Sugden fears potential Coleraine vet school plans being “kicked down the road”

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Independent MLA Claire Sugden has criticised increasing delays to the publication of a report into the need for a vet school in Northern Ireland, saying the current Stormont deadlock and prospect of another election will further “kick the can down the road”.

Ms Sugden has for years lobbied Executive ministers and Ulster University vice-chancellors to create a vet school in Coleraine, citing industry and academic demand, and highlighting the unique opportunities offered by the north coast site.

“Previous dates for publication of the report – first in September 2021, then early in the new year and then February – were all missed,” Ms Sugden said.

“This report was completed in March but remains unpublished.

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"I have no doubt that the assessment of the Strategic Investment Board – which worked on behalf of Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University – is that a vet school here would help meet the demand of students wanting to study the subject and the needs of industry.

“The Minister of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs, however, is now declining to say when the report will be published, only that it won’t be until ‘other relevant evidence’ is collected. I understood this was the point of the report.

“He said work was ongoing between his department, the Department for the Economy and the two universities, but this is a departure from earlier responses where publication upon the report’s completion was promised.”

Pressures on the veterinary industry were already apparent and were growing month-by-month, Ms Sugden said. Delays only served to exasperate the potential long-term problems here.

“There is no vet school in Northern Ireland and as a result we are unable to meet the demands of industry,” the East Londonderry MLA continued. “This was true prior to Brexit, but the new livestock checks that have since been required mean there is an even bigger gap between supply and demand.

“We have many young people here who want to study veterinary science, but in order to do so must travel to Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland. We need to have an option for them here and Coleraine is the perfect place.”