The Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System (NIFAIS) is now expected to be launched in 2024, more than five years behind schedule, according to a recent report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

According to the report it will also cost approximately £17 million more than what was initially estimated, costing approximately £64 million in total to complete.

The delay in delivery means the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has lost nearly half the 12-year operating period of the system.

It has cost DAERA an additional £6 million of internal costs, according to the report by comptroller and auditor general, Dorinnia Carville.

The launch of stage one already missed its June 2023 deadline. At the time Northern Ireland’s DAERA said the delay would be “a number of months”.

It cited a need for “further testing and integration with industry IT systems” as the reason for the postponement.

The report states that this may impact further with the final delivery deadline in 2024, being put under pressure and further reducing the operational period of the new system.

The existing Animal Public Health Information System, which NIFAIS will replace, continues to operate 16 years after its expiry date at an annual cost of approximately £0.5 million.

This system cannot be switched off until NIFAIS is complete.

The information is used for multiple purposes, including disease management, providing assurance to customers and consumers, and in applications for single farm payments.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Carville said: “I welcome the fact that the department and the supplier resisted the temptation to persist with a failed delivery model, and instead took positive action to stop, re-evaluate and adopt a different approach.

“This flexibility was ultimately pivotal in getting the project back on track. That said, it is concerning that it took the department so long to take this action.

“Appropriate governance, and having the right skills and experience in place from the outset, are vital to ensuring risks at both the procurement and development stage can be quickly identified and managed,” Carville added.