Calls for Data Commissioner probe into the IFA system for collecting levy

Patrick Kent: The ICSA president called for an investigation. Photo: Frank McGrath
Patrick Kent: The ICSA president called for an investigation. Photo: Frank McGrath
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Farmers are calling for the Data Commissioner to investigate the IFA system of collecting levies.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) president Patrick Kent has called for an investigation into whether the IFA levy collection process is GDPR compliant. The levy is collected by meat processors, marts and co-ops on the association's behalf - last year it was worth €3.2m to IFA.

The system includes a process for identifying farmers who do not pay the levy.

The IFA says the levy allows all farmers to contribute fairly and proportionately based on the scale of their enterprise to support the association's work on their behalf.

However, the practice has been questioned by a leading data protection expert, who says the farmers who opt out of paying the levy should not be identified.

Dr TJ McIntyre, a solicitor and law lecturer at UCD, said there must be a legal basis to provide information to third parties and this must normally be done on an 'opt-in' basis.

According to Dr McIntyre, if the form does not allow farmers to opt out of the levy without their personal data being passed on to the IFA, then it is not valid consent for the purposes of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Mr Kent said many farmers have "extreme misgivings about the method of taking money off the without their prior consent.

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"At a very minimum, levies should only be collected from those who have opted in.

"My legal advice is that levies should only ever be deducted on an opt-in basis.

"There is no way that a farmer can be compelled to sign an opt-out of levies form in respect of livestock or produce supplied to a mart or processor, when it is clear that such confidential information will then be forwarded to IFA."

The ICSA does not take levies, Mr Kent said: "I am therefore calling on the Data Protection Commissioner to pro-actively investigate what is going on here and explain to all farmers just what their rights are under GDPR."

A spokesman for the Irish Grain Growers said malt barley growers contracts include a stipulation that a deduction is taken from the purchase price for the IFA.

"All levies should be optional," he said.

Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the IFA to stop collecting the levies "except from farmers who have expressedly given permission".

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice also said farm organisations should rely on membership subscriptions.

"I'm not an admirer of taking any monies from farmers through marts or factories. Every farmer organisation should have a subscription every year and you go into it or you don't.

"It's very hard for farming orgs to be fighting with a factory or a mart if they are collecting money for you."

Irish Independent

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