Impending customs rules set to be brought in this October, combined with Northern Ireland’s “serious” vet shortage, mean that a vet school in Coleraine is needed more than ever.

That’s according to East Derry MLA Claire Sugden, who said that new food and animal customs checks between Ireland and Great Britain and the lack of vets in Ireland make a new vet school in Coleraine essential.

In June, Sugden argued that Coleraine would be the best location for a proposed vet school in Northern Ireland due to “its more rural setting”.

The new customs checks, which will come into effect from October 31, 2023, will introduce export health certificates and phytosanitary certificates for medium-risk animal products and plant and plant products imported to Great Britain from the EU.

Revenue said full customs controls will also be introduced for goods moving directly from Ireland into Great British ports.

UK import declarations will need to be ‘pre-lodged’ and goods moved from the island of Ireland will become subject to checks and controls.

Subsequent rules and controls will be brought in in January 2024 and again later in the year. Sugden believes this will add to the “mounting problems” of the veterinary sector in Northern Ireland.

“The limited training options for vets – there are none in Northern Ireland – mean people have to travel to Dublin or to 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,” she said.

“The recently published report into 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 do much to ease the current and anticipated pressures.”

Last year, a Northern Ireland Strategic Investment Board (SIB) report found that a veterinary school is needed in Northern Ireland, as the country is too reliant on UK, Ireland and EU-trained vets.

Sugden said she remains convinced that a vet school at Coleraine’s University of Ulster campus would benefit both the university and local area, as well as the students themselves, and the wider agricultural industry.

The students that would benefit include those from the Republic of Ireland, she said, who pay greater fees.

“It is one sector where graduating students would be almost guaranteed to walk into a job, while ensuring the survival of our biggest industry of agriculture,” she said.