Agriculture official admits to animal neglect charges at Co Sligo farm

Judge slams Department's handling of employee

Bernard Brian Kilgariff is confronted by the Sunday World

Patrick O'Connell

Meet the top agriculture official whose job it was to help protect farm animals - but who instead inflicted "the greatest form of cruelty" on cattle on his own 200 acre farm.

Inspectors who visited senior Department of Agriculture official Bernard Brian Kilgariff's farm in Bricklieve, Sligo discovered:

  • Carcasses of animals that had lain unburied for up to four weeks;
  • A cow with a broken leg that had to be put down;
  • A black bull and two Charolais cows who were so emaciated and weak they also had to be euthanised;
  • And lands strewn with rubbish including oil cans, batteries and bags of ash which would have been poisonous to animals if consumed.

Pictures and videos obtained by the Sunday World also show how the hooves of two donkeys - rescued from the hellish conditions on Kilgariff's farm - were so overgrown they could barely walk.

Confronted by the Sunday World and asked if he had anything to say about the conditions on his lands, 64-year-old Kilgariff declined to comment.

"No, I don't have anything to say to you," he said.

"It's all sub-judice, you know."

One of the two donkeys found with hooves in horrific state

But Judge Kevin Kilrane had plenty to say about Kilgariff's animal husbandry, and his position of responsibility in enforcing animal welfare regulations when the Department of Agriculture employee appeared before Sligo District Court last week.

He also lambasted the Department's handling of Kilgariff, accusing it of being too lenient in its handling of its own employee.

"The only thing that amazes me is this man is still a senior agricultural officer with the department, and secondly, during the currency of this he was still collecting a full salary," he said.

"A gentleman overseeing the very matters for which he has pleaded guilty."

The judge described the department's pursuit as too lenient and said it should have been more "robust".

"He still has cattle on land, he should not have a herd number bearing in mind what I've heard.

"It's a criticism of the department that they haven't followed up with this with greater urgency.

"Every conceivable regulation has been breached. The cattle on his land were in the most shocking state of suffering.

"The photos are shocking. Carcasses left unburied, one animal not de-horned, one lying clearly in pain, blood coming from nostrils and apparently a fractured right front leg."

Judge Kilrane said 'neglect' was a mild word for the state the cattle were in and instead he described it as "the greatest form of cruelty".

Kilgariff pleaded guilty to a total of 10 charges relating to neglect and/or being reckless regarding the health or welfare of an animal.

He also pleaded guilty to two charges related to his failure to have his animals tested for TB and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) since 2016.

Earlier, the court heard how Kilgariff, as part of his work, was involved in investigations into animal welfare.

And it heard how he continued to be employed by the department despite being in breach of animal welfare regulations.

Ms Helen Johnston, BL, prosecuting, said a complaint was made to the Department on January 14, 2019 and on further inspection the online system showed Kilgariff had no record of bovine testing since 2016.

In December 2019, a complaint was made to the department by a woman in the Sai Donkey Sanctuary who had concerns that Kilgariff's lands were in quite a state and there was an animal carcass on the property.

Oliver Hamilton from the department made nine visits to the farm between December 2019 and January 2020.

During this period, four carcasses were found - one of which had been dead for up to four weeks.

Vet Ger Murray inspected the land in January 2020 and told the court he saw an animal with a large lesion and, on the same track of land, found a cow against a hedge, untagged, and in considerable pain. The animal had a broken bone in its right foot and had to be put down.

The ground was muddy and waterlogged.

There were animals present in the yard, including one which had horns that could cause damage to other animals.

There was no dry area for cattle to lie down and the shed was unusable.

The vet said he saw very small amounts of fodder present.

There were no round feeders on the land and concentrate meal seen was thrown on a wall and had fallen on to the ground where animals licked it.

Animals were also found to be standing in faecal matter, with lands severely poached with rubbish strewn about.

One of the two donkeys found with hooves in horrific state.

The vet, with the help of others, managed to corral the animals and remove them to another farm nearby.

A black bull and two Charolais cows had to be put down due to their emaciated condition and weakness.

Two more animals died over the following two weeks.

Mr Murray said he met with Kilgariff on the land and said he was cooperative.

The vet told the court he had "great concerns" in relation to the farm given there were no areas for animal husbandry or treatment.

It was clarified to the judge that Kilgariff remains employed by the department and is still on duty. Of the 61 animals Kilgariff had previously on his land, 41 had no identification.

Mr Eoin McGovern, BL, defending, told the court his client was a married father of two who had farmed all his life and always took great pride in farming.

The court was further told these incidents were of "deep regret" to the senior agricultural official and he was ashamed of what had happened, especially given that he lives within a farming community.

Documents were handed into court regarding Kilgariff's health issues.

"Everything started to get too much for him, he was over-stocked with cattle and the weather turned for the worse," said Mr McGovern.

The judge questioned why he had not got his animals tested since 2016.

Mr McGovern said infrastructure on his land was an issue, along with the lack of help at home.

Kilgariff had apparently been buying bag meal every second day for his stock, however this was not distributed into feeders or troughs.

In relation to his failure to remove dead animals from his land, counsel for Kilgariff said he feared no machine could go in and get them given the underfoot conditions.

The department subsequently used a machine to remove the animals.

Sixty cattle had been taken from the land, and the court was told the farmer now had 18 cattle on 200 acres of land and profits from this were to cover the expenses incurred by the department.

Mr McGovern outlined how his client had €2,000 in court and was happy to give it to charity.

It was heard the prosecution costs were €500 in relation to the carcass matters.

Kilgariff was convicted on the two testing charges and fined €1,000 in each matter.

In relation to the carcasses on his land, Kilgariff was given a four-month suspended prison sentence on each of the five charges.

The suspensions were given providing Kilgariff does not hold a herd number for a period of five years and he must dispose of the cattle currently on his land within two months, whether they are tested or untested.

In a statement the Department of Agriculture told the Sunday World it was a matter of public record it had brought the prosecution againt Kilgariff.

"It should be noted that the Department takes such matters very seriously and expects all staff to fully comply with the law, particularly with those that it is bound to safeguard.

"Any failure by a member of staff to do so is dealt with in accordance with the appropriate Civil Service policy."

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