Wednesday night’s IFA presidential debate in Limerick was dominated by talk of money – from the IFA levies to the value of pre-nuptial agreements.
Chaired by Limerick Co. Chairman Aidan Gleeson it was presidential candidates only battling it out for Limerick votes, as one of the deputy candidate – Richard Kennedy – is from Limerick. This home advantage is being treated as such and debates are not happing in counties where one candidate would have the floor support.
Despite this, all three presidential candidates – Henry Burns, Joe Healy and Flor McCarthy had significant support in the room of 170 attendees.
Money was firmly to the fore of Limerick people’s minds and one of the first questions on the night was around the IFA levies and that meat factories collect an IFA (European Involvement Levy (EIF)) levy on behalf of the organisation.
Joe Healy said the levy should be called what it is – an IFA levy – and there must be complete transparency around it, what is being collected, how much and how it is being spent.
“IFA turnover in 2015 was €12m and it cost €10m to run the organisation. We can run the organisation more efficiently but we can’t cut services”
Flor McCarthy said the levies are worth €4.7m (one third of IFA income) to IFA, but he’s yet to hear an alternative that every farmer would be happy with.
“Every member is entitled to know how much he’s paying on levies and where it’s going. Hopefully, with a new president we can clear up the issue of pay to the satisfaction of the 29 county executives. We have to have absolute transparency going forward.”
Henry Burns said, repeatedly, that a “grown up conversation” is needed on levies and that the organisation needs the funding it currently has, but said the IFA cannot have the organisation it currently has without the levies.
Burns also says IFA members can’t fight over the levy, we sort it out and move on or keep it and says it’s a good thing. “Now there’s controversy around it and we need to have a real grown up discussion about it.”
However, Joe Healy said there is a huge perception that the factory levy has created a conflict of interest and that perception is a reality and was adamant IFA needs to move away from the levies.
Flor McCarthy said he’ll examine levies within 100 days of taking office, but the organisation needs the money.
However, the floor clearly supported with a round of applause that the IFA gets rid of factories collecting levies. One man from the floor suggested that IFA could cut its staff costs and expenses to help fill the €4.5m hole.
A number of questions, in relation to IFA salaries, were raised. From the golden handshakes of past presidents to the exit package of Pat Smith and whether details of other IFA Presidents should be revealed and whether anything will be done to retrieve any of this money.
According to Henry Burns, the most disappointing thing for everyone was that people understood the IFA President’s remuneration was to replace labour when they were away from the farm, not what it actually transpired to be.
He also said that he’s not in favour of the golden handshake, which IFA President’s received on leaving office.
On the pay of executive staff within IFA, one figure of €160,000 being quoted for one senior member. This was neither confirmed of denied – it’s probably not known by the three candidates – but Joe Healy said he could not tolerate a situation where the staff are dictating to the organisation.
This resonated with the crowd and the other candidates said transparency and benchmarking is needed on IFA wages.
However, the involvement of Deputy General Secretary Bryan Barry and former Treasurer Jer Bergin in former General Secretary’s and President’s pay was not a topic any candidate wanted to tackle.
According to Joe Healy, it costs €1,200 to get a pre-nupital agreement and it lasts for five years, then you need post-nupital.
However, he said pre-nuptials have no legal standing at the moment in Ireland, but judges are changing their attitude to them.
According to Flor McCarthy, a lot of farms are not being transferred because of the fear of break ups and he said IFA must take a position on them.
Henry Burns said there must be a system in place where the family farm can survive in the event of a break up and while he said marriage breakdown is not an easy issue to sort, he said what is in place before a person comes into a marriage must be respected to some extent.
Henry Burns, as IFA Livestock Chairman came in for some criticism from the floor over the success of protesting. He said while French dairy farmers have protested with slurry in supermarkets and removing trollies from supermarkets, these heavyhanded methods have not got them an extra cent.
Joe Healy took a more sympathetic line and said when he was on the picket line at Ballyhaunis and was told the protest was over, and he saw lorries lining up to go into the factory, it “nearly drove him cracked”. He said farmers need to stay at the gates until they get the result they want and that’s what will happen under his watch.
Slaney/ABP Proposed Deal
Henry Burns says the recent IFA protest outside Slaney forced Minister Coveney to make a submission on the ABP/Slaney deal, but now Burns wants to hear what the Minister has to say on the proposed deal.
Burns said the ABP/Slaney deal should not be allowed to go ahead as it will reduce the level of competition in the beef sector and more competition, not less, is needed. Transparency and control at EU level are necessary in the beef industry, Burns says, while Joe Healy claims an actuary student couldn’t understand the current factory pricing situation.
Flor McCarthy was adamant throughout the night that farmers must receive a premium price for their premium product. Dairy farmers, he said, are facing unsustainable milk prices in 2016 and forward contracts must be strongly considered as a way to deal with continued volatility.
Dairy farmers, he says, are needed by the Plcs and co-ops and the challenge for IFA exists here and “getting a minimum price (30c/L) is needed to keep dairy farmers in a family farm set up”.
For Henry Burns part of the key to the dairy crisis lies in raising the intervention price. “There are lots of other things that will add a cent or two, but the EU has a job to do to protect family farms.
“Bringing back milk quotas is not a real flyer.”
According to Joe Healy, who was quoting says Ornua, 24c/L is the price staring dairy farmers in the face this year, but Ornua is positive for the medium and long-term markets.
He said intervention is not the be all and end all for Irish dairy farmers, but it is at a ridiculously low level at 21c/L.
The Russian Ban on food imports, he said, is hitting Irish farmers and they should be compensated for it., while interest rates in Irish banks are 2% over the EU average.
For a full and details account of events, visit our live blog page. While no longer live, it gives you a complete run down of all the questions and answers on the night.
For full interviews with the presidential candidates and profiles of the deputy candidates visit our dedicated IFA Elections 2016 section.