A bovine TB eradication strategy, which involves culling badgers in TB hotspot areas, has been described as “comprehensive” by NI chief vet Robert Huey.

Speaking at Stormont last week, Huey pointed out that DAERA’s new TB strategy was launched in 2016 and was considered by civil servants and independent experts for “three or four years”.

Political stalemate at Stormont delayed the rollout of the plan and the non-selective badger cull element of the strategy was quashed by a High Court judge last year.

Huey, who is set to retire from DAERA next month, said not being able to take forward a new strategy for tackling TB was “one of my great regrets”.

“I still consider it to be comprehensive and to have all the issues that we need to deal with in order to get on top of this disease,” he told MLAs.

Last year’s High Court ruling did not challenge the legality of culling badgers, but was instead focused on the process that DAERA followed when plans for a new TB strategy were set out.

Huey suggested that the judgement contained lessons for civil servants across all departments when setting out policy options in a public consultation.

“Frankly, there is stuff in there that I never thought about. The judgement is recommending that you don’t give one option, but you give a range of options in your consultation.

“The evidence that you need to give across each option is much broader than I would ever have thought was necessary,” the chief vet said.

New proposals

Neil Gartland from DAERA said “new proposals for potential wildlife intervention” were being put to Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir and it was ultimately up to him to decide on how to proceed.

Speaking to MLAs on Tuesday, Minister Muir said he would “be guided by the evidence and science” when addressing bovine TB.

The Alliance MLA acknowledged that his party has not been supportive of a non-selective badger cull in the past.

“I am minister coming into this with a clean desk. I am looking at the issues around this and am trying to find a way forward,” he said.

However, Minister Muir said a decision on wildlife intervention will not be made “within the next few weeks”.

“We need to make sure whatever we are going to do here attracts the support of stakeholders, but is also something that is legally robust,” he said.