New IFA president pledges to rebuild trust after pay scandal

Joe Healy’s election seen as reaction to recent controversy

Newly elected IFA president Joe Healy celebrates with his family. Photograph: Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Newly elected IFA president Joe Healy celebrates with his family. Photograph: Eoin Burke-Kennedy

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Newly elected president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy has pledged to rebuild trust within the organisation following a string of damaging revelations about executive pay and two high-profile resignations.

The Galway dairy farmer, who was initially regarded as the outsider in the field having never held a senior post in the IFA, was elected on the first count with over 50 per cent of first preference votes.

His victory is being seen as a reaction to the pay scandal which has dogged the farmers’ lobby group since late last year and a desire by members for a changing of the guard.

He beat off the challenges of IFA livestock chairman Henry Burns and the group’s rural development boss Flor McCarthy to become the 15th president of the organisation and only the second Galway candidate to triumph.

In his victory speech, Mr Healy (49) said Irish farmers needed a “strong and united organisation” to represent them and to confront the current challenges.

A key objective would be to halt the slide in farmers’ incomes, which have been squeezed by crashing commodity prices, he said.

Mr Healy said a newly-established IFA remuneration committee would decide on his salary, while noting that farmers wanted and deserved more transparency about how the IFA made its decisions.

He also paid tribute to former president Eddie Downey, who was in attendance, saying he had done his utmost to further the organisation’s interests.

Mr Downey was forced to resign last December after it emerged he had signed off on a generous €2 million severance package for former general secretary Pat Smith.

Mr Downey’s departure is still a source of division within the organisation with supporters claiming other high-ranking officials had agreed to the package.

Mr Smith is now suing his former employers for his €2 million severance, which has been disowned by the organisation’s executive, presenting an immediate challange for the new president.

From the outset, Mr Healy, a former head of farmers’ group Macra na Feirme, presented himself as the anti-establishment candidate, untainted by the revelations about exeutive pay that have convulsed the associaton.

Just over 75,000 farmers from the 947 IFA branches were eligible to vote. Turnout, however, was just 28,093 or 37 per cent, which the organisation blamed on the time of year with calving and lambing season in full swing.

However, several sources said many had stayed away in protest at the recent controversies.

During the campaign, Mr Healy hinted at lifting the lid on the pay of Mr Smith’s predecessors, a move the current administration has so far resisted.

Either way, the IFA hopes the election can draw a line under the controversy.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney sent his congratulations to Mr Healy, noting the agriculture industry was a key economic driver for Ireland and needed strong representation.

The organisation also elected a deputy president on Tuesday, with former Macra na Feirme president Richard Kennedy beating Pat Farrell and Nigel Renaghan.

Earlier, John Coughlan was elected Munster chairperson, receiving 66 per cent of the votes.

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