Thursday 22 August 2019

Darragh McCullough : Package for president of the farm group has ballooned since 1980s

Tim O’Leary, deputy chairman, Brian Barry, acting general secretary, and Con Lucey, former chief economist at the IFA Emergency Meeting yesterday
Tim O’Leary, deputy chairman, Brian Barry, acting general secretary, and Con Lucey, former chief economist at the IFA Emergency Meeting yesterday
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The emergency meeting of the IFA's national council was a marathon affair that had more revelations that will shock and offend IFA grassroots.

It is not just the €2m golden handshake that members will be looking at in pure disbelief.

How did the president's package swell tenfold from under £20,000 in the 1980s to more than €200,000 when board fees and expenses are included?

Former IFA president John Bryan's interview with broadcaster Sue Nunn on his local radio station in Kilkenny yesterday was revealing. It appears that the existence of a salary for the IFA president was a surprise for Mr Bryan, who took up office in 2010. "My understanding over the years was that there was a farm manager put in, maybe extra labour at the time of calving, expenses and a car and that...having been elected I found that there was a salary... The package which was in place hasn't changed - it's been relatively the same for the last 15-16 years."

He referred to how the salaries of the IFA general secretary and president were linked to those of the Department of Agriculture's secretary general and junior minister. This appears to be the basis for the €250,000 paid to the secretary general and the €135,000 being paid to Mr Bryan at the time.

The secretary general also had a defined benefit pension commensurate with the position, along with a bonus, while the president had an additional €30,000-40,000 for his automatic seat on the boards of Bord Bia and FBD - something that Mr Bryan admitted was inappropriate for the president because of the time pressures in the job.

Despite these gold-plated packages, Mr Bryan insisted the IFA was struggling to hold on to its most senior staff during the height of the Celtic Tiger.

"Huge pressure came on retaining staff, wages rose... people like Michael Berkery [then general secretary] and Michael Treacy [European director] were being head-hunted," Mr Bryan explained.

"Their salaries rose during the Celtic Tiger, and they were legally binding contracts, and they had defined benefit pensions."

But as the economy began to tank, the IFA found itself unable to negotiate down wages. Instead, it was trying to curtail a ballooning pension deficit for the generous defined benefit pension schemes.

"In 2000 the life expectancy was 80, and the returns on money was eight, 9pc, but by 2010 people were expected to live to 90 to 100, and the returns on money was maybe 1.5pc...We set about negotiating the closing of the defined benefit pension, which did mean that the staff would take lower pensions.

"It dragged on for over two years, but it did result in more money having to be put into some pay packets and pots," he said.

Mr Bryan said he became aware of the package for the general secretary during his first year in office.

Eddie Downey insists that he only learned what was in Pat Smith's package in recent weeks, despite being the president for nearly two years.

Mr Bryan pointed out that a review of IFA structures, carried out by Michael Dowling in 2005, did not make any recommendations for an audit committee; nor did it raise corporate governance issues.

Irish Independent

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