Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I ask members to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Apologies have been received from Deputy James Lawless.
This meeting has been convened for the purpose of considering the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 which was referred to the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment by order of the Dáil on 3 May 2017. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Seán Kyne, who has special responsibility for natural resources and inland fisheries. I also welcome his officials. I understand there is a particular urgency with this Bill and the committee has agreed to take Committee Stage at the earliest practicable date. I call the Minister of State to say a few words.
I thank the select committee for facilitating a rather quick Committee Stage. I am very pleased to present the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill for the consideration of the select committee.
As Members will be aware from the debate on Second Stage, the main purpose of this Bill is to confer an explicit power on Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for inland fisheries offences. It achieves this by amending the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 by the insertion of a specific provision that provides for the IFI to have the power to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for offences under the Acts specified.
It will ensure that Inland Fisheries Ireland can fully enforce the inland fisheries Acts. The Bill also makes some additional corrections to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to ensure that minor omissions in that Act are fully resolved.
Before we discuss the individual sections, I wish to share the background to the Bill. Inland Fisheries Ireland is the State agency responsible for the protection, conservation, development and promotion of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. Inland Fisheries Ireland was formed on 1 July 2010, following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and the seven regional fisheries boards into a single agency. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment received advice from the Office of the Attorney General in February 2017 to the effect that Inland Fisheries Ireland does not have the power to bring prosecutions under the inland fisheries Acts. It was advised that an explicit power to prosecute should be inserted in the 2010 Act as a matter of priority. The impact of this advice is that until the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 is amended, prosecutions brought by Inland Fisheries Ireland for which proceedings have been initiated cannot be proceeded with. There are approximately 150 cases that fall into this category.
In light of the advice received, the amendments to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 are being pursued as a matter of priority. There are no amendments to the Bill. The Bills Office advised that the single amendment tabled has been ruled out of order as, in the context of Standing Order 1793, it would involve a potential charge on the Revenue.
I look forward to a constructive debate and to the assistance of members in facilitating the Bill's early passage into law to safeguard our valuable fisheries resources.
That amendment was ruled out of order. I have a general question as to how we arrived at a situation whereby we need to introduce emergency legislation to amend the Inland Fisheries Act 2010? I would like a more detailed explanation.
I thank the Chairman. I am concerned about how we arrived at this situation. The explanation provided by the Minister of State and the Department as to how this problem arose in the first instance does not go far enough. I had hoped to be able to table an amendment to the Bill, seeking a report on it, but I was caught unawares by the timing of Committee Stage and missed the deadline. I will table an amendment on Report Stage requesting that a report on how the problem arose should be laid before both Houses.
I understand that the jurisdiction of Inland Fisheries Ireland to bring and prosecute summary proceedings before the District Court was raised with the Attorney General in 2015. It took almost two years for the opinion to reach the Department and for this Bill to be brought forward. It is important that a full explanation of this issue should be provided to the Oireachtas.
I thank Deputy Pringle for the question. There was a court case in 2014 following an incident of pollution and a fish kill on the River Tolka. Following that case, Inland Fisheries Ireland advised that a weakness had been highlighted in the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 in respect of its power to prosecute offences and that it was necessary to rectify this by means of a legislative amendment. The original legal advice in 2015 was that Inland Fisheries Ireland's powers to prosecute were susceptible to challenge and that the Department should introduce amending legislation to confirm the powers of the organisation. At that time the legal advice was that it would be achieved by way of an amending provision in the normal course, that was an amendment to the Inland Fisheries legislation that is ongoing in the Department.
Subsequently at a meeting on Thursday, 9 February 2017, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment were notified by the Office of the Attorney General that Inland Fisheries Ireland did not have the power to prosecute.
This necessitated a Bill and that is why we have fast-tracked this Bill since.
Deputy Pringle's point was well made. In 2010, when the amalgamation of the eight separate boards took place, this matter was not noticed. We are where we are and the Minister of State has given an explanation. The important thing is that the legislation moves on. The existing gap is not in anyone's interest, be they angling clubs, tourism interests or environmentalists. It is not in anyone's interest to allow a situation to continue where people destroy fish stocks and cause harm to the rivers that affects local bailiffs and local fishing clubs. This matter has caused problems throughout the country. We must push on with legislation in the interests of this resource and local communities.
Deputy Pringle's point was well made. It is now 2017 and seven years have elapsed. I was curious to learn the sequence of events that had led to this situation. We have the legislation in front of us and we should move it on.
As the Bill has now completed Committee Stage it is recommended that members submit Report Stage amendments to the Bills Office without delay as Report Stage may be scheduled at short notice. Does the Minister of State or members wish to make a final comment? No.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials from the Department for attending today. The select committee will meet tomorrow at 1.30 p.m. to debate Committee Stage of the Minerals Development Bill 2015.