The deputy president of Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Tim O’Leary has pledged to rebuild the trust of the association’s membership following the controversy over its former general secretary’s pay, which he described as “indefensible”.
“We found it unacceptable ourselves. I can absolutely understand the anger of our members,” Mr O’Leary said in an interview on RTE.
The farmers' lobby has been thrown into the worst crisis of its 60-year history by revelations that its former general secretary Pat Smith received a salary package totalling nearly €1 million o ver two years.
Amid calls for his resignation, IFA president Eddie Downey announced last night he would "step back" from his role while the association's former chief economist Con Lucey carries out a review of governance structures within the organisation.
In the interim, Mr O’Leary will undertake the functions of the president.
Concerns about financial controls within the IFA were first raised last year by Mr Lucey before he resigned as chairman of the IFA’s audit committee.
His return appears to be an attempt by the organisation to draw a line under the current crisis.
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.
“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.
Following last week’s pay disclosures, the IFA last night also revealed that Mr Downey is paid €147,000 for his role as president, while Mr O’Leary is paid €35,000.
It also pledged to reveal details of Mr Smith severance package once it is agreed.
Since Mr Smith’s dramatic departure last Thursday focus had turned to Mr Downey’s role in the controversy.
Yesterday, there were several calls for him to resign with members suggesting his position no longer tenable.
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.