IFA needs a ‘shake-up’ of young blood

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) needs a “shake-up” of new young staff and members, according to former 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 in discussions but was unable to attend due to previously-arranged commitments.

At an IFA meeting in Co. Waterford last week, Downey – a farmer from Co. Meath – outlined why he believes that changes need to be made in the IFA and why “radical reform” is needed to stay relevant.

“There needs to be massive changes there. I think the manner in which IFA communicates, the manner in which IFA interacts with members, is critically important and I believe – and I’m saying that as ‘we’ – we are not doing it as well as we should be doing it.

‘Embrace the smart phone’

“We need to embrace technology; we need to embrace the smart phone; we need to get the information out to people quicker to demonstrate exactly how and what we are doing for them on a daily basis.

It just needs a shake-up; we lost a lot of young staff from the organisation. We need to bring new young staff in and bring vibrancy into it on that basis.

I think the guys on the ground, the regional development officers; I think they are the absolute key pins of IFA and I think they are the most important people within the organisation.

“They interact on a daily basis with the members and the local staff and the local officers; it’s absolutely crucial that they are upgraded and given more responsibility and that their role is recognised better.”

Getting involved

Downey was asked whether he would encourage young family members or friends to get involved in the IFA today, in light of current mixed confidence when some people were asked about their views on the lobbying abilities of Irish farming organisations.

The former president left no room for doubt in his response.

“First of all yes, I would encourage everybody to get involved in farm organisations. I think you’ve got to educate yourself; it’s a massive opportunity to get educated, because there’s good speakers coming to meetings.

“Listen to them; listen to what they’re doing, why they’re saying what they’re saying; it’s so easy to be in a mart or wherever; at the pub giving out about something.

But it’s much more difficult when you get involved and try to resolve the problems, and I think that’s the challenge there.

“Young people absolutely should get involved; they really need this information.

“They’ve got the information from Teagasc; they’ve got the information from the ag colleges – but now they actually need the education for life as to how and why the political system operates.

“I got involved in IFA 30 years ago; I got involved because I didn’t understand what APS meant, which was Aids to Private Storage, it was a system which was in place at the time.”

The former president remembered how, back then, he lost 10c/lb on cattle because he didn’t sell them in time – because he didn’t understand the system.

That was a sore lesson I learned; I went and got involved in IFA and educated myself on the process in between.

Asked if he has any future ambitions within the organisation, Downey said: “I have very serious ambitions within IFA; that’s to be a good, solid member of it.

“And I intend to be a very good, solid member of it and to make sure that the organisation does the best it possibly can – and I will do that as a member.”