The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) must undergo “radical reform” if it is to remain relevant for future generations, former IFA president, Eddie Downey, has warned.

Speaking last night at an IFA meeting in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford, Downey spoke openly and frankly on the level of change that he believes is needed to sustain the country’s largest farm lobby group – which he led in 2014 and 2015.

Although the Meath farmer repeatedly stated that he is an active IFA member; he contends that the body must “embrace technology” to a far greater degree in order to entice youthful membership.

He also stated that the much-publicised Con Lucey report on the IFA’s corporate structure and governance – published in 2015 following the high-profile pay controversy that rocked the organisation to the core – should be “scrapped”.

In response to a question from the floor on the future shape of the IFA, Downey said: “The IFA needs to change dramatically – and I mean dramatically.

“We were in a position in 2015 to do that and we had plans in place on where it was to go. There needs to be less meetings, more communication and better use of technology.

“[The] IFA does not need to have as many meetings as we have – and I’m a member, so I say ‘we’.

We need to have better meetings; we need to stop repeating ourselves; we need to stop coming up with the same thing continuously – meeting; after meeting; after meeting.

“We don’t get things changed by continuously seeking and talking about them; we get change by meeting the people in power and in the place to make the change,” he said.

He said the organisation must urgently plan ahead for the next two decades.

“The reality is that when the review of [the] IFA commenced it set it back 20 years. It was done by people that were looking backwards and I don’t apologise for saying it.

“The people that brought in that review looked backwards; they brought in committees that were defunct and taken out of the system and brought them back in again.

So I’m saying we need a radical review of [the] IFA; we need to radically look at it and get it done fast.

“There was a three-year financial plan on where [the] IFA was going; it was proposed to be put forward; but I never heard about it being discussed or put forward. It was just announced as a plan.

“These things need to be put out in front of members and members need to know where it’s going and we’re not getting it. I’m saying this as a member.

“I think we should throw out the Con Lucey report – completely scrap it, because it did nothing to bring it forward.”

Splinter groups

He highlighted that many young farmers are more interested in getting involved in discussion groups and purchasing groups – rather than farm lobby organisations.

“The reality is that those discussion groups will become the politically influential groups for the future.

We will have dairy focus, livestock focus, sheep focus, tillage focus and we will have everybody fighting against each other in splinter groups – as we have at the minute – rising up in all directions.

“They are forming out of frustration because they’ve got no incomes,” he warned.

Global perspectives

He also believes some inspiration can be taken from how other farm bodies are run worldwide.

“The way to get young people involved is through technology. We need to have more teleconferences. We don’t need to bring people from Kerry to Dublin, from Donegal to Dublin, to have a discussion to make things happen.

“We need to embrace a whole new system to educate people,” he said.