Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
This meeting has been convened to resume Committee Stage consideration of the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021. I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and his officials to our meeting today. He is accompanied by Ms Josephine Kelly, principal officer, sea-fisheries policies and management division, who is also welcome to the meeting.
We will resume our consideration of the Bill on section 6, amendment No. 16.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 18, line 35, to delete “High Court” and substitute “Minister”.
This amendment centres on the whole issue of penalty points and the worries the fishermen I meet have. It looks to me that regardless of whatever court process, resolution or victory fishermen may have through this process, the fishermen will still have the penalty points on their licence. That is a very significant issue here. The last day we spoke about the unfairness of the situation where a fee has not been set yet for a fisherman who wants to appeal a decision. I tried to get the Taoiseach to intervene but he does not want to do so either. It looks like it will be a decision for the Minister of the day as to what fee will be charged if a fishermen wants to appeal a wrongful decision being made. It is a terrible situation to think fishermen are going to face the highest court in the land to fight their case, perhaps in a very genuine situation. They will also find themselves in a situation where they will not know how much it will cost them to appeal the decision in the High Court. This is totally at the discretion of the Minister who can say from €5 to €500,000, if he or she wants to. That has to be resolved before anybody or any politician can support this.
Fishermen are exasperated. I have spoken to them, including over the weekend, about the situation they find themselves in on many fronts. The Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is obviously a breaking point for many of them. It is almost a year since Brexit was agreed between Michel Barnier and Lord Frost but no work has even begun between the Government’s civil servants and fish producer groups on this critical Common Fisheries Policy review.
Fishermen are angered and have a right to be. Since the disastrous Brexit decision we are spending the bulk of our time on seeing how we can bring the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill through the Dáil. Instead of sitting around at these committee meetings to see if we can get a better deal for the fishermen in regard to quotas, their livelihoods and overturning some of the decisions the task force seems to have agreed on in respect of the decommissioning of vessels, which is another issue in itself, we are here talking about the High Court and the wording and we not even being able to establish how much the fishermen who appeal their decisions will be asked to pay for their appeal.
These issues are causing so much disquiet among the fishing industry that the recent report drawn up by the task force is not being supported by the Irish South and West Fish Producer's Organisation, led by Patrick Murphy, and rightly so. He sees the destruction of the fishing industry in this country and that there is little or no hope at present. Unfortunately, we in the Dáil are pandering to this rather than spending hours fighting to get extra quota for fishermen and seeing if there are any opportunities are out there? Have we thrown in the towel? That is what we should be focusing on instead of spending time on the final minutes of another nail in the coffin of Irish fishermen.
Regardless of a fisherman's innocence in respect of the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, as I have said often enough, if they are caught, they do not even know how much they are going to be charged if they take a case? If they take a case, are they still going to have the points added to their licence afterwards?
I mentioned Patrick Murphy. With the indulgence of the Chairman, he might give me a few seconds to express my sincere sympathies to Patrick and his family on the death of his father, Danny Murphy, who had a serious accident a few days before his death. He was another great man of the sea. This is an upsetting enough time but I would like to express my sympathy to Patrick who has appeared before the committee on many occasions. The passing of his father in the past couple of weeks has been sad.
I will certainly be pressing this amendment. I plead with the Minister to consider our amendments. It looks like no amendments I, Deputy Mac Lochlainn and others will put forward will be agreed to.
Nobody was listening to us either 12 months ago, and we saw the disaster that led to with the shocking deal for Irish fishermen. It now looks like the only deal on the table is decommissioning, after a task force was set up to look at the future of Irish fishing. If that is the future for Irish fishing then the industry is damned.
When the Minister was the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture and food, his colleague, the then Deputy, Pat The Cope Gallagher, was the spokesperson on the marine. As the Minister knows well, he had serious problems with the penalty points system that was being introduced in a statutory instrument by the then Minister, Deputy Creed. He worked with the industry to try to find a formula that would be reasonable and fair. The industry is not opposed to penalty points being introduced. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, spoke in the Dáil in the annulment debate where the then Deputy, Pat The Cope Gallagher, put forward the annulment motion and he supported it. Deputy Micheál Martin, now Taoiseach, and other colleagues of his supported it. For the first time in the history of the State a statutory instrument was annulled. That was the right course of action considering that the Supreme Court and the judicial system had found what was put forward previously as repugnant to people's rights and our laws. That was the stance the Minister took at that time and it was the right one.
The then Deputy, Pat The Cope Gallagher, worked with the industry and put forward changes that would be fair and balanced, but the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in its wisdom, continued on that path again. This time, the Taoiseach, who was the acting Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, introduced pretty much the same penalty points system as Fianna Fáil had voted down in opposition and now we have this legislation which is in the same spirit. The fundamental issues are that any person in this country should have a right to be presumed innocent and not be charged with an offence unless it is beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the threshold that is there in law to protect citizens, but what we have stated here is the "balance of probabilities", and the problem with that phrase is that it captures the cultural attitude of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and other people who work for the State towards fishermen. They are presumed to be committing offences and if, on the balance of probabilities, we can find them guilty, we will convict them. It is a shocking state of affairs. I do not believe we would accept citizens being treated like that anywhere else in Europe, in particular people who have to risk their life to earn a living. Fundamental anger is caused by this legislation.
If a case is taken to a court of law and an appeal is made and the person is successful, the points still remain in place. I have given the Minister an analogy previously. If any citizen is charged with a speeding offence and issued with provisional points subject to appeal and the appeal is successful, yet the points remained on the licence, could the Minister imagine the outrage, but that is how we want to deal with fishermen? What my amendment speaks to is the barrier to their right to appeal. The Minister cannot be immune to the anger in the fishing community. He has done online town hall meetings and a physical tour of harbours. He is meeting with fishermen on an ongoing basis. He knows how they feel and the anger at the weighing system on piers and harbours, which again was the outworking of a cultural attitude to fishermen that they are criminals. Now we have this arbitrary system in place, which I hope will be reversed very soon. We have a culture in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and in the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority which I hope to God changes very soon. One has to work with any industry. I accept there must be regulation and a penalty points system, but they must be fair and balanced, as all laws have to be. That is what we are getting wrong here.
I do not think the Minister is going to accept any Opposition amendments and that he is going to ram the Bill through Committee Stage today, he will ram it through on Report Stage and proceed on the path he is on. I ask him to take on board what I say to him today. He should know from all the meetings he is having that there is a real sense from the inshore fleet, the offshore fleet, the approximately 2,000 boats we have in the fleet around the island, that they are being criminalised. They are being viewed as criminals. They feel constant anxiety about what they are doing. That is wrong. This legislation gets the balance terribly wrong. The Minister knows that in his heart. He took the right decision at the time with the then Deputy, Pat The Cope Gallagher. This is the wrong approach now.
That is the commentary I want to put to the Minister today. I appeal to him to change direction. If he does not do so today, I appeal to him to reflect on the debate today and to change direction. Many good people in the fishing industry are speaking to him and telling him this. He should listen more to them and less to the departmental officials who are advising him. That is the best favour I can do him, to advise him to listen more to fishermen around the coast about their real-life experience and less to the departmental officials who advise him, because to be frank about it, they are completely out of touch with fishing communities. I have discussed the amendment. I will not take the opportunity again to talk about the wider problems with the Bill and will focus on dealing with each amendment in turn.
I will speak to the technical details relating to the two amendments. To accede to Deputy Collins's amendment No. 16 and to confer on the Minister the role of final arbiter in the context of the masters' points system would be to risk politicising decision-making in a manner that is in my opinion contrary to good practice.
The determination panel and appeals officer have both been established to deal with serious infringements which attract points. The Bill allows for a master to apply to the High Court regarding a decision of the appeals officer on a point of law only, which the Minister of the day is in no position to determine. It would not be appropriate for the Minister, as opposed to the High Court, to determine a matter after the independent determination panel and appeals officer have already adjudicated on it. This would take the independent evaluation and decision-making back into a political realm and is completely contrary to best practice of having serious infringements determined on an objective and impartial basis overseen from a legal perspective by the courts. I am not in a position to accept the Deputy's amendment for these reasons.
Regarding amendment No. 17 proposed by Deputy Mac Lochlainn, in the context of the licence holder's points system, as provided for under SI 318/2020, it was suggested by the industry that the licence holder should have a right to a full rehearing of the case before the High Court. The legal position is clear that under the Constitution, the High Court has "full original jurisdiction" and can hear all matters of law brought before it. The legal position is that it would be highly anomalous, if not unprecedented, to provide such a full High Court rehearing of a matter first governed by the procedures which were set down in the 2020 statutory instrument. In addition, it would delay the application of points, which would run up against the timeline set down in the EU regulation that points apply for three years with a commencement date of the date of detection. To that extent, it would hinder the effective implementation of this EU law and would not meet Ireland's obligations to implement these provisions. The High Court retains a supervisory and review capacity, which provides for an appeal on a point of law to the High Court, which is entirely in keeping with statutory review and appeal procedures of this nature. Accordingly, the legal position is that while the High Court retains the constitutional authority to enjoy full original jurisdiction over any legal proceedings, this authority has been circumscribed by the specific appeals mechanisms set down in primary and secondary legislation, which overwhelmingly limit just High Court appeals to reviews on a point of law. I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment for those reasons.
To take it in the round, particularly given the points made by the Deputy, as he knows, the introduction of these statutory instruments has been subject to a comprehensive process, including rigorous assessment in the Dáil. As he also said, there was the annulling of the previous statutory instrument and the subsequent tabling amendments for consideration coming out of that. All of those amendments were considered in great detail to see if it was possible for them to be accommodated into the statutory instrument while introducing a statutory instrument that would have us compliant with our obligations as a control authority under the CFP. Any amendments that could be accepted and accommodated were accommodated. Any that were not accommodated were not accommodated because they would have undermined and made the regulations that are being brought into place non-compliant with our obligations.
We are the very final member of the common fisheries control area to introduce a penalty points system for licence holders and masters. It is not that we are the best boys in class. We are the last boys to deal with our obligations in this regard to the extent that enforcement proceedings have been commenced against us by the European Commission for not living up to our obligations under the CFP to have a penalty points system in place, and that our funding European funding has been suspended because we have not dealt with this issue.
The Deputy’s party in opposition followed very much the lead of Fianna Fáil at that time and again followed the lead in the various amendments that were proposed. Those have all been considered in great detail, with some accepted, and those that have not been accepted were not accepted for very good reason. It comes to a stage where decisions have to be made and things have to happen. That is something that is a responsibility of being in government. As the Deputy outlined in his contribution, it follows a comprehensive process, which was much too lengthy really, because it has left us in a position where this has gone on far too long, where we are not compliant and where funding has been suspended, and that must be addressed. We must put in place a fair and equitable penalty points system that meets our obligations as a control authority. That is the approach that was taken. That is the reason the Taoiseach signed the statutory instrument, namely, to reflect the need for a penalty points system for licence holders, and that is why I am now bringing forward the legislation in regard to masters.
It has been extensively considered and teased out, and we are now at the endgame of having to introduce appropriate legislation that does the job. It is open to the Deputy to propose that he would do otherwise. It is open to him to give commitments that he would do something else were he in government. We rarely hear him say that. He criticises many things but never, ever lays his cards on the table as to what he would do and never makes commitments that might bind him. It is open to him today to make a binding commitment as to what it is he would do if he had the opportunity in the future, and then to hold himself to that. It is much harder to do that and to step up to the mark in terms of being responsible, than it is to simply oppose.
All of this has been given very significant and detailed consideration. This is appropriate. It is something I am bringing forward as Minister. It is not appropriate or fair to be blaming anyone else for it or to blame the officials. Again, it is an oft-used mechanism of opposition to blame someone else. Every decision that comes forward from me as Minister is something that has been vetted, considered and put forward by me. That is my responsibility and duty as Minister. Again, as the Deputy outlined, this follows a comprehensive approach taken in regard to where we have got to today. Each of the amendments that has been tabled has been comprehensively considered and the answers today will reflect all of that consideration.
I thank the Minister. As he said, when he was the Opposition spokesperson for his party on this matter, he spoke on this and it is on the record what he said in the Dáil. I will let people measure what he said then and the position he is taking now.
My recollection of the Minister's speech in the Dáil was that the statutory instrument as it is currently constituted does not reflect a fair penalty points system and there needed to be further consultation with the industry to try to come together. As he will be aware, there was a letter from the industry. When there was this hiatus between ministerial appointments and the Taoiseach signed this statutory instrument at, I assume, the request of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s senior officials, there was correspondence from the four major producer organisations in the State at that time, outlining their profound concerns about what had happened and that there needed to be changes. Nothing was done about those profound concerns. No changes were made to the statutory instrument at that time and this legislation reflects that.
Changes were made to the statutory instrument. Amendments were proposed and considered. Some changes were made and some were not because the consideration was that they would not meet our obligations. Again, as I said, it is open to the Deputy to outline clearly what he would do and what he is committing to do. I do not hear any of that.
That is the commitment. Here is the thing. Given the speech the Minister gave during that statutory instrument annulment debate, people can see his position then and his position now. This is our position. We will be tested in government at some stage, hopefully, the sooner, the better, and certainly for the fishing community. We will be tested on where we stand based on these amendments. That is our position. There they are.
To be clear, the Deputy's position is that if he was in government, he would bring forward all of these amendments and he would introduce a new statutory instrument to incorporate all of these amendments.
I am saying to the Minister that this current penalty points system that the Minister is proposing to bring in is profoundly unfair. We would seek to have one that reflects the concerns of the industry, particularly on the issue of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not agree with quite a lot of what he said. He said the amendments have been comprehensively considered. There is no way he considered any amendment, to be honest. Imagine an amendment that we spoke about two weeks ago when we first met about this-----
It is tied into the High Court, the appeal and the balance of probabilities, which is what I want to bring up. The first stage is to put forward an appeal. The Minister wondered whether it was going to be the €25 that the Rural Independent Group put forward in our submission. He did not have his mind made up at all before he came into the meeting as to what was going to happen. At the end of the day, if a fisherman is going to go to the High Court, he needs to know he can afford to go to there. If the Minister cannot, even at this stage, look at that type of an amendment and come in here beforehand to say he is accepting it or not, and that it is going to be €100,000, €10,000, €5,000 or €5, he has not comprehensively considered these amendments at all; rather, he has chucked them in the bin before he came in here.
I am astonished and many fishermen who have listened to this and their organisations are astonished. We need change. We need to go back to Europe. There need to be laws but there need to be laws that are agreed to initially by the fishing industry in this country. The Minister said we are the last boys in the class. Let us be honest. We were the first boys or the whipping boys in the class in the Brexit negotiations, and we got a fair whipping, of that there is no doubt. Now, we need to be the last boys in the class. We certainly do not need to comply with and pander to everything that Europe wants.
We need to be able to put in our own amendments here and our own safeguards for our fishermen who are fishing the waters. They are in a dire situation as we speak. The Minister has said these amendments in respect of the High Court have been comprehensively considered but I am in complete disagreement with that because I can see the way these amendments are just being thrown out one by one. Regardless of what changes we ask for, the Minister is totally opposed to them. I will definitely press these amendments because they are hugely important. Changes need to be made to this before we take the legislation any further. It is the first piece of work that has been done on fishing since the dreadful Brexit negotiations. This is another dreadful thing for fishermen. I will certainly not be in any way, shape or form supporting this. I will be asking to go back and to support the fisherman on this one here. We should go back out to Europe and fight for the Irish because as far as the fishermen are concerned, the fight is being lost. That is my take on it.
I thank the Minister for a comprehensive response in an earlier exchange, although the question on the European comparison was missed. Can the Minister tell me what other countries have implemented this legislation to back up the penalty point system? What other country has used the words "beyond a reasonable doubt" in their legislation? Is there any other example in Europe where they have used on the balance of probabilities? To be clear, can the Minister point to another European country that has in their legislation said that the person can be convicted on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond a reasonable doubt? Second, where did the phrase "on the balance of probabilities" come from? Who came up with that phrase? Why was "beyond a reasonable doubt" not used? It is, as I am sure the Minister will agree, the international standard for conviction of an offence.
The penalty point system is supposed to be an administrative law system as opposed to a criminal law system. The standard level of proof for civil law is the balance of probabilities. The level of proof used for criminal law is beyond a reasonable doubt. Across Europe and across the Common Fisheries Policy, the approach of the penalty point system is supposed to operate in parallel to the criminal law. Somebody, for example, who gets a penalty point could also be subject to, depending on the severity of the offence, a criminal proceeding. In a criminal proceeding, the threshold is beyond a reasonable doubt. However, this is not a criminal system. This is an administrative law system. Therefore, the appropriate benchmark for that is "on the balance of probabilities". That is certainly the terminology that is used in our systems in Ireland. Across the board, other member states all have their own definitions as to what applies to administrative law, criminal law etc. They will apply that as appropriate to their particular systems.
For example, we talk about common law. The UK has a common law system similar to our own. The Minister will appreciate that I am not trying to be a smart alec here and I know he cannot have every possible answer at his disposal. However, his colleague might want to avail of the opportunity to speak. The UK has a common law system. Has the UK introduced a penalty point system?
That is fair enough and I appreciate that. Perhaps, if we cannot get the answer today, it could be sent on to committee members. To be clear, I am asking about Britain and the Common Fisheries Policy, before they left the European Union. Did the system they have in place refer to the balance of probabilities? They have a similar legal system to Ireland so I make a comparison. I want to know if there is anywhere in the European Union now, or had Britain implemented it before, where on the balance of probabilities is specified, rather than beyond reasonable doubt? That is the big issue. Fishermen see that as being treated differently from every other citizen.
On the obligations of member states to become compliant with the Common Fisheries Policy, there is an obligation on them to introduce an administrative system for control in the form of a penalty point system. This would run in parallel to the criminal system. They are the appropriate benchmarks in our country for that. Obviously, if one were to introduce a threshold which was particular and appropriate to the criminal law system - which uses beyond a reasonable doubt - and introduced it into the civil law system, it would be a threshold that would not be standard for an administrative system.
I am conscious that we are talking here about legislation that could potentially take away the livelihood of people. That is a pretty severe sanction. Obviously, it would impact on their reputation if they were issued with penalty points. There are all sorts of implications here. It is quite a big deal. I ask again, if this information can be given to the Minister, for him to articulate it to the committee, now or soon. I want to establish if there is an example anywhere in Europe where a member of the European Union - or Britain before it left the European Union - implemented this legislation. The Minister said we are the last to do it and that is regrettable. It should not have to be like that. However, is there an example where they use the phraseology "on the balance of probabilities"? Was there any such phraseology used in any other country's implementation of these penalty points into its own laws? I want to establish that because my understanding is that the international benchmark is "beyond a reasonable doubt". I would like to know if any other country has breached that threshold, as we are doing here with this legislation.
Amendment No. 14 in section 6, which was proposed by you and by Deputy Michael Collins, sought "In page 18, line 17, to delete 'on the balance of probabilities' and substitute 'beyond a reasonable doubt'". That amendment was dealt with at our last session.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 18, after line 40, to insert the following: "(17) A successful appeal under subsection (14), in the case of a master who is an Irish citizen, shall mean points are not assigned and a notification shall not be made under section 15I(3)".
We are back to the balance of probability again, which has been a massive issue for the fishing industry. As I said earlier, it is going through massive struggles. We have put together a very bad sea-fisheries Bill. We are tabling amendments to see whether we can clean up what is a mess. It looks like none of the amendments will be accepted. If they are not accepted the writing is on the wall. I was aghast to see Deputies from the Government voting in favour of earlier amendments. They were very much not rural Deputies. I know it is a holiday time but certainly they did not know what they were voting for. I heard one of them state he did not know much about agriculture. This is about fishing and the marine. It is a bad reflection on the Government that this is the attitude out there. Marine has been the poor relation for many decades. The proof of the pudding is the dreadful deal on Brexit that was agreed running into Christmas.
The balance of probability has come up here so many times. Fishermen have said to me that it looks like the Bill will condemn fishermen because no matter whether they are innocent or guilty they will end up with penalties on their licence or on the licence of the skipper. That is a very serious worry. I am not at all in agreement with this Bill. It could be renegotiated and we could get a better deal for Irish fishermen certainly after the raw deals we have got continually down through the years. My amendment focuses on the need to change what has been agreed at government level with, I presume, Europe holding a stick over our heads once again in the fishing industry. As much as €400 million plus in blood money is earmarked to be spent across the fishing communities on projects ranging from pier upgrades to processing grants to aquaculture tie-up schemes. All of the funding is to be taken from the €1 billion EU slush fund out of the €5 billion in total that has been set aside by the EU. This paltry sum is designed to shut up the fishing industry as compensation for the theft of future billions of euro from Irish fishing communities and from the Irish people.
My amendment and the other amendments that I have put forward are meant to, in some way, lift the burden from fishermen. The offshore fleet has now been reduced to just over 100 boats so the waters are being cleared of Irish fishing vessels forever in preparation for the hundreds of foreign vessels that will replace them and fish away happily while plundering 85% or more of the pie. This continues to leave our coastal fishing communities with just under 15% of all of the fish and it is patently clear that 15% is not enough for fishermen to survive. It looks like this Bill will be foisted upon us so it will lead to further devastation and I will press my amendment.
I have just read back over the comments made by the Minister before he took up the post of Minister. At that time he was very critical of the Department and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA. The big issue for him then was the balance of probability. The current approach in the statutory instrument deals with the balance of probability rather than having to prove beyond doubt, which is normally the case where a criminal sanction is being pursued. At that point he was very much on the same page on which I am now and he clearly understood that this is a serious issue.
The amendment is a good one in that if a person has been successful in his or her appeal then penalty points should not be assigned. I would love to get a comparison. I have seen a document, which I referred to during committee meetings on pre-legislative scrutiny, that compared the implementation of penalty points across the European Union. Again, I put it to the Minister that I am not aware, but I could be wrong and I am happy to be proven wrong, of anywhere in the European Union where there is the potential for a person to lose their livelihood with a threshold of the balance of probabilities. Indeed - and the Minister has talked about the fact that administrative law and criminal law run parallel with each other - one can take action if one feels it is serious enough in the criminal law system. If a person wins his or her appeal then that would not lead to his or her points being removed.
This is a good amendment and I ask the Minister to return to the spirit that he demonstrated a couple of years ago on this issue. At that time he was entirely right in his assessment and criticised the Department in the approach that it had taken at that time, and he said that its approach was a bad reflection on the Department. I ask that the Minister accepts the amendment as it refers to natural justice in terms of the penalty points. The Minister asked about the policy of Sinn Féin. These points concern natural justice and should not be the subject of debate but, unfortunately, in this country fishermen are seen to be fair game, which is a situation that has been allowed to go on for too long.
This is another one of the amendments on which I did not speak earlier as is the other amendment tabled by Deputy Collins. This is one of the amendments which I find it very hard to believe the Minister or the Department has taken seriously.
The amendment is simple. The earlier amendment set a target of just €25 for the cost of lodging an appeal. Now, we are saying if someone wins his or her appeal in the High Court that his or her penalty points will not be taken off his or her licence. All we want is for fishermen and fisherwomen to be treated fairly and in the exact same way as any other citizen in this country. I mean if I win my appeal in the High Court against fines imposed against me then the penalty points would be struck off but in this stance we are talking about points being left on a licence for three years. Like Deputy Mac Lochlainn, I ask the Minister to rethink and implement this fair amendment that has been tabled by Deputy Collins.
When the High Court reviews the decision of the appeals officer on a point of law it is open to the High Court to quash points assigned if it sees fit or, indeed, make another ruling; for example, sending the matter back for a rehearing. In essence, the High Court already has the power to do what is proposed by the amendment tabled by Deputy Collins. The court has a wide discretion in this regard and the amendment, if adopted, would have the effect of restricting or limiting the role of the High Court. In this context, it is not open to the Minister of the day or, indeed, the Government to do this. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 19, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following: “(e) in a case in which a master is registered on an electronic interface, by leaving it on that electronic interface,”.
These amendments to the proposed new section 15P of the 2006 Act are to include the option of using an electronic portal for the serving of documents. Such portals are used throughout other parts of my Department to communicate with customers. These electronic portals facilitate more secure transmission of communications, including multifactor authentication, which is the highest standard of data security, to customers where they must log in to the portal to receive a message. Such portals also provide an appropriate audit trail for customer and user engagement and allow for improved management of customer relations more generally, as well as facilitating team-based management of customers. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are consequential drafting amendments to amendment No.19, while amendment No. 22 provides for a necessary definition of "electronic interface".
The concern here is that the person issued with a notice will be able to receive it. The relevant section in the Bill specifies several ways in which people can be notified. Can the Minister assure us that what he is proposing would not disadvantage or cause difficulties to people? I ask him to clarify that aspect.
The objective here is to ensure that communication and engagement with everyone will be as effective and efficient as possible, and this would be a mechanism by which that could be done in a secure manner. Regarding the operation of this mechanism and notice to and engagement with fishers, the objective will be to support them and to strengthen the capacity to engage in that regard.
The transmission of communications is mainly what this amendment is about.
Any improvements in communication should be welcomed, as long as it is not communication to provide more difficulties for fishermen. A number of months ago, there was an attempted ramming of an Irish fishing vessel by a Spanish trawler near Castletownbere and there was no communication whatsoever available for the fishermen. It was a terrible experience. It took between 12 to 16 hours before the trawler that was causing the issue and fishing illegally was impeded. Communication is a major issue. It looks as if we are going to improve communication when it comes to imposing penalty points on a fisherman and that is the reason for the proposed amendments. I would like the Minister to explain if there is any other way improvements in communications can be made along these lines to save the lives of fisherman and ensure that when they are threatened at sea by another boat that is illegally fishing that safeguards are in place. We do not want to hear afterwards the Taoiseach denying he knew anything about it, everybody running scared and nobody giving a straight answer. I would like the focus of the amendments to be on communications and safeguarding Irish fishermen.
In the agricultural sphere, the use of online accounts has worked well for farmers and has made access to information clearer and more usable. It is important that we use modern tools and capacities in how we engage across the board with all citizens. It is also important that the legislation we introduce facilitates that. We want to provide easier means of communication for everyone across the board, especially for fishers when they are in challenging situations. We do not want them in a situation where legislation obliges a means of communication that might not be as effective for them. This is an appropriate amendment to ensure we can use the best possible means to communicate. Ultimately, it is about improving communication and having all tools at the disposal of fishermen to make it is as easy as possible and to have information available.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 20, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:“(4) In this section, ‘electronic interface’ means a secure information technology platform, portal, exchange network or other similar interface maintained by, or on behalf of, the Minister which requires personal log-in details.”.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 21, line 33, to delete “Class” and substitute “class”.
These amendments are typographical in nature. Amendment No. 23 proposes deleting “Class” and replacing it with the same word but without the capital letter. Amendment No. proposes to delete the word "infringement" and to replace it with the same word but a slight adjustment in typography. The changes are minimal.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 22, after line 42, to insert the following:“Points to be assigned for serious infringement specified in Article 90(1)(c) of Control Regulation
15U. For the purposes of Article 90 of the Control Regulation, the number of points to be assigned in accordance with this Chapter for a serious infringement specified in paragraph (1)(c) of that Article shall be five.”.”.
I move amendment No. 26a:
In page 23, to delete lines 31 to 33 and substitute the following:“(c) in column (2) of Table 1, opposite Reference Number 1(b), by the substitution of “a contravention relating to fishing gear or equipment” for “illegal nets or other equipment”,
(d) in column (2) of Table 1, opposite Reference Number 2, by the substitution of “10(4)” for “10(2)”, and”.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 24, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following: “13. The Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 is amended—(a) in section 4(3)(b) (amended by section 97 of the Act of 2006)—(i) in subparagraph (iii), by the substitution of “application is made,” for “application is made.”, and(b) in section 5 (amended by section 99(c) of the Act of 2006)—
(ii) by the insertion of the following subparagraph after subparagraph (iii):“(iv) where the applicant is a natural person, made by a person who is over 18 years of age at the date of the application.”,
and(i) in subsection (1)(b), by the deletion of “of the 2003 Act”, and
(ii) in subsection (2)(b), by the deletion of “of the 2003 Act”.”.
This amendment, if accepted, will involve the deletion of section 13 in its entirety. It inserts a new provision into section 13, amending section 5 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 and consequentially re-numbers the existing provisions of section 13 which amended section 4 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003. The new amendment is a technical amendment removing superfluous words from section 5 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003. This amendment however makes no amendment to the substantive provisions of section 13.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 24, line 25, to delete “paragraph (1)”.” and substitute “paragraph (1)”, and”.
The amendment is of a typographical nature. It proposes to delete “paragraph (1)”.” and substitute “paragraph (1)”, and”.
Amendment No. 29 provides that:
“(4) This Act shall come into operation not less than 90 days after the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine publishes a detailed socio-economic analysis on the impact of this legislation and the Brexit inflicted quota cuts on the entire Irish fishing sector.
(5) The analysis to be carried out under subsection (4), shall encompass wide-ranging and meaningful consultation with all stakeholders in every fishing community.
(6) A copy of the published analysis referenced under subsection (4), shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and subject to a full debate, prior to this Act coming into operation.”.
There has been a lot of discussion about all these amendments that have been ruled out of order. Every amendment from Sinn Féin and the Rural Independent Group, which I represent, has been ruled out of order. We find ourselves in a very unfair situation. As I said earlier, this amendment provides for further discussion. We are in a dire situation after a shocking Brexit deal that has inflicted the most horrendous cuts on the fishing industry. To be honest, the industry is still mesmerised and shocked at the astonishing way we threw away our quota and pegged it out to the foreign fleets of the world. It looked like, and I always said it in the Dáil, Michel Barnier was doing a deal for France. He truly proved that. We should have had stronger engagement, and I pleaded for that to the previous Government many months before this Government took office. Brexit was coming towards us and all the signs were negative with regard to what the Irish fishing industry was going to lose. Up to the dying minutes I pleaded with the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, to make sure that he forced an intervention, but we see the consequences of a poor judgment and a poor call. Obviously, I congratulate Michel Barnier for cutting a deal for the French, but it is much to the demise of the Irish fishing industry.
As regards this amendment, we have to force discussion in the Dáil and at committee level about the Brexit cuts and the quota for Irish fishermen into the future. I read out some of the statements earlier and I do not wish to keep going back over what I said, but this Bill is a bad deal for Irish fishermen. It is supported by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil was seemingly opposed to almost the same deal a few years ago, but has changed its mind now while in government and is railroading ahead with it regardless of what amendments we put forward. Surely to God some of these amendments could have been better examined. The Minister said earlier that there was comprehensive consideration of our amendments in detail but he continued to throw out each amendment brought before the House. The very least we should get out of this is full debate in the future about the fishing industry in Ireland. It is at the verge of collapse. The best deal coming from the task force is decommissioning, which is shocking to say the least. It is going to deplete the fishing industry further in Ireland. All we seem to be doing is making way for foreign fleets to come to Ireland and take our fish out of our seas. That is what it comes to. That is the way it has been for the last number of decades. Nothing has changed and things have got worse.
We are in the dying minutes of discussing these amendments. I am very disappointed that the Government did not see fit to support any of our amendments even though they were meant to work with this difficult Bill. All I can say is that we would have full debate in the Dáil, as is provided for in this amendment, prior to this legislation coming into operation. There are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies from coastal communities who have not been seen here to answer for themselves. They should be here and hold themselves accountable because they will have to knock on the doors of their constituents. If they have failed, and the fishermen are telling me that they are failing, they will be run from the doors. That is the bottom line here. Many of these fishermen are now unemployed; many of them have lost their income. Many of them are going to lose their boats, their future and their livelihoods. That is what they know. That is how they grew up and educated themselves. They have been let down repeatedly by continuous governments, and this Bill is the death knell. Decommissioning and everything else is being laid out on a pathway of destruction for the Irish fishing industry.
All I can say, and I am providing for this in the amendment, is that if we do not give more time to debate this prior to this legislation coming into operation, it will be a further infliction on the fishermen. We might have a stay or reprieve in respect of this sea fisheries Bill. We might be able to go back to Europe and forge a better deal for the fishing community. It is time for Europe to understand that we will no longer be its whipping boy, which is what we have been. I have spoken to the fishermen in Castletownbere, Union Hall, Glandore and throughout west Cork over the last number of years and particularly over the last six or 12 months. In spite of visits from heads of state, nothing has happened. They have seen not one improvement. How can members of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael come here and continue to pound hardship on these people and have no solution? All I am seeking is a solution. Is anything going to happen to the bluefin tuna quota or will we have to talk about it for the next ten years? Is there a general acceptance that Europe can get any quota it wants, but Ireland cannot get the quota? What is wrong? Where is the weakness here? Do we need changes in the Department from the top to the bottom? Do we need to look at the SFPA? Where are the supports for the fishermen? They have not been there to date, and the fishermen feel it and understand it. They are losing their income.
Fishermen and fisherwomen were born, bred and reared to work their hands and work in the sea, and they have been terribly let down. It is our richest resource and we seem to be damned to destroy the fishing industry. We are attacking agriculture as best we can too, but today we are discussing fishing. It surrounds me in my constituency. I have inshore boats and pelagic fishermen. They are losing their income and they are asking me what is there for them. Decommissioning is not a way out. That is only getting rid of the problem so that maybe we can lick up to the Europeans and tell them we have done our best to let them come in and take a bigger slice of the cake. We must have further debate on this issue. We need the Taoiseach to get personally involved on this. This is what I am seeking in this amendment. A full debate prior to the legislation coming into operation must take place. It must be a detailed, not rushed, discussion on where we intend to take the fishing industry of this country and where its future lies.
Since Brexit was implemented last year, fishermen are saying no hour of work has begun between the Government, civil servants or the fish producer groups on the critical Common Fisheries Policy that is to come. In all that 12 months, no hour of work has begun on looking at the future. We are continuously locked into what we want to give away and what further difficulties we want to foist on our fishermen. Deputies come in here and are quite happy to support all this. Do they see the future? Do they see any future in the fishing industry? Is that gone and is it time to hit the agriculture industry? That is where we are going. When I knock on the doors I talk to people, and I continue to meet and talk to people. The fishing industry is on its knees and it is pleading with the Government, regardless of what is the Government of the day, to make sure it tries to turn this around. There is nothing in this Bill or in anything I see that will turn this around, other than decommissioning, decommissioning, decommissioning. That is what the task force has come up with. I am proud of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation for rejecting that task force report. It was 100% correct. Decommissioning is not the way forward. We have enough seas.
We have enough fish in Irish waters to keep thousands of people employed. Instead, we are wiped out. We need to debate that and that is what this amendment is about. It is about further debate. Some Deputies that come in to Dáil Éireann know what fishing is about. I certainly have a lot to learn. I am not a fisherman but come from the agricultural sector. In my time in the Dáil, regardless of what parties are in power, there has been little or no debate on or understanding of how we can turn things around for the Irish fishermen and fisherwomen that local rural communities are totally dependent on. We can decommission them, strike them off and make them unemployed, which is what the Government is going to do. What is going on here in this House will never be forgotten. I plead with my colleagues to accept this amendment and fully debate every detail of what is going on in the fishing industry, including the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the task force, the decommissioning and the quotas. We hear so much about quotas but we are getting little or no quota. All we are getting is wiped out through less quotas and fishermen are asking why. What is wrong with the political system in this country that we cannot understand the richness of the resource that we have, our seas? Is it the Department that is wrong? Does it need changing from top to bottom? What is wrong? Why is there not a focus on this? Why, when we are out in Europe negotiating, do we throw fishing to the wind and let it float its own boat?
I can understand why this amendment was tabled and although section 15 may not be the appropriate section for it, the Department and the Minister could have found a place for it in the Bill. Section 15 simply lays out the Long Title to the Bill. All legislation should have some review procedure within it and some method of reporting on its operation over time. That is vitally important and particularly so regarding the fishing industry. We need to debate it because it is going through a very difficult time at the moment. As Deputy Collins has said, in a couple of years' time we may not be having a debate at all because there will be nothing to talk about. The Government's attitude to the fishing industry and its position on it is made clear by the €66 million decommissioning scheme which will get rid of one third of the whitefish fleet. From this point on, the fleet will only be two thirds of its current size and next year we may be talking about another decommissioning scheme. That seems to be the height of the Government's response to, and focus on, the fishing industry which is sad and wrong. It is doing a disservice to fishing communities right across the country. The fishing industry has potential but only if the Government fights for it at European level to try to ensure that EU policies respond to our needs. It is sad to say that, as Deputy Collins outlined, Mr. Michel Barnier seems to have fought hard on behalf of the French fishing industry but let Ireland down. He was supposed to be negotiating on behalf of the entire EU. For that reason, I am taking this opportunity to speak to this amendment. It might not be in the right place but it should be accommodated in the Bill.
I agree that the amendment should be accommodated. As I said earlier, this Bill cannot be taken in isolation. The reaction of fishing communities to this Bill reflects their anger at the long-standing culture of not helping them to build their industry but of holding them back. The approach that is taken in this legislation and by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, reflects a culture that is not replicated across Europe. I do not believe there is the same level of enforcement and monitoring of other fishing fleets as we see with our own fleet by our own authorities. Regulators and law enforcers have a job to do but there is a way of doing it which involves respecting the people they are working with, including them in what they are doing and agreeing an approach. This is about the management of a precious resource. Anybody with a brain knows that over-fishing is a damned stupid thing to do. The resource has to be managed, nurtured and replenished but people are intelligent enough to see that under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, we have super trawlers around our coast hoovering up fish while the authorities are chasing inshore fishermen and challenging them on their practices. Fishermen are looking out at cities of lights. Famously, in the documentary "Atlantic", a fisherman refers to a super trawler as a "city out there". These boats are 140 m. long; they are massive and are hoovering up fish while we talk about sustainability and enforcement.
As the Minister knows, our fishing communities are really intelligent. Fishing is in their genes and is intergenerational. These communities know that what they are being asked to do makes no sense when one looks at the bigger picture. I understand there will be a debate in the Dáil in the coming weeks on the seafood task force report and our approach to the CFP. The Minister and the Government will be challenged to at least call out what is happening in terms of super trawlers and the fact that we get 15% of the fish under the CFP. Under the quota system, we get 15% in our 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Indeed, in a number of species, it is even more derisory than that. We have a situation where we are going to decommission, potentially, another 60 boats of over 15 m. to 18 m., which means that the fleet will be dramatically reduced from 2006 levels. This dramatic reduction is happening at a time when other European countries are investing in their fishing fleets. Belgium, for example, stands out in that regard.
We will get a chance soon to debate this at length in the Dáil and all of us will contribute to that debate but the seafood task force report, from the perspective of our fishing industry, our catchers, is a white flag of surrender. It demonstrates an unwillingness to confront the injustice that is happening. We have the richest fishing grounds in all of Europe. We are the only island nation in the EU right now. We have a massive resource staring at us. There are lots of Deputies on the Government side from coastal communities and I know they agree with me on this. We have an immense resource but we are giving it away. What we are doing goes against the principles of the European Union. If we were to speak about what is happening in Ireland, not with the political decision makers or some of the huge corporations in the industry but with the average French, Belgian, Spanish or Dutch person, they would not agree with it. I do not believe this is what they stand for but this is what is happening.
All our fishermen can see is more and more barriers and difficulties and they are being driven out of the industry. That is why a number of fishermen will probably avail of decommissioning because they do not see any future for themselves. They do not see any future, which is terrible. If one looks at the size of our fleet in 2006 in comparison with what it will be if fishermen avail of decommissioning, it is a terrible indictment of our country. That is why this legislation cannot be taken in isolation and why Deputy Collins is right to ask that it be seen in the wider context. We are asking for a change of direction from the Government. We may not win the battle today but we will continue this dialogue with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Like me, he represents a coastal community. In his heart, he knows that the points we are making are correct.
I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about what is happening today regarding this and other amendments. All the committee's amendments are being ruled out of order and are not being entertained. That is very sad and very bad.
It is on record that it was the UK that first taught coastal communities how to fish back in the 1600s. Since then, Irish fishermen have developed, modernised and kept coastal communities going through the years, decades and centuries. Fishing has provided a living, sometimes part time and more often full time, all along our coasts. All we can seem to offer fishermen now is to decommission them. The Government is saying it can pay fishermen to cease and give up, but who will replace their income and employment in coastal communities? This will have a devastating effect, for evermore, on those communities that depend so much on fishing for their livelihoods, whether it is the small shop, chemist, bed and breakfast or whatever, which all benefit in some small way.
We are closing down one of the only things we have. It is the same as closing down Bord na Móna. This Government is closing down all the things we have and are good at; that will be its record. The sad thing about it is that it is not just Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil individually but both of them together. This is what is happening. Every day we see that the only racket about fishing now is between the French and the UK. That is where the fight is because they have something to fight about. We have nothing to fight about except for the Government turning on our people and our own flesh and blood, who are trying to operate, do their jobs, earn a living and employ people. All we do and all we offer is to decommission them. We then further penalise them with penalty points.
I very much appreciate, from the bottom of my heart, what Pat The Cope Gallagher tried to do. He was of the Fianna Fáil Party, but he got us to rescind the penalty points only a few months ago. He left the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's chair, went to the back benches and put forward a Bill, which we all voted for, including Fianna Fáil members who are voting for this penalty points system now. They all voted to rescind that statutory instrument and now we are bringing it forward again.
I will finish. I have been listening to the debate in my office all day and trying to do other things as well. It has to be pointed out that Irish fishermen are only fishing 15% of Irish waters. We all remember the great presentation they made when they came up the River Liffey. They did that in the most ordinary and thoughtful way and gave their presentation outside the convention centre. We will remember them forever but I do not think members of the Government listened or really care about them. Even though they seemed to be talking to fishermen that day and seemed to want to listen to them, they did not take heed. I am very sad we are going down the road of hurting them more with penalty points. There will be a weighing system whereby Irish fishermen have to weigh their catches on the port or pier they come in to while foreign fishermen can load up their lorries and go home. All that is wrong.