Impending customs rules set to be implemented in October, coupled with a shortage of veterinarians in Northern Ireland, have highlighted the urgent need for a vet school in Coleraine. East Derry MLA Claire Sugden has emphasized that the introduction of new food and animal customs checks between Ireland and Great Britain, along with the scarcity of vets in Ireland, make a vet school in Coleraine absolutely essential. In June, Sugden argued that Coleraine, with its rural setting, would be the most suitable location for a proposed vet school in Northern Ireland.
The new customs checks, which will come into effect on October 31, 2023, will require export health certificates and phytosanitary certificates for medium-risk animal products and plant and plant products imported to Great Britain from the EU. Revenue has stated that full customs controls will also be implemented for goods moving directly from Ireland to Great British ports. UK import declarations will need to be ‘pre-lodged,’ and goods transported from the island of Ireland will be subject to checks and controls. Additional rules and controls will be introduced in January 2024 and later in the year.
Sugden believes that these changes will exacerbate the existing challenges faced by the veterinary sector in Northern Ireland. She stated, “The limited training options for vets – there are none in Northern Ireland – mean people have to travel to Dublin or other parts of the UK to study, and with many not returning here to work, this means the number of vets across the island is seriously lacking. The recently published report on the need for a veterinary school in Northern Ireland highlighted this significant gap. While the report left much room for further investigation, it is clear that a vet school here would greatly alleviate the current and anticipated pressures.”
Last year, a report by the Northern Ireland Strategic Investment Board (SIB) concluded that a veterinary school is necessary in Northern Ireland due to its heavy reliance on UK, Ireland, and EU-trained vets. Sugden remains convinced that a vet school at the University of Ulster campus in Coleraine would benefit not only the university and the local area but also the students themselves and the wider agricultural industry. She also highlighted that students from the Republic of Ireland, who currently pay higher fees, would be among those who would benefit from such a school. Sugden emphasized, “It is one sector where graduating students would be almost guaranteed to walk into a job, while ensuring the survival of our biggest industry, agriculture.”