Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Seafood Taskforce Final Report: Statements


1:45 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

As the Minister is aware, our fishing industry makes a significant contribution to the economic and social fabric of many small communities located around our coastline, not least in the coastal area of my home county of Mayo. Every day of the week, people in the fishing industry tell me they feel let down and abandoned. Sinn Féin fully recognises the importance of co-operation at an international level, predominantly through the EU, for the sustainable management of fish stocks.

That said, the current Common Fisheries Policy is a terrible deal for Ireland and always has been. This has been the result of a litany of historical failures by successive Governments to secure a fair deal for our fishing sector. This has been compounded by the disaster of the recent Brexit trade and co-operation agreement, as the Minister knows. The agreement saw €199 million worth of EU-wide quota transferred back to Britain. Approximately €43 million, essentially a quarter of the total, came at the expense of the fishing sector in this State.

The sector lost 15% of its total quota.

The European Commission is in the process of conducting the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which will be presented to the European Council and parliament at the end of next year. It is vitally important that there is substantial reform, but how can the sector trust the Government given its track record? That is what people are asking me. I know a meeting has been arranged for tomorrow morning at which the Government does not want any outside voices. This is very disappointing because we need to work together in order to sort this out for the sake of our coastal communities. That is what fishermen along our coast and certainly those along the Mayo coast expect from us.

The seafood task force was established to make recommendations to the Minister on measures to mitigate the impacts on the fishing industry of fish quota share reductions arising from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The report refers to the longer term fleet restructuring measures through the voluntary permanent cessation schemes, including the inshore sectors. I want to balance recognising how important the fishing industry is with also recognising how underdeveloped it is by international standards. The fishing fleet operating in Mayo is predominantly the inshore fleet. While short-term supports for voluntary cessation may be necessary, the idea that the long-term solution is to downsize this sector in Mayo is completely unacceptable. The fishing industry provides and essential source of income for many people in communities along the coast of Mayo, and fishing is one of the few jobs that sustained communities throughout the tough times. When a State reduces its fleet, it takes a retrograde step. This is the third time decommissioning has been introduced. Fishermen want to fish. They do not want tie-up schemes or decommissioning; they want quotas to be allowed and to be allowed to do the job they love. They feel totally abandoned and let down by successive Irish Governments, and they want a fairer distribution.

We need to implement the recommendations of the final report for the very survival of fishing and coastal communities, but this cannot be the end of it. Unless there is a fairer, more balanced and viable approach our communities will be decimated. We need a fairer quota system. This is not only about the overall quota system, but how it is distributed as well. We need to know, in the context of places like Erris where there are no processing plants - which is a failure of the Government - how that money will be spent. Can it be spent on piers, infrastructure and other areas? Article 16, on how quota is divided, is not being implemented properly in Ireland. We have 1,500 vessels of which less than 50 have mackerel entitlements. One medium vessel has an allocation equal to 1,000 smaller vessels. That is not right. The unfair distribution of the quota as it stands must be looked at.

I hope the Minister will take from today's debate what is need for the coastal communities, because the coastal communities and the fishermen in County Mayo feel completely abandoned by this Government. They will not be put off by meetings with no opposition present and no hard questions being asked. We have a responsibility to work together. The Minister has a responsibility in government. Sinn Féin's spokesperson, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, has done Trojan work on this. We want to work with the Minister. We want to get it right, not just for now but for ten and 20 years' time and into future generations.


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