IFA elects Bergin as national chairman after marathon meeting

Treasurer replaces IFA deputy president Tim O’Leary who plans to run for president

IFA deputy president Tim O’Leary speaking with Economist Con Lucey whose report was published today, at the IFA Executive Council Meeting at the farm Centre in Dublin. Picture: Finbarr O’Rourke

IFA deputy president Tim O’Leary speaking with Economist Con Lucey whose report was published today, at the IFA Executive Council Meeting at the farm Centre in Dublin. Picture: Finbarr O’Rourke

 

The treasurer of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Jer Bergin, has been elected to serve as chairman following another marathon meeting of the organisation’s executive council.

Mr Bergin replaces IFA deputy president Tim O’Leary who decided he could not carry out the functions of president on a temporary basis having declared his candidacy to be the next IFA president.

Mr O’Leary took over the functions of president in the wake of Eddie Downey’s resignation last month.

The association will meet on January 5th to decide on the process for electing a new president.

In a report published on Tuesday it emerged former general secretary of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Pat Smith received a €1.2 million pension top-up to offset the hole in his defined benefit scheme when it was closed in 2011.

At the time, there was a 32 per cent shortfall in the transfer values paid to the farming group’s new defined contribution scheme.

The €1.2 million payment represented over a quarter of the €4.6 million in top-ups paid to 35 IFA pension scheme members, including Mr Smith.

Details of the payment were included in an internal review of pay and governance carried out by the IFA’s former chief economist Con Lucey.

It shows that Mr Smith, who departed last month amid the ongoing controversy over his pay, earned almost €3.5 million during his seven-year tenure in charge.

For three of those years, his total remuneration, comprising pay, bonuses and pension entitlements, exceeded €500,000.

The report also showed that in 2010 Mr Smith negotiated to have €45,000 of his bonus converted to salary to make in pensionable, after which it became a permanent feature of his salary.

Mr Lucey said it was difficult to see the justification for the funding by the IFA of a “top hat” pension arrangement uniquely for Mr Smith’s benefit.

He also said the payment of a €35,000 director’s fee from IFA Telecom to Mr Smith, which he received up to 2013, was “unjustified” and that these funds should have remained within the IFA.

Mr Lucey presented the findings of his review at a meeting of the organisation’s executive council at IFA headquarters in Bluebell in Dublin.

The IFA meeting was due to vote on several resolutions calling on all or some of the executive board to stand down in the wake of the pay controversy.

Mr Lucey’s report also revealed former president Eddie Downey’s two predecessors John Bryan and Padraig Walshe, received termination payments equivalent to one-year’s salary upon retiring.

Mr Downey’s salary package was €156,000 in 2014 and in 2013. Mr Bryan earned €169,400 in 2013 and €160,420 in 2012, while Mr Walshe earned €181,400 in his final year, which was 2009.

The report noted that IFA presidents were each invited to sit on the board of FBD Holdings during their tenure, which came with a director’s fee of nearly €40,000.

In his assessment, Mr Lucey said the main problem with the salary of president was that it had become disconnected from the original purpose of the payment, which was to ensure that his farm did not suffer during his term of office.

He also recommended that directors’ fees paid to IFA presidents should kept within IFA coffers from now on.

Overall his report concluded that the salary levels of IFA executives were “broadly in line” with the relevant Civil Service grades.

The report said that ultimately it was market forces that determine pay levels in the IFA.

“Any move away from this is likely to have a negative impact on the quality of staff and the motivation of staff,” it added.

Last month, the IFA’s executive council unanimously voted not to pay Mr Smith his controversial severance package.

However, Mr Smith has initiated legal proceedings against his former organisation in an effort to secure the money.

Lawyers for Mr Smith have lodged a “specific performance” case which alleges that the IFA breached the severance agreement, which comprised €1 million upfront and €100,000 annually for 10 years.

In legal letters sent to the organisation earlier this month, Mr Smith also claims he was defamed by suggestions that he was “fired” as a result of the pay controversy.