Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages


4:45 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The amendments would remove the principle of access for sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland to fish in our zero to six-mile zone. The amendment is utterly perplexing, particularly considering that the authorities in Northern Ireland are continuing to allow access to Irish sea-fishing boats to fish in their equivalent zone. The Deputy spoke about Mr. Goodwill and his view of politics in the UK, but he should judge those politicians not by their words but by their deeds. We have access to the UK's six-mile zone but it does not have access to ours.

On my consultation with the fishing industry, to which the Deputy referred, I asked my office to check how many consultations I have had since I was appointed as Minister and there appear to have been more than 40 occasions. The matter has been discussed on a number of occasions, most recently last Thursday, as the Deputy noted. It was conveyed to me that, overall, the industry supports the principle behind the voisinagearrangement and co-operation with our neighbours in Northern Ireland. The amendment, however, does not support either the principle or the practice. While there were concerns about the lack of a level playing field, the principle of the arrangements was acceded to. Let us remember that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court finding that the voisinagearrangements are not invalid but that, as it stands, there is insufficient provision for them in domestic law. In Justice O’Donnell's judgment at the Supreme Court, he stated that, for reasons which it would be necessary to set out at some length, he had concluded that the current practice of fishing or harvesting of mussel seed by Northern Ireland-registered boats in the territorial waters of this State is not lawful as it constitutes the exploitation of a natural resource which must, according to Article 10 of the Constitution, be provided for by means of a law enacted by the Oireachtas. He went on to state that he concluded there is no such law at present but that it follows from this conclusion that there is no insuperable constitutional objection to making provision by law for such fishing, which is the intention behind the Bill.

The Bill seeks to address what the Supreme Court identified is required, namely, to give the arrangements a legal footing and cement our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. The voisinage, or neighbourhood, arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided reciprocal fishing access for more than 50 years. These arrangements have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in our coastal waters. They have also allowed, and continue to allow, Irish-registered fishing boats access to coastal waters in Northern Ireland. While the Bill proposes to restore access to Northern Ireland boats to fish under the terms of the voisinagearrangement, this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. The Bill specifies this conditionality of access to give further assurance to the House that there is no question of preferential treatment for Northern Ireland vessels while fishing in our six-mile zone. While there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change from what they were previously. Northern Ireland boats will simply regain the reciprocal access they have had for decades under the voisinagearrangement in the zero to six-nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will also continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats. I ask the House to reject the Deputies' amendments.


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