IFA chief steps down as concerns raised over his '€400,000' salary package
The general secretary of the Irish Farmers' Association said he was putting the "best interests" of the powerful farm lobby group first as he handed in his resignation amid concerns over top-level salaries.
With groups of farmers around the country calling for transparency, the 85,000-strong group had refused to confirm the salary package of Pat Smith after an IFA meeting heard claims he was earning in excess of €400,000.
Mr Smith, who was effectively the chief executive of the association, said the lobby group was "bigger than any one person" as he stepped down from the organisation after 25-years in key roles.
"I have decided to put the best interests of the association to the fore," said Mr Smith. "It has been a great honour and privilege to work with IFA for the past 25 years," he said, as he thanked the organisation and the staff for their commitment during his time there.
Deputy general secretary Bryan Barry will take on the acting role, with the IFA due to hold a meeting of its executive council in Portlaoise today.
IFA president Eddie Downey said the decision of Mr Smith to resign as general secretary was very regrettable, describing it as a loss to both the association and to farmers. He said Mr Smith had played key roles in ensuring strong tax measures for farmers in recent Budgets and securing co-financing for the Rural Development Programme.
In addition to playing key roles in setting up some lucrative earners for the farm body, such as IFA Telecom member service which offers phone deals, Mr Smith had also dealt with the fraught reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Pressure had increased on the association in recent weeks after a proposal calling for the salary package of the general secretary to be disclosed to the executive committee that runs the organisation was rejected before a heated national meeting of the body. However, a number of regional meetings then passed the motion for the pay package to be made public.
The IFA refused to confirm the salary package of Mr Smith after former deputy president and long-standing member Derek Deane claimed before the council that Mr Smith was earning in excess of €400,000, including pension contributions and provision for a car.
Mr Deane had said the pay package for the IFA general secretary, which manages a budget of around €12m, was higher than both the €185,000 package commanded by the Taoiseach and the secretary general of the Agriculture Department, which commands a €1bn budget.
Mr Deane last night said the association had to be "transparent" and lessons must be learned on accountability to all farmer members. "I believe farmers have a right to know where their levies and membership fees goes," he said.
Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív said questions should be asked about why the association refused to reveal the salary and stressed it was vital that members knew precisely where all monies collected were spent.
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