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Wednesday 24 October 2018

Turmoil in Countrywomen's Association amid proposals to postpone elections

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Allegations of misappropriation of expenses and voting irregularities and attempts to postpone its elections to determine a new President and national officers have rocked the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA).

Two rounds of ballot papers, four election rallies and a heated Extraordinary General Meeting in Dublin have left the Association facing claims some potential election candidates are being ostracised amid questions over the running of the Association.

Initial concerns were raised at an Executive Board level in December 2017, when questions were raised over the non-disclosure of information to the Board by one senior member of the Association and there were calls for National President Marie O’Toole to step aside amid the allegations.

Then, issues around voting irregularities arose after four voting papers were sent out to some individuals who were also running for office – a practice discontinued under the Association’s new constitution.

One of the candidates running for National President, Josephine Helly, wrote to ICA HQ stating that some candidates had an unfair disadvantage as they were not privy to election issues that had been raised.

Helly, in her letter, went on to call for an EGM – a request that seems to have been initially rejected by HQ as it issued a letter to the Association’s members days later (March 22) stating that a problem had arisen around the voting/ballot papers.

HQ wrote to members stating that “in line with legal advice” it was enclosing new voting papers and that such a measure was necessary to make the election process “transparent and fair to all candidates” and to the members.

However, days later it issued another letter to members, announcing that it would hold an Extraordinary General Meeting on Saturday, April 14 in the Gresham Hotel, “to advise … of issues related to the fact that we had to reissue new voting papers”.

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The Dublin meeting, which was attended by approximately 400 members from over 100 Guilds, was described as “chaotic” by a number of sources at the meeting, with many members left standing and sitting on the floor amid confusion around who could vote at the meeting.

“We didn’t know who could vote, who was entitled to have voting cards. The rules state that an EGM can only be held if at least one tenth of the Guilds request it in writing, but we were never shown what Guilds or how many had called for the EGM,” said one member.

Another described it as “Mickey Mouse” and said that a motion was proposed at the meeting, but a counter motion was not allowed. “Voting cards had gone to anyone who wanted them, no proper count was held and no proper registration of members –it was totally Mickey Mouse”.

According to a number of sources who attended the meeting, it was proposed that elections would be postponed for a minimum of six months and the current President Marie O’Toole would remain on as a caretaker national president.

It’s also understood that one candidate, Shirley Power, attempted to make a protected disclosure at the meeting but was not allowed to do so.

Sources at the meeting say that this point the meeting broke into chaos, while a show of voting cards was asked for, with many members unsure what they were voting for.

According to one person in the room the Chair Carmel Dawson said it was not a vote, just a show of cards.

However, a letter to members since, from the organisation’s solicitor, states that a vote was taken at the Gresham EGM to defer the elections for a minimum of six months.

Meanwhile, the organisation is to hold its AGM this Saturday in Athlone, with hundreds expected to seek clarity around the ongoing issues and determine whether to postpone its elections for six months.

ICA did not respond to questions.


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