On Sunday 24 April 2022, it was revealed that a Northern Irish whistleblower, Dr Tamara Bronckaers, has been paid £1.25 million in compensation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). Believed to be one of the biggest whistleblower settlements in Northern Irish history the agreement follows a long and exhausting fight for Dr Bronckaers.
Five years ago Dr Bronckaers, a government vet, made a series of protected disclosures related to animal suffering, and the deletion of livestock moves from the government traceability system, which increased the risk of TB spread. Dr Bronckaers expected her concerns to be taken seriously, investigated and acted upon. Instead, what ensued was a campaign of abuse, bullying and harassment, which forced Dr Bronckaers to leave the DAERA in 2018 claiming automatically unfair constructive dismissal and whistleblower detriment.
In September 2021 an industrial tribunal unanimously found in Dr Bronckaers’ favour. The judge who heard the case commented that she did not believe the evidence given by two key witnesses – Northern Ireland’s chief vet, Robert Huey, and Dr Bronckaers’ line manager Julian Henderson. DAERA decided to appeal the outcome, but following significant media criticism over the next six months, dropped that appeal and agreed a settlement. The settlement does not admit any wrongdoing by the DAERA and in this time DAERA has promoted Julian Henderson, one of the vets involved in the detrimental treatment of Dr Bronckaers.
Dr Bronckaers’ whistleblowing did eventually lead the DAERA to establish an Internal Audit Review of Cattle Traceability System within Veterinary Animal Health Group in October 2021, which led to number of recommendations and shows that whistleblowing can lead to change. However, the report is not publicly available and animal welfare charities within Northern Ireland are calling for it to be published.
The case raises serious questions about the culture towards whistle-blowers in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Workers should not be bullied, harassed, and hounded out of their job for raising whistleblowing concerns.
In light of this case, Protect calls for the Northern Ireland Civil Service to review its whistleblowing arrangements and speak up culture.
Our Advice Line provides advice to whistleblowers in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Our Advice Line is open five days a week and provides free and confidential advice to whistleblowers. If you are a worker based in Northern Ireland, we can advise you on how to safely raise your concerns and your rights when doing so.