Senior vet Dr Tamara Bronckaers this week received an unreserved apology from the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (Daera) after a tribunal last year found she was constructively dismissed after raising concerns about animal welfare and meat traceability.
Her lawyers have described her subsequent £1.25m payout as the largest of its kind ever awarded in NI.
She resigned after claiming management ignored concerns she had raised after her inspections, and subjected her to unfair treatment for flagging the issues.
Some of the concerns she raised were about the conditions livestock were kept in at Ballymena Livestock Market.
Yet despite reporting that her animal welfare warnings were ignored by Daera, the department has now confirmed it did find welfare issues at the mart and ordered urgent corrective actions – but only after sending in a different inspector.
‘The Nolan Show’ reported today that urgent corrective actions were issued to the market after Dr Bronckaers’ concerns were initially closed down by the department.
The show reported that she was prevented from going back to the Ballymena mart and Daera sent in another inspector instead, who found further non-compliance with livestock regulations.
A Daera spokesperson said photographic evidence gathered by Dr Bronckaers in 2017 was retained and formed part of “enforcement considerations for suspected breaches of animal welfare legislation”.
“Following this inspection and a further inspection by department inspectors, a warning letter was issued to the market operator outlining the non-compliances found and detailing the necessary urgent corrective actions.
“Following the warning letter, the department conducted a further nine unannounced inspections of the market in the period up to spring 2018. The inspections confirmed that the livestock market operator had taken and maintained corrective actions and no welfare issues were detected during these nine inspections.”
Ballymena Livestock Market said it has “zero tolerance when it comes to animal cruelty” and goes to “great lengths to maintain the highest animal welfare standards”.
It added: “We have re-examined what happened in the case referenced during the ... tribunal and must acknowledge our disappointment at what was alleged. The alleged incident occurred five years ago. Our animal welfare systems then were robust and in the intervening period, they have been further enhanced and strengthened.”