The new president of the Irish Farmers Association has demanded the next agriculture minister be dedicated only to that portfolio.
Joe Healy claimed farmers saw it as an “insult” that incumbent Simon Coveney had to split his time between agriculture and other posts such as defence.
A dairy farmer from Athenry, Co Galway, he was the clear winner of the presidential contest as the IFA looks to move past the fall-out from last year’s damaging revelations over the pay packets of former presidents and its ex-general secretary, Pat Smith.
Mr Healy said while his overall priority is to improve farm income, in the short term he and other senior IFA members want to install a new general secretary as quickly as possible. However, he stressed that the most important element is to ensure they hire “the right person for the job”.
Commenting on the damage caused by last year’s pay revelations, he said: “Look, it’s still there. What is different is we need to prioritise more because of the chaos and trauma that engulfed the organisation.”
Mr Healy said he supports the idea of a dedicated rural affairs minister and was blunt about his expectations regarding the post of agriculture minister.
“What we don’t want from the next government is a situation where we see the agriculture minister has his portfolio halved,” he said.
“It’s the largest indigenous industry and farmers took it as an insult in the last reshuffle the minister’s time had to be divided.”
Mr Healy said he does not know what his own salary will be as IFA president. It is to be set by an independent remuneration committee. He did pledge that there would be more transparency over salaries and expenditure.
While he was portrayed during the election campaign as an “outsider” who had not been a member of national council in recent years, Mr Healy said he had not tried to cultivate that image and had instead canvassed as many views as possible from members around the country.
While an estimated 500 farmers have explicitly cancelled their membership in recent months, another 4,500 have lapsed. Mr Healy said they are going to be contacted to ascertain whether they want to recommence full membership.
“As an organisation, we need to improve the ground-up structure and have a structure where branches are not just meeting once a year and hear a report about the past year,” said Mr Healy, adding that he wants to make them “feel more of an ownership of the organisation”.
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