Tuesday 21 November 2017

Former farming secretary Smith in defamation claim against IFA

Former general secretary of the IFA Pat Smith
Former general secretary of the IFA Pat Smith

Shane Phelan and Darragh MCullough

The former general secretary of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has lodged papers with the High Court alleging he was defamed by the organisation.

Pat Smith, who resigned amid controversy over his pay, has expressed concerns at how the IFA represented his departure.

He stepped down last November following revelations that his pay package amounted to almost €1m in 2013 and 2014.

Solicitors for Mr Smith lodged papers with the High Court in recent weeks and the case has been listed for October.

It is the second legal challenge Mr Smith has brought against the farmers' lobby group, where he was general secretary for six years.

He previously initiated a High Court challenge to the withholding of a €2m severance package agreed by outgoing IFA president Eddie Downey.

The IFA's executive council voted unanimously against giving Mr Smith any severance pay.

The latest proceedings are believed to stem from comments made by then acting IFA president Tim O'Leary in a television interview following Mr Smith's departure.

Mr Smith has previously demanded an apology and a statement clarifying the circumstances of his departure, but these were not forthcoming.

Concern is mounting among members of the country's largest farm lobby group that little progress has been made on the promises to overhaul the governance and funding structures at the organisation in the eight months since the dramatic departure of Mr Smith.

No replacement has been appointed for Pat Smith, and the levy collection scheme that relies heavily on milk and meat processors continues, albeit at levels believed to be almost €100,000 lower per month as farmer support for the organisation hits an all-time low.

Membership levels are also believed to have fallen sharply from the 75,000 figure most recently quoted by a spokesman.

An internal review is being carried out by an implementation committee following a report by the IFA's former economist, Con Lucey, last December.

IFA national council was informed in June that the 70-strong workforce would be cut by up to 50pc if the levy collection system that delivered €4.7m into the IFA's coffers was abandoned.

The alternative of relying more heavily on membership fees would require a 140pc increase in membership costs.

While it is believed that the vast majority of IFA staff are willing to have their salaries revealed to the grassroots, the current proposal is to simply publish the total pay for the 70 staff in a single global figure.

Irish Independent

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