A Stormont whistleblower who raised concerns about animal welfare and meat traceability has been awarded a £1.25 million payout.
Senior vet Dr Tamara Bronckaers has received an unreserved apology from Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (Daera) after a tribunal last year found she was constructively dismissed from her job.
Her lawyers have described the payment as the largest of its kind ever awarded in Northern Ireland.
Dr Bronckaers, who worked for the department’s Veterinary Service Animal Health Group, had raised concerns about serious breaches of animal welfare legislation and traceability within the meat supply chain related to the deletion of records on the movement of sold cattle between farms.
I couldn’t sit back and watch these breaches persistDr Tamara Bronckaers
She resigned after claiming management ignored her concerns and subjected her to unfair treatment for flagging the issues.
Dr 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.”
The vet’s solicitor John McShane, from firm McCartan Turkington Breen, added: “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.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said: “The Department unreservedly apologises to Dr Tamara Bronckaers for the hurt and distress caused.”
The department said it was implementing the recommendations of an audit of cattle traceability systems prompted by Dr Bronckaers’s concerns.
In respect of false recording of cattle movements, the spokesman added: “Where the Department has information or evidence of a false notification, the Department will investigate and take appropriate enforcement action.
“The Department takes extremely seriously all the matters which contributed to the outcome of the recent tribunal and will be progressing an internal review into them. This review is being undertaken with urgency and will be completed at pace.”