Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Opinion: Is Sky the limit for IFA under Joe Healy?

IFA president Joe Healy
IFA president Joe Healy
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Just a few days ago, the IFA announced some news. Just shy of a year on from its pay scandal, which is still rumbling along in the background, the association announced it had negotiated a new deal for its members.

The deal doesn't concern beef or milk prices or levies or inspections. It's a new deal on Sky TV for IFA members.

Now, the IFA can dress this up as "helping farmers reduce utility bills" or it can admit that the organisation has turned into something people join for such benefits - not for the impact it has as a lobby group representing its members and the sector.

Earlier this year, IFA President Joe Healy was voted in as a man who would bring change - an outsider who wasn't tainted by high-level payments and a lack of transparency, but a leader who could close the growing chasm between Bluebell top brass and ordinary members. He was elected on a platform of change and he promised that falling farm incomes would be his priority.

But it's difficult to see any significant change under Healy. He has been in the position five-and-a-half months now and the rumblings of discontent are still there.

In recent weeks, Healy has been told in unequivocal terms that some commodity committees are simply not up to scratch and that there has been no improvement around some committee issues since he came on board. Such disquiet continues up through the ranks and a number of county chairmen are understood to be disappointed with the lack of change under Healy. On top of this, Healy is trying to steer an organisation under acute financial strain.

IFA income has taken a battering - levies being collected at marts are back around 15pc, the lack of levies from the Goodman-owned ABP factories will cost IFA at least €250,000 annually, while levies from dairy farmers will also be back significantly due to the collapse of milk prices.

And unless the membership sees changes soon, Healy's presidency may face his biggest challenge - a challenge to his position after just two years as the association's updated rules allow.

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If the IFA AGM is held in January, Healy will have just a year to secure his re-election.

And some ­grassroot members are already ­speculating on possible candidates to replace Healy.

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