‘IFA needs structure to help farmers – not protect staff’

Farming organisations should be organised in a way that helps the farmer in the best possible way – as opposed to protecting its staff in the best possible way, according to former Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey.

Speaking to presenter Claire Mc Cormack on the latest episode of FarmLand, Downey expressed the view that the IFA needs to be radically reformed to be member-based.

Current IFA president Joe Healy was also invited to participate but was unable to attend due to previously-arranged commitments.

The Co. Meath farmer was commenting in relation to a question posed to him at a recent IFA meeting in Co. Waterford last week.

“I was asked by a young farmer whether I thought the IFA needed to be reformed and if I thought there should be changes in it.

Yes, it needs radical reform. It does need to be reformed; it does need to be changed.

“We had a review done three years ago, the Con Lucey report, and that was done by people looking backwards to where they saw the organisation had been in the past; we needed a review and it was staff-based.

‘Forward-looking’ review

“We now need a review which is looking forward and it should be member-based.

“I am a member of IFA; we own this organisation, it is our organisation, and it is to represent us,” Downey stressed.

The view of the farmer should be represented and it should be organised in a way that helps the farmer in the best possible way, not that it protects the staff in the best possible way.

In Downey’s comments made in Waterford, the former president said that the association should draw inspiration internationally from farmer groups in other countries.

“When you go around the world and you talk to them; when you look at how they’re structured, a lot of them have add-on businesses which bring in money for the farm organisations and help to fund it – but they also give benefit to the members right down through the system.

“We have that today to some extent in IFA, in that IFA is a purchasing group or a buying group to ESB services; telephone services.”

Independence

Downey noted that some people see such moves as a negative and believe that they are just distractions for the IFA – something he refuted.

“That’s not the case; it’s a way in which IFA can become independent and can fund itself independently.

That’s very important that farmers support that because it will leave us independent of the levy system with the factories, which a lot of people like to criticise.

“The reality is the same people criticise the levy as criticise the phones. So you’ve got to find a way to fund an organisation; that’s critically important.”

Downey highlighted that other organisations from abroad used to look to Ireland and the IFA to gain ideas but this is no longer the case – and needs to be reversed.

Foreign inspiration

“Now we need to go back and look at them and see what they have done, and how they have ran their businesses.”

When asked whether he would take inspiration from anywhere in particular, the former president said that in such research no single country is looked at but a broader approach is taken.

“It’s a research process – go everywhere. Look at the Italians; look at the Germans; look at the Scandinavians; the NFU in Britain, it has a huge insurance company. The Cattleman’s Association in America, it has a huge insurance company.

“All of those contribute to the funding of the organisation and that helps it to be more efficient and helps it to lobby better,” Downey said.