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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Jul 1931

Vol. 14 No. 27

Public Business. - Veterinary Surgeons Bill, 1930—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I do not feel it would be wise to let this Bill go through without passing some comment on the matter contained in it. I intended putting down certain amendments to it, but I came to the conclusion, after a considerable study of the Bill, that it would simply be a matter of negativing the whole clause of the agreement, particularly Section 2. My objection to this clause has already been stated, but I doubt if it is fully appreciated by the House. Section 2 states:—

Subject to the provisions of this Agreement and notwithstanding anything contained in the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, or the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922, or the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922, passed by the Provisional Parliament of Ireland, or the Adaptation of Enactments Act, 1922, passed by the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State, or any order made under any of those Acts, the constitution of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons under the Charters and the Veterinary Surgeons Acts and the powers and duties formerly vested in or imposed on that College of holding examinations for the purpose of testing the fitness of persons to practise as veterinary surgeons and of granting as a result of such examinations diplomas qualifying for registration in the general veterinary register and other diplomas in veterinary science or any branch thereof...

The remainder of the section is important.

The section continues:

...shall be deemed not to have been affected by the establishment of the Irish Free State and, for the purpose of the preparation and keeping of the general veterinary register, the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and their officers shall, subject to the provisions of this Agreement, have and may exercise in relation to persons, colleges and matters in the Irish Free State all such powers, jurisdictions, and authorities under the Charters and the Veterinary Surgeons Acts as the said Council and their officers formerly had and might exercise under the Charters and the said Acts for that purpose in relation to persons, colleges, and matters in Ireland.

I am assuming, but perhaps it is a wrong assumption, that all Senators have read the Agreement. Many Senators will be more concerned than I with the sacred nature of the Constitution of the Free State. At the same time, I think it is a mistake to allow this measure to go through without protesting against the potential amendment of the Constitution which is contained in this clause. At the moment I do not know that it cuts across any particular Article of the Constitution, but it is quite clear that if there is any conflict between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Constitution, or any Acts of the Irish Free State, the will of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons prevails and the Constitution and enactments of the Free State Parliament have to be subordinated to the will of that College.

The Minister admitted that this Agreement was the best he could secure. I submit there are certain limits beyond which the Minister, or the Oireachtas, should not be prepared to go in perfecting any Agreement. I submit that in this Agreement we have one instance. This Agreement does not carry out even the will of the British Parliament. It is true the Right Honourable J. H. Thomas signed the Agreement, but he did that for a comparatively subordinate body in England, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is neither dignified nor right that our Constitution and enactments of the Oireachtas should be set aside in deference to the will of any such subordinate body as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

There are many people in this country who have been vitally affected by reason of the altered conditions since the Treaty. We have civil servants who might reasonably argue that, by reason of the fact that their activities are going to be confined to this country, the scope for progress for very brilliant men or women is thereby limited. Ordinary workers could argue that by virtue of their position in the Free State as compared with the position of similarly placed persons in Northern Ireland or Britain they are deprived of certain benefits such as pensions at 65 and uncovenanted benefits, commonly known as the dole. No doubt in comparison with workers in those other places they feel they are suffering certain hardships. I think we cannot reasonably argue that the veterinary surgeons of this country will be suffering any greater hardships than any other people.

Speaking now from the material, and not from the national or spiritual point of view, the position is that certain advantages were supposed to accrue to citizens through the creation of the Free State. Inevitably in certain cases certain disadvantages had to be encountered because of the limitations of the country. I do not see that a reasonable case could be made for the veterinary surgeons of this country to ensure that they will not suffer any hardship. My own conviction is that the Bill should afford sufficient scope for the development of veterinary science so as to enable us to assimilate all the graduates who would be turned out by the College of Veterinary Surgeons in this country. I suggest it would be better for us to do without the privileges, whatever they may be, involved in membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. We should create, within our own State, a College in which the degree will be a purely Irish degree. I believe that if the educational authorities and the Irish Veterinary College established a sufficiently high standard, in a very short time the degree of the Irish College could be made equal to that of the British Royal College. Professional degrees of that type can quickly be established if it becomes generally known that the standard is high, and that in order to obtain the degree students must possess at least all the qualifications necessary for a similar degree in other countries.

I cannot see that there is any justification for association with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. There is certainly no reason why such association should be made the basis of an Agreement under which the Constitution of our country and certain enactments of the Oireachtas are set aside I am not so vitally concerned with the honour and the credit of the Constitution. From a political point of view I might well argue that it would be a good thing to see the Constitution changed. As a Party we have hope to see it very drastically changed, and we will take all possible steps to see that certain things that are in it to-day will be removed. We would like to see going into it now such changes as would tend to lead towards national progression. This particular measure is, in my opinion, a retrograde step.

I am not sufficiently well versed in legal technicalities to be able to state the purpose of the various Constitution Amending Acts that have been passed through this House. I know there is a considerable difference of opinion, even amongst the leading members of the Bar, with regard to them. I do resent this clause appearing in an Agreement which is signed on behalf of Britain by the Rt. Honourable J. H. Thomas and on behalf of the Free State by the Minister because, to my mind, it automatically sets aside any Article of the Constitution, or any Act of the Oireachtas, which may run in conflict with a decisíon of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It might be humiliating to have to bow the knee to eminent lawyers, and it might be humiliating to have to bow the knee to the medical profession; but certainly bowing the knee to decisions of the cow-doctors of England is something beyond my idea of what we ought to stand for in this House. I propose to vote against this measure.

I was very much interested in the speech made by Senator Connolly. In so far as his general arguments are concerned, I may be in agreement with them. I agree with him that the issue is simply whether we are prepared to make an Agreement with another politically independent country which we believe is of material benefit to this country as a whole. The question is whether we are prepared, while the Agreement lasts, because the Agreement can be ended, to agree that we will act in a perfectly independent manner for the purpose of securing certain material benefits. That is really what this Agreement means, and it is just the same in the case of the Agreement relating to the medical profession.

I would like to point out to Senator Connolly, and to the House, that it is because we are independent in our Constitution, and in other respects, that this matter has to be done by way of agreement. It is because this State is absolutely independent that this matter could not be carried out either in England or here except through a specific agreement. It means that while that agreement lasts we will agree to do certain things which we would not be bound to do otherwise, constitutionally. Whether it is worth it in the case of the veterinary surgeons is purely a matter of opinion. If it were a matter of particular persons anxious to take out degrees in this country, persons who desired to study the science of veterinary surgery here and then go to other countries, I would be inclined to agree with Senator Connolly that that is not the material benefit that is sought through this measure.

The real aim is that, while we are doing an enormous trade with our friends on the other side of the water, we feel that it would be extremely dangerous for us to place ourselves in the position that they might refuse to take certain certificates relating to cattle diseases and other diseases. I hope that the time will come when, under legislation which we are promised following this Bill, the standard here will be recognised as so highly satisfactory that agreements such as this will not be considered necessary. I will vote for the Bill because I think the Agreement it embodies is a wise one. I do not believe that a country such as ours, independent constitutionally and as far as Parliamentary action is concerned, making an agreement with another country in a similar position is infra dig. It is because in regard to legislative matters we are completely independent that we have made this Agreement.

I will support the Fifth Stage of this measure. Candidly, I believe the Bill, as it is at the present moment, is practically useless, but I am supporting it in the hope that the amendments which were inserted here will be rejected in the Dáil and the measure will come back to us as it originally stood. The new clauses that have been inserted in the Bill leave it absolutely useless as an effective measure. This is a Bill to regularise the veterinary profession. As the Bill stands every man in the country holding the title of veterinary surgeon, whether he be a quack or not, can practise; nothing can be said to him. If we want to have a proficient veterinary profession in the country we must give the legitimate practitioners every protection.

At the present time the veterinary surgeons, with the exception of those who live in the big centres of population, could not possibly exist on the amount of work that they get unless, of course, they hold public appointments. I understand that recently a number of Government appointments, under the Fresh Meat and other Acts, were advertised. We actually had to advertise in the English papers in order to get veterinary surgeons to fill the appointments. We had not enough men in the country to take up the positions. What is the reason for that? I repeat that unless a veterinary surgeon in this country has some public appointment he could not possibly exist on his practice. What have the quacks, who have been given so much consideration by this House, done in the way of research work? What have they done to eliminate such diseases as foot and mouth and tuberculosis?

I am supporting this Bill in the hope that the amendments inserted here will be rejected in the Dáil and it will be sent back to us as it stood originally. Senator Connolly suggests that the veterinary surgeons should not be subject to the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. If that were the position how would we stand? If foot and mouth disease, or other contagious diseases, were prevalent the British Government could adopt the attitude they are adopting at the moment. If Senator Connolly goes to the country and declares that we can carry on without England, the farmers will give him his answer. It is all right for Senator Connolly to utter those phrases here and to speak in the strain in which he has spoken, but if he goes down to the country and repeats those statements to the farmers there he will be in a totally different atmosphere. He might be inclined to change his expressions. The farmers thoroughly understand the position because they know what it means if foot and mouth disease breaks out. They know the effect of restrictions which are imposed, justly imposed in many cases because of the seriousness of the disease.

I wish to call attention to the fact that veterinary surgeons are being sent to the Gaelic-speaking districts without any knowledge of Irish. It has been the practice for the Dáil to send measures up here without any clause making it compulsory to have a knowledge of the Irish language. There was a time, not very long ago, when members were sufficiently independent to vote against their own Ministers on the subject of Irish being made compulsory. I am sorry to say that attitude has been completely altered and even those whom we regarded as good Gaels have now completely succumbed in obedience to their masters and they vote against compulsory Irish, even in the Gaelic-speaking districts. I am afraid the Seanad has also come to that low pitch because Senators will not act according to their consciences. I hope some day that these things will be remedied and that some common sense will be used in the appointment of people who will be allocated to districts where only the language of the Gael is spoken.

Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Séanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 6.

John Bagwell.William Barrington.Sir Edward Coey Bigger.Samuel L. Brown, K.C.Miss Kathleen Browne.R. A. Butler.Mrs. Costello.John C. Counihan.William Cummins.The Countess of Desart.James G. Douglas.Michael Duffy.Michael Fanning.

P.J. Hooper.Right Hon. Andrew Jameson.Thomas Johnson.Thomas Linehan.James MacKean.John MacLoughlin.Sir Walter Nugent.Joseph O'Connor.Bernard O'Rourke.Michael Staines.Thomas Toal.Richard Wilson.


Michael Comyn, K.C.Joseph Connolly.Seán E. MacEllin.

Colonel Moore.Joseph O'Doherty.Séumas Robinson.

Tellers:— Tá, Senators Douglas and Counihan; Níl, Senators Connolly and O'Doherty.
Question declared carried.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 15th July.