A former employee within the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group (for the Department of Agriculture) has received a £1.25m settlement and an apology from the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA).
In September 2021, Dr Tamara Bronckaers won a landmark action against DAERA relating to serious breaches of animal welfare, failures regarding zoonoses control measures (ie transfer of disease from animals to humans) and traceability within the meat supply chain, and which ultimately resulted in her constructive dismissal.
A statement issued by DAERA says it ‘unreservedly apologies’ to Dr Bronckaers.
“This is the largest settlement of its type in Northern Ireland and the outcome for Dr Bronckaers is wholly justified bearing in mind the detriments she has suffered that have not only affected her career, but her family and her financial situation,” said John McShane, solicitor with McCartan Turkington Breen.
“I’m relieved for Dr Bronckaers that the result of the case has vindicated her instruction of McCartan Turkington Breen. However, this is bittersweet in the context of an employer willing to make spurious allegations against Dr Bronckaers to paint her in a negative light, and which resulted in a committed individual losing her job when she had done nothing wrong.
“It is also concerning that lessons are not being learned by the Northern Ireland Civil Service and this case is akin to the Cash for Ash scandal.”
Dr Tamara Bronckaers said: “The past few years have been extremely harrowing for me and my family. This outcome has been a long time coming and I can move on in the knowledge that I did what was right, and I now have a long-waited and justified apology from the Department.
“I witnessed first-hand animals suffering unnecessarily and believe that over a five-year period in excess of 20,000 animals were involved in deleted moves which would have had significant implications for traceability within the supply chain.
“I strongly believed that the Department was failing in its duty to protect animal welfare and therefore I couldn’t continue doing a job that I wasn’t being allowed to carry out ethically. I couldn’t sit back and watch these breaches persist.”
During the case, Dr Bronckaers made two arguments in relation to legislative failures including that some Livestock Market Operators were not adhering to their statutory duties and responsibilities, and that Department officials were aware of this and failed to adhere to their responsibilities to enforce the relevant legislation.
Dr Bronckaers said failures involved deleting cattle moves under the Cattle Identification (Notice of Births, Deaths and Movements) Regulations (Northern Ireland 1999), alongside serious animal neglect and the movement of potentially TB infected cattle after they were purchased in a livestock market.
McShane said: “I am quite simply astounded by Dr Bronckaers bravery. She was willing to do what was ethically right to the detriment of herself, her family, and her standard of living in retirement. It is a choice that very few people would make as the easier path would have been to keep quiet.
“Hopefully, the outcome of this landmark case provides reassurance that at the very least, those individuals who choose to whistle blow do have protection under the law.”