Thursday, 3 June 2021
Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Martin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
We all understand what the Bill is supposed to be trying to do, which is to bring together and consolidate into one Act various pieces of legislation on maritime law. The truth is that for most people, living on an island is something they very seldom think about or have any knowledge of. However, it is something that can have severe repercussions for us as an island nation if we do not get it right. This is why it is important that the Bill is taken at a proper pace and that the Government considers it properly, consults widely and ensures it has the action right when it considers the Bill.
For many people, the issue is about fishing and those who use the sea as a means of making their livelihood. Many of those in the fishing industry have grave concerns about what the repercussions of the law might be and how they might affect them and their industry and the future of people who live in coastal communities who depend on the fishing industry.
It always strikes me that people who live in our coastal communities have a huge gripe. Many of them are small fishermen with small boats. They are inshore fishermen who cannot make a living or get a quota. They always find themselves foul of laws made in faraway places, which are supposed to be to protect the environment but they see the environment around them being ravaged by big fishing vessels that are simply there to make maximum profit from the sea while they and their communities suffer and cannot make a living. This is the chasm that exists between what laws set out to do and what they actually achieve, which frustrates and annoys many people.
We need to look very carefully at this legislation as we move forward with it. The issues we have, particularly regarding the sea and what lies beneath it, and the damage being done to it through fishing and other industries, is something on which we have to have very tight laws. Geological surveys are continually being carried out for all kinds of activity, mainly in the search for minerals and carbon in industries such as coal, oil and gas. We are told we are supposed to be moving away from these and leaving them behind and that we are switching to sustainable and new industries, and yet we find all of these geological surveys are being carried out around our coastline and every coastline in the world and they are damaging the seabed so much and the ecology there. One of the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations is about life under water and life under the sea and how we make sure we preserve it. We are committed to doing this but so much of the activity that happens from an industrial perspective in our waters flies directly in the face of it.
We need to rethink much of what we are doing. There needs to be an emphasis on ensuring we deliver for the people who make their living from the sea so they can see this is about protecting their livelihoods and protecting this natural resource and making sure we do not destroy it for future generations. The ecology of the ocean is as much a part of making sure we protect ourselves from climate change and everything else as what we do on land, and perhaps it is even more important.
The issue of Rockall and its jurisdiction has also been raised. Ireland had always considered it to be part of the Irish nation but we find that while Britain claims it other jurisdictions also seek to claim it, including Denmark and Iceland. The fact it was simply sold away in the past by a previous Government is something we should reconsider. I suggest the Bill should examine whether we can reaffirm our rights for all of our island. Only 10% of the Irish nation is above sea level and the rest of it is underwater. While they may be European waters as part of the EU, at the same time we as an Irish nation have a right to defend our jurisdiction and we should do everything we possibly can to do so.