Candidates questioned on IFA funding and economist role

The funding and finances of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) as well as the need for a new economist for the organisation were key concerns raised to IFA presidential candidates at the organisation’s regional hustings for counties Longford and Westmeath in Mullingar last night, Thursday, November 7.

The debate took place in the Mullingar Park Hotel and featured the three candidates in the running: John Coughlin; Tim Cullinan; and Angus Woods.

On the night, former Westmeath county chairman Kenneth Brady asked the trio about the funding of the organisation going forward and the need to fill the position of IFA economist – which is currently vacant since Edel Kelly left to take a lecturing role in UCD back in July.

The first directed to the microphone was Cullinan who said: “Without a doubt we have to have a new economist because in fairness that’s centre stage to all that we do.

“The first person you need is an economist and it’s not good enough that we haven’t one there at the moment.”

Turning to the funding of the organisation, Cullinan said: “We did agree that we were going to continue with the system that was there – membership and levy – and you are right; because of what has happened in the livestock sector, as I’ve said already, a lot of the members of the livestock side of our association have joined another group as well.

Whoever goes in there is going to have a huge job of work to do to try and unite all this again because what has happened – there’s way too many groups out there at the moment.

The Tipperary pig farmer also flagged a related concern: “Funding is one thing but we have to be very careful our brand isn’t weakened because our power is our numbers. When we go and meet the minister or go to the factory that’s our power.”

On a previous point, the current treasurer also highlighted funding issues earlier, noting: “We’re under pressure in there at the moment; and unless we change our track we are facing down into a very difficult situation. I will say that.”

Next up, Woods noted that the funding plan put in place in 2016 “is running behind what it should be, but every effort needs to be made to try and rectify that because, no different to an ordinary household and farm, you have to match your ins and your outs; you can’t run a deficit indefinitely”.

“The new economist, we all know how critical that would be,” the Wicklow mixed enterprise farmer said.

It is very difficult to get an agricultural economist; there’s no training as such, no courses in universities for agricultural economists; it is difficult enough to get one but it has to be a top priority.

“It is important we get the right person in because if we have bad advice it’s worse than having no one there but it needs to be followed up,” he added.

Finally, Coughlan said: “The funding of the organisation is critical and it is disappointing that we are where we are; we do need to take on that challenge in a huge way very fast because we do need a new economist and a good economist does cost money.

“We have to ensure that the organisation is fully funded. That’s going to be critical within the next few months,” the Cork dairy and beef farmer warned.