Farm groups welcome new Department of Agriculture investigations unit

New division to be headed by senior superintending veterinary officer

new investigations division has been set up in the Department of Agriculture, in a move welcomed by farm groups who Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the Department of Agriculture’s new investigations division would be headed by a senior superintending veterinary officer and supported by a team of investigators. Photograph: Eric Luke

new investigations division has been set up in the Department of Agriculture, in a move welcomed by farm groups who Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the Department of Agriculture’s new investigations division would be headed by a senior superintending veterinary officer and supported by a team of investigators. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A new investigations division has been set up in the Department of Agriculture, in a move welcomed by farm groups who have been critical of the department’s special investigations unit.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the new division would be headed by a senior superintending veterinary officer and supported by a team of investigators, some of whom will be core members of the team. Others will be drawn from particular areas, depending on the investigation.

The special investigations unit (SIU) has come in for criticism from farmers, politicians and a judge in the past for its approach, which farmers considered heavy-handed.

Disbanded

Last weekend, Irish Farmers’ Association president Eddie Downey called for it to disbanded and replaced. This followed two controversial cases involving the unit.

Last month the department reached a confidential settlement with farmer and cattle exporter John Fleury over a 16-year-long case involving 160 charges. It concerned alleged discrepancies in the identity papers and pre-movement testing of a consignment of cattle bound for export to Lebanon.

Prosecuted

Last November, a case involving the unit and Cavan farmer Douglas Fannin was thrown out by Judge Leonie Reynolds who criticised the prosecution and the department in particular, describing its behaviour as “heavy-handed”. The farmer had been prosecuted for allegedly tampering with a TB test on his cattle so he could claim compensation.

The statement announcing the new division did not refer to the two cases but in a written reply to a parliamentary question from Labour’s Willie Penrose, Mr Coveney said he had ordered a review of the structure and governance around the conduct of all investigations by his department but this was “separate and distinct” from the two cases.

As a result of the review, he had decided to establish the new division. A department spokesman said it would report to an investigations steering group. This will be chaired by an assistant secretary general and will include senior department officials.