A leading solicitor, with strong legal ties to a number of cattle breeding organisations, has called on DAERA to take a true partnership approach when it comes to the TB eradication measures implemented in Northern Ireland.
Brian Walker’s comments come just days before the publication of the report from the TB Strategic Partnership Group, which had been appointed by former farm minister Michelle O’Neill.
“Farmers have always carried the blame for the spread of TB in Northern Ireland,” said Walker.
“And this is not the case. But I fear this is the approach that may continue to be taken courtesy of the recommendations contained in the upcoming report.
“What we need is a true partnership, one that involves both vets and farmers as equal players, when it comes to eradicating TB.”
Mr Walker said that his fears concerning DAERA’s real TB agenda were heightened following a report published by the European Commission in 2015, assessing the real impact of the current TB eradication programme in Northern Ireland.
“The EU part funds the current TB eradication measures,” he said.
“I was initially concerned at the lack of prominence given to the report by DAERA. But my anxieties were further raised when I actually read through it in detail.
“Courtesy of its recommendations the Commission clearly points out that both the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders to the eradication programme in Northern Ireland are still insufficient to ensure its future success. And, in reality, farmers constitute a fundamentally important stakeholder group in this context.”
He added: “The EU report confirms what I have consistently highlighted. There must be a partnership approach to the problem. I suggest that in each DVO a group representing private and public service vets and farmers is created to monitor progress and set targets.
“They should publish on-line a report twice a year for their area. Every herd breakdown should be the subject of a written report to the farmer by a DAERA professional, one who has expertise on epidemics. Quality assurance schemes must include enhanced biosecurity policies.
“Every farmer who has more than say 10 animals should be required to attend a course on TB. He has to do it for spraying: so why not for this subject? Annually the department should comment publicly on the performance of each DVO group.
Moreover, the Department should stop delaying making any decisions on wildlife. Animal suffering of all species must be radically reduced. Above all the priority of the Department should be the eradication of this disease.”
Commenting on the prospect for future reactor compensation levels, Mr Walker said that the strategic partnership group may well propose the introduction of an upper limit.
“If compensation is capped, then farmers will, once again, be bearing the brunt of the costs associated with TB eradication. And this is grossly inequitable.”