Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 December 2007


Fisheries Protection.

8:00 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister of State. As of last Tuesday no drift net fishermen or draft net fishermen operating out of Lough Foyle have been paid under the hardship compensation scheme. Perhaps the Minister of State has a further update, but that was the position up to Tuesday. We are talking about a number of fishermen who have been fishing all their lives and generations of their families have been involved in salmon fishing. These fishermen bought into this scheme in good faith and surrendered their licences and their nets. It is nearly Christmas yet none of these fishermen has been paid. It is a serious issue because the hardship scheme and the ban on drift net fishing damaged the fabric of a way of life not just in Donegal and the Lough Swilly area but around the inlets of the island of Ireland. This will always be remembered.

It is an extremely sore point given that the fishermen bought into this scheme in good faith but must now await EU approval. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated that this must be sanctioned by the European Commission. While the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, probably does not have this information to hand, the question that needs to be asked is when the State aid package was sent to Europe for consideration and sanction. There is no point in members of the Government telling fishermen in Donegal that Brussels is responsible. The onus is on the Government to expedite the processing of this approval. The only way this can happen is by making direct contact with Commissioner Joe Borg in Brussels. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to come to some resolution.

More generally, the community in County Donegal, which includes my constituency, is very much a coastal one. There have been dramatic changes in its way of life in recent years, with fishermen not being allowed to fish for salmon and having to sell their licences. In addition, another decommissioning of the white fish fleet is coming down the track for 2008. Many fishermen had difficulty with this fund being named the hardship fund. Effectively it is more a redundancy package. These men had a way of life in an industry that contributed to the local economy. The only difference from a redundancy package is that the payments from the fund will be taxed, which is another cause for concern and a bone of contention.

We are fighting a battle to retain jobs in this sector. While some fishermen are diversifying into shrimp fishing or returning to lobster fishing, there are job losses as a result of the scheme. It is difficult to map out a future for any type of coastal activity. There was a gaping hole in yesterday's budget regarding funding for the coastal community following the cessation of drift net fishing.

In Brussels, Joe Borg stated that compensation packages would be available for the Government to access. Where are they? The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, needs to answer this question. Where are the measures for the different types of investment schemes which were discussed seven months ago? They are not in place and are not included in this year's budget, unless they are hidden between the lines.

Coastal communities have many difficulties. I raised the issue of the coastal stations at Malin Head and Valentia with the Taoiseach yesterday. We are getting rid of a way of life in rural Ireland. This is an issue we need to take seriously and we have enough coastal public representatives to make sure it does not happen. Why are we seeking to remove services from Malin Head and Valentia, two of the most peripheral parts of the country, given there are 17 jobs at each station? We must stay focused on this issue. I look forward to a favourable reply.


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