Race for IFA presidency heats up
Contenders to take part in series of debates around country
Current Irish Farmers’ Association president John Bryan will hand over to the new leader when the association meets in January. Photograph: Eric Luke
A series of Irish Farmers’ Association presidential election debates get under way today as two farmers from Meath and Laois vie to be the next leader of the farm organisation.
Current deputy president Eddie Downey (52) from Slane, Co Meath, and south Leinster vice-president Jer Bergin (49) from Ballacolla, Co Laois, will take part in 13 debates around the country over the next month, starting in Limerick tonight.
The IFA presidential election process is a lengthy affair. The organisation’s 88,000 members will begin voting at 949 centres around the State on December 2nd. The national count will be held in Dublin on December 17th and current president John Bryan will hand over to the new leader when the association meets in January. Some estimates have put the cost of running for the IFA presidency at about €40,000, mainly because of the large amount of travelling involved.
To run for the presidency, candidates must be nominated by their own county executive and receive the support of five other county chairpersons. Mr Bergin has the support of county chairmen in north Tipperary, Waterford, Clare, Kildare and Galway, while Mr Downey has the support of chairmen in west Cork, Leitrim, Kerry and Westmeath, and north Cork IFA chairwoman Mary Twomey-Casey.
Both candidates are gung-ho about their chances and have been canvassing farmers for several months now. In their first major public outing, they lobbied farmers at the National Ploughing Championships last month and both said they were very happy with the level of support they received.
They have taken on public relations consultants to boost their campaigns. Mr Downey is being advised by Derek Cunningham, who was press adviser for former Minister for Health Mary Harney and also served as IFA press officer. Mr Bergin is being advised by Michael Miley, former Teagasc spokesman who was involved in the successful IFA presidential campaigns of John Bryan and Pádraig Walshe.
Several other IFA positions are also up for grabs including deputy president and Munster regional chairman.