Updated: 21/02/17 : 06:25:45
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Fight to keep Sligo Veterinary Lab open escalates

Local Sligo FF Deputy Marc Mac Sharry has demanded that the Sligo Veterinary Laboratory must be kept open. “This has been a matter for concern going back several years.  See links below

"In 2015 as a Senator I was pursuing the issue of a proposed closure by the then FG/Lab Government of the Sligo Laboratory. Clearly political expediency with a General Election on the horizon back in 2015 prevented the then Minister Coveney from proceeding with their planned closure of the Lab.

"Well, an election may not be that far off once again and if Fine Gael proceed with this retrograde step in alienating the North West region once again and seriously impeding upon the necessary agricultural support infrastructure not least irreparable endanger bio security, disease management and ultimately food quality – the people of the North West will not take it!"

'Lip service'

MEP Marian Harkin describes the proposed closure as "flying in the face of good animal health practice and in contravention of recent government policies to stimulate development in rural areas.

“We have seen successive lip service plans to supposedly bring long overdue balanced regional development and the latest Ireland 2040 plan’s strategy is to ensure that ‘the enormous potential of the rural parts of our country are maximised”, she said.

How could this aspiration be taken seriously in the North West when a service vital to the region’s most important economic sector was proposed to be removed, Marian Harkin asked.  “The Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Sligo has been a vital service for the farmers of the North West region in helping them to identify and remedy animal health problems which adversely affected their incomes," the Sligo-based MEP added.

'Large protest'

A source at the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Doonally told Sligo Today, "The closure would have the effect that the nearest laboratory to service the entire north and west of the country would be in Athlone. Services to the farming community would be seriously diminished if these plans were to proceed. This service spread would not be unlike what happened with cancer services in Ireland.

"The review team are visiting the laboratory tomorrow, Wednesday 22 February, to outline their reasonings.

"I have it on good authority that there will be a significantly large protest by a variety of farming bodies to protest against any such closure plans," concluded the employee.

'Strategic importance'

Deputy MacSharry said, "Sligo is of strategic importance to the complete surveillance systems envisaged by “Foodwise”, “Harvest 2020” and the review group. Our laboratory is covering the whole of the North West and, as it showed in a previous survey, is utilised by its customers located closest to it. A closure would mean a massive loss of data and a delayed response to any out-brake of an animal disease in one third of the country.

"With regard to Health and Safety and Biosecurity concerns, questions have to be answered.  Firsly, who determined these and what criteria and data did they apply?   Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory was refurbished and enhanced only four years ago and is located far enough from any public building (like a school etc.) not to justify these concerns.

"A collection service for post mortems is mentioned to replace the local service. The idea was taken from a different EU country i.e. the Netherlands. However two important aspects were not mentioned. In the Netherlands the majority of farmers would be full time farmers and available for the collection service.  Also there would be better infrastructure to make this service function seamlessly.  In the North West of Ireland the majority of farmers are part time farmers through necessity given small holdings, longer winters and poorer land limiting agricultural activity to grazing, suckling and dairying.  They would also rarely be available to give a detailed case history to the collector on behalf of a centralised laboratory in Athlone or elsewhere."

Deputy MacSharry continued, "Without an accurate and up to date history the performing veterinarian doing post mortems will not be able to specify what to look for, unless obvious. Important detail may be lost and there will be diagnostic failures. This impairs the excellence of our Veterinary Laboratory Services and will lead to an impaired surveillance system.

"Collection services will delay the confirmation of any diagnosis. Cross contamination and misshaped carcasses could be another issue arising from that service. In addition a helpline to filter out cases important for a surveillance system in order to deal with an increased case load will mean loss of data. Individual cases of zoonosis might be missed because they will not being investigated.

"The Sligo Regional Laboratory is often used to get blood results within 10 hours of cases seen by local Vets This is very important for a diagnostic approach and results in better Animal Health and Welfare. Diagnosis can be reviewed sooner and animals retreated if necessary. Very similar to any out-brake situation. A quicker result will lead to less animal welfare issues, because an outbreak can be dealt with sooner."


"The staff in Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory are very dedicated and the quality of service cannot be increased by quantity of staff members but by dedication. The mentioned necessity of an increase of staff numbers for a functioning Regional Veterinary Laboratory is questionable and looks more like a manufactured reason to justify closure than one which is genuinely based on international best practice or an optimum professional service.

"The closure of this Laboratory will further marginalise the peripheral nature of Sligo and the North West.  It further underpins the FG Government neglect for our area.  It will further undermine the necessary supports to family farmers in our area and above all risks exposing our region to disease outbreak and threatens quality food production in our region.  All Government representatives must demand that the Sligo Veterinary Laboratory is kept open.  Nothing else will do!",concluded Mr MacSharry.

Marian Harkin MEP added,  "It was absurd that a structure of regional laboratories, which relied on the continued co-operation of farmers to bring animal health threats to the notice of the authorities, should for a relatively small saving financially threaten the country’s exemplary animal health status, she said.

“In a region of part time farmers who would have the time for a 600 km round trip from the Inishowen Peninsula to the proposed centralised facility in Athlone, to bring a dead animal for the examination which would have significance for both the farmer concerned and for the build up of knowledge which is vital to protecting the country’s animal disease status”, she questioned.

She called on the Minister for Agriculture & Food to have regard for overall government rural proofing policies, and for the overall national interest, by immediately intervening in the present attempt to centralise veterinary services on the basis that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, Independent Marian Harkin concluded.

Speaking at last week’s Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) AGM, the Minister of Agriculture Michael Creed said, that the labs are a great service.

“I salute the people that work in them for both the industry and at farmgate level but also in terms of the work they do to underpin the quality, reliability, traceability and certification of everything we produce.

“It is only appropriate that we would then undertake, occasionally, a review of the level of service and say: is this now fit for purpose?

“Is it structured in the optimal way? Is it efficient at what it does? If I give one guarantee to you, there will be no dilution of the service to farmers from the vet labs.”

But the Minister said that it is only right and proper that there would be a review.

See also: Sligo Today 10/2/2017
               Sligo Today 9/5/2015
               Sligo Today 22/11/2012