'John Doe' stood on the terrace pulling on a cigarette and stiffening with the cold. November is not the darkest month but it felt like the darkest hour. There was Covid, obviously, and the general despondency of the second lockdown, but it was his job and what they had done to him that was tossing and turning him at night.
Three years had passed since he had sent a protected disclosure to the Agriculture Minister, details of which were reported in last week's Sunday Independent. On the same afternoon, he had taken a call.
"I've been told to offer you a new position."
"What kind of position?"
"The wildlife unit."
"What? Badgers! I've no interest in that."
"Listen, if you don't take it they'll use the mobility policy to get you."
"What do you mean?"
"Lucifer was in heaven once and wasn't happy - look at what happened to him."
… And so it was.
They'd got him.
Six years earlier…
"A chronic drug addict has been given a 10-year sentence with 18 months suspended for robbery and two attempted robberies earlier this year. Thomas McGuinness (34), who has 127 previous convictions, began using heroin as a teenager with a group of friends, most of whom are now dead.
"The court heard he was trying to fund his drug habit when he targeted a car stopped at traffic lights and two local shops where he was recognised. McGuinness pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to robbery at Lloyds pharmacy, Clondalkin on January 21 and attempted robbery at Hardwicke Place on January 22, 2014…
"Dean Kelly BL, defending, said McGuinness's personal circumstances were profoundly pitiful. He began using heroin at the age of 14 years old without using softer drugs first and that was the background to him coming before the courts."
Newstalk, December 10, 2014
On the afternoon of January 24, 2014, two days after Thomas McGuinness robbed a pharmacy in Dublin, 'John Doe' ('JD' for the rest of this article - he does not wish his real name known to the wider public) was sent to a farm near Clonmel with an officer from the Milk Policy division.
A few weeks before, the Department had taken an anonymous call from a woman about "a case of illegal milk supply" at Glanbia. A week after that, the Department was sent a letter about a farmer in Tipperary who was using the supplier's number from a farm in Kildare to supply his milk.
Then a letter was sent to Simon Coveney's office from an 'insider' at Clongowes Wood farm - the 350-acre farm attached to the Jesuit boarding school - about a series of payments Clongowes had received from Glanbia for milk it hadn't supplied. That's when JD got the call from a boss. Drop everything, he said, Coveney is in a flap.
It was the first time in 14 years at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) that he'd been asked to examine a suspected breach of the milk quota regulations, but he did some digging, drove to Clonmel and introduced himself to the farmer. It was 4.45pm.
"You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, but anything you do say will be taken down in writing and may be used in evidence. Do you understand this caution?"
"What is your name?"
"What is your occupation?"
"Farmer, director of Glanbia PLC and Co-op, director of GIL (Glanbia Ingredients Ireland), director of Carmac Construction Ltd."
"What kind of farming are you involved in?"
"Dairy and pigs."
"How long have you been dairy farming?"
"Approximately 25 years."
"How long have you been a director of Glanbia?"
"Approximately three years."
"What is your supplier number?"
"Under what name do you supply milk and to whom?"
"To Glanbia under the name of William Carroll and partners."
"What is the name of the quota holder in Glanbia?"
"It's in the partnership's name. It's partnership number 10, I think."
(William Carroll left the room to check a detail re the above question. On his return at 5.02pm, I readministered the caution.)
"Was milk collected from your farm and assigned to Clongowes Wood farm for quota purposes?"
"How long has this been going on?"
"Mid-September 2013, approximately."
"What volume of milk are we talking about?"
"September 161,117 litres, October 147,621 litres, November 127,440 litres, December 62,985 and nothing for January 2014."
"Whose cows produced the above milk?"
"Where were these cows milked?"
"On my farm at Mile Tree."
"Was there a lease arrangement in place?"
"That's where the problem is. There is no lease in place. There was meant to be but there's not."
"Who received payment on this milk?"
"I did. Clongowes received the initial payment from Glanbia and they forwarded it on to me."
"The tally-rolls (GPS system) from the collection lorry show all the milk collected at your farm. Can you explain how Clongowes ended up getting paid for this?"
"That's where I contacted (… …) at Glanbia and I asked him to transfer the quantities of milk into Clongowes' name. Clongowes got paid and then they paid me."
"Have you evidence of these payments?"
"Yes. €71,796.93 from Clongowes for the October milk; €72,000 from Clongowes and approx €200-€500 attributable to September milk; €70,602.03 from Clongowes for November milk; and €33,026 from Clongowes for December milk, but I have not yet received a bank statement for that latter transaction."
"I notice these statements you handed me are in the name of William Carroll Jnr Esq. Is that you?"
"You mentioned previously that you asked (… …) to make the appropriate arrangements re Glanbia. Did you make anybody else aware of what you are doing?"
"Do you know if (… …) discussed your request with anybody else?"
"No, I wouldn't."
"Did you offer him any inducements to do this for you?"
"Have you ever done a similar exercise previously?"
"Was this done to avoid a superlevy?"
"I suppose it was, yes."
It was after 7pm when the interview concluded. JD left the farm and drove home that night with the weight of what he'd learned bouncing around his head.
William Carroll was a dairy farmer. William Carroll was also a director of Glanbia. William Carroll had sold Glanbia almost €250,000 of milk from his farm in Tipperary and attributed the supply to a farm at Clongowes Wood. Glanbia had facilitated it. So had Clongowes Wood. That was a violation of the milk quota rules.
JD believed it was more than that. The SIU were not empowered under the legislation to investigate suspected fraud, so he called his boss the following morning: "Why aren't the guards looking at this?"
Then he typed his report and recommended that Glanbia be prosecuted for forgery/alteration of records pursuant to the 'European Communities Milk Quota Regulations 2008.'
It never happened.
Carroll was hit with a superlevy fine (€143,000) and stepped down from the board of directors at Glanbia until the dust had settled. He returned in 2019. There were no prosecutions. When pressed to explain why, Minister Coveney gave three reasons to the Dáil:
There was no guarantee of a win for the State given the details of the case and the standard of proof required; there had been no financial gain for any of the parties concerned and the superlevy had been paid; and "most important", there was no financial loss to other farmers, the Exchequer or to the EU.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Glanbia said: "The matter was fully investigated by the Glanbia Ireland DAC Board at the time and any actions considered appropriate were taken."
JD was exasperated by the failure to prosecute.
What's the difference between a wealthy farmer who games the system for hundreds of thousands and a heroin addict with an overwhelming physical need who steals €168 from a chemist? One has committed a crime.
"These days we all want tasty family meals that producers continue to bring us, like succulent grilled steak. Always look for the Bord Bia quality mark."
Bord Bia ad
There were two golden rules when you worked at the Department of Agriculture:
1. Cover the minister's arse.
2. (See above.)
Anything potentially sensitive was to be flagged to the minister's office and it didn't get more sensitive than a potential food fraud involving the Bord Bia Quality Scheme.
The Q Mark was an assurance for consumers that their pork/beef/lamb/milk was produced to the highest standard and had passed a set of rigorous controls. Independent auditors were employed to conduct regular checks on farms for traceability, animal welfare, and the safe use of medicines.
The protection of food safety and animal health was also a key objective of the Department, and the raison d'etre for the SIU. And yet, terms and conditions of the Scheme precluded An Bord Bia from notifying the Department of any irregularities their auditors uncovered.
Angel dust? Antibiotics? Animal cruelty? The Department was never told.
Three months after his trip to Clonmel, JD got a tip-off about a Bord Bia audit that had been conducted on a beef farm near Kingscourt. One of the requirements of the Quality Assured Scheme is that all animal remedies on the farm are recorded, but when the farmer was asked why his log book was blank, he informed the auditor it was because he hadn't dispensed any medicines.
This, to JD, was not credible.
On April 3, 2014, he drove to Kingscourt with a colleague from the SIU. The purpose of the visit, they informed Philip Fitzpatrick, was an animal remedies inspection. Then they set off together to tour his sheds.
They discovered six (used) bottles of injectable antibiotics and a used corticosteroid in a bucket, and five unused bottles of injectable antibiotics in a fridge. There were also two bottles of injectable antibiotics in Fitzpatrick's tractor, and an antimicrobial eye ointment in his jeep.
None was properly labelled.
JD issued the standard legal caution and asked Fitzpatrick if the remedies found were his. They were. To what had he administered them? His bullocks. Had Fitzpatrick a prescription for the remedies? He did not. Where had he procured the remedies? From his vet. Where did Fitzpatrick keep his animal remedies records? He had none.
Twelve days later, they went to see his vet. Paddy O'Halloran ran a veterinary practice in Kingscourt. Philip Fitzpatrick had been a client of his, he said, since 2000. He said he might have supplied some of the remedies found in Fitzpatrick's shed, but not all of them. He said he could not produce prescriptions for the remedies he had supplied and conceded his labelling was poor. JD showed O'Halloran a letter his client had submitted to Bord Bia.
"Is that your signature on it?"
"Do you accept it is factually incorrect?"
"Why did you write this letter?"
"Philip Fitzpatrick asked me to write it. It had something to do with some inspection, the Quality Assured Scheme."
"Did you know it was incorrect when you wrote it?"
"Did Philip Fitzpatrick pay you or induce you or threaten you to write it?"
"Why then did you write it?"
"He told me it was worthwhile for him to have it. I have no excuses for writing it. It was silly of me. He definitely said it was gainful if he had this."
'Gainful' was the extra €150,000 a year Fitzpatrick stood to earn because he had ticked the boxes for the Quality Scheme. But what if he had been lying? What if he had falsified his records? What if his cattle sizzled with antibiotics and corticosteroids? Did that not tick another box?
Things were getting twitchy at Ag House.
When JD had first raised the case at a monthly meeting, it was agreed he would complete his enquiries and refer the case to the gardaí. He interviewed O'Halloran, finished the paperwork, and arranged to give a statement of evidence to a detective sergeant from Bailieboro on May 20, 2014.
On May 15, he got a call from a superior, exhorting him not to do it. A day later, he got another one. There had been a change of heart; the Department was not the injured party in the case and needed a corporate decision going forward. JD was familiar with such Departmental machinations - but they also put him in a spot.
He had been ordered to liaise with the gardaí but was now being effectively told to scupper their investigation, because there was no case if he didn't make a statement. He asked a superior to put it in writing. The person declined. He gave the statement. The case went to court.
On November 30, 2018, Philip Fitzpatrick admitted three charges under EU regulations governing possession of controlled veterinary medicines and was fined €30,000 at Cavan Circuit Court. Patrick O'Halloran admitted to five allegations of professional misconduct at a hearing of the Veterinary Council and had his registration suspended for six months.
It was another validation for the SIU - but by that stage it had been disbanded.
"Regulatory capture occurs when a government's regulatory agency, which was created in the public interest, ends up advancing the political or commercial concerns of the very people, companies or entities it is supposed to be monitoring. Regulatory capture, in the world of government monitoring, is like when the gamekeeper turns poacher, or at least, assists the poacher."
Market Business News
In October 2014 - 10 months after the Glanbia/Carroll case, and four after the standoff on Bord Bia/Fitzpatrick - Simon Coveney announced that "following a recent review of the governance structure around the conduct of all investigations", a new investigations division was being established.
The new arrangement would bring all Department investigations into one division and would include the functions previously undertaken by the SIU. The Investigations Division would be headed by a Senior Superintending Veterinary Officer and report to a Steering Group comprising the Assistant Secretary General for Corporate Affairs (Chair), the Chief Veterinary Officer, the Assistant Secretary General with responsibility for direct payments, and the Heads of Legal Services, Internal Audit and HR.
A lot of chiefs.
JD was despondent. The only one he had any time for was the Head of Legal, but the rest - what could they contribute? There wasn't one who had conducted an investigation before… not that this was the reason they'd been brought on board. This was all about political oversight, he believed. Control.
It was a tough month for the SIU. It had just lost two high-profile legal cases - against John Fleury, a cattle dealer from Offaly, and Douglas Fannin, a Cavan farmer - and reports of its demise were being enthusiastically received.
Eddie Downey, the IFA president, welcomed Coveney's announcement and said it was a reflection of the "deep unease" among farm families about the activities of the SIU. "The new unit must also have a Charter of Rights and the Department Charter as part of its terms of reference," he said.
"Both were ignored in the past as the SIU rode roughshod over the rights of hard-working farmers. The new unit will have to ensure people being investigated are treated properly, fairly, and impartially."
The Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness concurred. "I've asked for the papers and the costs involved in [the Fleury] case, and I'll be pursuing this as a priority to be heard by the Public Accounts Committee," he said.
"It is clear that the SIU itself now needs to be investigated. At what stage do these guys stop? How do we know what criteria they are using to go after somebody like John Fleury? How much expense have they exposed the State to? This unit cannot be allowed to continue with an open cheque-book, while it is ruining people's lives - in one case a pregnant woman."
Eight months later - June 18, 2015 - Aidan O'Driscoll (Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture) appeared before a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). He began with a well-considered speech on the workings of the Department and was then questioned by members on the perceived heavy-handed approach to compliance by the eight remaining members of the now disbanded SIU.
Galway East TD Paul J Connaughton was first to the floor: "Let us consider those eight people," he announced theatrically. "One of the issues we have heard about is to the effect that this group is out of control, that it is a small group of people who work among themselves, that they are answerable to no one and that they are left on their own to do their own business.
"This adds to the feeling that these people have been there for a long time, they have a grudge against someone at this stage and they can continue to work in any way they see fit."
It came across as a grandstanding speech aimed at a certain constituency.
"A farmer who admitted possession of illegal cattle growth promoters was given a suspended jail sentence and was fined £22,500 yesterday. Mr Richard Bourns (40), of Lisbeg Estate, Eyrecourt, Co Galway, pleaded guilty at a special sitting of Athlone District Court last Wednesday to a total of 32 summonses relating to the possession of banned growth promoters, the illegal movement of cattle and obstruction of Department of Agriculture offices."
The Irish Times, September 26, 1997
In September 2015, three months after Deputy Connaughton's appearance at the PAC, a package to one of his constituents was intercepted by Customs officials. The contents - an equine feed supplement from the US - was in breach of importation regulations.
It was a contravention that wouldn't normally trigger the involvement of the Investigations Division, but the product label carried a warning that horses administered the supplement were to be excluded from the food chain. That was JD's field.
Lisbeg House in Eyrecourt, Co Galway, was the home of Richard and Deirdre Bourns and one of the largest livestock farms in the country. Bourns Sporthorses was another branch of the business and specialised in the training and exportation of show jumpers.
On September 23, JD and another officer from the Investigations Division drove to Galway with the intercepted package that had been addressed to Deirdre Bourns. On arrival, some workmen directed them towards the stables where they were introduced to Ms Bourns. A cordial discussion ensued.
Ms Bourns was shown the package and asked about the health warning on the label. She said she didn't know and had no issue when it was explained that it would have to be seized.
Whilst there, they asked to see her animal remedies and were brought to a shed where they found an unauthorised tub of antibiotic from the USA.
Ms Bourns couldn't explain how it got there but accepted it must be hers. The conversation turned to the issue of excluding horses from the food chain and Ms Bourns invited them to the house to check the horse passports. Not all were properly stamped, but Ms Bourns assured them she would attend to it promptly.
Then JD announced an inspection of the medicines on the farm.
Ms Bourns was tetraplegic and had been confined to a wheelchair since an unfortunate accident at a show jumping event in 2012. She did not have a problem accompanying them to the farm, but her husband was out and there was nobody around to open the farm office.
JD told her not to trouble herself, but she arranged for her daughter-in-law, Sarah Harte, to meet them at the office and show them the medicines store and furnish the prescriptions, intake and administration records.
There was an extremely large quantity of prescription-only medicines present, notwithstanding the fact that Richard Bourns ran a very large farm. And some of the paperwork didn't tally, so they informed Ms Harte they would be seizing some of the medicines.
The time was 2.45pm. They went for a sandwich, prepared the notices of seizure and came back at 3.30pm.
On their return, Ms Harte sought a photocopy of the administration records, which they facilitated.
They asked if Ms Bourns was about to accept the notices of seizure but was told she had taken ill and gone to bed. There was no mention of anything improper. JD completed the notices and Ms Harte facilitated the delivery to the house. Then they thanked her and left.
It was two weeks later when the email dropped from Richard Bourns. JD knew the farmer had 'previous' for angel dust and obstruction. "I understand that you visited Lisbeg Farms on 23 September 2015. On that date you seized a number of items which are detailed on the schedule attached. I would like you to return them to Lisbeg Farms immediately…
"I am well aware that we as food producers need to reduce our use of antibiotics and I am proud to say that Lisbeg Farms has the lowest use of antibiotics per kg of beef and lamb produced on any farm in Ireland… I look forward to the immediate return of all the items listed by you on the schedule. If you are unable to return some, or all of them, please let me know in writing the reason."
JD let him know (in writing); the items were being retained for the purpose of an investigation. Four days later, on October 14, Paul J Connaughton wrote an extraordinary letter to Simon Coveney.
"I was contacted last week by Mr Richard Bourns of Lisbeg Farms regarding his wife's treatment by the Special Investigations Unit of the Department of Agriculture. Mr Bourns runs an intensive livestock and bloodstock business in East Galway.
"On Wednesday, September 23, two members of staff of the SIU raided the stables at Lisbeg Farms. Mr Bourns's son had gone to the ploughing, as had most of the staff and Mr Bourns was at a meeting with his accountant. Mr Bourns's wife Deirdre was at home with an 18-year-old boy who is training at the farm.
"Deirdre is a quadriplegic and is totally disabled. She is confined to a wheelchair and is in very poor health. She tried her best to be co-operative but was limited in the assistance she could offer. According to Mr Bourns, the two members of the SIU who visited the farm were abusive, rude, violent, threatening, intimidating and mean to her. She was in tears throughout the visit.
"In the afternoon, the SIU raided the farm. It was locked and when they failed to gain entry, they again called Deirdre, who was by this time so unwell that her carers had put her to bed. SIU staff demanded that she open the farm office. She had not been in the farm office for three years.
"Deirdre summoned her daughter-in-law to open the farm office. Again, Ms Bourns reports that the staff were rude, aggressive, intimidating and threatening to her daughter-in-law. She is not an employee of the farm and was only trying to facilitate them as best she could. Mr Bourns understands that during the raid on the farm the SIU found some antibiotics which were out of date and removed them.
"The actions of the staff were recorded and recordings can be supplied if you wish. The treatment of Ms Bourns by the staff of the SIU was completely unacceptable.
"She had to be admitted to Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe after this incident and details in relation to her subsequent hospitalisation can be provided if required.
"Mr Richard Bourns is seeking assurances that his wife, family and staff will never be subjected to this type of treatment ever again. Can the treatment of the Bourns family by the Special Investigations Unit be investigated?
"Also, what avenues are open to the Bourns family to complain about their treatment by members of the Special Investigations Unit? Any assistance or advice that you can offer in relation to this matter would be greatly appreciated.
There were some obvious questions: Had Connaughton substantiated any of this? What if the Department had subsequently arranged to meet Deirdre Bourns? What if the Department asked Richard Bourns - orally, and in writing - to supply them with the recording? What if the recording was never furnished? What if nobody had ever heard it? What would Connaughton say then?
Last week, we asked him.
"You wrote a letter to Simon Coveney on behalf of a constituent of yours, Richard Bourns, in October 2015. Do you remember that?"
"Well, I'm out of politics now five years."
"Yes, I'm aware of that, but I'm writing about it."
"Well, I can't tell you. I would have written on behalf of many constituents, for many issues, particularly coming from an agricultural constituency here in Galway East. To be honest, you've caught me on the hop. I've gone away from the political world now. So I can't remember many of the details."
[He is reminded of the details.]
"Did you listen to the recording before you wrote the letter?"
"No, what would have happened, if I can remember correctly, it would have come from Mr Bourns. So had I heard anything? No, if I can remember correctly, because it's five years ago at this stage."
"These were very serious allegations against two public servants trying to do their job.
"Ms Bourns's daughter-in-law, Sarah Harte, was actually a garda. The suggestion that two investigators threatened her mother-in-law sounds absurd. Surely you would check something like that?"
"Again, I'm being very honest with you, it's so long ago now. If I remember correctly, all I was doing was bringing it to the attention from a constituent - the concerns that they felt had happened to them."
No recording was ever produced.
"During our meeting, you referred to a number of specific matters where allegations had been made against officials of my Department… All such allegations are examined and where appropriate, they may lead to an internal investigation. All save one of the matters you raised have been examined previously by my Department. As regards this new allegation, I confirm that this allegation has been examined by my Department and has been found to have no basis in fact."
Letter to John McGuinness from Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, September 22, 2017
John McGuinness won his first Dáil election in 1997 and has been a TD for Carlow-Kilkenny ever since. He made his name holding power to account, notably as chair of the PAC from 2011 to 2016.
On his personal website, McGuinness credits himself as being "one of two or three politicians in the Dáil who successful [sic] fought to get Maurice McCabe's story heard".
He also makes the following "promise" to his constituents: "John McGuinness will advise you, stand up for you and go hard miles for you."
He kept that promise to the directors of a local veterinary practice and licensed merchant, Animal Farmacy, when the SIU began investigating its activities.
On March 27, 2012, Deputy McGuinness asked the Agriculture Minister if he had confirmed in writing to Animal Farmacy the reasons they were being investigated by the SIU.
On June 6, 2012, Deputy McGuinness asked the Agriculture Minister if the report into the SIU investigation of Animal Farmacy had been completed.
On June 18, 2015, Deputy McGuinness asked about a product seized from Animal Farmacy by the SIU at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
On July 15, 2017, Deputy McGuinness told a meeting with the Agriculture Minister that an officer of the SIU was synonymous with unfair practices, and referenced an investigation where a pregnant lady was pulled and shoved and the gardaí were called.
Deputy McGuinness was never asked, and has never explained, who this lady was. Last week, we asked him.
"This is Paul Kimmage from the Sunday Independent."
"How are you doing?"
"Ahh, not too bad."
"John, sorry for disturbing you on a Saturday, I was hoping you might be able to help me with a piece I'm writing about the Department of Agriculture and the Special Investigations Unit. I know you've taken an interest in that over the years."
"I have a quote from you here: 'This unit cannot be allowed to continue with an open cheque-book, while it is ruining people's lives - in one case a pregnant woman.'"
"Who was the pregnant woman?"
"Where are you getting that story from?
"The Farming Independent in September '14."
"That's a long time ago."
"So you don't remember who it was?"
"No, I do remember it. But who are you?"
"I'm a journalist with the Sunday Independent."
"What's your name?"
"Yeah? What's the purpose of the story, Paul?"
"I'm writing about the Special Investigations Unit and the Department of Agriculture. You referenced a case where a pregnant lady was pulled and shoved during the course of an investigation and the gardaí were called."
"That's a long time ago."
"That happened in a veterinary practice in Kilkenny, and the guards were called because the Inspector for the Department had also allegedly crashed a car, or hit a car in the car park. And in the course of his investigation into this, he had pushed the lady who in turn was pregnant. That happened."
"Who was the lady?"
"I wouldn't name the vet concerned."
"The lady was a vet?"
"Yeah. The lady was in the practice."
"You raised it in a PQ [parliamentary question]."
"I did, yeah."
"You asked another PQ about a report on the investigation. Did you get a copy of the report?"
"The Pat Meskell report."
"You didn't see that?"
"It just seems curious that you would keep talking about this pregnant woman who was pushed and pulled when I can't find any validation or reference to that anywhere."
"What are you asking me? What's your problem?"
"My problem is that you've raised it in the Dáil and taken a particular interesting in this case…"
"It's not the only case I've taken an interest in."
"Oh, I know that."
"Are you poking that story at me?"
"You're in the story. I'd like your opinion on what you've been quoted as saying."
"I gave my opinion, both in the Dáil in front of Enda Kenny and elsewhere."
"So that's your opinion?"
"It's not my opinion. I gave the facts in the Dáil."
"Those aren't the facts."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying those aren't the facts. The facts were in the Meskell report."
"Are you accusing me of telling lies?"
"I'm asking you about the facts."
"They are the facts."
"Did you read the Meskell report?"
"They are the facts."
"Have you spoken to the vet?"
"They are the facts."
"Have you spoken to the vet who was pushed?"
"Yes I have."
"That's not what she says."
"Well, you know what? That's your problem."
"It's not my problem at all John. I'm offering you a right of reply."
"They are the facts."
"You haven't read the report?"
"I don't have to read the report to know what happened."
"I wish to thank in particular [JD] for the work he has put into the file in dealing with my office and I have to compliment him in relation to the manner in which he presented his evidence in court. It was entirely comprehensive. He was able to demonstrate the experience that he had over a long number of years without in any way 'boasting' about it. He did not come across as in any way trying to persecute the farmer."
Letter to the Legal Services Division of the Department of Agriculture from a local State Solicitor in 2015
There was a court case in Ballina once. A crooked farmer with a tattered cap and a weather-beaten face was wheeled into Judge Kenny and used a crutch to reach the witness box.
He had defied a High Court to surrender his falsely tagged cattle for slaughter and had arranged to have them 'stolen' by friends. In the witness box, under oath, the farmer tried every trick in the book until the judge had heard enough and decided he could go off to Castlerea until he purged his contempt.
The most memorable bit was the exit. The farmer was halfway down the court when he remembered he couldn't walk and had left his crutch in the box.
The Western People had all the details. Local papers did a first-class job in capturing some of the stuff the investigators had to deal with - the violence, the theatrics - and the best cuttings were stored at the Department offices in Backweston, Celbridge, where the SIU was based.
There was a glass cabinet there - a kind of 'trophy' cabinet - with the cuttings book and stuff they had seized down the years… powder angel dust, black market antibiotics, equipment used for illegal surgical procedures, an iron bar used on his colleague Brian Flaherty once as he climbed the gate of an illegal abattoir. The worst moments, the best times. It didn't last.
The cabinet was removed after the Steering Group came in. Not the right message. Not a good look. Farm-to-fork and all that.
Then they came for JD.
It started with the call ("I've been told to offer you a new position") on the same day - August 3, 2017 - that his protected disclosure had landed in Kildare Street.
Nothing happened for four months, then word filtered through that the disclosures - eight allegations of wrongdoing - had been assigned to a senior manager for review.
A month later he was interviewed; a year after that he was sent an amended draft of the interview; and a year after that they met again. For five minutes they exchanged pleasantries until the humming and hawing started.
"Umm… Now, from what I have looked at so far, I haven't been… I haven't seen any evidence of wrongdoing, but the question is… Umm, where do we go from here?"
"I'm sitting here and I have to express my astonishment that you can say that," he replied. "I mean, what has actually happened in the last three years? As far as I can see, nothing."
Five months later - July 20, 2020 - he sent another protected disclosure to Kildare Street but addressed it to Catherine Murphy TD. Last month he sent her a third. He has no faith in Minister Charlie McConalogue or the heads in Ag House so well versed in "arse-covering" exercises.