Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Seafood Taskforce Final Report: Statements


2:25 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

One of the major recommendations from the task force interim report is that a month-long voluntary temporary cessation scheme would be offered to 220 whitefish vessels impacted by the quota reductions in the period from September to December. Fishermen have been raising their concerns about their industry since long before the Brexit trade deal was signed prior to Christmas 2020. All concerns put forward by the entire sector have been ignored by the Minister. The Minister's actions have seriously disadvantaged the Irish fishing sector. This has been compounded by the EU ruling that means fish need to be weighed on piers.

The greatest thing that is required for the fishing industry is for the Government to develop a backbone and a willingness to fight at European level to save it from being decimated. That is the one element that has been consistently missing over the last 48 years of our membership of the EU. Successive Governments have been completely subservient to every rule, regulation or guideline that has ever come from the European Union. Successive Governments have failed to recognise the true potential of the Irish fishing industry.

The seafood task force report is a complete distraction from the real impacts of Brexit. It is a deeply cynical move for the Government that failed the sector during the Brexit negotiations to compound its failings further by seeking to decommission large portions of the Irish fleet. All talk now is about burden sharing. Where was the talk about burden sharing 12 months ago and a year and a half ago? The Brexit trade deal must be revisited. The Common Fisheries Policy which is up for renewal shortly must be used to get a better deal for Irish fishers.

Under this Minister's policy on fisheries, some boats are tied up for long periods due to a lack of quota. Bigger boats could be tied up six months of the year now. The same Minister wants to put fishermen and fisherwomen completely out of existence via this report's recommendations. The Brexit deal and the withdrawal of the weighing derogation were two straws that really broke the camel's back within the Irish fishing sector. Brexit took away 15% of our already minimal quotas. That is a really hard blow to the industry. It equated to 25% of the industry's income. Every year for evermore those fish are gone to the UK around the Irish coast. We only have 7.5% of monkfish quota and 3% of hake so it is very low. The EU granted €199 million worth of fish to the UK as part of the Brexit trade deal and out of that Ireland had to give €43 million worth of fish. We consider that to be desperately unfair. The sector is being slashed by an annual cut of at least €43 million simply due to Government sell-out. This will impact the sector every single year. My colleagues in the Rural Independents Group and I highlighted this earlier in the year.

The evidence illustrates that our fisheries Minister and the Government blindly allowed Brussels to give away Irish fishing quota during crucial Brexit negotiations. In doing so, they have betrayed not only the sector and coastal communities but the entire country. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, sold the Irish fishing industry out during the Brexit negotiations. When I raised these issues in the Dáil on numerous occasions this year and last with the Taoiseach, his response was flabbergasting and deflective in nature. He chose to take a defensive and elusive tone which lacked any acknowledgement of the extent of the destruction by this Government of the Irish fishing sector. The Taoiseach's response clearly indicates a deep and uncaring lack of understanding for the sector. This was previously demonstrated when he signed into law a highly destructive penalty points system when he was caretaker Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in August 2020. Replies I have obtained to a series of parliamentary questions confirm that the Government blindly supported the EU negotiators and mandate in the context of the Brexit negotiations. This provides infuriating confirmation that the Irish fishing industry must now pay the price for our Government opting to toe the Brussels line in the Brexit negotiations.

The shocking utter lack of engagement and dialogue with the EU side on behalf of the Irish fisheries sector by the Minister in the months leading up to the Brexit deal is now glaringly obvious. In fact, at his first meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 21 September 2020, the Minister failed to raise the Irish sector's pre-Brexit concerns. At his second meeting on 19 and 20 October 2020, he again failed to table or raise discussions on the Brexit fisheries implications for Ireland. Instead he chose to engage in a rather meaningless three-way bilateral meeting with fisheries Ministers from France, Denmark and Netherlands. At his third EU fisheries meeting on 16 November 2020 no fisheries items whatsoever were raised. One would be forgiven for wondering what was being discussed at such fisheries meetings. Further meetings attended by the Minister on 27 November and 15 and 16 December, at which the Brexit fisheries elements were discussed, point to the Minister acting as a protector of European quota interests rather than a protector of the Irish share of the quota. This new information serves to illustrate the complete blindness with which the Minister and the Government trusted the EU negotiators. It also illustrates that the Minister and the Government strategically chose not to stand up for Irish fishing interests and instead sought praise from the Brussels elite. Sadly, this was at a time when Irish fishermen were depending solely on the Government to protect their interests.

In an overall context, data from Dublin City University indicates that Ireland's share of the total fish catch in the Irish maritime zone is only 15% or 16%. This means that the other 85% is caught by foreign vessels. The Brexit fisheries deal means that Irish vessels are hit with massive quota reductions in neighbouring UK waters while other EU countries got sweet deals. Despite the fact that foreign vessels continue to extract 85% of fish from Irish waters we now have a Government that is hell bent on forging ahead with a wide-scale decommissioning of the Irish fleet, dressed up as some sort of a review process and contained within this report. It is telling that none of the Minister's colleagues from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party are here today to back the Minister up on this stingy deal for the Irish fishermen. Decommission them, get rid of them. That is the plan. All the while, foreign vessels will be allowed to continue fishing our waters. It is no wonder Irish fishing and coastal communities feel let down by the Government. The sector was only seeking a fair distribution of quota, nothing more and nothing less. They were betrayed in that request.

The Government should have made a decision to adopt a much tougher stance during the Brexit negotiations. The Taoiseach failed miserably to clarify why he and his Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine chose to let the Irish fishing sector down. This arrogant and aloof attitude cannot be tolerated as it is destroying the livelihoods of our fishermen and fisherwomen while also destroying coastal communities. It has us now on our knees with a begging bowl in front of Europe. The only solution being offered by the Government is a public relations exercise dressed up as a pathetic review after the fact. This review has one long-term objective, to decommission a large volume of Irish vessels. As a Deputy who has consistently stood shoulder to shoulder with our fishing industry, I will not be accepting this hoodwinking approach. I will continue to fight every day for our fishermen and fisherwomen. I am again calling on the Minister and the Taoiseach to go back to Brussels and seek a greater share of the quota for the Irish fishing vessels, currently 15% or 16% of the Irish maritime zone, in order to make up for the mess created by their own inaction. Failure by the Government to heed this call will result in a decommissioned Irish fleet and almost all fish in Irish waters being caught by foreign vessels due to lazy policies by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and his Minister and Deputies with the support of Fine Gael and the Green Party.

What are the species landed by the Irish fleet that make up the 35% of landings the Minister spoke about earlier? Does he know how many tonnes this amounts to? Is he telling us the full amount caught in Irish waters by every fishing boat of the EU was 300,000 tonnes when the Marine Institute says 3.7 million tonnes were caught by EU vessels in 2020? We have less than 1% of the fish caught in Europe.

Whoever wrote the Minister's report and speech should be retired. Is he aware that the European Commission has written to the SFPA asking about breaches of landing obligations? It is threatening to withdraw millions in funding for our national Naval Service. Is there anyone listening to the industry calling for a level playing pitch? Why are foreign boats sailing in and out of our ports with little or no monitoring of their activities when our fishermen will soon be putting some seats into their boats for the inspectors because there are so many on board so often? We lost access to Rockall, and €5 million worth of squid are gone. Where has the Minister covered this in his report? An additional one-month tie-up is being proposed, which means no fishing and no earnings from other species. This is of little or no help.

There are many issues I could address. The inshore sector has also been badly hit and is on its knees. Coastal and island communities will be hit badly. Nothing can compensate people for losing their livelihood. I refer to people who have fished the sea day and night and went out in rough times to put food on people's plates in this country. No Deputies from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Greens showed up here today. That is a scandalous sign, and it is a scandalous statement by them that they do not support what the Minister is putting before us today. I certainly do not.


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