IFA must act swiftly to regain its credibility

Former IFA general secretary Pat Smith
Former IFA general secretary Pat Smith
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Let's call it as it stands. Have the IFA opened the books and offered total transparency on salaries and payments to top staff? No, clearly they have not.

Even as the reputation of the country's strongest farm lobby group lies in tatters after the revelations that former general secretary Pat Smith earned €535,000 in a single year, it is still playing for time on full disclosure.

Now is the time for them to deliver answers to all the questions being asked by grassroots members.

It is time the association's president Eddie Downey and the entire executive board revealed the compensation and pay packages for all those at the top.

It is clear that Mr Smith possessed a strong commercial business sense. He established the lucrative IFA Telecoms members' service and had proved a very able negotiator over the years.

Yet Mr Smith's earnings in recent years - including 2013, the year of the fodder crisis - were almost 20 times that of the average farmer or eight times the earnings of an average dairy farmer.

This was in an organisation with a budget of over €12m.

The lack of accountability within the IFA on senior pay scales was highlighted by former chief economist Con Lucey over a year ago when he resigned from the audit committee.

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Yet as recently as two weeks ago Eddie Downey, speaking at the Limerick IFA 60th anniversary celebrations, was still strongly backing Mr Smith. As reported in last week's Farming Independent, he claimed the matters raised in relation to the pay package were "uncorroborated" and "unsubstantiated and should be ignored".

Last Monday, a letter signed by Mr Downey was circulated stating a resolution brought before the National Council calling for transparency about secretary general's remuneration package was defeated "overwhelmingly".

Mr Downey wrote it was "regrettable" that any member of the council would deliberately try to circumvent the authority of the governing body.

After last Thursday's national council meeting, Mr Downey claimed the details of Mr Smith's salary and perks had come as a "total shock" to him.

Farmers are equally shocked that the IFA's executive board were unaware of Mr Smith's remuneration package which came to almost €1million for 2013 and 2014 alone.

Members are also asking whether the positions of the IFA leadership that were there while this was going on are tenable?

Farmers are known for fighting their corner and arguing the toss on money, and rightly so. Yet what will Joe Public think the next time farmers, marching under IFA banners, take to the streets to highlight financial problems hitting tillage farmers, beef producers or the country's dairy farms?

Without swift action now, the IFA runs the risk of becoming a shadow of the powerful organisation that has achieved so much for Irish farming over the last six decades.

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