Margaret Donnelly: 'The IFA's future is on the line as the grassroots head for the polls'


Margaret Donnelly
Margaret Donnelly
Protest: The march, led by the Beef Plan Movement, at Leinster House
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Over the coming nights, the country's largest farming organisation goes to the polls in search of its 16th president.

The race for the IFA top job looks too close to call ahead of the voting.

All we know for sure is that a new leader will emerge after the next three weeks of voting, but this election will also be a critical barometer of the IFA's real strength.

The mandate for the new president will be set by the number of its 72,000 or so members who bother to vote in the coming weeks.

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There are fears among many in the organisation that turnout could be as low as 25pc.

A low turnout will be a blow for the organisation, at one of the most important times in its history.

Back in 2016 when Joe Healy - a relative outsider - was voted in, the organisation was looking for and in need of change.

It had been rattled by a pay scandal which emerged after years of the organisation's financial affairs being kept firmly under wraps.

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There was disbelief and mistrust among ordinary members; faith in their farming leaders was damaged.

But change has been slow in coming, ordinary members feel, as the IFA vessel continues to lurch and leak.

An even greater challenge for the IFA's future has emerged in the past 12 months as its heart and soul - its members - have threatened to leave.

The Beef Plan Movement mushroomed from the IFA's perceived inaction on the beef prices issue.

Since then a number of splinter groups have emerged, including a group of farmers who are planning to take to the streets of Dublin today over what they say is the continuing decline of agriculture and rural Ireland.

Long march

Half a century on from the IFA's long march to Dublin, the organisation has never looked as vulnerable and has never needed stronger leadership to unite farmers, not just its members.

Without the confidence of its members, no organisation has a future. The challenge of ensuring its membership is engaged and supports the organisation has never been more critical for the IFA.

The onus will be on the new president to change the organisation dramatically.

Without change, its future is in peril.

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