Tuesday 28 January 2020

Reconnecting our farmers with IFA is a huge challenge, says new president

Joe Healy with wife Margaret, and daughters Kiara (13), left, Nicole (15), right, and Anna (11). Photo: RollingNews.ie
Joe Healy with wife Margaret, and daughters Kiara (13), left, Nicole (15), right, and Anna (11). Photo: RollingNews.ie
Joe Healy, from Galway celebrates after he was announced as the new president of the Irish Farmers Association. Photo: Damien Eagers

Louise Hogan

The celebrations were short-lived for the new Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president, who was facing a full diary before he had even stepped into his office at the IFA's HQ in Dublin's Bluebell.

Galway dairy and cattle farmer Joe Healy (49), a father-of-three, has already acknowledged both the challenges facing agriculture and the task ahead in rebuilding the organisation following the pay controversy.

"One of the biggest challenges will be the trade deals and the absolute need to safeguard European agriculture in any trade deal. We can't be the sacrificial lamb," he said.

His first day in the job saw him warn of disillusionment among farmers as he met dairy giant Glanbia.

"Then we've probably never had a situation where we have had so many of the sectors under such pressure and there is global downward pressure on them."

The current situation is simply not "viable" with produce selling below the cost of production, he added.

Mr Healy, who is stepping onto a plane bound for Brussels today for a meeting of farm body COPA Praesidium, said the recent news on the trade deal with cheap-beef-producing countries in South America caused major concerns over the impact it will have on Ireland's €2.5bn beef industry, which depends on EU markets for over 90pc of its exports.

"We can't have a situation where the Government, and the other governments around Europe, allow the European Commission to sell out on farming, especially beef farming, to secure a deal there," he said.

On the 24/7 job of being IFA president, Mr Healy said he knew the diary would be full every day. "Whatever about a big sacrifice for myself, it is a big sacrifice for (his wife) Margaret and the girls and the rest of the family," he said, as his campaign team marked his homecoming at the Raheen Woods Hotel in Athenry.

Mr Healy said he felt the grassroots members had connected with him and sent a clear message. "I talked about transparency and the need for a certain amount of change. They spoke quite clearly that they accepted that and that there was a need for transparency," he said. "I consistently said there was an awful lot of good in the organisation and the areas that don't measure up, they have to be looked at."

After all the discussions of pay within the IFA, Mr Healy said it was never about the money for him and he felt he would be taking a financial hit in taking on the role.

"The remuneration committee are in place and they will have to look at various levels of pay within the organisation, especially for the chief executive and the president. The president is not, and will not, be part of that committee," he said.

After all the difficulties over the last few months that rarely saw the IFA out of the headlines, Mr Healy said he was not daunted by taking on the task of rebuilding faith in the organisation - but he was not underestimating it.

"It is enormous, the challenge," he said pinpointing tasks within the organisation including recruiting a person to take on the role of general secretary or chief executive vacated by Pat Smith after it emerged his pay package amounted to nearly €1m over two years.

After 29 nights on the hustings, he is also all too well aware of the loss of faith out there amongst some farmers that will have to restored.

"We've seen from travelling around the country the issue of trust, the need for farmers to feel a reconnect with the IFA," he said. "There is a huge job of work to be done there, it is not going to happen overnight. As president, I will be doing my level best but people will have to have patience as well - all the leaders, whether it is deputy president, chairman of the various committees, regional and county chairman. There is a lot of work there for all those people to do."

Irish Independent

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