A new steering group within the Department of Agriculture is set to play a key role in the functions of the Department’s new Investigations Unit.

Speaking before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture Philip Carroll, Assistant Secretary in the Department of Agriculture said the new investigations arrangement will bring all the Departments investigations capabilities both internal and external into one division.

He said it will be headed by Senior Veterinary Inspector Pat Flanagan and will be supported by a team of investigators some of whom are core members of the team and others drawn from areas where there expertise will be beneficial to the conduct of particular types of investigations.

However key to the new unit will be a newly-convened steering group which the new investigations division will report to within the Department of Agriculture, he said.

The steering group, which will be independent of the investigations division, will be chaired by the Assistant Secretary responsible for Corporate Affairs as well as other senior figures in the Department. The group is set to make decisions on how and whether an investigation will be conducted.

According to Carroll, the new group will in all cases consider whether a particular matter should be referred back to the relevant inspection areas of the Department of Agriculture for follow through or weather an investigation is warranted and if so, if this should be conducted be the investigations division or referred to the Garda Siochana.

Carroll also outlined that where investigations are being conducted internally, the steering group will oversee the conduct of investigations determine whether the submission of cases for prosecution is warranted.

He also outlined that the membership of the investigations is set not to change. “We established this new structure in September and we have been subject to an embargo on recruitment which means we dont have the capacity right now to expand what we believe is required.”

Carroll also said the unit needs more resources than it is getting at the moment. “We need to identify people that are suitable for this kind of work, because this is difficult work.”

Carroll stressed that the objective of the department in implementing its enforcement and investigative functions is to promote the highest levels of legal compliance in order to protect the health of consumers and to promote and sustain a vibrant agri-food sector in Ireland and to protect public funds.

He said that this is vital to Ireland’s reputation internationally.