Opinion

What’s facing the new IFA president?

As the IFA debates between the three presidential candidate draw to a close – the final debate will take place in Tullamore, on Tuesday, March 29 – the debates have given the future IFA President a glimpse into what lies ahead.

First and foremost the new President must install a strong team around them, including appointing a new General Secretary and a Chief Executive. The splitting of the General Secretary role into two entities will allow the President bring in two strong people, without allowing the organisation to be run by any one individual.

However, questions are still being asked about the internal runnings of the IFA, notably the salaries of some senior staff. At the Louth debate all three candidates promised to go back beyond the Con Lucey report and look at the figures around salaries of the then General Secretary and the President.

It is understood that the new committee, established to look at the Con Lucey report, has met, however it’s a long way off implementing the recommendations of the report.

While the sentiment may be there among the three candidates that they will open all the closet doors and won’t be afraid of any skeletons they might find, that may not be possible. Employment law will, quite possibly, supersede any plans to make known all the salaries within the organisation. Further, alienating the staff of IFA with a slash and burn policy won’t necessarily help the new President in the long run.

The organisation needs greater transparency around its operations and staff, but how he handles this will be a real and quick test of his mettle.

What Bord Bia is delivering for farmers has been a point of anger at many of the meetings. With the organisation in receipt of €5.7m of levies from farmers, it’s no wonder that farmers want answers as to why they are not receiving a premium price for their premium product.

However, the IFA President will really have to question the role of IFA on the boards of Bord Bia. It has, after all, five people representing farmers on Bord Bia, four of whom have been receiving a wage for this.

The issue of farm incomes has resounded at every meeting to date and how the IFA can deliver for farmers will have to be central to the organisation and its policies.

People have been quite dismissive of the role of the Deputy President. It’s seen by many as a very secondary role to that of the President and one that someone said to me should be kept that way. It’s unfortunate, as the role of the Deputy President should be expanded to ensure they are a key player in the President’s plans.

With many farmers disillusioned and angry with the organisation, building up trust and belief in the organisation’s credibility will be crucial over the coming months and years. A role for the Deputy in taking a lead in reforming the organisation could be a wise move, although this will be no small task.

Being credible to young farmers will also be a key challenge and the previous dependance on past glories such as the march of 1966 won’t be enough to motivate younger people join. Its future will be about ensuring it has a viable and vibrant membership, who are proud to be associated with the organisation.

That task will be key to the future of the IFA, as without the full backing of strong numbers the organisation faces a bleak future.