Work of DAERA staff is ‘miraculous’ - Huey

The inspection work that DAERA staff are doing at ports is ‘nothing short of miraculous’, chief vet Robert Huey has told members of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 9:01 am
Guest Speaker  Dr Robert Huey
Guest Speaker Dr Robert Huey

Dr Huey made his comments during a briefing on Thursday morning on the construction and staffing at border control posts/points of entry.

Also taking part were the Department’s Permanent Secretary, Dr Denis McMahon, and Mr Mark Livingstone, Director of Operational Readiness.

Concerns were raised by committee members around the recent decision by Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons to cease work on the construction of the border control posts. Dr McMahon said DAERA is currently seeking legal advice around the issue.

During the briefing committee members were told that Dr Huey has 12 vets on the ground as well as around 45 port inspectors and the council staff, as well, carrying out their checks.

“All of us have the same issue in that we haven’t got enough staff and the level of work that the staff is doing to deliver what they are delivering is miraculous, and nothing short of it,” Dr Huey said.

“Now that is helped by the way we are doing things. The documentary checks are being done electronically, I have 24 admin staff who are doing the routine business of the document checks and that’s why the figures are what they are and that’s why we can achieve that.

“The identity checks are being done by agency staff at GB ports and that’s how we are achieving that. Each CHED (Common Health Entry Document) has to be signed off by a vet electronically online and that takes an enormous amount of time and we are looking at other ways we can do that to release the staff on the border front line. But physical checks have to be actually overseen directly by veterinary inspectors and that explains why we have achieved a miraculous 40% of the ones we should have been doing last week. On the two weeks where staff were on lesser duties because of the security threat you can see that the physical checks went down to the teens - 12, 13, 14%

“The effect that the minister’s instruction has had is having an effect on morale because people were hoping the cavalry were coming over the hill and they are concerned that if this halt continues for any length of time it will cause significant difficulty for filling posts and that is part of what I need clarity on and indeed clarity quite quickly.

“We have a machine that is delivering us more staff. I have 20 odd more vets to interview and to get them in. A delay of a few days isn’t an issue but if that goes on for weeks and months then I do have real difficulties because we are all having difficulties with staff numbers and it is getting to the stage now where I need backfill to let staff have leave.

“We are moving from what is almost an emergency situation from the 1st January going forward to now business as usual and in business as usual people need breaks and remember this is shift work which denatures people anyway

“I’m not downplaying the challenges we have ahead of us but so far we are coping and we are doing an extraordinary job, and I hope that it is appreciated across business and the community in general the work that my staff are doing,” added Dr Huey.