Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 May 1988

Vol. 119 No. 11

Veterinary Surgeons Order, 1988: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann confirms the following Order:——

Veterinary Surgeons Order, 1988, a copy of which Order was laid before Seanad Éireann on the 13th day of April, 1988.

May we have a copy of the Minister's speech? I have the explanatory notes but I would prefer to wait for the Minister's speech.

The Order in question was made by the Government on 12 April 1988 under sections 4 and 5 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1952. It provides for the confirmation of a new agreement with respect to veterinary surgeons concluded with the United Kingdom Government on 11 April 1988. This new Veterinary Surgeons Agreement, which is set out in the First Schedule to the present Order, terminates as from 31 May 1988 the Anglo-Irish Veterinary Agreement of 1972.

The main effect of the new agreement is to terminate the long-standing interdependence of the Irish and UK Veterinary Councils embodied in Irish legislation. This derives from the position when the Irish Veterinary Register was set up under the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1931. At that time — and up to the early fifties when our universities commenced awarding veterinary degrees — the only basis for registration of veterinary surgeons in this country was the UK diploma MRCVS. Hence it was necessary to have bilateral arrangements providing for dual registration of Irish veterinary surgeons on both Irish and UK registers.

The advantages of this for our veterinary surgeons was that they had automatic entitlement to MRCVS registration and could set up practice in the UK. In return it was necessary to accord to the UK Council rights to be represented on committees of inquiry set up by the Irish Council in disciplinary cases, to inspect veterinary training operations in Ireland, and in other aspects of the control of the profession.

Following on the implementation of EEC Directives 78/1026 and 78/1027 which guarantee the rights of establishment of veterinary surgeons throughout the Community, Irish registered practitioners may now freely set up practice not alone in the UK but also in other member states.

In these circumstances, the UK authorities indicated that the special relationship with the profession in Ireland should be reviewed as they considered that the automatic entitlement to membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as applied under the 1972 Agreement to Irish veterinary surgeons on graduation would now be discriminatory vis-à-vis the nationals of other member states whose entitlement would be based on the Community Directives. From our point of view, the termination of the agreement would mean that the UK authority would not longer have a role in oversight of Irish veterinary training institutions or representation on disciplinary committees set up by the Irish Council. The requirement for Irish representation on the UK Council would also cease.

In the subsequent negotiation of the new agreement the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Irish Veterinary Council worked in close consultation. The position of veterinary surgeons currently practising in Ireland with MRCVS as their sole qualification is safeguarded by the provision for continued membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of those holding it on 31 May 1988. Also, the termination of the 1972 agreement was deferred over six years to allow ample time for those students to qualify who had embarked on their veterinary training on the understanding that they would be entitled to MRCVS on completion of their course. The terms of the new agreement, therefore, have the full concurrence of the Irish Veterinary Council.

I should here like to record the excellent co-operation which existed between the veterinary professions in Ireland and the UK under the previous Veterinary Agreement. I have no doubt that this long-standing, harmonious relationship will continue under the new agreement.

Apart from the confirmation of the new agreement, the Order provides for the reconstitution of the Irish Veterinary Council. This is necessary in order to eliminate the statutory provisions which have hitherto operated for the election of Irish representatives to sit on the UK Council. The opportunity is also being taken to enlarge the Irish Council and to provide for lay membership for the first time, in line with the current practice in relation to doctors and dentists.

The grounds for enlarging the council from 14 to 17 members are that there has been a substantial increase — from 1,200 to 1,700 — in membership of the profession since 1972 — when the size of the present council was fixed — leading to an increased volume of work for the council and its various sub-committees. In these circumstances, the Government were satisfied that the membership of the council needed to be enlarged both in the interests of its efficient operation and to facilitate the introduction of lay representation.

Before I conclude, I think it would be helpful to explain to the House that for legal reasons, it has been necessary to reproduce in the Order the existing provisions already in operation in regard to procedure and rules of elections to the council. This arises from the fact that the scope of Orders which can be made under the 1952 legislation does not include the amendment of previous Orders. Accordingly, aside from the provisions at Article 3 for the confirmation of the agreement and for the reconstitution and enlargement of the Veterinary Council at Article 5, the remaining provisions of the Order make no change of any significance in the statutory position that has applied up to now except those which are directly consequential on the termination of the 1972 agreement.

I trust, therefore, that the House will readily accord its confirmation of the Order.

This side of the House readily agrees to the confirmation of the Order. In doing so, may I put it on record that the relationship between the Irish Veterinary Council and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has been excellent down through the years? In Ireland, often times, the term "royal" almost immediately brings visions of a type of England we are not supposed to like. Very often in many spheres of life, this has been the reaction to the word "royal". It is good to record that, in this instance as in many other instances many of us are not aware — for example, in the automobile association — there has been on-going co-operation since the foundation of the State in many walks of life between both sides of the Channel. The coming into being of this State did not alter the good relationships that existed prior to that. It is a matter of record that relations between the Irish Veterinary Council and the Royal Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons have been excellent in the past. It is the sincere hope of the Irish Veterinary Council, and I am sure the Minister's Department and all Members of this House, that those good relationships will continue, and it is anticipated that they will.

As the Minister has outlined in his general statement, heretofore veterinary surgeons qualifying in Ireland automatically became members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons by simply signing a document. The fact that that has been altered is not an indication that the RCVS want to discontinue the practice whereby Irish vets automatically qualified for membership. That is not the intention. It is simply the case that, under existing European legislation, were the relationship between Ireland and England to continue, the UK authorities could be accused of being favourably biased towards Ireland. It is nice to know that in other circumstances they were favourably biased towards Ireland and would like to continue to be so, were it is not for the fact they could be accused of showing that bias in, 1992 when the spirit of a united Europe will come into being. It is only right that this should be rectified.

The Order confirms the changes that are consequential on the new agreement. Another consequential change is because of the fact that heretofore — which is ironic, members of the Royal College had to sit on any disciplinary committee set up to examine the professional conduct of a veterinary surgeon in Ireland. I am sure very few people were aware of that. My view point is that any internal disciplinary question that may arise with regard to veterinary surgeons in Ireland should be dealt with by their colleagues in Ireland. The Order also brings that change about. That is not to say there was any resistance to the situation that existed heretofore. The new agreement was signed by representatives from both sides in London.

The Order is making the changes which are necessary to do that.

Lest the veterinary surgeons who will be qualifying may be apprehensive that the doors in the UK are closed to them, in fact not only are the doors in the UK remaining open, but the doors in all the other member states will be wide open to them. I have little more to say other than to put on record the good relationships that have existed in the past between the Irish Veterinary Council and their counterparts across the water and to express the wish that they will continue and, indeed, the anticipation that they will continue. I would like to say to the young veterinary surgeons who are qualifying that the doors of all the European States are now open to them, so their horizons will be much wider than heretofore.

The other changes which are taking place are the enlargement of the Veterinary Council and the inclusion of ministerial representatives on that council. I understand the membership of the council is to be enlarged from 14 to 17. Heretofore the council was comprised of 14 members, 12 being elected from among the veterinary surgeons by internal election, one appointed by the Minister and one appointed by the universities. There will now be 12 elected members and five appointed members; three members appointed by the Minister, of whom at least two shall not be veterinary surgeons; and two to be appointed by the universities, one of whom shall be a registered veterinary surgeon. The enlarged council reflects the increased membership of the profession. It will also ensure that the Minister's and the Department's views can be made more clearly known to the council and, in turn, that the elected council members may have their views made known to the Minister. I have nothing further to say, without repeating what I have said, except that the making of the Order has the full support of the Fine Gael Party. It has been totally supported by the Veterinary Council who would like the Order to be confirmed.

I too am in agreement with this Order which has to be made to ensure the implementation of the EC directive guaranteeing the rights of veterinary surgeons throughout the Community, which means that Irish registered practitioners may now freely set up in practice not only in the United Kingdom but also in other member states which, I think, is an advantage to the Irish veterinary profession.

I am sure the good relations to which Sentor Loughrey referred between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Irish Veterinary Council will continue and the Order will not in any way interfere with the good relations that exist. It will probably enhance the relations. It was necessary also to enlarge the Irish Veterinary Council to reflect the increase in the number of veterinary surgeons. Their number has increased from 1,200 in 1972 to 1,700 and they are giving a great service to the farming community. They are on call day and night and are kept very busy. With the demands on veterinary surgeons I can see this number increasing in the future.

The new council shall consist of 12 members elected by the veterinary surgeons and five appointed members, two by the universities and three by the Minister. For the first time this will allow lay members to be appointed to the council and I welcome this. As it is the first time laymen will be represented on the council I wonder should they have greater representation. I am referring to members of the agricultural community. The Minister will appoint three members. I assume one will be a vet and I suppose there will be a member of his Department. That would only leave only one to represent farming interests, which is very little. The farming interests and the agricultural industry should have a good say on the Veterinary Council because the vets are servicing the agricultural community.

I welcome this Order and hope that we will continue to get good service from the veterinary surgeons. I hope the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK and the Irish Veterinary Council will continue to have an excellent relationship. It also gives our newly qualified veterinary surgeons an opportunity to gain experience in other member states.

It may not be recognised generally but this morning we are making a little bit of history. The Veterinary Surgeons Order, 1988, writes another chapter in the history of veterinary surgery in this country and deals with their qualifications and their status internationally. Somebody who read the Order this morning said jocosely that we should write a children's manual on these issues so that the ordinary people could understand all the gobbledegook in statutory instruments. I just wish to put my view on the subject in context as I have some knowledge of it from my background in the industry.

I worked originally with the first Irish veterinary surgeon who qualified in Ireland, the late Mr. Allen Baker of Lismacue, Bansha, County Tipperary. I wish to put on the record of this House that he was the first Irishman to be considered eligible to qualify in Ireland and he was awarded a gold medal in veterinary medicine in 1904. I owe it to his memory to put that on record. Extraordinarily enough, his examiners were English qualified because the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons considered at that time that nobody was sufficiently qualified in Ireland to be able to confer a degree on somebody in this country.

This was the beginning of the association between the vets who qualified in Ireland, but yet were recognised in Europe as members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had a status but the Irish colleges at that time were not accepted by the British as having the correct status. We moved from that position and eventually the Irish colleges produced lecturers and professors in veterinary medicine who were capable in their own right of carrying out examinations of Irish students and conferring the degree of BA and MVB on them which automatically entitled them to registration with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The RCVS conferred that status on them because of the history of that faculty.

Veterinary medicine is accepted by everybody as being one of the most difficult professions to qualify in. There is a much wider range of arts involved in veterinary medicine than a GP or any other ordinary medic would have. It is extraordinary that this qualification was recognised in Europe. Indeed the new European Directives will now ensure that Irish qualified veterinary surgeons will have access to practise within the Community and will not be dependent on the added qualification, given by consent, of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is also important to note that the qualifications of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the Irish colleges are not accepted in the US although I am confident that the standards of both are superior to anything the American colleges have ever delivered on their campuses. It has always been obligatory for veterinary surgeons who emigrated, or left home for additional experience in practice, to go through the process of sitting a further exam in America. If they moved from State to State, they had to sit additional examinations under the federal system in America.

I am pleased that the Irish Veterinary Council have been in close dialogue and agreement with the Department on this issue. For the first time we are now striking out on our own. In the past we have produced some of the top veterinarians not alone in Europe but in the world. I would like to put it on record that it was an Irish veterinary surgeon who diagnosed the clostridial disease which is now typed worldwide as Salmonella Dublin because it was identified in the laboratories in Dublin. A clostridial disease of a specific kind and type was identified. That is an indication of the quality of the veterinary scientists we have.

Dr. Brendan Farrelly of the Irish Veterinary College has a specific interest in equine matters and is considered to be one of the foremost veterinary surgeons in the world in the diagnosis and identification of the dreaded equine virus disease of rhinopneumonitis. This is one of the diseases that causes widespread abortion in the bloodstock industry. He was one person who was capable of identifying it clinically and in the laboratory afterwards by cultures and the media process.

We have a very proud record of veterinary surgeons who qualified here but were automatically granted MRCVS status. Could the Minister confirm that everybody who qualifies after the termination date of May 1988 and those sitting their exams to qualify next year will also have an automatic entitlement to MRCVS status? Would the Minister tell me the future designation of veterinary surgeons who qualify in Ireland under this new agreement? What designation will vets be entitled to have after their names so that there will be no confusion in the future as to the status of the qualifying veterinary surgeon? It is important that the public should become familiar with the designation because everybody accepts the MRCVS as being the be all and end all. Even people who have the BA and MVB, which are similar qualifications, still add the other to their names.

I am also anxious for information about the additional nominees to the Veterinary Council the Minister will appoint under this Order. What type of nonqualified people will sit on this council? Whose interest will they represent? Will they represent the Department's attitude? Will they represent the consumer who has a vested interest in all matters veterinary and in the use of veterinary medicines, hormones, antibiotics and other products in the treatment of animals for human consumption? Will they be represented on the Veterinary Council? Will the farming organisations who at times are considered, at least by the consumer, to have a contrary role be represented?

The farming organisations have been vociferous in their arguments that they have been responsible in their attitude to the use of drugs and medicines in animals for human consumption. As the Minister knows, we dealt with the Abattoirs Bill which sets the standard for killing and the production of meat for human consumption. Perhaps the Minister might consider the role these non-veterinarians will play on the council. Perhaps he would consider when nominating people that both sides should be represented, but certainly the consumer should be represented.

I have no doubt that the farming organisations would like to have representation on this council. Because there will be a change of emphasis with the increased numbers on the council, it is appropriate that the other interests should be represented. It might remove some of the problems people have about the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and other medicines in the treatment of animals. Everybody has a responsibility in this area, particularly when animals are sick and need treatment. Those animals certainly should not be destroyed for human consumption for a statutory period after the introduction of some of the drugs and medicines.

With those few comments I welcome this Order. It is a confirmation that, because of our membership of the Community, the Single European Act and all the other things that will happen between now and 1992, many of the old requirements will be done away with. Ireland, in her own right, is achieving a status that we all welcome. This additional status means that people who qualify will be recognised as being suitably and adequately qualified to practise in any of the EC member states.

First, I thank Senators for their very positive response to this Order. To have legal effect the Order has to be approved by this House and also by the Dáil under sections 4 and 5 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1952. This is required to be done as soon as possible but, at any rate, before 31 May of this year. I want to express my appreciation to the Senators for their response to this Order and to endorse what has been said about the veterinary profession. We owe a great deal to the veterinary profession, the scientists, the laboratory people and the practitioners in the field. There are some quite outstanding people in that profession, as Senator Ferris said. Additionally, we have a very proud record in this area, particularly in relation to a number of diseases which are rampant in parts of Europe and which we have succeeded in keeping out of this country. I would like to put on record my appreciation of the profession for their quite outstanding work in that regard.

A number of points have been raised by Senators. Senator Ferris raised the question of graduates. This year is the last year graduates will be entitled to use the MRCVS status. They will also have the designation MVB. In all future years vets who qualify will carry the MVB designation. Students were made aware of this well in advance. I think Senator Ferris said the status of MVB is acknowledged worldwide. A number of Senators referred to the question of lay representation. The position here is that the consumers in particular are entitled to representation. I will bear in mind what Senator Ferris said in relation to representation by lay people on this council and in particular in relation to drugs, antibiotics etc. Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the level of antibiotics, about the level of hormones and their use. Consumers as well as agricultural people and farmers deserve to have representation on the new council.

Senator Rory Kiely talked about the two lay representatives and said that one may very well be from the Department. It need not necessarily be the case that one of those will have to be a Department representative. I assume that the veterinary profession within the Department will be available to contest elected members' seats but, at any rate, the two lay members are entitled to come from the various consumer interests. I think that covers the general queries that were raised. As I said, it is important to get the measure through this House and also through the Dáil before 31 May so there is not much time left.

I concur with what Senator Loughrey said about the tremendous relations that have existed between the members of the veterinary profession in the UK and our veterinary profession. There was a great degree of goodwill and a great degree of good work done in this professional body and in a number of others. It is a pity that good work and goodwill did not extend to political as well as professional organisations. They had a very expansive and open-minded attitude to this matter and wanted to do their best for the industry and the organisation they represent. As I said, perhaps it is a pity that that goodwill and generosity did not extend to a wider field. With those few comments I want to thank Senators for their contributions. I commend this Order to the House.

Am I in order to ask the Minister a question?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

A short question.

With regard to the Minister's appointment of three persons, two of them shall not be vets and the third may not be. In other words, he can appoint three lay persons. Did the Minister say that the veterinary person within his Department would be eligible to contest the 12 positions?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the Senator asking a question?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

He should be standing.

Am I right in saying that the veterinary personnel within the Department may contest the 12 elected positions?

Therefore, would it not be reasonably fair to suggest to the Minister that he should not appoint any veterinary personnel from his Department, that he should appoint three lay people to ensure that the various interests Senator Ferris mentioned would be represented?

I would like to say to Senator Loughrey that I will certainly keep his suggestion in mind and ensure that there is fair and objective representation on the council.

Question put and agreed to.