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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Horse breeding scheme criticised
Funding was to breed better horses for sports
Funding was to breed better horses for sports
A Stormont assembly committee has criticised the handling of a controversial horse breeding scheme, backed by 3m of public money.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee said the management of the scheme failed to meet the established standards of public conduct.

Since 1997, the 3m of European Union Peace and Reconciliation money has been spent on the scheme to breed better horses for sports such as show jumping.

The funding was allocated through the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In its report, the committee was scathing of the department's handling of the project, based at Necarne in County Fermanagh.

Severance deal

It was particularly critical of the decision to give a 43-year-old civil servant, who helped to develop the initiative, "a very generous early retirement package".

Scheme aimed to improve NI stock
Scheme aimed to improve NI stock
The civil servant then took over as the project's chief executive "without either advertisement or competition".

The committee said subsequent investigations by the department revealed a number of conflicts of interest.

The committee said there was a perception that the department failed to ensure that the basic standards expected of those in public life were adhered to.

It added that the case left an impression of cosy relationships which fell well short of accepted practices in the handling of public money.

Chairman of the assembly committee, Billy Bell said: "We were astounded to find that there were problems with the project selection and assessment process which went beyond the Irish Sport Horse case and impacted on 30m of peace funding.

"As a result, over 12m was allocated to the department's own favoured projects.

"We believe that this was going against the Peace and Reconciliation Programme which was supposed to be community driven."

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15 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Benefits agency overpaid by 65m
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