Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

IFA council agrees to full elections for key positions before May

Henry Burns: Seen as the one to beat. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Henry Burns: Seen as the one to beat. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
IFA Deputy President Tim O'Leary. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Joe Healy is a dairy and sheep farmer in Athenry, Co Galway. Photo:Andrew Downes.
Derek Deane: The dark horse. Photo: Steven Humphreys
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The executive council of the embattled Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has agreed to full-blown elections, with farmers asked to go to the polls to select a new president by the end of April.

The farm body was thrown into crisis in recent weeks as farmers around the country were outraged after it emerged former general secretary Pat Smith's pay package was worth almost €1m over two years.

New rules were passed at yesterday's meeting of the executive council at IFA headquarters in Dublin's Bluebell to allow a full set of mid-term elections to take place for all key positions.

As pressure mounted, the executive board - including key positions such as IFA deputy president and the four regional chairmen - had agreed to all positions being put to a mid-term vote by grassroots' members if a rule change could be agreed upon to let them run again in the elections.

The meeting proved a lengthy affair as county executives in Donegal, Waterford and Louth argued against the bid by the executive board to be allowed to go forward for re-election to their positions.


However, under the rule change agreed in principle, key positions such as the deputy president and the four regional chairs will be reduced from a four-year term to two periods of two years. It will be open to any members to run and will see the executive board step aside. They can then stand for re-election.

Now, if they are elected again they will serve out the remaining two-year term.

It will take 28 days for a rule change to come into effect.

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It is expected farmers will be asked to vote in the first two weeks in April.

The race to be the next president of the IFA has been heating up, with the countdown under way to the deadline to lodge nominations in IFA headquarters by close of business today.

There are still five candidates with their hats in the ring. However, with each candidate required to secure the nomination of their own county and the backing of five other IFA county chairs, only four will be able to get the required backing.

Galway's Joe Healy and IFA livestock chair Henry Burns have secured the nominations, while deputy president Tim O'Leary, IFA Carlow chair Derek Deane and IFA rural development chair Flor McCarthy are still in the chase for the final nominations.

Tipperary's Tim Cullinan has pulled out, while Monaghan poultry farmer Nigel Renaghan confirmed he now had his eyes set on the deputy post.

The closing date for the nominations for deputy president and the four regional chairs will be early February.

Farmers have voiced their anger at meetings throughout the country over the pay controversy that saw both Mr Smith and former president Eddie Downey step down from their posts.

Mr Smith resigned after it emerged his remuneration amounted to almost €1m over two years, with a package of €535,000 in 2013.

Mr Downey has stated he had approval, and did not act on his own, when reaching a controversial €2m severance agreement with Mr Smith as he left the organisation.

Mr Smith has launched a High Court action against the IFA, as the farm body warned it will contest any payout.

The Contenders

The race to become IFA president has been whittled down to a handful of candidates

Henry Burns is a beef, sheep and tillage farmer from Mountmellick, Co Laois. He is well liked and known by farmers due to his role as chairman of one of the IFA's most prominent committees, livestock. He was very hands-on in protests outside the country's beef factories over prices last year, and fought to maintain the pickets longer but was reined in by the top brass. He is seen as the one to beat.

Joe Healy is a dairy and sheep farmer in Athenry, Co Galway. He'll be seen as the new face on the scene, having only held a minor county role in recent years. However, his roles as chair of the Department of Agriculture's commonage committee and as a 'Farming Independent' columnist ensure his name will be familiar. He will also have a strong network from his days as Macra president, but it is the fact that he is from Connacht that may be his strongest feature among discontented grassroots.

Derek Deane is the dark horse in this race. The Carlow IFA chairman runs a beef and tillage farm, and it was his demands for more transparency in the IFA that led to this election. But Carlow's small voter base may count against him later.

Tim O'Leary is the articulate IFA deputy president. The Cork dairy man was first to declare his candidacy for president, but must convince voters that he wasn't part of the former regime.

Flor McCarthy is the IFA's rural development chairman.

The Kerry drystock farmer is an veteran campaigner and is hard-wired into the IFA national structure.

Irish Independent