Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development: Discussion
I thank Mr. Maguire and Mr. Ó Cinnéide for their presentations. Anything that can contribute to helping the sustainability of rural Ireland through job creation is pushing an open door as far as I am concerned. I have concerns around certain aspects of the current proposals and over the Galway Bay project because of its size. If the fears of scientific people and fishermen are realised, there could be a catastrophe for natural salmon.
We always seem to go for things that are envisaged and then pushed through with a lack of consultation. For something to succeed in rural Ireland, one needs extensive dialogue with local communities and one also needs their buy-in. There is a need to dispel myths, such as those relating to the finfish farm sector, and to produce a dividend for local communities. If there is a dividend, it can go some way towards getting the buy-in of local people.
I have been told by various agencies that inland farm finfish production is extremely costly and not financially viable. The reason for that is the enormous energy costs involved. A bit of imagination is required. Alternative energy could be generated which would make the endeavour cost-neutral. Alternative energy itself would go some way towards ensuring that. I am told there are some projects around the country that involve such development, but if BIM intends to go down that road in conjunction with other parties, a pilot project is required that can show what can be done. It must include the use of alternative energy - either wind energy, solar energy or another energy source. There are such advances in alternative energy that such an approach could be taken. That would be one way of building the necessary confidence, and it would also build on the credibility of people who I believe are doing their best and have had their credibility challenged. In many instances the challenge is based on myths and rumour. I have listened to the debate on the Galway Bay site. If one were to believe everything one hears, one would conclude that it was a deliberate attempt to destroy natural salmon. On the other side, there are people who have no personal or vested interest but want to do the right thing. There must be buy-in from communities to get it across the line.
I went to Scotland, along with Deputy Ó Cuív and some others, primarily to have a look at the projects in operation there. They have the luxury of long inlets and well-sheltered bays, which takes away the fear of escape and its repercussions. The delegation was led by the Chairman. Such an environment includes protection from the west and the north west in particular, which is where the strong winds and gales come from. In Scotland there is buy-in from communities as well. Consultation was widespread. People put myths about in Scotland as well. One can get a scientist anywhere in the world who will say what one wants him or her to say. The same is true of an issue such as fracking. One can dig up an expert somewhere in the world who can substantiate one’s argument. That is the way a vested interest does things. It is not for the common good. We have to act for the common good. That is our job.
Concerns have been expressed about sea lice, escapes and cross-contamination in the context of finfish farming, as well as the effect on the life cycle of wild salmon. It is surprising that 60% of fish must be imported into Europe. I assume Ireland is comparable, even though we should have a considerable export market. As Mr. Ó Cinnéide knows from his previous work as a fisherman, which is something we have in common, lack of quota is a problem. We started from a very weak base and there was no investment in the fleet. We have been paying the price ever since for the consequences of political trading in terms of farming and fishing. Disgraceful trading was done and our fishing rights were given away from the beginning of our membership of the EEC.
Mr. Ó Cinnéide said there were a number of flaws. He referred to timetables and targets and said they were aspirational, and that as a result the plan lacked credibility. He also referred to the environmental consensus. I share his concerns but I believe we can get this right, collectively, if we approach it with an open mind, and also by having the interest of rural Ireland primarily at heart. Rural Ireland is a very depressing place if one loves it. That is the best way I can describe it. If one grew up there and one loves to live there and if one has a connection to it, it can be very depressing to see what is happening to it and what needs to be done. In politics, unfortunately, policy is determined by numbers. Areas with the biggest representation and the most people hold sway. The fishing community in rural Ireland is very low down the scale of priorities for attention from the Government because it is a small constituency. Small constituencies are really forgotten about, which is sad. It is an indictment of the political system in this country that there is such neglect.
I would like to hear about a pilot scheme for inland finfish farming in order that people could see it working. Vested interests and big companies in particular are only interested in profit. They are not interested in the environment or how coastal communities would be affected. They do not give a damn about rural Ireland. Their main motivation is profit. We must try to turn that around. I believe we can do it. I thank the witnesses for attending today. Unfortunately, not all committee members are present, but those of us who are present take an interest in the matter. Others who are interested unfortunately cannot be present. It is essential that we get it right because rural Ireland could be a much better place to live in for those who come from there and live there.