The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine spent over €4.4m in consultancy fees in 2021.

Grant Thornton received €46,000 as “part-payment for three studies on market transparency in the beef sector”, €98,000 for a mink farming review and €36,000 for a TB scheme cost-benefit analysis.

Dutch company Climate KIC Holding, which is part-funded by the EU, was paid €240,000 for co-designing “a portfolio of innovative actions to accelerate climate neutrality in the land, agri-food sector” in partnership with the Department.

An architecture firm received €137,000 for work on Backweston Laboratory.

In all, €1,163,616 was spent on consultants for farming and forestry.

Over half of the €4.4m spend was related to fishing port infrastructure works.

Ernst & Young was paid just over €1m for certification of the Department’s accounts.

Labour’s agriculture spokesperson Seán Sherlock, who submitted a parliamentary question on the issue, said: “There needs to be some explanation as to why expertise cannot be derived in-house, particularly in a department like agriculture.

“Millions are spent by the Government on consultancy services every year.

“The taxpayer, who pays for this, deserves to know why.”