Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Fresh thinking and new blood the only way forward for IFA

The new IFA president Joe Healy got a brief chance to celebrate with his wife Margaret and supporters before he was headed to the corridors of power in Brussels. Photo: Damien Eagers.
The new IFA president Joe Healy got a brief chance to celebrate with his wife Margaret and supporters before he was headed to the corridors of power in Brussels. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

The feeling of euphoria in the west is like when Connacht recently completed the seasonal double over their nearest and keenest provincial rival, Munster, for the first time ever.

For over a decade, Joe Healy often opened his beef market report in this paper with a topical sporting analogy. So I thought it only fitting to come up with something similar as a parting tribute, following his election last week as 15th president of the Irish Farmers Association.

His victory was a landslide. That's good in a way. There were no hard luck stories. It looked inevitable from very early on. Wexford, a predominantly tillage and livestock county where Henry Burns would have expected to do well, was going heavily to the Galwayman.

Just 90 minutes into the count, I was talking to North Tipp stalwart Philip Kinane when Joe happened by. Philip said: "You better start saying goodbye to your wife and family now because you won't be seeing much of them for the next couple of years."

It was a vote for change, a total break from the old regime, a re-birth.

Returning to the rugby analogy, IFA members are now hoping that Joe Healy will be able to match Connacht coach Pat Lam's achievement in crafting a successful team that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

While there is currently an over-riding sense of goodwill towards the new leader, some seasoned observers have expressed concern at his inexperience.

Thus, his backroom team will be critical. Unlike Lam, much of that team is already in place, in terms of the IFA commodity secretaries.

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But there are vacancies, most notably that of general secretary, the appointment of which will be the association's next big job.

What good candidate is going to want to take on the job given the level of scrutiny he/she will certainly face and what is certain to be a reduced remuneration package compared to previous incumbents?

First up, though, is the election of a national treasurer by the executive council at the association's AGM tomorrow.

Then there is the question as to whether the association goes back to reveal the financial packages of senior personnel in the period before the Lucey report.

This could open another can of worms. Or it might not be as bad as feared.

For example, much has been made of the comment that there was a cost saving when Pat Smith was elected as general secretary. Surely that would be expected given he was just starting in a job that the previous incumbent had held for 25 years?

However, I fear the association may never move on unless there is full disclosure.

On a slight tangent, I also think the quest for transparency which precipitated the IFA pay crisis will continue to nose its way across the rest of the agri sector. General declarations, as Ornua did last week, may not be enough, especially when farm gate prices are on the floor.

Joe Healy has to hit the ground running in Europe, too. There is no time for a honeymoon.

Reuniting the association is a key objective; reinvigorating it is quite a different matter.

The IFA's greatest strength is its membership. Most days members are beavering away on their farms but every now and then they have to show their strength. However, it's a chicken and egg situation. In order for the organisation to be revived, it needs results but, in order to achieve results, it needs strength.

Age profile

Long before the high-pay crisis, the age profile of the association was revealing. Most young active farmers haven't the time or the interest to be actively involved. Will the new president be able to attract them back in or is the IFA in terminal decline?

There is still a lot of anger about the pay crisis and that is a significant issue. But you only feel anger about something you care about. Of far greater concern is apathy. Apparently some of those being handed a polling card for the deputy presidency didn't even know there was a contest for the position.

Never has there been a greater need for a strong IFA and a strong leader.

What Joe Healy needs now is a good start. If he can find even small ways to nurture the goodwill, anything is possible.

As in every aspect of life, results speak much louder than words.

Good luck, Joe!

Indo Farming