Live: IFA election debate from Offaly

12:01 AM

Chairman John Keena thanks the audience, a great crowd, great debate and says he couldn’t think of anything that Offaly IFA did not raise tonight. He’s looking forward to working with whoever, and thanks the media, including Agriland, for being here tonight and other nights!

Along with my thanks to you for joining us over the past number of weeks, now don’t forget to go out and vote!

11:59 PM

We’re on the summing up stage, of the final night of the debates. it’s just before midnight as Joe Healy takes the stage.

Flor is next up, to sum up, and says that he can deliver for farmers.

Henry Burns is last to take the podium, at a minute to midnight and reminds the room that people have started to vote tonight and that he’s not about compromise!

11:55 PM

Best answer of the night was the succinct Henry Burns who said he was born ready for this role! It was the last question of the night but John Keena is insisting on one more question….the room is not happy! Ok, I think this might be a comment, as opposed to a question…teh bickering has to stop and let the situation be resolved. Make full use of Liam McHale is Brussels and go forward from now on.

11:49 PM

Pat Walshe says the most important thing in the future is that the new President is working for the members of the IFA – incomes and that’s where the ball has to start.

11:47 PM

I think we’re on the last comment/question of the night…compliments of Tom Loonan a former County President, who says we’re here tonight to fight to rebuild the IFA and the current farming crisis. He says there must be some plan put in place about costs. The next president will have a tough job ahead to rebuild the two and he’ll need a strong team around him.

11:45 PM

Co Livestock rep James Bennett wants to know about breakaway groups and what the candidates are going to do about such splinters…

James

Joe has met with them and wants to work with them. Beef grid needs to be reviewed for the good of the beef farmers.

Henry says for various reasons people have been discontented but farm income is the main nub of it. The weight issue was never agreed on the grid, and it must be forced back. Age and weight need to be sorted on the grid.

Flor says that the balance between farmers and getting the balance right is key. With hill farmers the first mistake made was they did not have a seat on council…we have to deal with the issues.

On the grid, he says, its a massive issue for farmers but quality cattle must be rewarded.

11:31 PM

I’m going to make this call…the room is sleepy…you can see the heads roll…and the chatter has started….from an Offaly woman to an Offaly man…John, let’s call it a night!

11:30 PM

Joe says that as a former Macra president young farmers are close to his heart. To get them involved at branch level, we need the branch to meet more often. And a delegate to a county executive should be a younger person…

11:28 PM

Henry says that most young farmers come in through some relative and there is not an income for both…that’s what has changed so the policies on farm income are crucial. We need to look at what we can do regionally…and younger IFA officers….you need to know if you are active in IFA you can change the policy outside your farm gate. The retirement scheme was a big thing for me, we could lease a farm through the scheme. we need to look at it again.

11:25 PM

Flor says access to land is the issue and the leasing system makes the price of land high. There has to be a system that helps the younger farmer – he needs land to farm. the national reserve, we need to be careful about how it’s given out.

If IFA is working properly people will come into IFA. Its vital we have young people on the committess in Dublin.

11:22 PM

How are the candidates going to involve younger farmers in IFA and create policies for them?

11:19 PM

Joe says that it must be a well funded organisation. The perception is so strong,the organisation is compromised…the perception is so strong that it’s a reality. I;d love to see an alternative to the levy, but it must be pro rata…

Farmers say that its difficult to accept an increase when they are selling below cost of production, so the organisation must push for them. It’s €5.3m levies and some goes to ICMSA and Macra and we don’t want Macra to lose out.

11:17 PM

Henry says that IFA is not a business, it shoudl be run business like so there is a solid finance base but we shoudl not lose the focus that its a member organisation. I was livestock chairman and the level comes up a lot by our own members and there is a view that we are compromised. Members must have some part of the decision, we have to to flesh it all out and say here are the options to fund our organisation going forward and if we fund it at this level here are the services we can have…the people that fund this organisation are sitting in this room and we need them to be part of the decision. The levy is €4.7m, about half the running of the organisation and we need to bring options to the membership. There is only one real other option – an increase in membership.

The levy is proportionate to how much you are selling, but I have committed to look at reforming this.

12:12 AM

Flor says its a massive issue how the organisaiotn is going to be funded, but there are reserves in place to fund the organisation. people want an organisation that can deal with problems, but we still have to have services in place. We need an organisation that is funded. Is more important that an new general secretary. Good people have to be rewarded or they will be poached.

11:10 PM

Membership numbers and levies and finance of the organisation….there is a lot of very good staff people in the Farm Centre, but the last thing we want is that salaries of those staff is compromised in anyway. Good people need to be paid well…

How will the finances of the organisation be maintained?

11:04 PM

What boards are you on?

Flor is on no boards…the only one that has served on no board.

Henry is on a couple…as livestock chairman you serve on Bord Bia, ICBF, and Farm Animal Welfare Council. He gets paid for the Bord Bia seat. He doesn’t take remuneration from IFA for those (paid) meetings.

Joe is on the commonage review committee, farm business development board €3,597 and farm business committee in IFA and meeting expenses for that.

11:01 PM

Climate change is coming down the tracks to Offaly! Us red meat eaters are to blame…and the three at the top table are to blame if killing cattle at any age is their policy….also traditional breeds, how important are they in the future in the beef industry?

Joe says traditional breeds, non continental, is important. He uses a Hereford bull at home. In the future they might start to be used of Hereford and Angus and there won’t be a bonus if everyone is using those bulls…. with the weight issues coming from the factories on one side and the suckler stars on the others, the good continental cattle could be lost.

Climate change – must be finished at 36 months for any profit to be made. There should be no store period, it should be kept going from start to finish. We should look at climate change as an opportunity.

Henry says that on climate change we have to defend our beef industry, its €2.2bn on exports. Its as important to us as the car industry in Germany. Over 90% of our land is in permanent pasture, so it locks up carbon and we have to make that case.

On the age of beef, we have 24 or 25 of the best markets in Europe, and they take a mix of product, heavier and lighter cattle and we have diversity here. We’re not extreme in marketing terms when it comes to weights. The last thing we need is to hammer ourselves into a tight peg, or we’ll get hammered over a 20-year cycle. There is no incentive in the marketplace to produce good cattle….

Flor says the traditional breeds, he has pedigree Charolais bulls, and its good to see transition but it must be the market that demands it. I have seen farmers change, from Belgium Blues…

ON the age of cattle and slaughter, 30 months is forcing us to sell one or two cattle on their own, forcing us to sell as weak sellers…playing into the factories hands, it makes them sitting ducks.

Climate change – we have to protect the family farm first and foremost

10:50 PM

Joe says its very important to get the CEO right, and in relation to the salary there is a renumeration committee there and the President should not sit on that committee. But outside independence advice shoudl be taken. When it was linked to the counterpart in the Dept of Ag it was ok, is the consensus out there.

10:47 PM

Ronan Feiherty (sp) wants to know what they’ll sign off on a CEO for the organisation….

Flor says the CEO is a major decision for the organisation,they must be tough and ruthless and good with people. Short-term contract – 4-5 years and it they;d have to pay to get the right person, maybe along the lines of Gen Sec of the Department of Agriculture. But if they have serious credentials you wouldn’t leave them behind. The CEO must be able to close on a deal and bring the people of IFA with them. The organisation is a farmers organisation and they must understand that.

Henry says that on the salary – that decision was left to too few people in the past, we need to put a structure place that protects us but that we get the right person. We’ll live or die by the consequences of who is elected but you can’t be an expert in all fields, but the job description is very important. Only 2 people in the role over the last quarter of a century.

10:42 PM

Henry says money is key – thats the reason we’re here…there was misleading on where we were at as regards pay and structures. that has to be very open and transparent. Our accounts have to be much more detailed and open to the ordinary members. I don’t believe there is a huge amount to hide and there is no reason to hide if we are to move forward. Then its about the ordinary farmer on the ground, coming to a meeting and the views of farmers coming forward. Ordinary members need to see the President make sense to them when they hear and see him in public.

Joe says transparency is the key word – we have to have an organisation where very member has easy access to the business of the organisation, including salaries, better communication throughout all strands. More of a bottom up approach is needed, for local branches to meet more than once per year. That co-executive must feed into commodity committees and make a lot better use of the commodity chairmen.

Flor says they have to get IFA back working for farmers. There has to be full transparency, what is coming in and how it;s being spent and how it’s being spent to drive commodity price.

10:35 PM

What are they going to do to bring back the trust into the organisation?

10:34 PM

Stuart Wallace wants to know about chemicals and rising enviro lobby groups are getting stronger as chemicals disappear off the market.

Flor says that the tillage sector is under massive threats with income and commodity prices, but IFA has issues within its control and they have to looked at. The only hope for the tillage sector is to reduce the cost of inputs.

Henry says that some things are being based on sentiment, not science..which is dangerous. We can’t ignore the fact that we are somewhat decommissioned from the world market and we have to compete. Licensiing areas around animal medicines is significant and we have to look at Europe licenses. its about research, us making the case and us defending. WE can’t let the mad caps take over or we’ll starve Europe.

Joe says that is wrong that environmentalists have such power and our strength is our traceabililty and accountability. Other farm organisations and politicans have to be brought with us on this.

10:27 PM

First question is about experience in Europe. 90% of business is done in Europe, we need someone who knows their way around…what experience do you have over there?

Joe says it’s an excellent question..he was VP of the European young farmers and that allowed him access to ministers and commissioners and MEPs and says its important that you have the experience to work with politicans at home and at EU level.

Henry says since he’s been involved at national level in IFA, he’s got support of the main sheep producing countries in Europe and that involved contacts across Europe and re co-decision Ireland has to work with everyone, building alliances and ensuring that those who might lean towards farming are brought with them. He’s chairman of the European beef, sheep and poultry group in Europe and the contacts he’s built over there do matter and they take time to build.

Flor says when he was Rural Development chairman he served on a number of EU committees and worked with Commissioner Hogan, the previous Commissioner as well as Irish politicians at home. The best experiences is to realise what’s important to famers on the ground

10:22 PM

Well, three good speeches and now for the questions.

10:18 PM

The three candidates have updated their speeches, with talk around the selling off of loan books, live exports to Turkey now being peppered into the speeches

10:16 PM

Pat Walsh, Rural Development Chair (Offaly) and Tom Loonan, President of IFA Offaly.

Tom and Pat

10:03 PM

Full house

9:56 PM

The Tullamore Three….

Tullamore 3

9:53 PM

Chairman John Keena, whose father was one of the founding members of IFA in Offaly. He’s been a great man to get the crowd in tonight..it’s well over 400.

John Keena

9:33 PM

Crikey the second half of the room is almost full! Is this the largest crowd at an IFA debate???

9:30 PM

Nigel has to stand up to answer this…

To say I’m a dud would be a huge mistake…what does a deputy president do? He sits on the board of teagasc, so I looked at that and asked what I can take to Teagasc…it gets €135m a year and out of that €68m goes on day to day running of the organisaiotn and €67m goes on paying ex employees, so when the leaders of the political parties came into the farm centre he asked them to take some of this money back into the national exchequer and let teagasc have more advisors and I will fight for that

He’s unique to try go out and get more young farmers (he’s 45) into the organisation and says they can relate to him. he has the ability to unite farmers

9:28 PM

Pat says he hopes he’s not going for a dud of a job. He sees it as supporting the president and the policies going forward. He’s from the branch the first president came from and he wants to get it back working for the farmer on the ground. IFA telecom is a case in point of how it has strayed from its core. I will be available to every county executive and branch, and its badly needed after what’s happened

9:27 PM

Richard says that he knows exactly what he’s going to do – support the president. The deputy can make a role for himself and he need not threaten the President. I want to put this organisation back on track  and he’d love to serve with any one of the three running for President.

He suggests a liaison role between commodities to national council and that there is no one bringing the voice  of on the ground members…there is a role for the deputy in talking to them and getting them back in. I think this job could be every day of the week! It’s not a dud of a job. It’s a new origination, we are starting afresh again. There is a lot of denial in IFA and there is a lot of work to do

9:23 PM

The job of the Deputy President has been a dud of a job..you’re in a back room of the IFA..as no one wants to usurp the President..and if they do start making some initiative others don’t want the Deputy to get ahead for the next election…we need a Deputy and a President to bring back the organisation…much applause to this….

9:21 PM

All the questions are from the front rows in Offaly tonight, and the latest is about the Dept of Ag with slow rate of approvals for schemes. TAMSII opened months ago, and farmers are still waiting approval to carry out the work.

Nigel says that he met the Dept of Ag recently and if you have a limited window, the Dept will fast track your application. A lot of schemes will open in June.

Richard says that IFA must be up fit and running again so it can make representations on behalf of farmers. Until then, other organisations are dragging their heels…

Pat blames the Minister and the last Government for forgetting rural Ireland. There are 2,500 people not in GLAS and he’s hopeful the next Minister for Ag won’t forget about rural Ireland as much as the last one did

9:17 PM

Milk is being produced below the cost of production…

Pat says it;s backwards we’ve gone when it comes to farm incomes. IFA has 75,000 members and it must use its strength. Otherwise people go to the wall and we can’t allow that.

Richard says milking cows himself, he’s pushing to increase the intervention price. While its at 21c/L the buyers know that that’s the base price, if that base price was at 26/27c/L it would encourage them to go into the market sooner. We also need to be careful re the intervention ceiling…we could be looking for another increase, but it’s no use at 21c/L

Nigel says that when he faces problems he tries to find solutions..and he’s going to tell us things we don’t want to hear! When farmers diluted their share of co-ops below 51% they lost control…if intervention was up to 25c/L it would be a good base price…

9:11 PM

I’d like to see Bord Bia severely curtailed…we’re all one-man shows here, working 24/7 and the level of inspections and paperwork, I don’t think we should be giving in with beef grids and dairy inspections..why don’t people trust us to do our own job.

Nigel says Bord Bia is one inspection, then there’s Dept of Ag, then co-ops, EPA..where does it stop? We have to take control and we as an organisation have to protect and fight for the farmers. On my family farm it’s my wife and myself and the children, and then after a long day’s work its paperwork..it’s ridiculous…we’re creating employment for people to police us.

Richard disagrees…he says that as an exporting country we have to have an accredited quality standard. Its too severe but we have to have it. If we go selling milk powder, or whatever, and we are selling it against a country that has the standards and accreditation then we lose that sale. He suggests combining inspections.

Pat says that the inspections have got tougher, but as a beef farmer, Bord Bia could have a slimmed down organisation but he depends on them to market his product abroad. €11bn of exports – where is the farmers share of that? Evaporated into thin air? €20bn of exports means nothing if farmers don’t get a return.

10:03 PM

Bord Bia is a issue – farmers are getting very little back, issues with inspections re notice, and if you fail it it costs you….

Pat say that re BB inspections Robin Talbot (Laois farmer) who was thrown out, is an indication of how difficult it is. You can’t have people being thrown out, we have to claw back some of the ground. There are too many people living off our backs and Bord Bia is one of them…lots to be made out of farmers…

Richard agrees that it’s become too severe and there should be time given to get your house in order if necessary after an inspections. IFA has to stand four square about getting that type of time scale before it signs off an new Bord Bia assurance scheme. But quality assurance is a trade issue and the standards we have in this country are being closely watched by others. Some Bord Bia inspectors think they are guards and are throwing their weight around.

Nigel says that he’s the only IFA rep not getting remuneration for his seat on Bord Bia. Bord Bia has 88 staff and the cost of salaries and pensions is €126,000…are we getting value for money? I don’t know…only farmers can answer that. Dominant supermarkets, he says, will mean that if there is no scheme they will introduce their own.

8:55 PM

More room please!!!

More room

8:47 PM

Nigel’s speech got a litter interrupted because we’re having to make the room bigger, but he’s still got a warm reception from the crowd!

8:47 PM

Monaghan man Nigel Renaghan says his wife and himself run the farm and it’s her who is looking after the farm and he’s very grateful to her help and work. His main goal is getting farmers united, while funding for the poultry sector from TAMS. A leader doesn’t tell farmers what to do, but delivering is what it’s all about and he’s proud of it. Young and part-time farmers are top of his list, while rural crime must be addressed.

8:42 PM

Looks like tonight will be a full house – very few seats left! That’s probably because Offaly is great!

8:40 PM

Richard Kennedy, a dairy farmer from Limerick, is now up, he’s a staunch IFA man and a lifelong IFA member. This election is about one issue – that of returning trust and credibility to the organisation, he says. He’s been arrested (!!!) for exposing a shop selling New Zealand lamb…and says he improved the standard of milk testing in the country.

8:36 PM

Beef is his game, he says, and it’s not a tag on….is that a dig at another candidate? Anyway, he’s priorities will be to return the organisation back to its grass roots and will give back the ‘say’ of the organisation to members. He has a strong focus on the price farmers are getting for food and his experience

8:32 PM

Tullamore room

Pat Farrell, an ordinary farmer he says, is first to take the floor and face the crowd (which has filled up more since this pic was taken).

8:27 PM

Co Chairman John Keena is here, pics have been taken (of the deputy candidates) and there is a good, healthy crowd in the room! Think we’re all set…

8:26 PM

We’re slow to start tonight’s debate in Tullamore, but there is a ‘shrine’ outside the door that’s probably distracting people on the way in…

Tullamore shrine

8:21 PM Live: IFA election debate from Offaly

Tonight is the final IFA debate between the presidential and deputy candidates before voting kicks off in 60 IFA branches around the country.

Back to almost where they started in North Tipperary, neighbouring Offaly has the distinction of hosting the last debate.