Wednesday 26 October 2016

IFA's top tier a thousand miles from the cornfield

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

'Farming looks easy when your plough is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield'
'Farming looks easy when your plough is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield'

The world of Irish farming is resilient and close, traits that enabled it to weather the worst the elements had to offer in recent days. But the storm that has engulfed the IFA over pay is one that will not blow over until there is radical change.

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Rural communities have been rocked by the revelations of the salaries paid and a culture of secrecy at the top of an association with volunteerism at its heart.

Hearing that former general secretary Pat Smith was paid almost €3.5m during his seven-year tenure at the organisation when many farmers were living close to or beneath the poverty line will add to a sense of alienation.

The figures were released in a report presented to the IFA's Executive Council yesterday. It was compiled by Con Lucey, in the aftermath of the president Eddie Downey's departure.

Mr Smith's pay package would make the eyes of many a struggling farming family water. Between pay, pensions, bonuses and other fees, he was paid in excess of €500,000 in three of the six years reviewed.

As Mr Lucey said, it is indeed difficult to see the justification for the IFA funding "Top Hat" pension arrangements for Mr Smith. He also gives details of the remuneration of Mr Downey and two former presidents, John Bryan and Padraig Walshe.

Mr Downey's package came to a total of €156,000 per year.

Mr Bryan earned €169,400 in 2013, while Padraig Walshe earned €181,400 in his final year, 2009. The structural changes to the IFA recommended by the report are essential.

It recommends that national committees "be restored as the key structures in the association".

There are now 11 IFA county executive motions calling on all or some of the current board to stand down over the pay scandal. It is difficult to see how they can stay on.

"Farming looks easy when your plough is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the cornfield," Dwight D Eisenhower once wrote. To many in recent weeks, the IFA's top tier appeared to be a thousand miles from the cornfield.

Coalition's €8m for flood  relief a drop in the ocean

It will be some time before we can assess the cost of the floods but one can be sure that the €8m pledged by  Environment Minister Alan Kelly towards costs associated with Storm Desmond will be a drop in the ocean.

Given that many areas are still at risk, it is presumptuous to look for a final figure but the State had better be prepared to foot a hefty bill.

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív accused the Government of under-spending in terms of money allocated for flood prevention.

He said money provided for capital projects was not spent.

Evidently, lessons that might have been learned were not. Failures to put in flood defences, poor planning, a lack of dredging and fragmented control have all been cited as reasons why the devastation was so widespread.

Mr Kelly has accepted that poor planning is a factor, just as Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has accepted that there is merit to examining the possibility of a single agency to oversee the River Shannon.

Weaknesses in coordination were also identified. Whether a single statutory agency or an over-arching agency is introduced is a moot point. What matters is that we do a lot better in the future.

Irish Independent

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