Analysis: IFA Treasurer faces toughest battle yet in new role

Tim Cullinan, third from left, before an Oireachtas Ag Committee appearance on inspections earlier this year.
Tim Cullinan, third from left, before an Oireachtas Ag Committee appearance on inspections earlier this year.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

North Tipperary pig farmer Tim Cullinan was today elected the new Treasurer of IFA, a role he inadvertently helped orchestrate three years ago.

Cullinan takes over one of the most important roles in IFA, as its President Joe Healy called on all farmers to pay controversial levies as income at the Association takes a hit, and as Treasurer he will face a difficult job in balancing the books.

The bottom line of the Association's finances has taken a battering in recent years amid the fallout of its former General Secretary Pat Smith resigning in November 2015.

A report by former IFA Chief Economist Con Lucey (who it would later be revealed had previously voiced issues around accountability in the setting of Smith's remuneration) detailed that Smith was paid €542,000 in 2013 and over €450,000 in 2014 and 2015 from a mix of salary, bonuses, pension contributions and lump sums from the farming body's IFA telecom deal.

And, of course, Smith's exit from IFA is the subject of a legal case, with Smith looking for €2m, which he says was agreed as part of his exit package in November 2015.

That case won't come before a judge until this summer, but the immediate fallout of the controversy was that hundreds of farmers revoked paying, what had been in many cases automatically deducted, levies to IFA. Further, the Larry Goodman-owned ABP factories changed the levy format to being 'opt in', a that has cost the organisation hundreds of thousands of euros.

The net result has been revealed in the publication of full accounts, a new development under a new President and Director General, which show that for the year to March 2017 the farm lobby group recorded an operation loss of €1.4m.

But, it was an internal drive, by Tim Cullinan, Pat Farrell, Pat Hennessy and Derek Deane that led to the massive changes IFA has seen since 2015.

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Almost three years to the day, at an Executive Council meeting in January 2015 the four then county chairmen tabled a motion of no confidence in Pat Smith.

The move was scuppered by a counter motion of confidence in Smith by the then President Eddie Downey, but only after a recess and those in the room were faced with a vote by show of hands, literally, and not a secret ballot.

Rumours were rife over Smith's pay package and his performance, with the then President Eddie Downey trying to quell rising unrest with talk about the “unique democratic structure” in IFA at its AGM later that month.

However, when Derek Deane went public in November with an open letter calling for greater transparency and clarity around the 'red herring' issue of Smith's pay, Smith and Downey were out of the organisation within days of each other. The four-man brigade looking for a cleaned up organisation remained in the camp, with Cullinan busy working on the IFA pig DNA programme with Professor Paddy Wall, which produced a hard- hitting list of recommendations to ensure greater credibility.

Now three years on, he takes over as Treasurer. Luckily for Cullinan, Hennessy and Farrell are still in the fold with prominent positions within IFA. But, Cullinan will need more than a handful of close allies, as future problems for the organisation won't centre around transparency but the source and future of the organisation's finances.

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