A year after the salary scandal shook the IFA to its foundations, and led to the Con Lucey report, its members are again set to reflect on what the Cavan County Executive has called an “urgent” issue for the association. The Anglo-Celt revealed this week that Cavan IFA has passed a resolution flagging conflicts of interest as an issue which requires urgent action - the constitution must be amended they claim. Before receiving the precise details fo the Cavan resolution, the Celt spoke to various key people in the Association on whether conflict of interest is a problem for the IFA.
Conflict of interest hasn’t been an issue for the IFA and, if it is, they can deal with it, the association’s deputy president has told The Anglo-Celt.
The issue has come to the fore as Cavan IFA sent a resolution before the Rules and Priveleges Committee calling for an urgent change to the association’s constitution to “prevent vested interests from infiltrating the IFA”.
A National Council meeting is due to be held in Dublin today (Wednesday, December 21), but conflicts of interest are not amongst the two resolutions on the agenda for discussion. It is possible it could be added to the agenda.
“My feeling on it is they can’t be representing both [the IFA and outside organisations]. The rules should be changed,” said county chairman James Speares, who supports the motion.
“They can still be IFA members, they can still have an input into everything that they want to, but they can’t be representing both,” said Mr Speares.
Under the current rules and constitution, members running for, or holding senior roles within the organisation, are not required to declare roles in other organisations. This permits IFA representatives to sit on other boards, or be involved in other businesses right across the various agri sectors.
The Anglo-Celt sought clarity on the association’s rules/regulations prohibiting any positions or directorships, which may be seen as presenting a potential conflict of interest to their IFA role, and was told by an IFA spokesman: “There is no requirement to declare positions or directorships.”
This paper requested a breakdown of the members of the Cavan and Monaghan county executives, and their positions or directorships on other boards, and the same information for representatives at national level, however, the details were not provided by headquarters. The Anglo-Celt also sought an interview with the president of the IFA, Joe Healy, on the issue but was refused. However Deputy President Richard Kennedy spoke candidly, saying he didn’t believe that it had been an issue for the association, but if it becomes one, they will act.
Asked whether representatives should have to declare outside interests, Deputy President replied:
“Outside of political affiliations I don’t.” This reflects the current rule, which prevents IFA representatives from running for public office.
He added: “This is a democratic organisation. If the members of a county decide he’s good enough, and he could represent their interest I don’t see a problem with it.”
Therefore should members running for positions as representatives not make a declaration so that everyone is armed with the facts before deciding their vote?
“My view is that it is very unlikely that no one would know.”
“It doesn’t seem to be a problem in the association and if it became a problem we would deal with it.”
Like all of those who the Celt spoke to, Mr Kennedy, a north Limerick dairy and beef farmer, was willing to disclose his positions on other boards; he is the IFA representative on the Teagasc board. There is a payment for the role but he noted, “more than likely that money will be going back to IFA.”
Mr Kennedy, who was elected to the deputy post earlier this year, clarified, “they [IFA] may take the salary, and that’s fine.”
Mr Kennedy said, “The only reason I’m doing this job is because of my own interest in farming and the importance of IFA to farmers - I need IFA as a farmer.”
In the dairy sector, locally the Board of Lakeland Dairies currently includes Cavan dairy committee chairman Anthony Leddy and Louth county chairman Gerard Melia, and the board of Monaghan based co-op LacPatrick includes Bert Stewart, who is the Ulster North Leinster Regional Chairman. No member receives payment other than expenses for these roles. There is no suggestion of wrong-doing by any of them, and those contacted by this paper insist that there is no conflict of interest in them holding these positions. There are no IFA representatives on the board of Glanbia.
Bert Stewart, Ulster North Leinster Regional Chairman doesn’t believe IFA has had problems with conflicts of interest. In terms of people sitting on boards of co-ops, he believes that this makes them better equipped and “more informed to sit on the IFA committee”.
He volunteered the fact that he sits on LacPatrick - and said “I’ve taken absolutely no remuneration from LacPartick Co-op since it was formed - absolutely none”.
“Going to board meetings, I’m much better informed with my involvement with the IFA where the markets are, what the market is capable of returning.”
The Celt asked him if he could not see a conflict arise where he should be putting pressure on LacPatrick for a higher price, yet sitting on the board?
“I would have absolutely no problem [fighting for higher prices in the board]... I would put the best case forward for farmers on milk price or whatever.”
The Celt asked why not have a rule in which people declare interests?
“In general when someone is going up for election, they would be asked unofficially, by all the members who would be voting for them, [for example] are you a cattle agent for a factory? And in general people are aware if people are on other boards or on other organisations, and they would be aware of that before anybody would be elected as such.”
“IFA is a voluntary organisation and no voluntary members get paid for sitting on any board... there is no wages paid to anybody that goes to represent the IFA out from the president and deputy president - they are the only two voluntary officers in the organisation that get remunerated.”
He says that if there was payment, “it’s a different situation”.
Anthony Leddy has been the County Cavan dairy chairman for six and a half years. He then took up a position on the board of directors Lakeland Dairies in November 2014, for which he says he receives expenses only. There is also an IFA county chairman on the Lakeland Dairies Board.
Does the position on Lakeland Dairies board impinge on your ability to represent dairy farmers?
“No, I like to think that it’s a balance. It’s a difficult position to be in, but it’s a balance between being a director and also representing farmers.”
But you couldn’t criticise Lakeland Dairies about the level of pay they gave farmers for a litre of milk?
“Yes being a director, yes. I understand what you are saying but there’s a balance between both.”
Like Mr Stewart he believes the experience gained on the board made him better equipped to fulfil his IFA role.
“I have spent over four and a half years on the IFA dairy committee before I joined the board of Lakeland and this left me with vast knowledge of the dairy markets - knowledge that I wouldn’t have got had I been an ordinary dairy farmer. I thought when I put my name forward to be a director, I had this knowledge behind me and it definitely did help me.”
Mr Leddy’s term as county dairy chair is coming to an end but he notes that he was unopposed when re-elected for his final term as dairy chairman, when he was also on the Lakeland board.
“The position is for three, two-year terms and, if anyone had wanted to challenge me, every two years they could have, and I wasn’t challenged.”
He doesn’t believe that it’s an issue.
“I personally don’t feel it’s an issue. I know there’s some people, are partly not happy with it.”
Mr Leddy said the matter should be decided at national level and agreed there “probably should be a discussion on it”.
Nigel Renaghan is the National Poultry chairman and, while he believed there wasn’t a problem with conflicts of interest, he would be open to a rule being brought in requiring disclosure.
He observed that, while he didn’t have to disclose outside roles for the position of poultry chairman, when he ran for the deputy president role earlier this year, “I had to declare all my interests”.
He noted that IFA has “taken action to rectify” any issue, giving his own example of sitting on Bord Bia by ministerial appointment - “the money goes directly to IFA instead”.
“I’m the only one that is on Bord Bia that gets no remuneration.”
“I think that’s a great position, that you’re not taking any money from them because whenever I go into a meeting with Bord Bia, I’ve nothing to gain or nothing to lose, only to protect farmers. It puts me in a strong position.”
He said there’s no scope for a conflict of interest with his role as treasurer with Sicín, a co-op set up for chicken growers supplying Carton Brothers, noting that it doesn’t deal with price. The IFA Carton Growers Group - an elected group - deal with the company in terms of price for farmers, and Mr Renaghan said that he is not a member of it.
He said that “it would be a great job” if a requirement to declare outside roles came into force.
“You rely on the next guy come after you. I wouldn’t like to think that the next guy coming after me had a conflict of interest, he wouldn’t represent me properly, or he felt compromised...”
In the aftermath of the salary scandal of late 2015 the IFA commissioned their former chief economist Con Lucey to review the association’s governance. The Lucey report was published in December 2015 under the unwieldy title of ‘The Report and Recommendations to IFA Executive Council on Structures and Procedures in the IFA, and certain remuneration issues, in the context of achieving high standards of governance and transparency’.
Teddy Cashman, the former chair of the national liquid milk committee, headed up the committee charged with reviewing Lucey report and the implementation of its recommendations, and also reviewed 350 submissions made by IFA members.
He explained that the terms of reference of the Lucey report focused on issues like the fairness of the levy and the appropriateness of pay levels, and also examined governance.
According to Mr Cashman it didn’t cover the issue of declaring outside interests, which he explains is a rule issue rather than a governance issue.
He echoed the deputy president’s position on the matter, that to his knowledge, so far it hasn’t been a issue, except for one specific instance which he briefly outlined to the Celt.
Mr Cashman says that it is understandable that there is overlap between IFA and co-ops.
“The pool of people who get involved in co-ops and in the IFA, tends not to be huge. The same would apply right throughout IFA and other organisations if you look in Kerry and Limerick and who is involved there. The people tend to be similar enough, they tend to be involved in farming organisations.”
Similar to Mr Kennedy he said that the option is there to change the rules if necessary.
“The structure of the IFA is that it is very easy to get these things done. If people feel there needs to be a change made, we’ve a very defined structure - we send a resolution to national council, it’s debated, and if they feel it needs to happen it happens. It’s as simple is that - the structure is there to do it if people want to do it.”