Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 22 January 2018

Voting reform is the first of many challenges for the IFA

Campaign trail: Pictured at the IFA Executive Council discussions with Enda Kenny last week were: Bryan Barry, acting general secretary, IFA national chairman Jer Bergin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and deputy president Tim O'Leary. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke.
Campaign trail: Pictured at the IFA Executive Council discussions with Enda Kenny last week were: Bryan Barry, acting general secretary, IFA national chairman Jer Bergin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and deputy president Tim O'Leary. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Two things that really get IFA members animated are the collection of farm levies and the weighted voting system used in its national elections. The former is already a hot topic in the current election campaigns but the latter could be resolved today when the executive council will consider moving to a simple one-member one-vote system.

There is a sense in the IFA now that anything old is bad and that anything new will be better but the organisation has actually been steadily moving in this direction over a number of elections.

The association regards the branch as its fundamental unit and each of the 946 branches is effectively its own constituency, voting by proportional representation (PR) and the branch result then feeding into the overall count.

Originally, each branch counted as a single vote regardless of how many members voted.

The weighted vote was introduced for the 2005 elections as part of the Dowling reforms to reflect the disparity in branch size. Under this system there is one national vote allocated for every 25 individual votes cast by branch members.

This was initially subject to a maximum of four national votes but the cap on that was raised for the 2013 elections when some branches generated up to eight votes.

The big drawback of the current system is the perception that, because whoever wins the branch gets all the national votes, the support for different candidates is being washed out at an early stage.

Members believing the candidate they support will be in the minority, may stay away from the branch vote because of the fear they would just be feeding into a higher weighted vote for the winner.

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The experts on this stuff have done their sums and figure that a vote per member feeding directly into the overall count would not have changed the outcomes of previous elections as these things tend to balance out. In reality, though, the stay-aways are hard to quantify.

A pooled count would mean winning the branch is no longer everything. On the one hand, this may be seen as a good thing but would it further dilute the branch structure and also mean that candidates would not bother canvassing some branches, robbing the election of some of its renowned spice?

In the last presidential election, over 30,000 members voted.

If that was replicated in the upcoming election with a pooled voting system, the next president could possibly be elected with less than 15,000 first preferences. There is a fear he could be challenged when he claims to represent 80,000 plus farmers. But this system seems to be an accepted element of the democratic process.

Disillusioned

In theory at least, these reforms could mean a larger turnout, though this might be more than offset by memberships cancelled in the wake of the payments' controversy.

This will be an election like no other and the turnouts will be a good barometer as to whether farmers remain totally disillusioned with the IFA or are willing to give it another chance.

The proposed reform would require a two-thirds majority for the winning candidate. If passed, the new system would be in place for the upcoming elections. It is a logical step and will inevitably happen, if not for this election then at some time in the near future.

But while this might remove one stumbling block, the organisation continues to face many bigger and more fundamental issues.

While there is obviously a need for strong farmer representation, can one organisation represent farmers at a time of such divergent paths? How best to do that? And how is the organisation going to be funded in the future. Also, ways must be found to attract in new blood.

Even before we get to all that, are farmers ready to move on from its payments' controversy or is there a need for full disclosure on some other issues?

Outraged bleating rings hollow

Wasn't that some palaver about Dynamo the lamb on the Late Late Show!

Interestingly, only a handful of viewers complained when the clip was aired; the majority of the outraged sought out the clip afterwards.

For some who see something they don't understand but feel uncomfortable about, outrage has become the default response.

The lamb was placed in the shearing position and he could be described as looking "exposed". He did not look stressed. As my daughter Sarah suggests, it would be a useful exercise to compare the stress of lambs being tagged on a carousel and those handled conventionally.

And when did the view emerge that farmers will mistreat their animals without giving it a thought?

In any event, there can't be a sheep farmer in the country who hasn't heard of TJ Gormley's lamb carousel by now. More power to him.

Indo Farming