Agriculture Minister must stop dragging his heels on new Vet School for the West – MEP Maria Walsh

Immediate action needed from Minister McConalogue on delivery of urgent new ATU Veterinary Medicine programme to benefit the West, according to Walsh

MEP Maria Walsh is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to “stop dragging his heels” on the decision for a new veterinary school in the West of Ireland. According to the Midlands-North-West representative, the West needs and deserves the facility and it’s high time the Minister stopped sitting on the fence and announced the provision of a new programme in ATU Donegal and Mountbellew. 

The West of Ireland is the perfect location to deliver this new Veterinary Medicine programme. It would be an ideal complement to the current offerings in Veterinary Nursing and Agriculture in the Donegal campus, and the Agriculture provision in the Mountbellew campus in Galway. It’s time for the Minister to put his cards on the table and deliver this announcement,” said MEP Walsh.

In June this year, the Government cleared the way for the establishment of three new veterinary schools, including a new programme of Veterinary Medicine to be delivered from ATU Donegal in conjunction with ATU Mountbellew. The announcement came as part of a package promising up to 1,300 extra college places a year in healthcare and veterinary. At the time, Atlantic Technological University (ATU), the University of Limerick, and South East Technological University (SETU), were approved to open vet schools, which would result in trebling the intake of student vets across the country.

The proposal for additional college places came on the back of a Higher Education Authority (HEA) study, after the Department of Further and Higher Education tasked the HEA to establish additional capacity in healthcare and veterinary. The findings stated that, with investment, an additional 230 vets, 208 doctors, 692 nurses, 196 pharmacists, and 63 dentists could be trained every year. Of course, the extra capacity would be great news for students trying to access college places in elite courses like veterinary, pharmacy, medicine and dentistry – courses that currently require applicants to secure around 600 points. 

These additional college places are desperately needed. At the moment, UCD is the only university offering veterinary medicine in this country, with 80-85 places available annually. In 2022, 80 graduates from UCD registered with the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), with the remaining 222 graduating from accredited schools abroad. Most recent figures from the VCI indicate that there are a little over 3,300 veterinarians registered in Ireland, but shockingly, 75% of those registered were educated abroad. Moreover, there are approximately 500 Irish students studying veterinary medicine overseas right now,” said MEP Walsh.

Stressing the importance of supporting the agri sector, as well as attracting more students to work and live in rural Ireland, Walsh noted that the combined efforts of Mountbellew ATU and Letterkenny ATU would go a long way in achieving this. “A new Veterinary School in the West of Ireland would greatly benefit farming communities and rural development all across the region. It is worth noting that the 2020 CSO figures found that the West is home to approximately 31,000 farms – my own included – and many of these farms would directly benefit from vets in training,” she reasoned.

“The expansion proposals, which also include additional places in UCD, are aimed at delivering graduates to meet needs in the economy, and to deliver better services across rural Ireland. We need a decision now, so that plans can be put in place for 2024 and students are made fully aware of the opportunities and choices available to them with ATU in the West,” added MEP Walsh.