Northern Ireland news

Agriculture department 'must publish review' into whistleblower case, USPCA says

Dr Tamara Bronckaers with her solicitor John McShane from McCartan Turkington Breen in 2021

THE Department of Agriculture must publish its internal review into a whistleblower's concerns about animal welfare, a leading animal charity has said.

Senior vet Dr Tamara Bronckaers was awarded £1.25 million – the largest industrial tribunal payout ever in Northern Ireland - and received an unreserved apology from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) after a tribunal last year found she was constructively dismissed from her job.

The department appealed the verdict, only agreeing to settle the case several weeks ago.

The whistleblower, who had worked for the department for 19 years before she left in February 2018, said she found breaches of animal welfare at livestock markets as well as failings in the way cattle movements were recorded.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots said last week that his department had completed an internal audit of issues raised by the tribunal.

"I have also asked for reassurance that the department will monitor closely implementation of the actions being taken as a result of the internal review and to take further action if necessary," he said.

The USPCA said the department must publish the review.

USPCA Chief Executive, Brendan Mullan, said it was disturbed by the details of the case, including how the department handled breaches of animal welfare.

"We believe that the outcome of Daera's internal review should be published and opened to external scrutiny in order to provide much-needed assurance to the public that they accept responsibility for their failings and are going to do something about it," he said.

A Daera spokesman said last week the internal review of issues raised by Dr Bronckaers made a serious of recommendations which the department is implementing.

"The Department can reassure the public and the agri-food industry that it will continue to review its risk management tools and will seek to strengthen the controls where necessary for animal traceability to ensure continued confidence in the system," he said.

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