€535,000 pay package for top executive rocks farm body

Pat Smith has stepped down from his position as general secretary of the IFA
Pat Smith has stepped down from his position as general secretary of the IFA

Louise Hogan and Ralph Riegel

Details of the pay and perks of the top executives in the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA)are under the spotlight after it emerged a former general secretary received €535,000 in a single year.

After a week of controversy, it was revealed that Pat Smith was in receipt of a significant pension contribution of €150,000 a year yet the key farm lobby group has refused to reveal his pension pot or if he received a 'golden handshake'.

Farmers have demanded openness and transparency from the country's largest farming body, which admitted Mr Smith's pay package was "unacceptable" and "not sustainable".

After a meeting of the association's executive council yesterday, IFA president Eddie Downey said a robust debate on the future of the organisation had taken place, as grassroots members voiced concern over the significant six-figure sum being handed down to its top executive.

Members of the executive council that run the organisation expressed shock over the revelation of the six-figure sum being paid to Mr Smith in the wake of his resignation.

Mr Downey confirmed the former general secretary received a total package of €445,000 in 2014. This included a basic salary of €295,000 with a pension contribution of €150,000.

However, the total figure for 2013 stood at €535,000, including a bonus of €60,000 and director's fees of €30,000 from the IFA Telecom service that Mr Smith played a role in setting up. Mr Smith was also provided with a company car.

Despite repeated requests over recent weeks and months, the IFA refused to reveal the salary to the Irish Independent, and failed to respond to queries on whether Mr Smith was receiving a part of his package from IFA Telecom.

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In recent weeks pressure had increased on the association, which has more than 85,000 members, and is funded by a mixture of fees, factory levies and business interests.

His resignation came in the wake of a proposal tabled by former IFA deputy president Derek Deane calling for the salary package of the general secretary to be disclosed to the executive committee - the proposal was rejected at a national meeting of the body.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Carlow County IFA chair, Mr Deane, said that transparency was in the interests of farmers who needed to know where every cent was being spent. "We certainly have been damaged by it and the longer it went on the worse it was," he said, adding the "shake-up" would help repair any harm and concerns for those who paid their membership.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was clear farmers wanted to know what those who work for them were paid, while Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said he expected the IFA to provide "appropriate transparency". Mr Downey said all future remuneration packages of the general secretary will be disclosed and be a "matter of public record".

He said all executive salaries were comparable with those in Government departments and State agencies in the sector.

A survey carried out by the Irish Independent at the National Ploughing Championships found 86pc of 1,000 farmers surveyed wanted transparency on salaries and expenses of leaders and officers in farm organisations. Just 11pc replied 'no', while a small number were undecided.

Earlier this year, the Irish Independent revealed details of the setting up of a remuneration committee at the IFA as it faced concerns over senior pay at the organisation.

It followed the stepping down of former IFA chief economist Con Lucey who had raised issues about accountability on senior salary scales as he left the IFA audit committee.

Mr Downey said the IFA would now concentrate on the many challenges facing the sector.

Mr Smith, who was effectively the chief executive of the association, stepped down from the lobby group this week after 25 years, stating the lobby group was "bigger than any one person" and he was putting the "best interests" of the body first.

The deputy general secretary, Bryan Barry, will be taking on the acting role in the IFA.

Irish Independent

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