IFA Pay: Ministers Howlin and Coveney "shocked" by scale of salaries

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney

Louise Hogan and Ralph Riegel

Two Cabinet ministers admitted the vast scale of salaries within the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) had them "knocked out of their socks" with astonishment.

Public Reform Minister Brendan Howlin and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney admitted they were both shocked by the executive wages which have now sparked the biggest crisis in IFA history.

IFA general secretary Pat Smith resigned shortly before it emerged he had earned more than €500,000 in 2013.

IFA President Eddie Downey later resigned when a fresh controversy erupted over a €2m severance package agreed with Mr Smith.

Mr Smith has now insisted the severance package must be honoured though he wants €1m of it paid to charity.

IFA Deputy President Tim O'Leary has insisted the package is not binding and Mr Smith will have to sue IFA for it.

Mr Howlin said the vast salaries had left others, including senior Government ministers, deeply shocked.

"I think most farmers as well as most ordinary citizens would be knocked out of their socks by that level of remuneration for that level of job," he said.

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"The first this we did as a Government was to try to give leadership. Probably the first decision we made was to put a cap on any salary that was being paid in the public sector."

"Nobody was being paid at that stage more than €200,000 which was the Taoiseach's salary at the time," the Wexford TD said.

"I'm afraid I have reduced it further since. Nobody, even those leading our biggest State companies, was to be paid more than €250,000 which was the ceiling we felt was reasonable."

"I think it (the IFA general-secretary) is an extraordinary salary. Obviously the IFA is a private organisation but it has ordinary hard-working people who contribute to it."

"We all looked to it with some degree of astonishment given that level of pay."

Mr Coveney urged the IFA to be immediately transparent with all salaries and move into "a healing phase" to restore farmer trust in the beleaguered organisation.

"I think people are shocked (by the salary). I know I was. It is not for me to say if it was acceptable or not but I certainly think it was inappropriate."

"If you are asking me my personal view as a farmer and as a minister, I think most other farmers will share that view."

"In terms of the retirement package that was then put in place, people were in disbelief as to the extent and scale of it."

"I think farmers are furious with what has been unfolding over recent days. I think there is a huge job to be done within the IFA now to rebuild trust with its members."

"This is a really powerful organisation for farmers and for rural Ireland. It represents 90,000 farmers but also farm families."

"The strength of the IFA for the last 60 years has been from grassroots leadership up as opposed to leadership down."

"What needs to happen in the IFA, and it is not for me to tell them how to do their business, they need to first of all be totally transparent in terms of how money in spent within the IFA."

"(Economist) Con Lucey, who is doing a report for them now on remuneration and expenditure generally, that report will be finished by December 15, I expect it will be credible because Con is a very credible guy."

"I think the organisation needs to act on that quickly, fix what is broken because there is a lot broken in the IFA at the moment, and there needs to be healing process. There will be new leadership in the IFA one way or another."

"This is a big organisation that needs to find a way to reach out to its members, to rebuild trust and to respond to the anger which I think is totally understandable."

"This organisation represents both big and small farmers, farmers with very low incomes and very high incomes. It prides itself on representing all types of farmers in all parts of the country."

The Cork TD said the IFA has to stick to its traditional core values and goals.

"The motto of the IFA has been 'unity, strength, delivery'. The unity element of that is broken and without unity they cannot be a strong voice for Irish farmers."

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