The leadership of the Irish Co-operative movement has been challenged to lower the age profile and gender profile of its boards.

Speaking at the ICOS National Conference in Dublin this week, Dr Sean Brady the former Managing Director of Irish Sugar and Chairman of the Food Harvest 2020 report said the is a need for a significant shake-up of co-op boards.

“There is a need for a younger generation of farmers to move forward with determination and step into the boardrooms of co-operatives all across the country.”

While acknowledging the work of the current generation of board members and ‘the men who have gone before them’, Brady said the ICOS and the co-operative leadership should give consideration that the age eligibility to contest board seats should be limited to 50 and the last age where farmers could go for election would be under 55.

“If this was to happen you would bring new blood into the sector, you would see young men and women coming forward while at the peak of their farming careers.

“I suggest that we get the youth involved because the youth is our future.

“It’s not that I am disrespectful of age, but with the rate of change in the world today we need youth involvement at leadership in the co-op sector,” he said.

‘15% of co-op boards should be made up of women’

Brady also said the ICOS and the co-operative movement should consider facilitating a means by which farmers’ wives could actually get on the share register or become equal shareholders in the co-op.

“With a view that by 2020 15% of the directors in every co-op in the country should be female,” he said.

Brady said he believes the female voice is a powerful voice.

“ICOS should challenge itself on how it can provide a mechanism to get that voice heard. No diversity in views leads to poor decision making.

“I think the contribution of females in agriculture is enormous,” he said.