Irish Farmers Association in the spotlight:

[Irish Times publication – 23rd November 2015]

The president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Eddie Downey has come under pressure to explain his role in the current pay controversy surrounding the organisation.

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

At an emergency meeting of the IFA’s executive council on Friday, Mr Downey claimed he had only discovered the extent of Mr Smith’s remuneration two days previously.

However, up until a month ago, it was the job of the organisation’s president and treasurer to sign off on the general secretary’s annual pay.

Mr Downey, who was elected IFA president in January last year, would therefore have been in a position to oversee Mr Smith’s pay for 2014.

Following the meeting, Mr Downey said a strengthened remuneration committee had been put in place and the general secretary’s pay would be made public from now on.

Severance package

Despite resigning, Mr Smith, who had been the group’s general secretary and de facto boss since 2009, is expected to receive a severance package.

Sources claim the deal, brokered with the assistance of British consultants Towers Watson, is covered by a confidentiality clause, however.

The IFA is also under pressure to explain why Mr Smith was in receipt of a separate income from its telecommunications subsidiary, IFA Telecom.

In 2013, his remuneration involved a basic salary of €295,000, a €150,000 pension contribution, a €60,000 bonus and a €30,000 director’s fee from IFA Telecom.

As farmers and politicians called on the IFA to provide further details of executive pay levels, the organisation’s Eyrecourt branch in Galway has called on Mr Downey to resign.

Transparency

Carlow county chairman and former vice-president Derek Deane, who has led calls for greater transparency within the organisation, told The Irish Times there were still unanswered questions, including who signed off on Mr Smith’s salary.

Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív questioned why the IFA had been so secretive about executive pay levels and called on Mr Downey to outline his own remuneration.

“People now want to know is there anybody else within the IFA getting a very large salary,” he told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

After Friday’s meeting, Mr Downey said IFA executive salaries, other than Mr Smith’s, were comparable with those applying in those Government departments and State agencies that the IFA deals with on a regular basis.

The IFA’s general secretary’s pay was traditionally benchmarked against the pay of the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, which is currently about €185,000. However, this link appears to have been broken after 2010.

In response to concerns raised by members about its financial controls, the IFA last month established a three-person remuneration committee, which is to be overseen by former Glanbia boss John Moloney.

The committee is due to review the current pay levels of its general secretary and president, and report back to the executive council next month.