Call to postpone IFA leadership election gains traction locally

With the controversy in the IFA showing no sign of abating, the Galway county chairman has called for cool heads to get the organisation out of its current choppy waters.

As has been widely publicised, the dissention began when it emerged that former IFA secretary general Pat Smith’s pay packet was as high as €535,000. This led to Mr Smith’s resignation in November. As if this revealation was not shocking enough, what drove IFA members into complete orbit was the news that Mr Smith’s severance package was worth €2m - made up of a lump sum of €1m plus an annual payment of €100,000 for the next 10 years. This in turn led to the resignation of former president Eddie Downey who had signed off on the package following legal advice. It also emerged that Mr Downey was paid €147,000 a year - plus expenses. He was also in receipt of another €52,000 in director fees for the FBD insurance company - which the IFA has a stake in - and the IFA position on the board of Bord Bia.

Speaking about the situation, county chairman Pat Murphy says the IFA now needs people who will stand up and be counted. He is in agreement with a call made earlier this week by a former president - Abbey Duniry’s John Donnolly - to postpone the leadership election for six months until the organisation gets itself back on a sounder footing.

“What we need now is leadership and we are not getting that at the moment. I think John Donnolly’s idea that the 29 county chairmen come together to elect somebody to steer the ship for six or eight months is an excellent one. This must be a person who has no ulterior motives to be leader in the long term, this must be someone neutral who is prepared to work for the good of the IFA. There are a few excellent people in national positions that could take up the mantle.”

As it stands, the leadership vacancy must be filled within a 60-day time frame, but Mr Murphy says he is getting a strong vibe from ordinary members on the ground that trust in the IFA needs to be re-gained before there is any mention of a leadership election. “I am pushing hard for that now, and I know a good few of the other county chairmen feel the same. We need to get out of the headlines and get back to working for farmers. The future of the IFA needs to be the paramount issue, not who is going to be the next president. That can all come in time.”

He says he is disapointed that “some people are putting their own end game before the IFA and putting their name in the hat for the leadership race, when there is a vote of no confidence hanging over them.”

He maintains the work of the IFA is, and will continue to be, hugely beneficial. “Where would farmers in the West of Ireland be without the IFA? It is the voice of farmers that has fought for everything we have - the most obvious being the Single Farm Payment, but also for schemes like GLAS, the Rural Development Scheme, milk quotas etc. In the budget, farmers got a tax break that we have been looking for, for years. That is worth €550 per year to every self employed farmer. Even on a local level, we backed farmers being affected by the Greenway.”

The Ardrahan based farmer is urging members not to act rashly and give up their membership. “I would ask people not to over-react when it comes to pulling levies. I understand there is a lot of anger and frustration out there, and people may feel it is a form of protest - but we need to ensure our association can still function following this crisis.”

Pat Murphy is IFA to the core, and believes it will weather the storm. “We have to correct our mistakes and be more transparent about salaries of the top people in the organisation, there is no doubt about that. There is an on-going review and these salaries will undoubtably be majorly reduced. There has been a lot of damage done, and nobody has caused it but ourselves. But one thing the IFA will always do is battle for farmers’ rights, and that will never change.”

+The next scheduled meeting of the IFA Galway county executive will take place in the Meadow Court Hotel, Loughrea on Monday December 14.

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