Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Viewpoint: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Why do IFA leaders still begrudge Derek Deane's ultimately successful attempts to expose the excess that lay at the heart of the IFA?

I listened carefully to comments from two of the key players in this affair lament Mr Deane's decision to go public on the problem.

Both Tim O'Leary and Jer Bergin insist that they were literally days away from bringing the problem to a head internally, and thus avoiding the "debacle in the full glare of the media" that has ensued.

To me, this exposes a leadership that still hasn't realised the great service that the brave Carlow chairman has done the organisation.

Yes, the last week has been incredibly painful for the IFA. But the catharsis that the scrutiny of the public eye should bring has the potential to usher in a whole new era for the organisation.

Without the public humiliation of the last fortnight, the organisation would have been content to continue swatting away queries about either salaries or policies.

They could afford to ignore the 'cranks' such as the Farming Independent, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers' Association, disaffected barley and poultry farmers, those affected by hen harrier protection zones, and thousands of small farmers who realised belatedly that they could have pushed harder for a bigger chunk of CAP funds.

Instead, a real conversation has begun among farmers about what kind of organisation they want to represent them. Difficult issues about how the organisation should be funded are being thrashed out in a much more open way than could ever have happened otherwise.

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But unless the leadership appreciate the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that this crisis has presented, there is a danger that it will be wasted. Do we want wigs and gowns in some High Court ending up being the biggest beneficiaries from a long drawn-out legal battle?

Of course, the longer the leadership bury their heads in the sand, the more likely they are to end up being shown the door themselves. The six-man executive may have thought that the worst was over when they survived the 17-hour emergency session last week, but calls for their resignation cranked up a gear at the weekend.

But IFA rank and file must also look for a more lasting change at the top, and the best way to achieve that may well be through the ballot box in the upcoming leadership election.

They should also start to demand greater transparency from the other organisations that represent their interests. The fact that not one of the 19 co-ops we contacted was prepared to reveal what they are paying their top brass is a shocking indictment of the closed doors culture that persists in organisations that are owned by farmers themselves.

Indo Farming