the day that my daughter was born in 1986. He has sent my daughter a birthday card every year since that day, and he better not forget this year, because I predicted she'd get a birthday card from the IFA president on her 30th last January!"

Irish Independent

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