Dawn Meats to retain automatic IFA levy arrangements

Beef processor signals no change amid Goodman row with IFA over ‘opt-in’ collection

The levy is at the centre of an escalating row between Larry Goodman’s (above) ABP and the IFA. Photograph: Ronan Quinlan/Collins

The levy is at the centre of an escalating row between Larry Goodman’s (above) ABP and the IFA. Photograph: Ronan Quinlan/Collins

 

The State’s second largest beef processor Dawn Meats says it has no plans to change the automatic levy collection from farmers.

The tariff, which is deducted from all farm sales and goes towards funding the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and other groups, is at the centre of an escalating row between Larry Goodman’s ABP and the IFA.

Earlier this week, ABP announced it was changing the way the levy was collected, putting the onus on farmers to “opt in”.

The company is understood to have received an upsurge in complaints about how the levy, also known as the European Involvement Fund levy, is administered following the IFA’s pay scandal last year.

However, the farming lobby claims the move was a deliberate attempt to sabotage its funding arrangements and weaken it as a lobby group.

It linked the move to the IFA’s opposition to ABP’s planned acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Slaney Foods, which would give the Goodman group control of more than a quarter of beef processing in Ireland.

The financial implications for the IFA’s funding model could be serious if other processers were to follow ABP’s move.

Dawn Meats on Friday signalled it has no intention of changing the current arrangements.

“Dawn Meats has no plans to change existing levy collection arrangements unless asked to do so by farmers or the farm organisations,” it said in a statement.

Nonetheless, ABP’s move appears to have put the issue of levies back on the agenda.

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Independent TD for Roscommon Galway Michael Fitzmaurice said if the IFA was forced to ask farmers for their donations and “have them sign a document accordingly then it might start giving them proper representation”.

“If the money they are taking out of farmers’ cheques is voluntary then the least they should do is to ask farmers to sign a docket before taking their money,” he said.

“If you want to become a member of a GAA or soccer or rugby club you go in and pay them membership. They don’t come and take money out of your wages every week or every month.”

About a third of the IFA’s annual €13 million budget is generated by the European Involvement Fund levy, which is automatically deducted from farmers’ pay cheques.

ABP’s portion of the levy is estimated to be in the region of €400,000, about 90 per cent of which goes to the IFA.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), which receives no funding from the levy system, has seized upon the row to call for the issue to be re-examined.

“Farmers are under severe income pressure and deductions from factory cheques add up to a considerable sum,” ICSA president Patrick Kent said.

He said all non-statutory levies should be on an opt-in basis only. “It is an interesting legal question whether taking levies without consent or on an opt-out only basis would stand up.

“Regarding the statutory levies, we need a reassessment of whether farmers should be liable for these costs. Why should farmers pay for marketing a product that they do not own? No other industry operates on this basis, so how come we are stuck with these bills?”