“One cannot have one vet on call in a county if the corporate entities take over all the practices. That is what is shaping up, whether we like it or not,” he warned.
Those were the words of independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who contributed to a Dáil debate on the Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2021 last week.
He highlighted his concerns over the corporate ownership of veterinary practices in Ireland and the implications this could have. In doing so, he shed light on functional relationships between vets and their clients and the need for a 24/7 service.
“In this country, one will get a vet quicker than a doctor. If you have a cow calving at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, or 5 am on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or any night of the week, you have a vet within 15 to 20 minutes. You could wait three, four or five hours for a doctor.”
“That service is great, as is the relationship between the vet and the farmer. The vets around the country who are giving that service have to be commended.”
Large geographical areas
He referred to his relation, a vet, who worked in various countries – including the UK.
“I just happened to be talking to him one weekend when he was on call. They had to cover about 80 or 90 miles.”
“They were going into the side of London. Some of that land is not as intensive as it is here. That showed me one thing that when corporate entities are looking after something or taking over something, it is basically money; that is the bottom line for them.”
“We have a seriously good relationship around the county. [between vets and farmers] There is a trust in every farmer to ring one’s local vet, and there is a relationship there.”
“The vet nearly knows the cattle the farmer has in most situations, to be frank about it, and they know the type of farmer involved.
“But when you have an entity coming, let us be blunt about it. Some of them are coming in from other countries that basically want to take over the different practices here.”
“There will be the odd vet who will look at the money; it will be show me the money, and they will want to take it. But, we have to think of more than the vet in this. We have to think of the farmer, the service and the country.”
“If you listened to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, she talked about Ireland. We export a lot of product, and we need vets to certify everything that goes out.”
He said Ireland has a high standard of animal welfare, and it needs to maintain this as it is competing with other countries.
“Just think of animal welfare. If a cow is calving or a ewe is lambing, and she is left for seven or eight hours, what situation would she be in?”
“At the moment, [within] 15 minutes, one will have a local vet on the scene no matter what hour of the day or night it is. This is the service we get throughout the country, and we need to appreciate that.”
Again, he referenced the UK and said that it has “gone down the road” of getting clients to insure small animals.
“People are insuring the dog, donkey, pony and everything. The vet will come out then, and they will nearly bring them to the operating theatre to do everything with them. But the bottom line on it is that the ordinary person is paying.”
“When you look at a farmer, you could not be insuring every ewe and cow in the place. We need to do realistic things.”
“You would not be able to afford the type of the way that these new corporates are bringing people down. Let us not fall into the trap that other countries have.”
During the debate, he expressed concerns over letters the DAFM issued to BEAM participants with associated herds and stressed that “we need cattle in the country for all vets to survive”.
The independent TD believes Ireland can learn from the issues that have arisen in other countries.
He called on all parties concerned to “get the Bill into action to make sure we protect the farmers who rely on vets and the service they give”.