Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

IFA isolated in levy battle with Goodman's ABP

Kevin Doyle and Claire McCormack

Farming organisations are unlikely to get any political backing in their battle with Larry Goodman's ABP over the collection of levies at meat factories.

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) views the ending of automatic levies as an attack on its income base, while the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) fear that its ability to fight for the welfare of farm families will be reduced.

However, Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív told the Irish Independent that the current system, which attaches levies to all transactions at marts, beef and sheep meat processors and dairies, was wrong.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said if the IFA was forced to ask farmers for contributions, then it "might start giving them proper representation".

The Department of Agriculture has distanced itself from the row, saying it is "entirely between ABP and the IFA".

At a meeting on Wednesday, ABP informed the IFA of plans to introduce an 'opt-in' model for those farmers who wish to continue to pay into the European Investment Fund (EIF).

It is estimated that ABP collects close to €400,000 for the farm organisations each year.

More than 90pc of the money is believed to go to the IFA, while the ICMSA is understood to receive an estimated €100,000 a year. If other companies and co-ops were to follow ABP's lead, the IFA would face losses of up to €4.7m.

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After the meeting, Joe Healy, the IFA's president, wrote to Mr Goodman, instructing him to suspend the collection of the levies immediately.

He said: "ABP will not dictate to IFA and the association will not be compromised on any issue in its representation of farmers. That's why I have instructed Larry Goodman to suspend their collection of the IFA levy immediately."

The decision has been partly linked to the IFA's opposition to ABP's proposed deal to buy a 50pc stake in Slaney Foods.

However, Mr Ó Cuív said the levies operated on "very, very shaky legal ground" and should only be collected if a farmer gives explicit permission.

He said that while EIF sounded like a "grandiose" name, it might as well be called the "XYZ fund".

"It's not an EU scheme or a government scheme," said Mr Ó Cuív.

Mr Fitzmaurice commented: "If this is voluntary, then they should have the good manners to ask farmers to sign a docket before taking their money.

"If I want to be a member of a GAA club or a rugby club, I pay the membership, they don't come and take the money out of my wages every week."

John Comer, president of the ICMSA, said anything that threatened the coherence of farm organisations was not in the interests of farmers.

He added: "We are almost exclusively funded by farmers' contributions. Individuals have got to ask themselves would they be in a stronger or weaker position dealing with government agencies, gigantic retailers and processors and corporations as a member of a strong farm organisation or acting as unaffiliated individuals."

Patrick Kent, ICSA president, called for a review of all levies, statutory and non-statutory, adding: "ICSA gets no levies whatsoever. Farmers are under severe income pressure and deductions from factory cheques add up to a considerable sum."

Irish Independent

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