Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

IFA seeks new rules over fears of rushed election of president

IFA Treasurer Jer Bergin
IFA Treasurer Jer Bergin
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) look anxious to avoid a hurried election as moves are afoot to delay the voting for several months.

In the aftermath of the pay controversy that saw former general secretary Pat Smith and former president Eddie Downey step down, the IFA has opened nominations for the next president.

However, steps have been taken to change the current rules which would give the national council, that governs the body, "greater flexibility on the timing of an election".

Under current IFA rules an election must take place within two months. However, the new measure would see the council decide on when to stage the election by a majority vote.

Jer Bergin, the national returning officer and treasurer, said the move would give "flexibility to the council" and they wanted to deliver a "sound election".

"In the period of turmoil I think the work as returning officer is the best I can do to bring stability back," he said.

Deputy president and Cork dairy farmer Tim O'Leary has declared his interest in running, while IFA's Kerry-based rural development committee chair Flor McCarthy has confirmed he is considering running.

But Carlow IFA chair Derek Dean, who raised concerns over transparency and the salary paid to the former secretary general Pat Smith, questioned the move to change the rules.

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"You would have to be concerned that some factions in the IFA seem to be trying to prolong the elections, which I believe is against the best interests of our membership," said Mr Dean, who has signalled he will be discussing running for the post with members in his county.

Mr Dean said he received €50,000 a year for his four-day a week position, with more than a day spent in Brussels every six weeks, after taking up the post in the "peak of the boom" in 2005 when farm labour costs were high.

Wexford IFA chairman Pat Murray welcomed the move to change the rules for staging the election. "We don't want an election at the moment, most farmers don't, I would be in favour of pushing it out to late spring," he said.

However, Mr Murray said they would need strong leadership to take on the issues ahead.

"We need someone running the organisation on an interim basis, perhaps someone not standing for election," he said, noting that farm income was "a huge issue at the moment".

The rules change requires 28 days' notice, and the executive council will meet on Tuesday, January 5 to vote on it in ordinary and special meetings. If it is passed by a two-thirds majority a decision could then be taken to extend the election to later in the year.

All nominations must be returned to the IFA by 5pm on Wednesday, January 6.

Pressure remains on the executive council of the IFA with 10 councils passing motions, including calling for the board to step down.

Irish Independent