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Whistle-blower vet scandal

A Fitting Background for Northern Elections

27 April 2022

Dr Tamara Bronckaers was hounded out of the Dept of Agriculture
for trying to enforce its own rules.

The most recent story of government corruption in the North of Ireland has come and gone. The endemic corruption fills every aspect of civil society, but the majority of candidates in the forthcoming elections will studiously ignore the issue.

The most recent scandal involving the treatment of a whistle-blower inside the Department of Agriculture has caused outrage, especially so as it involved both animal and human health.  It attracted the largest award recorded for such a case, but it will quickly be forgotten in the deluge of corruption that is spawned from local politics.

A former government vet, Dr Tamara Bronckaers, received a £1.25m settlement for constructive dismissal. She had been professionally ignored, undermined and excluded by her superior, Dr Henderson, who has recently been promoted to the post of deputy chief vet.  The chief vet Robert Huey's actions towards her were; "intimidating, patronising, belittling and dismissive of her as a professional".

The department has responded by promising an internal review.

This is not an isolated incident. Most people are aware of the corruption surrounding the "Cash for Ash" scam run by the Democratic Unionist Party. They are less aware of the role of top civil servants in facilitating this and many other scams, or of their unusual habit of not recording key meetings between DUP and Sinn Fein ministers. More recently, the focus has shifted to council level, with one council under police investigation and others, including Belfast City Council, up to their eyes in sectarian deals and in property speculation.

This is an inevitable outcome of the Good Friday political settlement. By placing communal rights above human rights, the sharing out of resources and patterns of impunity and patronage become an automatic outcome.

Yet none of this features in the election. On the contrary, Sinn Fein and the small left groups, supported by union leaders and NGOs, are standing on a platform that insists that Stormont can be made to work.

This argument finds little support amongst the electorate. The expectation is that the new Assembly members will be elected on a wave of apathy. In a last-minute dash, promises of hundreds and thousands in payments to offset inflation are being made. The reality is that Brexit and sectarian division will mean that no executive will be formed, and if it were, it would remain incapable of governing.

Sectarian society is stable, in that it diverts from the common interests of workers. It is unstable in that it constantly stokes up crises and corruption. The decay will continue and cannot be reversed.

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