Pressure is mounting for a forensic police investigation into the Irish Farmers’ Association after a series of revelations that executives in the body appropriated several million euro in the form of inflated salaries, pensions and one-off cash payments.
The IFA was first set up in 1955 to represent the interests of farmers in Ireland, and now has 85,000 members. But the organisation is in tatters this weekend following the revelation that former IFA general secretary Pat Smith (pictured, left) is to receive a 4.7 million euro ‘retirement package’.
The association’s president Eddie Downey (pictured, right) has also quit after it emerged that, in the middle of the scandal, he signed off on an additional two million ‘severance package’ for Mr Smith, including an immediate cash payment of one million euro, on top of his existing pension pot worth 2.7 million euro.
This came despite Smith’s forced resignation over the scale of his previously undisclosed pay package, which amounted to nearly a million euro for the two years 2013 and 2014. It later emerged that Downey had acted without the consent of the organisation’s deputy president and the treasurer.
In the face of growing outrage among farmers, a grassroots campaign has forced the IFA to publish the salary details, despite a long-standing refusal to do so.
However, state authorities have so far shown little interest in the scandal, despite echoes of controversies which have damaged many other Irish voluntary and non-governmental organisations in recent years.
Agriculture journalist Margaret Donnelly said IFA members were “shocked” at the payment details that have emerged.
“Its members are shocked and horrified and upset and let down over what has happened and what has emerged,” she said. Donnelly said the organisation needs to “reform from the inside out”.
With claims that the situation stretched back decades, there were reports that Smith’s predecessor, Michael Berkery, received an even larger salary.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said full transparency is needed when it comes to salaries of such organisations.
“Any salary, any bonus, any payment in the state, semi-state sector and in NGOs... anything that’s either paid for in full or part by the taxpayer, or through stipends or any such levy from members... that should be all out in the cold light of day for people to make an opinion of,” he said.
Meanwhile, a separate pensions controversy has arisen over a decision by the coalition government to increase payouts to former ministers.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald hit out at Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin for his move to bump up pension levels for some of Ireland’s most notoriously corrupt politicians.
The move would see large increases in the pensions of disgraced former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who McDonald described as “struggling manfully on a pension of €134,000 or (1916 Rising critic) John Bruton on a pension of €126,000”, she said.
She asked: “What of ‘we have it so we’ll spend it’ former finance minister Charlie McCreevy who is on €108,000?”
She said former minister of state Ivor Callely, “who has a conviction for mobile phone expenses fraud is on a pension of €62,000” and former minister Ray Burke “has a conviction for tax offences and yet he is has over €95,000”.
She added: “Those pensions are indefensible, were always indefensible, but particularly so given the era of austerity that has been visited on people by “some of the very same individuals who are on grossly excessive pensions”.
How could a pension of €134,000 be justified for the taoiseach who presided over calamity, crash and chaos, she asked.
“But by God how anybody could argue that that pension should be bumped up by a further €1,600 or €1,700 is truly demented”.