Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Farmers, families and funerals split over the running of a small Kerry co-op

A group of North Kerry farmers seeks fundamental change at Newtownsandes Co-op after 50 years of 'old-school-boy' management

Newtownsandes Co-op
Newtownsandes Co-op
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Concerns over the future viability of Newtownsandes Co-op have sent ruptures throughout a small rural community in north Kerry.

From dance-floors at local weddings, to GAA matches, school playgrounds, pubs, shops and even funeral processions, farmers, and their families, are divided on the way the creamery, located in the intense dairy parish of Moyvane, is run.

Although the co-op is currently seeking applications for a new general manager, the group claim an "old boys club" mentality has emerged among many board of management members over the last five decades.

As such, they claim that young, outside candidates with fresh innovative ideas are being overlooked for the position.

The group, known as the Newtownsandes Farmers Alliance, are demanding fundamental change and a complete overhaul of the committee of management from the top down.

The co-op is one of the smallest in the country with 71 milk suppliers and 200 shareholders in the area. It trades with Kerry Group and North Cork.

Protesting farmers outside the Newtowsandes Co-op
Protesting farmers outside the Newtowsandes Co-op

Chief concerns of the group - consisting of 30 local farmers aged from 25-70 years who claim to account for 50pc of supply to the co-op - include: the "refusal" of Michael Liston, former general manager, to step away from the co-op where he has been at the helm for 50 years.

 Mr Liston, who is almost 80, officially retired three years ago, however, the group claims he still has strong influence in the daily running of the business.

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He was succeeded by Dominick O'Connell, former assistant general manager, however, the group again claims that Mr Liston still occupies the general manager's office at the premises. (According to the co-op rule book, seen by the Farming Independent, it states that there is no age limit on committee members, and they can choose to stand for re-election without interruption).

The group, with some members who have ceased trading with the co-op, is concerned about a lack of financial transparency over accounts and milk testing on site and the sustainability of the business for future generations. It is calling for ICOS to mediate discussions.

They have recently written to chairman Martin Kennelly, calling for his resignation. However, Mr Kennelly has claimed that rumours over the financial status of the co-op are "unfounded".

As attempts to arrange a meeting between the group and top management failed to materialise, the Newtownsandes Farmers Alliance held a protest outside the grey, well-kept but traditionally-styled establishment earlier this month.

One supplier said: "All we want is communication with management to talk about the future of the creamery and the crucial decisions being made.

"It's unfair that we are being treated like this. Unfortunately, a number of the members in our group are questioning their future in farming. It's crucial that we talk with the management immediately.

"We feel we are being discriminated against and we honestly feel like second-hand farmers," he said.

The suppliers, shareholders and farmers claim that their group is growing and they are considering holding further protests outside Newtownsandes Co-op in the coming weeks.

Although Mr O'Connell has offered to meet the alliance members on an individual "one-to-one" basis, the group insists that it will only meet with management as a unit.

In a statement, the Newtownsandes Farmers Alliance said: "Fundamentally, we want change. We voiced our concerns two years ago at the AGM but sadly nothing has changed.

"We are talking about the future of our farms, village and community. We have to take a stand and make sure the co-op is striving to be something more than just existing. It needs to be thriving - so everyone can prosper".

Indo Farming