Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Marine Planning Framework: Motion
There has been no shortage of shoddy, poorly thought-out legislation passed through this House in the past 14 months. In many cases, it resulted from the lack of debate and scrutiny. It is a big frustration in the context of the way business is being conducted that, often, debate only happens after a bad proposal has been passed. The Government is attempting to do the same thing with this motion. The motto seems to be to rush it through, ignore concerns and curtail debate. Only 55 minutes has been allocated for the House to discuss the motion. That is not adequate time to carefully assess and debate the pros and cons of any motion.
I completely discount the remarks of the Taoiseach to me yesterday on the floor of the House to the effect that this is not legislation but, rather, a framework. What the Taoiseach did not say is that this framework will be underpinned by legislation. That is when we see the problems. Such problems can currently be seen in the national planning framework, which is underpinned by section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, allowing for guidelines to be issued at any time by the Minister. However, these planning guidelines are developed by zealots and are being imposed across county councils and county councillors by the planning regulator in the most Stalinist fashion. That is the reason we must have more debate on this so-called plan. A college debating society would spend longer on a trivial topic for debate than 45 minutes the 160-odd Members of this country's main law-making chamber are getting to discuss important issues.
Yesterday, I raised briefly with An Taoiseach the issue of a lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to issuing licences for marine activities. Cable-laying conglomerates are currently being issued with licences to lay underwater cable in coastal waters by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
At the same time, there are numerous fishermen and women who have licences issued to them by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to fish in the same areas. No consultation has taken place with the Departments as to how the cable-laying licence may impinge on the fishermen who have been there for their lifetime. Now the cable-laying conglomerates are issuing legal measures telling the fishermen to cease and desist from fishing over their cables in the areas where the cables are laid.
These massively rich corporations know their wealth places them in a strong position to bully the fishermen. Many fishermen do not have the financial resources to fight a complex court case to defend their rights to fish. In this situation, we have two licences granted by two separate Departments for two separate activities in the same waters which are ultimately in conflict with each other. This is what I mean by a lack of joined-up thinking. When it comes to the arms of the State, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.
I would like to hear from the Taoiseach as to how this has happened. We cannot allow anyone or anything to ride roughshod over fishermen and their rights to fish in our waters. This year there has already been a 15% loss to quotas due to Brexit. On top of that, the Government did not see fit to recognise the charter skippers when it came to providing Covid business supports. They have been treated as if they do not exist or do not register as having any importance at Government level.
The fishermen of Wexford, Duncannon and Kilmore want to be able to head out, earn their living and not arrive home to a threatening cease-and-desist letter waiting in their postbox from some billion-dollar conglomerate which sees them as being in the way. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine must take responsibility and take this in hand. I am all in favour of wind energy but we cannot allow its roll-out to destroy our fishing industry further. There have to be protections for the primary rights of fishermen, ferry operators and leisure craft operators who have serviced the islands of this country for decades and centuries. Any licences awarded for an alternative marine activity must give due regard and higher priority to the activities of those who have fished our waters for decades and centuries.
A token 45-minute debate does absolutely nothing for the confidence of the fishing communities, which are already of the belief that Government does not want them there or to continue in the sector. A decommissioning scheme has been suggested but fishermen want to be able to earn their livelihood with mechanisms in place that allow them to do that.
I call upon the Secretary General, Brendan Gleeson, to hold up his hand immediately in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and take ownership of the mistakes that have been made, to defend the fishermen currently having to go to the High Court to assert their rights over the multi-billion cable conglomerates and to take responsibility for the Department's failings.