Irish Farmers Association president Eddie Downey has been forced to resign after it emerged that the growing financial scandal engulfing the powerful lobby group is now set for a multi-million euro legal battle.
Mr Downey stood down last night after a day-long IFA emergency meeting decided to take ex-secretary general Pat Smith to court in a bid to claw back a mammoth €4.7m severance deal agreed by Mr Downey just seven days ago.
In a statement less than an hour after 53 members of the organisation’s national executive council were told Mr Smith had been given a €2m severance payment and €2.7m pension when he left last week, Mr Downey said he could no longer stay in charge.
The now former president — who was facing delegate motions to resign and intense pressure after a week of salary scandals involving himself and Mr Smith — accepted his position was no longer tenable.
“I am announcing my resignation as president of the IFA,” Mr Downey, who took over from John Byran just two years ago as a “reforming” president, confirmed.
“My sole interest and motivation in taking on the onerous role as president of the IFA was to work tirelessly and be judged by my record of delivery for Irish farmers here and in Brussels.
“I have always demanded the highest levels of governance and accountability within the IFA, and my clear understanding was that governance and management of the IFA was a clear function and responsibility of the senior executive leadership with oversight from elected officers.
“It is well known that I was determined to be a reforming president. In that regard, I worked to get the audit committee up and working, met with [former IFA chief economist] Con Lucey and agreed with his proposed solutions to issues to be addressed by that committee.
“Unfortunately, that committee’s work was frustrated,” he said.
Mr Downey “stepped aside” temporarily on Monday night amid revelations he was earning €147,000 a year plus €50,000 in add-ons, and that he was aware Mr Smith’s salary had ballooned since 2009 to €535,000 a year, a figure seven times higher than most large farmers’ income.
It means the IFA will be thrown into leadership turmoil just as the general election looms, with further calls being discussed last night over the potential resignation of the IFA’s entire executive board.
Mr Downey’s decision came less than an hour after an emergency meeting of the IFA’s 53-strong national executive council confirmed it will take Mr Smith to court in a bid to claw back the €4.7m package signed off on by the former president last Thursday.
The €4.7m figure includes a €2m severance deal, including €1m up-front and €100,000 every year for the next decade, in addition to a €2.7m pension Mr Smith took out of the control of the IFA last year.
While Mr Downey agreed the fund last Thursday, it is understood treasurer Jer Bergin, financial controller Ken Heade, deputy president Tim O’Leary, and deputy general secretary Bryan Barry, had unsuccessfully attempted to stop the payment.
Meanwhile, the IFA has also confirmed that Mr Lucey — who attempted to raise concerns over financial issues and transparency before quitting under duress last year — will oversee a root and branch review of salaries and expenses between now and December 15.
Mr Lucey will have full authority to investigate all aspects of top-level pay and make recommendations, including the pay packets for Mr Smith, Mr Downey, and Mr O’Leary; IFA voluntary officers’ expenses; and a full review of executive staff salaries.
Mr Lucey last night said “a voluntary representative organisation such as IFA needs to be above suspicion in everything it does”.
He asked that members with relevant information contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Monday, December 7.
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