Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann has welcomed the publication of the report into DARD fraud investigation and enforcement activities.
A party spokespeson said it was only following the direct efforts of Mr Swann in 2015 that the Central Investigation Unit in DARD was brought under the responsibility of the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) Northern Ireland.
Robin Swann said:
“In 2013 I introduced a Private Member’s Bill due to concerns about the effectiveness of the Department of Agriculture’s Central Investigation Service. My main concerns followed the publication of a Deloitte report – ‘Project Rainbow’ – which revealed that of five investigators who were then employed by the service, three had used whistle-blowing protocols so that they could highlight their concerns.
“It appeared to be an anomaly that no-one was effectively regulating the regulator and so I started pushing for the Service to come under the responsibility of the CJI. Whilst it did take some time, and I was forced to ultimately begin the change through the introduction of legislation at Stormont, ultimately the then Justice Minister did see the merits in what I was seeking to achieve and he agreed to change the policy.
“Shortly after both the Central Investigations Service (CIS) and the work of Veterinary Service Enforcement Branch (VSEB) were added to the list of bodies subject to inspection by CJI.
“I am pleased that the publication of this report has now confirmed that the CIS in DARD/DAERA and the VSEB are operating to a much higher standard. In addition, I am very pleased to see that the bodies are preparing prosecution files to a ‘very high standard’. It was previously revealed to me that over the five-year period between 2009 and 2014, CIS investigated £1,286,000 of potential fraud; and yet over that same period they only brought in the region of £66,000 of successful prosecutions. That is a success rate of 5.15% on the cases that they looked into. The cost of the unit over that time was £733,000, so it did not appear to be effective.
“It is clear that these concerns have now been addressed and I have no doubt that coming under the inspection regime of the CJI has been a major success.”