A vet who left the Department of Agriculture and Environment in Northern Ireland has received a £1.25 million settlement and apology after a successful constructive dismissal claim.
Dr Tamara Bronckaers raised concerns about animal welfare and problems in the meat supply chain when she worked for the government, but her warnings were not acted upon.
She had worked for DAERA for 19 years and was regarded as an expert on livestock market legislation. Her responsibilities included livestock markets, biosecurity and monitoring diseases that can move between animals and humans.
She resigned in April 2018 after she felt “excluded, ignored and undermined” for bringing issues to the department’s attention. Her concerns included how cattle movements were recorded at markets.
An industrial tribunal in September 2021 found that she had been constructively dismissed.
At the tribunal, she told how “animal welfare was a major concern to me and I witnessed first-hand animals suffering unnecessarily”. She’d noted how in one market, lame sheep and cattle or animals were left overnight without food or water.
Another issue raised was the practice of “deleted moves”, where dealers would take cattle out of the market for a time before a buyer was found, meaning they would be deleted from the tracing system. While this can make cattle more valuable to a buyer, it creates a potential concern regarding the traceability of meat.
Her solicitor, John McShane, claimed that any time she had tried to raise her concerns with the department, they were ignored and so she felt she had to leave.
The £1.25m settlement is believed to be the largest for this type of claim in Northern Ireland.
Commenting on the settlement, McShane said: “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 whistleblow do have protection under the law.”
In a statement, Dr Bronckaers said the time since she had left the department had 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-awaited and justified apology from the department.”
This weekend, DAERA announced it would set up a taskforce to monitor animal traceability after an internal review.