BVA President highlights Northern Ireland vets’ unique role

25 November 2016

Northern Ireland’s vets’ face unique challenges and opportunities as the UK's governments start planning Brexit, said BVA President Gudrun Ravetz in her speech (226 KB PDF) at BVA’s annual Northern Ireland dinner on Thursday 24 November.

Ms Ravetz opened her speech in Stormont by highlighting the wide-ranging involvement of the veterinary profession in many aspects of political and public life before discussing the impact of the result of the UK's EU referendum. She said:
“Many of us were hit by the shock result of the UK's referendum on EU membership ... Northern Ireland, in sharing a land border with an EU member state, is unique in the United Kingdom – which is why one of [BVA's] first actions … was to write to [the] Minister calling for maintenance of the Common Travel Area to facilitate movement for work and study purposes. We'd like to express our sincere appreciation to the Minister for her reassuring response to our Brexit correspondence.”

BVA's dinner, hosted by BVA Honorary Associate Patsy McGlone MLA, was attended by DAERA Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA, parliamentarians, key representatives of animal health and welfare organisations and the agri-food industry, media, and senior members of the veterinary profession.

Addressing the dinner's 80 guests, Ms Ravetz continued to outline BVA's work since Brexit, including calling for the protection of rights for EU vets and vet nurses currently living and working in the UK, establishing a Brexit working group that has identified key areas that may be affected by Brexit, and holding a meeting to consider specific issues that might arise in a Northern Ireland context.

On animal health - one of BVA's six priorities for consideration in Brexit negotiations - Ms Ravetz praised Northern Ireland's excellence in joined up working, which has resulted in the continued progress towards full Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status as well as progress on the compulsory Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) eradication scheme. Looking ahead, she said:
“We hope that these examples of effective, industry-government-veterinary working will stand us in good stead as Northern Ireland's BSE Negligible Risk status application progresses … Equally, BVA eagerly awaits the Northern Ireland TB Strategic Partnership report and recommendations … due in a few weeks' time.”

On animal welfare, another of BVA's key Brexit priorities, Ms Ravetz commended Northern Ireland for having led the way in its review of the Welfare of Animals Act (2011) as well as DAERA (then DARD) for effective working with the Department of Justice to put recommendations into practice so quickly. She said: 
“With this in mind, we'd ask that the recommendations from the Welfare of Animals Act review that dog breeding establishments are inspected for how they socialise animals and enhance and enrich their environments is brought forward and written into regulations as soon as possible.”

She also commented: 
“Improving animal health, welfare and biosecurity is a commitment already made in Northern Ireland's Going for Growth initiative. We're keen that the role of veterinary surgeons in supporting the agri-food sector is recognised by the Agri-Food Strategy Board, and … we'd urge DAERA to resource continuing work with private veterinary practitioners to ensure a robust framework for export certification in support of agri-food industry - again, particularly post Brexit.”

Throughout Ms Ravetz's speech, she emphasised the vital role of vets and congratulated individual members of the veterinary family – which is the BVA President's theme for the coming year - including Northern Ireland CVO Robert Huey; Dr David Graham on his RCVS Fellowship in recognition of his work on BVD; and Graeme Cooke on taking up his new role as UK Deputy CVO. However, Ms Ravetz also expressed BVA's disappointment at the lack of veterinary involvement in DAERA's Brexit Consultative Committee. She said:
“We were somewhat reassured by the Minister's response to these concerns, which said she will consult with vets … however there are some conversations that we think would be better had through a seat at the table alongside other key stakeholders.”

On research and development (R&D), another of BVA's six Brexit priorities, Ms Ravetz highlighted Northern Ireland's importance in the wider world of animal health and welfare R&D by, for example, bringing a number of leading European conferences to Belfast in 2016 and 2017. She explained:
“In BVA's [Brexit] principles, we outlined that the UK should seek to maintain access to EU partnership R&D, or similar pan European funding, and develop new opportunities with global partners. We're seeing increasing R&D activity in commercial and academic sectors in Northern Ireland … such activity is, and will be really important to Northern Ireland post-Brexit.”

Ms Ravetz concluded her speech by reiterating the veterinary profession's responsibility as animal welfare advocates, echoing a message she had delivered earlier in the speech around one of BVA's main Brexit calls for the Northern Ireland Executive and governments across the UK:
“As we look ahead post-Brexit, BVA is calling on governments to ensure that the unique selling point of the “UK plc” should continue to be high animal welfare and food safety standards.”

The Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen MLA responded to the BVA President's speech. 

BVA President speech (226 KB PDF) 
Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA’s speech (73 KB PDF)

BVA Media Office