Irish farming loses place on the moral high ground

Irish farmers, who protested in 2008 against European proposals on world trade, have been shocked by recent IFA events. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Irish farmers, who protested in 2008 against European proposals on world trade, have been shocked by recent IFA events. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
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For decades, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has been the envy of other farming lobby organisations with its ability to influence not only its national government but also in defining policy on the wider European scene. In all political arenas it has always been seen as being able to punch well above its weight.

However, this week, after a series of financial revelations and resignations, this 85,000 member organisation has been rocked to its core.

First to go was the general secretary, Pat Smith after it was revealed his financial package in 2014, had amounted to €445,000 while in the previous year, it has been up to €535,000.

Both those figures were in excess of the reward that the Taoiseac or Irish Prime Minister receives for running Ireland and they were some 20 times the average income of IFA’s farmer members.

The financial package was made up of his €295,000 salary plus pension rights and bonuses from an IFA subsidiary where the financial decisions were made by Smith and a small number of his colleagues – one of whom then let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

At the time of Smith’s resignation, the IFA president, Ed Downey, who receives €145,000 annually for his efforts, declared the Smith remuneration figures were neither “sustainable nor acceptable”.

However, it then transpired that Downey had not only been aware of Smith’s package but on his standing down had single handedly, and against the advice of IFA officials and officebearers, negotiated a severance deal or retirement package with Smith that could eventually amount to €4.7 million.

This would be made up off a €1m upfront payment, plus €100,000 per annum for the next decade plus the €2.7m pension Smith took out from the IFA last year.

The pressure then moved to Downey and on Thursday this week, he tendered his resignation after 25 years in IFA – after a 17 hour meeting of the 53 member strong IFA executive that did not conclude until 4.30 am.

This left deputy president Tim O’Leary, who has called for complete openness and transparency – including revealing his own €35,000 salary – to pick up the pieces.

He announced that former IFA chief economist Con Lucey would conduct a thorough review of corporate governance and related matters, including issues around remuneration, and would report to the Executive Council on 15 December.

Lucey resigned from the IFA last year after unsuccessfully trying to raise concerns over financial openness and transparency.

O’Leary also revealed the IFA executive meeting agreed to launch a legal challenge to the Smith severance package agreed by Downey.

Just how much collateral damage has been done to the organisation as a result of this week’s shenanigans remains to be seen.