Macra structural revamp aims to ‘future proof’ organisation

In recent months, Ireland’s young farmer and rural youth organisation Macra na Feirme has undergone a structural revamp to more efficiently operate in line with modern regulations.

Macra na Feirme national president James Healy explained the recent changes to AgriLand as the youth organisation plans for the future in 2018 – not least with its new-look website.

The upgrade also comes amid moves for tighter regulations and a greater focus on transparency in the charity sector – the category under which Macra is classified.

“Since the organisation was established in 1944, it has operated legally as an unincorporated association,” Healy explained.

“Then, in 1962, they established a company called Macra na Feirme Taibhaithe Teorante, which was intended to be the trustees of Macra an Feirme, the unincorporated association.”

Limited company

The president explained that such a set-up was no longer providing the appropriate level of protection needed for the members of National Council and National Executive under the unincorporated association format.

Healy pointed out that Macra needed to transition to a limited company format.

“The decision was made at a National Council meeting last November to begin trading through the company- both our solicitor and auditors advised us on that.

“For legal protection and limited liabilities protection to apply, we would need to be trading through the company.

“So, at that point, the decision was made to begin trading through the company and then, between November and the AGM [in Bantry, earlier this month], the governance committee of the organisation and National Executive have taken steps to update the constitution of the company,” said Healy.

Under the new limited company structure, the National Executive – now known as the board – will include: the president; the most recent past president; three vice presidents; the honourary secretary; the honourary treasurer; three members from the national council; and three new additions of people independent to the organisation.

On external board members, Healy said there will be a “formal process”.

“The three independent people would hopefully cover areas of expertise that the board would identify as being needed to be added; and that National Council would accept those nominations,” he said.

Public focus

On the topic of public scrutiny on charitable organisations, the president said: “We’re critically aware of how much focus there is on the charitable sector and, while we’re a young farmer organisation and a rural youth organisation, we do have charitable status. That brings a level of focus on the organisation that we do have to keep in mind.

I think we should always be doing our best to operate to the highest standards of governance – and whatever other levels of compliance are being placed on any organisation.

“I think we always need to be seen to be adopting best practice and, while it’s a change, I would hope that it will have no impact on members on the ground, and that they should see no impact on the effectiveness of the organisation to serve its members.

“If anything, the addition of those independent members of the board may widen the breadth of experience and may open up some new avenues of exploration for the board.

‘New thinking’

“Some new thinking would hopefully improve the operation of that side of things,” the president added.

“I think it’s probably something to be aware of; it doesn’t just stop at the national organisation either and that going forward, governance is something that doesn’t just apply to the national organisation.

“For every charity around the country – no matter how big or how small – these regulations are applying to them,” said Healy.

At club level nationwide, Healy said Macra has already begun the process of adopting the governance code – which is applicable at all levels.

“The next part of the journey will be to take that to all club and county level where I would imagine it won’t mean much change; but, it will mean formalising some of the work. That is happening at club level so they too are operating to best practice.

We want to show that Macra is leading the way in operating to the highest of standards.

This transition period is not slowing down the organisation’s activities by any means, however, as the president noted: “We launched our Macra na Feirme / FBD Young Farmer of the Year 2018 awards recently; plus the leadership awards. So it continues to be a busy time for the organisation.”