Opinion: IFA will remain in turmoil as long as Executive Board remains defiant
As 2016 draws to a close the biggest farming story of the year still centres around the IFA. Since November, the organisation remains in turmoil, turmoil which originated following revelations around the pay of its former General Secretary, Pat Smith.
The story then moved onto the President and, as a 10-year-old asked me, recently ‘Why is the President of the IFA paid so much when the farmers do all the work?’
The simple answer is that somewhere along the line it was decided to be an appropriate salary for the President. And, it seems, the President and General Secretary had no qualms about how much they were paid.
And, why wouldn’t they? The Presidents and General Secretaries before them had done likewise. They simply continued with the ‘tradition’ of pocketing the money and then to top it off – enjoyed an extra year’s pay of ‘hush’ money.
No wonder no President was eager to blow the whistle.
Was there no guilt or shame when Presidents and Deputy Presidents, elected by the members to represent them, when they received these payments? These payments were, in some cases, worth over €15,000 a month – more than many farmers earn in a year.
The Con Lucey report, released earlier in December, makes 50 recommendations and states that the main problem around the pay of the President is that the level of pay has become ‘disconnected’ from the original purpose of the payment. It also says, in relation to the remuneration of Pat Smith, that it was significantly less than that of his predecessor, Michael Berkery, in 2007 and 2008.
Unfortunately, one significant issue with the Con Lucey report is it’s remit and that it doesn’t go beyond 2009. So, while it may be considered fair and thorough, it is not enough.
And while the report may fulfil its remit, it had done very little to alleviate the anger among grassroots IFA members. This anger has been made clear at meetings, as the call since has been for the Executive Board to step aside.
There is, simply, no confidence at present in the senior members of IFA to fix the problems that have been brought to light.
I wrote some weeks ago, after the Portlaoise extraordinary Executive Council meeting, where the remuneration of Pat Smith was revealed, that the numbers would be difficult for ordinary IFA members to stomach.
The IFA said at the time, in an official statement, that “The governing body of the Association re-affirmed that a transparent and democratic process, the trust of our farmer members and strong leadership in representing farmers and the agricultural sector are key principles of the IFA.”
Yet, the transparency is still not there and the listening still hasn’t happened. And therein lies the problem. There is a disconnect between the upper echelons of the IFA and its grassroots members.
The IFA should be always asking what’s going on in the real world and not be consumed by the politics of Bluebell and ignore the demands of farmers around the country.
Quite simply, the remit of Lucey’s report needs to be extended beyond the snapshot of the past six years it contains.
What has changed in the past few weeks? The lack transparency around the money – not the actual money – is what is bothering most farmers and the IFA continues to fail to address this properly.
And without a severe change of attitude towards the issue, the trust of the farming community in the organisation will not return.