Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

IFA calls on Bruton for help following HQ raid

Farm body demands retail sector legislation as electronics seized

BOXED UP: Competition Authority officials take away evidence from last Friday's raid on the IFA's Farm Centre headquarters in Dublin
BOXED UP: Competition Authority officials take away evidence from last Friday's raid on the IFA's Farm Centre headquarters in Dublin
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The IFA has sought an urgent meeting with the Minister for Enterprise, Richard Bruton, following the raid by the Competition Authority on the organisation's headquarters in Dublin last Friday.

Farm officials were left stunned when 16 officials from the Competition Authority and the Garda arrived with search warrants (right) at the IFA's nerve centre in west Dublin at 10am last Friday.

For the next six hours, IT experts and officials from the Authority, backed up by a detective sergeant from the Garda Fraud Squad, carried out a forensic sweep of the second floor offices at the Farm Centre.

Members of the IFA's executive staff, including general secretary Pat Smith, elected representatives such as president John Bryan and several staff secretaries, were questioned during the operation.

Computer hard drives were seized, along with five boxes of files and minutes of meetings, one desktop and two laptop computers, and at least two mobile phones belonging to the secretary general and the financial controller.

"You really don't have the authority to say no to these guys," said one senior staff member. "You can protest as much as you like, but if they deem it relevant, they can take what they want."

The Competition Authority said that it would be two weeks before any of the seized property would be returned and only if it was not classified as evidence in any subsequent court proceedings.

The warrant issued for the search stated that "the Irish Farmers' Association ... has made the decision to directly or indirectly fix selling prices ... of liquid milk products ... contrary to section 4 of the [Competition] Act".

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Dairy farmers had protested at Dublin branches of Iceland in March. The retailer refused to comment when contacted.

No formal statements were taken during the search, although it is believed that key officials will be summoned for in-depth interviews after the Competition Authority has had time to pour over the evidence they amassed from the raid.

The IFA is no stranger to clashes with the Competition Authority, with several members brought to court by the State agency following protests at Convoy Dairies in Donegal in October 2000 and Drogheda Port two years later.

However, with the threat of legal action now imminent, the organisation is facing legal fees that could easily run into hundreds of thousands of euro, according to one Farm Centre source.

"The fact that they raided the Farm Centre shows that they want to nail the IFA corporately," said a staff member.

IFA president John Bryan said that he is now seeking a meeting with Minister Bruton to progress the Code of Practice for the retail sector: "We need to see a Code of Practice in place backed up by statutory legislation."

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