IFA pay: €2m pension pot for former chief Pat Smith

'Golden handshake' exit still to be decided

Former secretary general of the IFA Pat Smith. Photo: Laura Hutton
Former secretary general of the IFA Pat Smith. Photo: Laura Hutton
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The former general secretary of the Irish Farmers' Association will be walking away from the embattled farm lobby body with a €2m pension pot, as a major review of pay and governance gets under way to try to tackle the fallout.

It is also understood negotiations are continuing over any potential 'golden handshake' for Pat Smith after he resigned from his position after 25 years with the organisation last week.

The executive, including the president Eddie Downey, deputy president Tim O'Leary and treasurer Jer Bergin have faced calls to step down from the national executive after it emerged Mr Smith earned almost €1m over two years.

It also emerged Mr Downey, who has 'stepped back' from his role as president to allow a review take place, earned a €147,000 salary from the IFA, with a further €30,000 in directors fees for 2014 from insurer FBD and €10,970 from Bord Bia.

In addition to these earnings of almost €200,000, Mr Downey would have received expenses since taking up his role in January 2014.

IFA deputy president Tim O'Leary, who is now fulfilling the role of president, said they would be bound by the "very strong law" and "confidentiality" governing employees as the negotiations over Mr Smith's exit package continue. It is understood Mr Downey, Mr Smith and the IFA's solicitors discussed the former general secretary's exit last Thursday but any potential exit package was not finalised.

"When it is finalised and agreed we will say what it is, it will be in our accounts. People are entitled to know now," said Mr O'Leary.

The IFA national council are due to meet today as farmers around the country have called for answers and threatened to withdraw membership and levies from the organisation.

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Cork-based dairy farmer Mr O'Leary said he felt let down, describing it as "indefensible".


"We won't be doing any hiding. I know full well we are going to get a belt on our membership," he said.

"I understand that farmers will do that to deliver a message to us, it would be extremely naive of us to think not, I don't think it will be a tsunami. But we will work to fix it and we'll ask them to rejoin."

James Murphy, the IFA south Leinster regional chairman, said members have genuine questions and are unhappy with the level of disclosure.

In Mayo, IFA county chair Padraic Joyce said members had felt "let down" at their meeting and had called for the president, deputy president and national treasurer to go.

Mr O'Leary insisted that he was unaware of the pay package commanded by the former general secretary, as he stated the president and the treasurer "had a duty" in relation to his pay.

"There was a clear understanding in my mind that they were all benchmarked to the civil service," he said, after it emerged Mr Smith received €535,000 in 2013 including a €150,000 pension contribution, €60,000 bonus and a luxury Audi company car.

In a bid to staunch the potential haemorrhaging of levies and members, the IFA's well-respected former chief economist Con Lucey has already begun work on a review.

He will be examining his recommendations on senior-level remuneration within the IFA and concerns raised over corporate governance issues. It is understood he will deliver his report to the executive council in early December.

Mr O'Leary said the IFA had set up an audit committee under Martin Lenihan and the remuneration committee had been approved this month. "It isn't like we were doing nothing here. If we were guilty here it was that we didn't drive it on strong enough," he said.

"My job now is to start repairing that damage and build that trust, we are going to put the structures in place, the oversight, the clarity, it will all be there. We'll publish the general secretary's salary."

Mr O'Leary admitted the controversy over pay was one of the most damaging in the 60-year history of the body. "Just maybe if we get it right and fix the situation, maybe it will be cathartic and a better organisation afterwards and a watershed," he said.

Mr O'Leary said they were determined to get back to tackling important issues for farmers.

Mr O'Leary said the remuneration committee would also review Mr Downey's pay, as he said the president had put his "heart and soul" into the position and it was an "onerous role".

Irish Independent

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