Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Discussion (Resumed)
Before we begin I remind members and witnesses to ensure their mobile phones are completely turned off. We are here today to discuss issues concerning the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017. I welcome Mr. Gerard Kelly, managing director of Tardrum Fisheries Limited and Fresco Seafoods Limited, Mr. Paul Barlow, managing director of Woodstown Bay Shellfish Limited, Mr. Alex McCarthy, director of Alex McCarthy Shellfish and Mr. Michael Crowley, general manager of Riverbank Mussels Limited. I thank them for coming before the committee.
Before we begin, I wish to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence given to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I understand Mr. Kelly will make an opening statement. He has circulated quite a lengthy statement to members and they have gone through it. I ask Mr. Kelly to summarise this rather than going through it word for word, if he does not mind.
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee. On behalf of my colleagues, it is great to have an opportunity to make comments on the Bill. The Minister appears to justify the Bill on the basis it is the continuation of fishing that has been going on for 15 years and he is therefore under some sort of moral obligation to facilitate it; that it is required because fishing vessels from the Republic of Ireland enjoy reciprocal rights to fishing sites from UK waters; and that it is a token of goodwill from the Minister for the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. Setting this aside, we present evidence the Minister's position is contradicted by facts on historical fishing and reciprocity and that it has no moral basis as it offers something far beyond what could be expected or offered by another country. It also leaves Ireland open to additional legal risk, of which the Minister is already aware.
The proposed legislation will permit UK vessels access to our zero to six mile zone around the Irish coast, where they can be treated as if they are Irish vessels. I refer to TAB1 D1 in the documentation provided to committee members, which shows a map of what the area looks like. The UK fleet already enjoys privileged access to our waters in the zone between six to 12 miles along the east coast. This was settled at the London Fisheries Convention of 1964. This is easily available to see at TAB1 D2 in our submission document.
Northern Irish vessels, being UK vessels, enjoy access to inshore waters of the entire UK and all waters outside Ireland's 12-mile limit. This is a big area. Without the Bill, these vessels can still operate out of Irish ports in accordance with the London Fisheries Convention. There is no suggestion UK vessels will either give up this access to the UK zone or reciprocate with the same access for Irish boats by Ireland passing the Bill.
Irish fishermen vehemently opposed the voisinageagreement when the Government of the day attempted to impose it in the 1960s, and disputed the concept of UK vessels fishing in the zero to six-mile zone. There then followed serious disputes at sea off Dunmore East. Any suggestion this has continued happily since the 1960s is factually incorrect. There are numerous contemporaneous reports of hostility in The Irish Timesfrom 1959 to 1966 that support this. The evidence conveys a very different picture to the 50 years of happy fishing outside the zero to six-mile zone that the Minister presented to the Seanad.
At the beginning of the mussel case, the Minister and the Attorney General wished to disown the natural resources, the territorial seas and their property. This is referenced at TAB2 D4 in the submission document. What would happen if we had not successfully appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court? Can the same people be trusted to do the right thing now or are they using the Oireachtas as a face-saving mechanism? Have the same attitudes deprived Ireland of the benefits of its oil and gas resources? Were oil and gas policies more rushed decisions involving blind cross-party support without understanding the consequences? Are we to be an island nation without its own seas and marine resources? The Barlow 2 case in the Supreme Court involved the reversal of roles, whereby the citizen had to protect the Constitution and the State with the Minister and the Attorney Channel opposing.
Fishing rights are to be guarded and preserved. They are part of our sovereignty and Constitution. The Supreme Court found that fishing by Northern Ireland vessels was illegal so any rights gained by these UK vessels or shellfish farms during the reference periods are now also void and must be returned to Irish fishing communities. The simple way to address the issue is to abandon the Bill and allocate the relevant quotas back to the host state, which is Ireland.
The Marine Institute atlas shows an image of where Irish vessels fish around the entire coast of Ireland. This is included in the documentation, at TAB1 D3. It also shows an image of fishing activities by various national fleets in Irish waters, which is incredible. Each time the Government has attempted to force this arrangement on Irish fishermen, the industry has opposed it, never more clearly than as expressed by Irish fishing organisations before the committee on 20 June 2017. An explanation of the so-called arrangement has always been that it is above our station to question such matters. We were told it was non-justicable and we had no standing to ask questions on it or even to challenge it. The Supreme Court judgment finally put to bed this "it is legal now so go away" argument.
I wish to make a small correction to what is printed on the top of page 5 of our submission document. The first line should refer to the Barlow 2 case and not the Barlow 1 case.
The UK structured its position on the voisinageletters that set out the arrangement in such a way that any rights vessels from the Republic of Ireland enjoyed fell away automatically as soon as the arrangement was ended. We hear about a voisinage agreement, but this is only a few letters which do not say a lot. However, one thing they do say is the arrangement will apply so long as the authorities of the Republic of Ireland continue to accord to Northern Irish vessels the same treatment as they would accord to vessels of the Republic of Ireland in the waters around the entire Irish coast. This is included at TAB2 D3 in the documentation.
We contend the arrangement referred to in the voisinageletters is an arrangement from December 1959, and the arrangement was not to prosecute Six-County fishermen for fishing inside Ireland's new three- mile limits. It was stated the strict legal position was that boats registered in the Six Counties were not entitled to fish in the new limits, that it would be impolitic to make an announcement that the law would not be enforced against Six-County fishermen and that the informal attitude to Six-County fishermen within the fishing limits would be continued. It was also stated that no announcement would be made on the matter. A senior judge described it as unlawful but tolerated. This is the same context on which this new fisheries Bill is based, that is, not to prosecute.
The Minister referred in the Seanad to Irish fishermen utilising vessels from outside the jurisdiction. Is this covered in the Bill by the term "sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland"?
That is a UK-flagged vessel owned and operated in Ireland’s exclusive fisheries zone. The Bill is being diluted for abuse in favour of UK vessels as it proceeds through the Seanad. These vessels can still operate out of Irish ports and be owned by Irish fishermen but they cannot fish in the zero to six-mile zone. Accordingly, there is no hardship or need for compensation as suggested by Deputy Gallagher at the previous committee meeting. Deputy Gallagher’s constituency of Donegal has 360 Irish fishing vessels that deserve his attention.
The Supreme Court was asked to make a decision as to the legality of fishing by Northern Irish fishing vessels. It decided unanimously that it was illegal. For clarity, this applied to all areas within Ireland’s zero to 12-mile zone, apart from that provided for under the London Fisheries Convention, which can be seen at TAB1 D2 in the documentation provided.
With regard to Brexit negotiations and international agreements, our understanding is that the European Union has adopted a policy that there will be no bilateral agreements with the UK prior to Brexit. Has the Minister investigated the consequences of legalising this fishing in terms of our obligations to our EU partners? Has he investigated the risks the proposed legislation may create under Article 8(2) of the London Fisheries Convention? Article 9(2), which is normally referred to, only applies to vessels that habitually fished under voisinagearrangements, not to be confused with a regime of "not to prosecute". Does the legislation comply with the Minister’s fisheries management obligations, for example, in respect of conservation and management? Will the Minister need to have joint management with the UK for Ireland’s inshore waters? Will he have to consult again with Stormont when managing the mussel industry in Cromane, in County Kerry?
Is the Minister aware that when he was in the Seanad on this matter on 8 March 2017, on the same day the UK fisheries Minister was being advised that the Common Fisheries Policy superseded the London Fisheries Convention, meaning that historic fishing rights derive from EU law, and not from the convention? There was a man here who said he was sceptical as to whether the London fisheries rights could be revived after 40 years. That reference is in TAB3 D3.
With regard to precedent for the legislation, the Minister should be aware that thevoisinagearrangements concluded between other countries are never unrestricted. He should note that voisinagearrangements made at the London Fisheries Convention are all documented in EU Regulation 1380/2013 and listed in Annex I to the aforementioned document. There is no mention of the Irish arrangement permitting UK vessels to operate in Ireland’s zero to 12-mile zone other than that illustrated at TAB1 D2, the text version of which is in TAB2 D6.
All other agreements are specifically restricted to prevent abuse. Typical restrictions include limits on species and locations. Where is Ireland’s voisinagerecorded in this annexe? The Minister alludes to this voisinagebeing in place since 1960. The London Fisheries Convention was completed in March 1964 yet the so-called voisinageletters were dated September and December 1965, so how does the proposed unrestricted access sit in that context?
There is incontrovertible evidence that Northern Ireland shellfish farms, that is, plots of land on the sea bed, were allocated thousands of tonnes of mussel seed in the Republic of Ireland. Some of those farms did not even own a fishing boat. We then had a voisinagefor fish farms. Nevertheless, joint management under the legal umbrella or foundation of voisinage arrangements somehow allowed for allocation-quota of a precious Irish natural resource to UK shellfish farms. These quotas or entitlements have since been traded but, more importantly, Irish businesses had to suffer the loss of these resources and Irish processing plants have closed down. The Irish Department will not consider permitting Irish fishing vessels to have individual transferable quotas but was willing to permit a UK shellfish farm an individual transferable quota of mussel seed in the Irish Sea and the farm need not have a boat.
Has the Minister been made aware of such activities by his officials? Does he propose to prevent such behaviour happening again in the future? Does the Minister give foreign interests priority over Irish communities in this Bill? Where is the legal, moral or economic justification for this? Will the Minister rule out categorically that the ancillary legislation envisaged will provide for similar abusive regimes previously described as joint management or the seed mussel allocation committee, SMAC?
As for good relations and the all-island agenda, if the Minister wishes to give access to Northern Irish vessels on the basis of some higher political goal, he should say so explicitly. If he chooses to legislate to give free access to our zero to six-mile zone, then he cannot simply ignore the legal rights of Irish fishermen, including their right to earn a living, and the constitutional protections that exist in respect of this and other rights. When the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, met with Captain O'Neill in the early 1960s, they did discuss agriculture and fisheries. On fisheries, they discussed prosecutions for illegal fishing. Today, there are examples of co-operation on agriculture on an all-island basis. There is an all-island animal disease control plan, but that does not permit farmers from one jurisdiction or a dairy processor to milk the cows from the neighbouring jurisdiction, although they can buy the milk.
The voisinageagreement we have experienced is the only example of a transfer of assets. What the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, discussed with Captain O'Neill is documented in the National Archives and reported to the Oireachtas accordingly. There is no mention of any voisinageagreement. The reason for that is obvious, as can be seen in the difference between the then Taoiseach's SI 173/1959 and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny's SI 22/2016.
Further clarification on voisinageis available to the elected members in the Official Report of the Dáil debate on the Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Act 1964, during which the London Fisheries Convention is discussed but voisinageis not mentioned at all. The voisinagedialogue letters do not occur until September and December 1965, more than a year later. My colleague, Mr. Crowley, will later give a position offered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on voisinage in 2012. The answer from the Minister, Deputy Creed, to Deputy McConalogue in Dáil Éireann on 24 November 2016 is somewhat misleading in so far as the Supreme Court judgment related to the zero to 12-mile zone and not the zero to six-mile zone referred to in the Minister’s reply. Perhaps the record of the Dáil should be amended accordingly.
I will turn to my summary and proposed way forward. The Minister, Deputy Creed, appears to have lost sight of the fact that he is dealing with illegal fishing in this legislation. Fishing takes place in an environment where rules are numerous and strictly enforced, typically to the letter of the law. What the Minister is actually proposing is to set aside the law for a specific group of British-flagged vessels to operate inside the Irish zero to six miles coastal zone and not be prosecuted.
The Minister is also proposing to allow another state decide which vessels will qualify to be classed in that "not for prosecution" group. The terms "Northern Ireland Owned and Operated" and "voisinage" are vague, uncertain and so incapable of enforcement they are void because of uncertainty. Is this intentional on the part of the Minister? Which part applies - owned or operated? Even the text of the Bill is a contradiction of itself. Does the Minister realise that while the Irish vessel registration system proves ownership, the UK registration system does not? State authorities said they cannot look behind the licensing regime of another country, even if the vessels are fishing in Irish waters.
It is our honestly held view that this legislation is nothing more than a vindictive attempt to punish the fishermen and the industry which took the Supreme Court case. The intent of the Minister is in all likelihood incapable of legislation but the ideology behind the Bill raises serious concerns. Recently, we heard that fishermen who operate in the Moville district of Lough Foyle may not be given allocations this year.
To provide our summary of the proposed legislation, the arrangement to set aside the law was never legal and consequently should never earn any sort of legal recognition. It has been continually opposed by Irish fishermen since the first attempt to impose it on us. It was resurrected to facilitate access to our mussel resource for large Dutch corporations using Northern Ireland as a flag of convenience. The legislation is not supported by any moral obligation given that no other country has ever given such access, nor does the UK give anyone else such access. We are swopping a horse for a rabbit.
UK fishermen will continue to enjoy privileged access to our east coast six to 12 mile zone without this legislation. The legislation offers nothing for the fishermen or taxpayers of the Republic of Ireland. It will result in loss of income, jobs, taxes and people from Irish coastal communities. Experience suggests that it will be abused in a similar manner as occurred in the bottom mussel industry historically. It is already drafted for abuse. The main beneficiaries will be large foreign corporations initially, followed by those who will exploit the loopholes now being created in the regulatory regimes by this Bill. It may create major legal difficulties for Ireland elsewhere. In the context of Brexit and the apparent intent of the UK to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention, the Minister should not be introducing any new fisheries legislation.
Ireland has a sea territory ten times its land area.
This vast resource only produces around €500 million worth of fisheries material per year for Ireland. We would like to take this opportunity to begin new thinking for this massive resource and what it could mean for the coastal communities of Ireland. We need new thinking whereby Ireland’s leaders value our marine resources and develop an industry as large as farming. The resources are there and other countries are harnessing them, as can be seen in tab No. 1, D5. Deputy Creed’s speech in October 2016 at the eighth meeting of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum stated: "The inshore sector, comprising fishing boats of less than 12 metres in overall length, make up more than 80% of the Irish fleet and are predominately active within six nautical miles of the Irish shore”. That is over 1,600 Irish vessels depending on the area the Minister is canvassing the committee to give access to for UK vessels to fish in. Note the Minister is not saying the Irish fleet needs the coast of the Six Counties.
I welcome the four witnesses to the committee and thank Mr. Kelly for his presentation. I commend him on the tremendous research and documentation that he has put in front of us for consideration.
I have a few questions. My understanding of voisinage previously was that it affected the zero to 12-mile zone and that the practice meant that UK registered boats were able to fish inside the zero to 12-mile zone. The witness is saying to us that technically the voisinage agreement did not facilitate that and that it was the zero to six-mile zone for most of the country, apart from part of the east coast, which allowed it from zero to 12 miles. Can the witness elaborate a little further on that and tell the committee his basis for saying that?
Voisinage was in place up until the Supreme Court decision. How much was the agreement utilised by UK-registered boats within Irish waters, particularly the zero to 12-mile zone? In terms of the reciprocal arrangement available to Irish boats, how much would it have been used by Irish boats fishing within UK coastal waters?
The witness mentioned in his contribution that the new Bill is based on an intention not to prosecute. I would appreciate if he would elaborate further on what he meant by that.
Can the witness elaborate further on how the voisinage agreement impacted on his own sector and his own business in terms of why the witnesses decided to take the joint case?
The witness made a comment on the Moville district and Lough Foyle having no allocations for next year. What does that mean?
I thank Mr. Kelly and his colleagues for their very comprehensive outline of the various issues involved. They are certainly complex, difficult issues and do not lend themselves to a summary evaluation or assessment and require drilling down into various points, because following through on various issues, it seems to be the witnesses' contention that the Department has misconstrued the outcome of the Supreme Court case. The witness is saying that this applies to all areas within the zero to 12-mile zones, apart from the areas provided for under the London convention. Is that correct?
If the new Bill is passed into law, can the witnesses summarise how they will be disadvantaged? There has been a significant focus on aggressive dredging in the zero to six-mile zone when fishing for mussels, which is wiping out the industry. Are the witnesses saying that this legislation is not only premature but is not necessary? Is that the contention? I want to debate this with the witnesses. The Minister says that he brought it forward in the interests of re-establishing what was a prior right which did not have a legal basis but which was essential due to the reciprocity arrangement. Could the witnesses explain how those vessels register in an owned and operated scenario? Can the witnesses give an example of how that operates?
They mentioned some Dutch vessels. The witnesses are saying that not only is the legislation not necessary but it is premature in advance of the Brexit negotiations. I am inclined to agree with them. I said in the Dáil that I do not see anything happening on Brexit for five or six years. There has been no clarification.
Everyone is going around talking about stuff. They do not have a clue. No one does. There are toenail experts talking about Brexit now. The only certainty is continued uncertainty. The very people who promoted Brexit do not know what it is about themselves. Let us be clear about that. Experts in this country are trying to say that we should be prepared. It is nonsense. I thought that the legislation was totally vague and imprecise, and if it was challenged in the courts it would fall due to uncertainty. I am not saying that because it suits the agenda of the witnesses. I believe that it was rushed in response to the Supreme Court case. Mr. Justice O'Donnell gave the judgment. Did the witnesses interpret from that judgment that the Department should actually bring forward its legislation? That appears to be a follow on.
The impression that I got from what the Minister was saying in the Seanad was that this was only going to regularise the situation and that friendly cooperation was important, and the judge did advert to that in the course of his judgment. Is it the view of the witnesses that there was no necessity for the Minister to bring forward this legislation because it was not advised? The Minister does not have to do what a judge tells him, and there has been much talk about the separation of powers in recent times. The judge indicated that a lacuna in the law would have to be fixed, but the witnesses are saying that there never was a lacuna in the law and that this was never the position. Let us suppose there was a lacuna in the law. Any Government worth its salt would have to react to a Supreme Court judgment in that way.
Could the witnesses explain the issue of access to mussel seed resources by shellfish farms under joint management? Perhaps they could give us some degree of explanation as to how that operates, particularly for people who are more used to inland fishing like Senator Paul Daly, who would be more worried about brown trout up in Lough Allen than fishermen on the coast.
I thank the witnesses for giving me a very good exposé on this whole area, without which I would certainly have had less knowledge.
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
The case was taken in respect of access to fish in Irish territorial waters within the 12-mile limit apart from the area that was covered under the London Fisheries Convention. It was decided that those boats had no legal access to the area within that limit. Deputy McConalogue asked about that judgment.
We were asked about our experience. As time passed and some people were getting away with using UK boats, the situation snowballed. Once the Department started defending its position in court, more people took comfort from that. Some sold Irish boats, got good money for fishing licences and bought and started using UK licences. That describes some of the abuse.
Some species do not have quotas attaching to them. Fishermen were able to buy extra boats, which placed pressure on locals. If the fishery went bad, people knew that they had a great market into which to sell their UK boats. There are approximately 5,000 boats as well as a reasonable market in the UK whereas the Irish fisherman would be stuck in Ireland with his boat.
We have brought with us a graph showing mussel production in Ireland. It collapsed to-----
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
The four of us got new boats, with support from the Government, to develop the mussel industry in Ireland. We each had a business plan to produce 3,000 to 3,500 tonnes that was agreed by the Department and submitted to the EU. The whole country was not even producing 3,500 tonnes when this finished. Not only were there UK vessels, but representatives were advising us on what we should be doing under something called "joint management". Under that, an allocation of the resource was set up. It was called SMAC, although it was unsure itself at times of whether that stood for seed mussel authorisation, allocation or advisory committee. It decided what we got or, in one case, whether we got anything at all.
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
Deputy Penrose asked about shellfish farms. The old voisinageletters are just that - letters. They are not a development document that has been signed and sealed. Mr. Crowley will read from some of them in a moment. The letters concerned boats in the area. I had imagined that they left some port in Northern Ireland, fished a bit in Irish waters and went home again that evening, the next day or whenever, not that they were based in Cork, Galway, Arranmore or anywhere like that. All of a sudden, our Government recognised the rights of UK shellfish farms, which are plots of land and may not have boats. We were making provision for them to take seed from off Wicklow Head or Rosslare and bring it to the North.
A question was asked about whether the judge instructed the Minister. He did not. He said that it would be a great idea were the Minister to legislate for this but he did not instruct him to do so. I am sure that it is like the X case, namely, the Government should legislate if it can.
Deputy McConalogue asked how this has been written for abuse. We spent a few days watching the State wriggling over what "owned and operated" meant. It meant anything. Now we have new legislation. The Attorney General was present during the hearings. The Attorney General's office saw how wide a range the term "owned and operated" could cover, but what has it stuck in this Bill? That something is "owned and operated in Northern Ireland" does not mean anything; it could be a French or a Dutch boat. That is how the provision is open to abuse. We have taken legal advice on this matter and have been told that the provision is void because of uncertainty.
The Moville district is an area of Lough Foyle with which the Deputy might be familiar. It covers all of Lough Foyle. I do much of my business there and I was informed last week that we will not be given an allocation of mussel seed this year even though we need it to run our business. That is the same farm that applied to Brussels for grant aid for a new boat. Whether this is a vindictive move by the Department, I do not know.
Mr. Crowley has a document in which the State declared what voisinagewas. He will cite it.
Mr. Michael Crowley:
It relates to written legal submissions from the State in the Barlow case. The position of the State, which was the defendant, was that the voisinagearrangement was not an international agreement and that, when properly considered, did not constitute an agreement at all. It stated that, when the three voisinageletters were analysed, they did not disclose the existence of any agreement. That was the State's position in 2012 on whether an agreement was in place.
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
The term is "[as long as a person] is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles". The Deputy must remember that a country builds its sovereignty from the inside out. In 1959, we created the 3-mile zone. In 1964, we created a 12-mile zone. If this Bill is implemented, boats will be allowed to finish within 6 miles of the shore but will have to stop fishing in the 6 to 12-mile zone before being allowed to fish again outside that. That is like putting security out on Molesworth Street and allowing anyone in through the Dáil gate. The provision is not even constructed properly. It is poor. Under this legislation, the 6 to 12-mile zone will be more protected than the 0 to 6-mile free for all. One protects everything from the inside out in terms of coastal waters. Proximity determines one's rights.
I thank the witnesses for attending in order to deal with this Bill. Some of them witnessed our hearings with a range of fish producer organisations last week. Those organisations are united in their opposition to the Bill. I was struck by how none of them had been consulted about it. I found that extraordinary.
Against overwhelming odds, the witnesses were collectively forced to defend their livelihoods right up to the Supreme Court. It is financially terrifying to go to that level. The cost and exposure must have been extraordinary, and all to defend an Irish natural resource. The witnesses were vindicated in the highest court in the land. This legislation arises from that. There is no doubt about that - it is explicit.
No producer organisation in the entire State, never mind fisherman, was consulted on the legislation.
We then discover that it is not a case of the Good Friday Agreement, cumbaya and let us all hold hands together across the island of Ireland because it is not a level playing pitch. The boats registered in the North have access to UK and Irish waters, but they are not subject to the same licensing arrangements and same regulations. It gets worse. It would be bad enough if we were talking about Irish boats, but we are, in fact, talking about foreign investors who took advantage of a loophole regarding residency in the North to access the natural resource in our waters. Have we learned nothing?
Reference was made to oil and gas exploration. From the Minister's demeanour and contributions in the Seanad, I believe his intentions were honourable, but when we get under the issues, it is verging on the need for a public inquiry. Thanks to fishing industry representatives and the fish producers' organisations we are aware of the matter. It is deeply alarming that senior officials in the Department, following the decision of the highest court in the land, could put together legislation that was so painfully against the interests of the people and their natural resources which should be used to create jobs and wealth. I find it absolutely extraordinary and astounding. After the evidence last weeks from the fish producers' organisations, I cannot for the life of me understand how anybody could draft this legislation and argue that he or she is acting in the national interest. If there was any doubt, we had the London Fisheries Convention, which is obviously under threat as a result of Brexit.
Normally I would get to a question much quicker than this, but I had to say all of that while the representatives of the fishing industry were here. I thank them for taking a stand and defending Irish interests. I congratulate them on the outcome and their courage. I deeply thank them for what they have done for the people in exposing the issue. They have been entirely vindicated and are supported by the entire fishing community on the island. It is extraordinary that they find themselves at this point.
I shall move on to my questions. Mr. Kelly spoke about the Molville district. Perhaps he might elaborate on what he said.
With regard to Brexit, it was stated we needed to reinstate the voisinage letters and so on because they would put us in better stead. Will the representatives clarify the matter? Will they also elaborate on the implications of the statement that Britain intends to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention?
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
With regard to what was said about the Molville district, we need an allocation of mussel seed in order to be able to run our businesses, but we are told that something is happening in the Supreme Court case that stops the allocation. I cannot understand what it is, but somehow or other, according to the Department, my legal position has changed. I must wait and see what will happen, but we have been waiting for years to try to get this right. It will mean a loss of jobs and business in our area.
I shall move on to the goodwill the Minster thinks he can buy in giving the UK boats access to areas within zero and 6 nautical miles. He will not be at the Brexit negotiating table. He will not even be in the room and will be depending on the European Union to negotiate in that regard. Any goodwill he can buy for the European Union in sacrificing the inshore fishery area will be used by the EU 27, which is a poor deal.
Will the Senator, please, repeat his other question?
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
This type of voisinageagreement is supposedly made under Article 9.2 of the London Fisheries Convention. Obviously, it was not because the London Fisheries Convention was long done and this was not in it. It is not listed in any place in it. Once the United Kingdom pulls out of the London Fisheries Convention, Ireland should also pull out immediately. The United Kingdom is the only country with which we have reciprocity on area; therefore, when it pulls out, Ireland will have no access to that area under the London Fisheries Convention and in the meantime it would be giving access to depth to Germany, Belgium, Holland and France. We give them fishing rights in the six to 12 mile area but do not get anything back. Once Ireland stops getting something from the United Kingdom, we should also pull out of the agreement.
Deputy Willie Penrose asked about the licensing system being open to abuse. That is surprising because the representatives who appeared before the committee during the previous session, from the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, were not able to establish whether the mussel boats we had mentioned to them had fishing licences. We knew quite clearly that the UK mussel boats did not have fishing licences. The particular question of whether a vessel as licensed was asked, but the SFPA could not state whether such vessels were licensed. Vessels which had not been licensed were fishing in our waters year in and year out. That cost us our industry.
I thank the gentlemen for their comprehensive presentation. There is not much need to ask questions because the report says it all. Deputy Charlie McConalogue has made reference to this issue already, but I am not sure if his question was answered. How reciprocal was the previous arrangement? If Northern vessels were trawling in our waters, was there a reciprocal arrangement if Southern vessels tried to fish in UK waters? Was the arrangement made through the exchange of letters or whatever else? I may have seen an indication somewhere that this might not have been the case. Was the arrangement working or did it ever work?
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
In practice, it worked. There were no Irish fishermen looking for the agreement to be in place because they were not getting anything from it. As I said, we were swopping a horse for a rabbit. We really were getting nothing out of it. The mussel fishery in Northern Ireland was open for as little as 6 hours a day. In the Republic of Ireland it was open for days and weeks. The level of fishing activity in Northern Ireland was extremely minimal. In terms of tonnage, some years the mussel fishery was not open because those in the North said it had none, yet vessels were still coming from there to fish here. There was supposedly a reciprocal fishing arrangement when it had nothing to offer.
There is an issue with a number of boats, especially in County Donegal, that bought licences in good faith under the old system. At that stage it was legal and perceived to be so - obviously, it has been knocked down as not being legal in the delegates' case - and those boats are now in a position where they are restricted in fishing within that zone. Many of them are of the smaller type and travelling outside the 12 mile zone would severely limit their ability to make a living. What is Mr. Kelly's view on how these boats are affected in the current environment?
Mr. Gerard Kelly:
I have sympathy for every fisherman. We are all in a mess, but keeping all of us in it does not help to get anyone out of it. The vessels have a good market in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to which they have good access. The United Kingdom will be the envy of every fishing nation after Brexit when the number of fishing licences for UK vessels will increase dramatically. It is already starting to increase dramatically. Perhaps the boat owners in County Donegal who bought the licences should go back and ask the people who told them that it was okay to do so why they had told them this.
I have a feeling that, even up to a few months ago, some people were telling them that it would all be sorted out in this Bill. Some people were taking the Oireachtas for granted.
I am very concerned about this issue. As I said in the Seanad, I suspect that there was a degree of vindictiveness in the drafting of this legislation. I suggest we raise with the Department the issue of the allocation of seed in the Foyle which has been brought to our attention today. We should ask the Department if there will be an allocation of mussel seed to the relevant parties. Does it just relate to the Foyle, or does it affect other delegates present today?