Opinion: Settlement can herald a new beginning for the IFA

IFA president Joe Healy
IFA president Joe Healy
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Pat Smith's final settlement of €1,900,000 with the IFA is more like a telephone number than a tangible sum for most of us.

For many farmers struggling to eke out a living, many on small suckler farms in the west with average incomes of less than €13,000, the details of the deal are simply dispiriting.

It also reinforces the feeling that emerged at the time of the initial pay controversy in 2015 of a divide between those in the upper echelons of farming politics and those toiling on the ground.

The IFA was always the envy of other lobby groups and held up as an exemplar of using strong communication skills to achieve results.

Yet, ironically in the end, it was their core strengths that failed them when the going got tough.

The evidence is clear that the Association badly handled the controversy over pay to its top staff.

And questions are still being asked over the advice the IFA elected representatives were given at the time as Pat Smith's 'golden handshake' of €2m was signed off on.

A new director general has since been appointed with Damian McDonald taking the helm.

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Yet the settlement will see farmers reexamine once again if enough changes have been made, as promised, to hold the organisation that is largely funded by subs and levies accountable.

In the end, the settlement will cost far in excess of €2m by the time legal costs are totted up. Something that many farmers may find hard to stomach.

Views will, as views always do, differ widely. Some will feel that it may have cost more in the long run but the IFA should have went into the courtroom to battle it out there rather than settling on the steps. Perhaps, farmers may have found that easier to take.

At the time the IFA executive had voted against the €2m payment and said it would explore all legal avenues and fight the severance claim all the way.

The IFA president Joe Healy, who was elected on a tide of change sought by farmers after the pay issues came to light, was adament the "strong advice" was for the IFA to settle for a number of reasons, including the ongoing legal costs plus the negative publicity of a long-running trial.

Perhaps they felt they were over a barrel.

Discussions ran until 2am to reach the settlement. Mr Healy said the Association had pledged to be transparent to its members and had been open on the costs of the settlement.

The finer financial details were not read out as the judge was informed the case had settled. These details were provided to the farmers at a hastily convened national council meeting.

There was a sense of relief among some in Bluebell that the matter had finally been settled.

Now that it has, the Association can give its full attention to issues including proposed cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, Brexit, the Mercosur trade deal and the constant perennial of scant farm incomes. Farmers are aware they need strong representation.

Whether the IFA will now be able to move on as swiftly as hoped, and whether it will be as effective working out of a now diminished pot, remains to be seen.

Indo Farming