IFA Masters of Mind Control!

If ordinary members of INTO were to march on The Dáil demanding higher pay for school principals at the expense of their own salary, you'd have to question their sanity. Either that, or you'd wonder what sort of mind-control techniques the INTO leadership were using to get workers to march against their own interests.

Well, we DO have an organisation with just such power in Ireland – it's called the Irish Farmers Association.

In October of 2012 the IFA convinced 20,000 farmers to march on Dáil Éireann to oppose the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy, a reform which would have redistributed farm subsidies away from big ranch-farmers of the likes of Larry Goodman and put it in the hands of the majority who came to Dublin to protest.

I'm a townie, have never lived or worked on a farm. On the day of that march my knowledge of farming issues and CAP was a lot less than it is today. Even at that stage, however, as a newly-elected TD I had already spoken to a lot of farmers and my understanding of the CAP was slowly but surely evolving.

One thing in particular I understood about the new proposal: former Agriculture Commissioner Dacion Ciolos – the man who preceded Phil Hogan – was recommending a fairer distribution of CAP monies. I knew that under the previous regime in Ireland 80% of the grants went to the top 20% of farmers – in other words, to the wealthiest, those who were least in need. Ciolos was right – that needed to be changed. Why then were all those ordinary farmers who stood to gain from the new proposal marching against it?

The answer – trust. Even though all logic should have pointed people to be anything but trusting, they still had faith in the leadership of the IFA.

The outcome, sadly, was totally predictable. The IFA got its way, those on smaller payments got insignificant increases while those on larger payments continued to swill at the trough. In Mayo alone it is estimated that rejecting the new proposal and retaining the status quo cost the county's farmers close on €160 million. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, danced to the IFA tune, sacrificed his own constituents.

The current debacle within the IFA in relation to the pay of their former General Secretary and their President is really just a manifestation of what the Association stands for, a system where those at the top receive ludicrously high remuneration while everyone else gets screwed.

In return for delivering the goods for its biggest farmers for another six years (€1bn), the IFA leadership also had to be compensated. Larry Goodman had got his chunk of this public money through CAP, Phil Hogan got a cool €330,000/annum and promotion to the top Agri job in Europe, but you could hardly leave the man who did most of the work on anything less than those. So it was that for betraying the interests of the majority of his own membership, Pat Smith also got a package in 2013 that totalled over half a million, almost as much again in 2014. To top things off, when Pat was finally pressured to go, on top of his massive pension he was given a couple of million 'goodbye money', rubbing salt into a gaping wound.

Every trick in the book will now be used to continue this charade. The whole area of pay for IFA officials will be 'dealt with' so that it appears that things have changed. But anyone with half a brain knows – nothing will really change. Even now they are trying it on. Within the last week, in the eye of the media storm, the official Twitter account of the IFA – '@ifamedia' – told us all that a 'Meeting of 60 Connacht IFA Officers this eve strongly endorsed President & Exec Council in dealing decisively with remuneration of former GS'.

NO, THEY DID NOT. They went on to state: 'There was no official vote on the night regarding confidence in president Eddie Downey.' How does 'no official vote' become 'strongly endorsed'? In agricultural language, that's defined as 'bullocks'.

The IFA now has a massive dilemma. Demands from within the organisation itself for democracy are a problem for them because, you see, in a democracy the majority opinion wins. However, and as pointed out above, in that last round of negotiations the majority of IFA members were screwed by their own leadership, the few favoured over the many, the distribution of CAP monies neither fair nor equitable.

The IFA leadership campaigned very aggressively to retain that system, bamboozled and betrayed the majority of its own members. For his role in that betrayal Pat Smith got a bonus of €60,000, official and very solid evidence that the IFA exists mainly to keep the funds flowing for Larry and Co.

Would the IFA top brass have gotten away with this if it was truly and openly democratic? You know the answer…

So here's the dilemma. The CAP is up for review in 2017. More to the point, the distribution of billions of Euros wonga is up for review – over 40% of the EU's entire budget, approx. €60bn.

If demands for democracy within the IFA are met then control over Ireland's share of this money changes hands. There's a saying – 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'; the 80% who were screwed a couple of years ago are hardly going to get caught again. Are they???


AgriculturePaul Cotter