Monday 16 September 2019

The Yates Anthology: IFA needs leader with no baggage

Pat Smith. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Pat Smith. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

So much for the notion that Con Lucey's report on remuneration would provide closure to the IFA crisis of self-aggrandisement.

Critical questions remain unanswered: what were the remuneration regimes prior to 2009? What are top executives in Bluebell/Brussels currently paid? Who determined defined benefit pension entitlements of staff? Where's the transparent breakdown of €11m of annual expenditures? What are the precise relationships between the IFA and the FBD/Agricultural Trust at executive and directorship levels? There's still no clarity on former general secretary Pat Smith's €2m severance package.

The new revelations presented more bombshells for ordinary members. It wasn't enough that Mr Smith was paid €500k annually, including a 30pc bonus; an additional pension top-up of €1.2m places the IFA alongside the Central Remedial Clinic for raiding resources. It seems mindbending to pay presidents after retirement an additional year's salary. It simply defies logic as they had now returned home to their farms, and there was no longer the need to hire a replacement manager. It also seems highly questionable to confer routinely FBD non-executive directorships to past presidents.

The seething anger, bitterness and disillusionment amongst the most loyal of 'IFA people' is without precedent. Farmers with lifelong voluntary service to branch and county executive are sickened by practices that make public sector benchmarking payments seem parsimonious. The 53-person executive council is now perceived as a fundamental part of the problem. Patience has run out with repeated failures to sanction the executive board or hold them to account. A democratic revolution or period of glasnost with openness and full disclosure is imminent. Nominations for the new president may be deferred from late January. Deputy president Tim O'Leary can expect to face up to three opponents as candidates must obtain the support of six county executives. Only a single "anti-Bluebell" candidate, with no baggage, can unify and overcome the rampant disaffection. There is a huge distance between farm gate and the IFA elite.

Nervous time for TDs

I always suspected ministers were prone to talking to themselves. But to have it confirmed on official Oireachtas televised broadcast was disturbing nonetheless. Ann Phelan's solo discourse echoing to an empty chamber is indicative of the Dáil mood during the final days before dissolution. Absentees scurry about their constituencies, loitering indolently, making sure they are visible to their voters.

To clear the decks there was the usual helter-skelter schedule of rushed regulations in advance of the festivities. So we saw new alcohol and road traffic Bills hurriedly published, but they still can't be enacted. Legal bans on parental smacking of children and fines for smoking in cars were hastily presented.

And behind all the hustle and bustle, the febrile speculation as to the final polling day hangs in the air in our corridors of power.

I imagine I'm probably alone in pitying the poor divils. Christmas will be short lived and miserable. It really will be little more than a stay of execution. The worst part of being a TD is job insecurity. About 40pc don't make it back; and each election produces new levels of voter volatility. Is it any wonder it makes them craven? There'll be a plethora of worthy must be seens at festive fundraisers.

At their core, public representatives know the low esteem in which they're often held. To many, they are perceived as self-serving opportunists, making false promises, pampered and with excessive expenses and six-figure salaries; cynicism greets them at every turn. The most well-intentioned manoeuvre is deemed suspicious. But with an election in the wings, needs must and grovelling will take up much of the holiday period. No request will be too inconvenient.

My favourite anecdote about their humble lot relates to a TD carving the turkey on the big day at the family dinner. A pesky constituent knocks on the front door to seek assistance in completing a medical card form. Having amiably completed the thankless chore, the TD helpfully suggests: "You'll need to get your family doctor to sign the last page, before submitting it."

To which the ungrateful wretch replies: "Ah, I wouldn't like to disturb the doctor on Christmas Day."

Be pleasant to your politicos this Christmas - they're sick with worry behind that practised smile.

No hero for our youth

Nothing defines the current generation gap such as our attitudes to 'Notorious' Conor McGregor. My twenty-something sons stayed up until 6am on Sunday morning, along with an adoring 10 million viewers. Make no mistake, McGregor is Ireland's most famous sports star. He's poised to rival U2 for global recognition over the coming years. Not only that but the Ultimate Fighting Championships may displace boxing as a premier combat sport. He's well deserving of the civic receptions, demanded by petitions signed by 18,000 fans. His sharp dress sense and motor mouth matched with provocative theatrics make him big box office and every marketer's dream. Like him or loathe him, he's 100pc, authentic Irish. Some sports financiers envisage he could become as big as Muhammad Ali was in the 1960s.

And the hell of it is that he backs up his machine-gun rhetoric with rapid-fire results.

For all that, I fear he's an unsuitable role model for Irish youth. Outside the club/chipper, on late Saturday nights, his left fist's infamous precision and power isn't something to be idolised or replicated. The blood- splattered violence in UFC bouts is, by my reckoning, over-the-top GBH. Sorry folks, but the repeated hammering of fists on a semi-conscious opponent isn't sport - it's savagery.

We shouldn't rely on viciousness for entertainment, it's reminiscent of Roman gladiators. Am I alone?

Irish Independent

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