IFA salary controversy: €2m golden handshake forces Downey to quit

€2m 'golden handshake' for former secretary general Smith

Former IFA secretary general Pat Smith
Former IFA secretary general Pat Smith
Ex-IFA president Eddie Downey

Louise Hogan and Darragh McCullough

The embattled president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) resigned from his role as leader of the powerful lobby group last night, as it emerged farmers are gearing up for a court challenge over a €2m 'golden handshake' for the former general secretary.

An emergency meeting of the country's largest farm body heard the exit package for Pat Smith - including €1m up front - had been agreed by Mr Downey.

Mr Downey, who earlier this week 'stepped back' from his €147,000-a-year role as a review into pay and corporate governance issues got under way, said his decision to permanently resign was a "difficult" one, but was taken in the best interests of the association he has served for 25 years.

The IFA's executive council has now given the green light for the election of Downey's replacement after 17 hours of talks ended at 4.30am this morning. During an emergency meeting motions seeking the executive board's resignation were tabled, but were later parked.

Earlier, angry county chairmen had voted to challenge the exit package for Mr Smith in the courts, as deputy general secretary Bryan Barry provided the details of the package to the emergency meeting of the national council. He revealed that Mr Smith's package included €1m up front and €100,000 a year for 10 years.

The meeting was told it had been agreed between Mr Downey and the general secretary Mr Smith as he resigned last week.

Asked if he would like to comment on the executive council meeting, Mr Smith said he would be adhering to the "confidentiality agreement" reached.

Mr Downey said last night: "In taking on the role of president of IFA, I did so on the same terms of all presidents who have had the honour of serving in this role before me. I made no demands or requests that I be treated any differently to former holders of the office.

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"My sole interest and motivation in taking on the onerous role as president of IFA was to work tirelessly and be judged by my record of delivery for Irish farmers here and in Brussels."

"My clear understanding was that governance and management of the IFA was a clear function and responsibility of the senior executive leadership with oversight from elected officers," he stated.

Farmers around the country have been calling for answers and threatening to withdraw membership, with a number of county meetings already passing motions calling for the entire executive board - including the president, deputy president and treasurer - to go.

The emergency meeting was held following the revelation that Mr Smith earned almost €1m over two years. The pay and perks given to Mr Smith in his role from 2009 until his recent resignation are to be examined as part of a review by the IFA's former chief economist Con Lucey.

Mr Lucey has returned to the IFA to examine pay and corporate governance issues more than a year after he sent a resignation letter to Mr Downey announcing he was stepping down from the audit committee, alleging "unacceptable interference" by Mr Smith.

He also raised concerns over a lack of accountability in setting the levels of financial remuneration for the two most senior office holders - the president and the general secretary.

Mr Downey said it was well-known that he was "determined to be a reforming president".

"I worked to get the audit committee up and working, met with Con Lucey and agreed with his proposed solutions to issues to be addressed by that committee. Unfortunately, that committee's work was frustrated," he said. Mr Downey said Mr Lucey should now be given the opportunity to complete his work comprehensively.

Mr Smith received €535,000 in 2013, including a €150,000 pension contribution, €60,000 bonus and a company car. Yesterday's meeting heard his pension package had reached €2.7m a year ago when it was transferred from the IFA.

The IFA confirmed there was a "cost saving" to the organisation when Mr Smith took over as general secretary after Michael Berkery stepped down after 25 years. It confirmed the recruitment panel for Mr Smith involved then-IFA president Padraig Walshe, then-deputy president Derek Deane, then-treasurer Ruaidhri Deasy, Teagasc director Gerry Boyle and a specialist from Deloitte.

Irish Independent

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