I am registrar and CEO of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, VCI, and I am joined today by Ms Vivienne Duggan, president, veterinary surgeon and associate professor of equine clinical studies on the University College Dublin, UCD, veterinary medicine programme.
On behalf of the VCI, we welcome the opportunity to assist the committee in its deliberations on the post-enactment scrutiny of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, in respect of the matters of canine artificial insemination, ear cropping, microchipping and fertility clinics.
The council is the statutory body responsible for the regulation and management of the veterinary professions, being veterinary practitioners and veterinary nurses in Ireland. The VCI is a statutory body set up under the Veterinary Practice Act 2005, as amended, and is under the aegis of the Minister of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine. The principal function of the council is to regulate the practise of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing in the Republic of Ireland in the interest of animal health and welfare and in the interest of veterinary public health. The functions of the council include protection of the public through the supervision of veterinary education, the maintenance of the register of veterinary practitioners and veterinary nurses, the registration of veterinary premises, and through disciplinary action in cases of professional misconduct.
On ear cropping, the Veterinary Council has no authority or role in the oversight of canine welfare matters relating to this abhorrent and regrettable practice by non-registered persons, and this may be a matter more relevant to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Our submission to the committee makes reference to section 16 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which provides that a person shall not carry out or permit another person to carry out, on an animal, an operation or procedure which involves interference with, or the removal of, the sensitive tissue or the bone structure of the animal unless they are carried out for the purposes of veterinary treatment or unless they are procedures listed in regulations, that is, for long-term welfare or animal management benefits, control or reproduction or identification purposes.
It is not permissible even for a vet to perform ear cropping for aesthetic purposes. If a veterinary practitioner performs ear cropping, he or she is committing an offence under the Act and may leave themselves open to prosecution and-or to disciplinary action before the VCI’s fitness to practise committee.
Veterinary practitioners take an oath to join the register of veterinary practitioners in Ireland to act in the best interests of animal welfare and frequently advocate for animals throughout their careers. Any act such as canine ear cropping would be liable to a finding of professional misconduct and-or disciplinary sanction if undertaken by a vet. The veterinary council has never received a complaint relating to the involvement of any veterinary practitioner in commissioning such acts on an animal for aesthetic purposes in living history.
With regard to non-registered lay persons performing ear cropping, this is a matter on which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine may wish to comment.
The council is the statutory body responsible for regulating the practise of veterinary medicine in the State. The practise of veterinary medicine may only be carried out by a veterinary practitioner, suitably qualified and registered with the VCI, with some limited exceptions allowable in respect of research or such projects, authorised or licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA.
Pursuant to section 106 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005, as amended, the practice of veterinary medicine must only be undertaken from a premises for which a certificate of suitability has been issued by the VCI, a state premises, a premises such as a farm where care and treatment is being delivered to an animal under the care of a veterinary practitioner or from an exempted premises.
The VCI maintains registers of veterinary practitioners, veterinary nurses and veterinary practice premises for which a certificate of suitability has been issued, following inspection by the council.
Section 53 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 sets out that the practise of veterinary medicine includes diagnosing disease, injury, pain, deformity, defect or state of health of an animal, identifying and carrying out treatment, whether surgical or medical in nature, or any such matters, performing a surgical procedure on an animal, giving advice on the above and furnishing certificates on these. For the avoidance of doubt, any invasive procedures, involving the entry to a body cavity, are acts of veterinary medicine confined to those persons qualified and eligible to practise veterinary medicine in Ireland, on the Register of Veterinary Practitioners, pursuant to section 53. If an unauthorised or unqualified person carries out an act of veterinary medicine, he or she has committed an offence, contrary to the public interest and will be liable to prosecution by the VCI before the District Court. Section 54, as amended, sets out offences in the practise of veterinary medicine or use of the title, which states that “a person, other than a veterinary practitioner, shall not, do or perform any act, matter or thing, the doing or performance of which forms part of the practice of veterinary medicine”.
The term "veterinary" is protected and may only be used by those persons qualified, insured or indemnified, and authorised to practise veterinary medicine in the State.
Some of the services offered by canine fertility clinics, including artificial insemination, could constitute the practise of veterinary medicine. Canine fertility clinics offering services such as taking blood samples, artificial insemination, semen analysis and diagnostic testing, without such services being delivered by a registered veterinary practitioner operating from a premises the subject of a certificate of suitability could be committing an offence and be liable to prosecution. The veterinary council is the body tasked with acting in the interest of animal health and welfare and public health to ensure that services proffered in the delivery of veterinary care and treatment to animals are of a minimum standard, based on educational qualifications and continued professional development and competence, on which members of the public and animal owners can safely rely.
The Veterinary Council initiated nine authorised officer investigations in 2021, into matters requiring investigation in the public interest. The Veterinary Council also initiated three sets of District Court proceedings in relation to matters regarding the practice of veterinary medicine, and the practice of veterinary medicine at or from an uncertified practice premises. The Veterinary Council is active in its role of supervising the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing in Ireland, including the initiation of investigation and legal proceedings where required.
It should be noted that some aspects of artificial insemination in greyhounds may be carried out by non-veterinarians, subject to licence and veterinary oversight. This is provided for by the Artificial Insemination of Greyhounds Regulations 2005, as amended. Rásaíocht Con Éireann is responsible for the licensing and enforcement of these regulations. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine may be better placed to speak to these regulations.
On canine artificial insemination and fertility clinics, the Veterinary Council currently has a number of investigations under way under Part 10 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005. These investigations are being carried out by authorised officers appointed by the council. The investigations were initiated by the Veterinary Council in 2020 following concerns raised to the council about services that may infringe on the practice of veterinary medicine. These investigations are under way with a report anticipated in early course. Accordingly, the Veterinary Council can make no comment on any specific matters under consideration or investigation.
The Veterinary Council collaborates with other agencies and, as required, can investigate any matter in tandem with other authorities or agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, local authorities, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and An Garda Síochána. We highlight that the Veterinary Council will always act in the best interests of animal health and welfare and public health in a reasonable and proportionate manner, discharging our duties as required through investigation or prosecution as appropriate in the public interest.
Statutory Instrument No. 63 of 2015, pursuant to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, introduced a legal requirement for all dogs from March 2016 in Ireland to have a microchip. The regulations set out requirements to have dogs microchipped and registered with dog identification databases, and confirm that those authorised to insert microchips are vets, veterinary nurses and other suitably trained persons.
The Veterinary Council will continue to work to ensure that the high standards expected and enjoyed in the veterinary industry are upheld, and that the quality of veterinary care in Ireland is provided by those persons suitably qualified and authorised to deliver such services in the best interests of animal health and welfare, and the public interest. The Veterinary Council will continue to be proactive in its investigation and prosecution, where necessary, of any matters contrary to the interests of animal health and welfare, and the public interest. I thank the Chairman and the members for the invitation to address the committee today. The president of the Veterinary Council, Vivienne Duggan, and I are happy to address any questions the committee may have.