Downey ‘to step back’ pending review of IFA remuneration

Association brings back former chief economist Con Lucey to carry out review

IFA president Eddie Downey claims he only discovered the extent of the general secretary’s remuneration 24 hours prior to his resignation. Photograph: David Sleator/Irish Times

IFA president Eddie Downey claims he only discovered the extent of the general secretary’s remuneration 24 hours prior to his resignation. Photograph: David Sleator/Irish Times

 

The president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Eddie Downey is to step back from his role while its former chief economist Con Lucey carries out a review of governance structures within the organisation.

The move comes in the wake of the pay controversy surrounding its former general secretary Pat Smith, who resigned last week.

In a statement tonight, the IFA said it had asked Mr Lucey to oversee agreed changes to the organisation’s remuneration policy and to make additional recommendations on how its corporate governance could be improved.

Concerns about financial controls and remuneration within the IFA were first raised last year by Mr Lucey before he resigned as chairman of its internal audit committee.

Mr Downey said he wished to give Mr Lucey and the association “the time and space to thoroughly review the situation” and therefore would step back to facilitate the review.

In the interim, deputy president Tim O’Leary will undertake the functions of the president.

“Mistakes have been made and I want to apologise for that. Steps have been taken to ensure that past mistakes are never repeated,” Mr Downey said.

The farmers’ lobby has been engulfed in crisis by revelations that its former general secretary Pat Smith received a salary package totalling €445,000 in 2014 and €535,000 in 2013.

The IFA tonight also revealed Mr Downey was paid €147,000 for his role as president, while Mr O’Leary was paid €35,000.

Mr O’Leary pledged to rebuild the trust of the association’s membership following the disclosure of Mr Smith’s pay, which he described as “ indefensible”.

He also said:“Con Lucey will carry out a comprehensive review to address any inadequacies in our structures, and will come back to Executive Council with recommendations.”

“ There will be full transparency and accountability from now on,” he added.

Since Mr Smith’s departure last Thursday focus had turned to Mr Downey’s role in the controversy.

Traditionally, it was the job of the organisation’s president and treasurer to sign off on the general secretary’s pay.

However, Mr Downey, who was elected IFA president in January last year, claims he only discovered the extent of Mr Smith’s remuneration 24 hours prior to his resignation.

Carlow county chairman and former vice-president Derek Deane, who has spearheaded a campaign for greater transparency within the IFA, said Mr Downey was “no longer creditable anymore”.

The former chairman of the Tipperary IFA, Philip Kinane, also described Mr Downey’s position as untenable, claiming members had lost faith and trust in the organisation.

The Irish Times has learned that Mr Downey also sits on the board of three companies connected directly with the IFA.

He is listed as a director of FBD Insurance, which is 25 per cent owned by the farming group, and The Agricultural Trust, publishers of the Farmers’ Journal. Mr Downey also sits on the board of the IFA’s telecommunications arm, IFA Telecom. Mr Smith received a €30,000 director’s fee from this subsidiary as part of his income in 2013.

Despite resigning, Mr Smith is understood to have brokered a severance package. However, the IFA has so far declined to disclose details of the arrangement.