That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the ownership of veterinary practices by persons other than those persons who are veterinary practitioners and to provide for related matters.
I appreciate the opportunity to move the Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill. It proposes to amend the Veterinary Practice Act 2005. For a number of years the interpretation of the Act was that corporate bodies could not own veterinary practices. A number of years ago that interpretation was changed and they are now in a position to buy veterinary practices in this country.
Unfortunately, in other countries, including in the UK and Northern Ireland, where corporate bodies are able to purchase veterinary practices the level of services decreases and the cost of services increases simultaneously. In Northern Ireland, where a veterinary practice was bought by a corporate, smaller farmers in Donegal were left without any 24-hour service. We have to make sure that does not happen in this country.
We have a veterinary service in this country of which we can be very proud. It provides a 24-hour service. This is not just for farmers; it also includes small animal practices. They are often the target of corporate entities as they are the most lucrative of practices financially.
The aim of the Bill is to ensure that veterinary practitioners are the only ones who can own veterinary practices. Veterinary Ireland is completely in support of this. It feels it is the way to ensure a proper 24-hour service is provided at an economic cost to consumers, whether they are farmers or pet owners in towns or cities.
In the previous Dáil term we had a lot of discussions with the Veterinary Council and Veterinary Ireland. The council made a number of presentations to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine in the previous Dáil term and put forward its case for leaving the law as it stands. The view of the Fianna Fáil Party is that the amendment is necessary to ensure that there is a proper service for those who need it, whether that is someone with a pet dog or a large animal practice.
Another problem in rural and remote areas is the availability of vets. I would welcome suggestions on the Bill so that we can ensure the availability of vets all over the country. In areas where bovine animals do not exist in large numbers, the economic viability of a veterinary practice is brought into serious question. It is something we need to re-examine. There is an animal welfare issue in that the availability on a 24-hour basis is essential for animal welfare.
My purpose in bringing forward the Bill is to ensure that there is a quality of service at a reasonable cost. It has been clearly shown to us that when corporate bodies take over veterinary practices in other countries, the level of service decreases significantly and the cost increases. In moving the Bill I wish to ensure that we continue to experience the excellent level of veterinary care we have had over generations. We are very proud of that and veterinarians are very proud of the service they are able to provide to their customers. I want to make sure that continues. On that basis, I am very happy to present the Bill to the House.