Thursday, 9 December 2021
Seafood Taskforce Final Report: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. I am not going to claim I am as knowledgeable about fishing as many who live in coastal areas. My analysis is that much of what is happening has been driven by bad EU policy down through the years. It seems that the EU, as a combination of nations, wants the big monopoly to do everything. One time a builder could go to the council and tender for three, four or five houses and build them; now, if an area is being developed, the builder's bonds and turnover will not be big enough. Unless you are a big builder getting funding from somewhere abroad, meaning you have the necessary turnover, you are not considered. The HSE has gone down the same road. It wants one supplier to do all - the big guru that will have it all. Regarding roads right around the country, the thresholds related to turnover are quite unbelievable. Consider the case of Irish Water. Regarding group water schemes, we used to have a saying down the country that a tractor, transport box, digger and a couple of people would do the job. Now people are given a region and if their turnover is not big enough for it, even though they might have done the job down through the years for 100 or 150 houses, they are regarded as too small. They are being shoved into a corner as subbies, and they have to sub off those who are able to control a whole area. It appears that the EU, in all its legislation, wants bodies to be dealing with one person. The job goes out to tender, a decision is made on turnover, and then it is a case of bye-bye. The sad reality of this, no more than in the fishing sector, is that we had companies that came from Spain and other parts of the world to tender for work here. Some of the outcomes were not very favourable. The practice leaves Irish people scratching their heads.
When I hear about fishing, the Brexit deal and some of the proposals, decommissioning comes to mind. Decommissioning is taking people away from the work they were doing, to put it very simply. People have to sell their boats and are offered a few measly pounds. It reminds me of the time of the beet issue in Ireland, when farmers were sold a pup, to put it very clearly. Why are we, as a country, constantly stopping things that give people a living and then saying, with hindsight, that we should never have done so as it left us exposed? Let me give a case in point. In Europe, we are like a little bird within the nest with our beak open because we are waiting for gas so we will not perish to death. It is the same with fertiliser. We are relying on countries that are sparring with the likes of Russia. They are trying to kick Russia in the mouth but, at the same time, we want their gas. Tariffs are put on things. The whole exercise by the EU has to be questioned. The only area where the penny might have dropped for it is the farming sector. I have said before that I support the Minister on convergence, but in 2000 or 1999 it was a matter of punching as many bullocks as you could, at nine months and 18 months. The more land and bullocks you had, the bigger your payment was, but the small fellow or lady with a few cows on ten, 20, 30 or 40 acres did not have the money to do this and ended up at the bottom of the ladder. That is why we have lost so many farmers in the farming sector. It became unviable for the poor devils. The EU now seems to be driving towards having one big commercial operator, farmer, fisherman and builder. The aim is to have one in each sector so that when invoices come in, you do not have to be looking at 40 little subbies torturing you or ringing you; you just look at one. That is not the way to build communities.
When the EU started off, it was a community, the greatest thing that ever was. However, we seem to be heading towards what it calls fiscal union. It is like marriage; it is either love or divorce, one or the other. The EU needs to have a ferocious rethink. Ireland has the biggest area of fishing waters in Europe but we seem to have got the worst deal. I am not referring to the Minister's time but to when the deal was being divvied out. We got a ferociously bad deal. Now, with Brexit and the tightening that is coming, other countries are also looking for the few fish left in the waters we are talking about. We are blocked from going over to theirs, so our people fishing in our waters for our fish are the big losers.
Let me outline the sad part. I am no expert in fishing but watch what is going on. I watched a ship that came from Australia to fish in our waters. I would say it would gulp more in 15 minutes than 200 fishing boats that we would have going out from our little ports. The difference is that the 200 little fishing boats that go out from our little ports involve 200 families that are living in 200 areas and helping 200 communities and others in business. We do not seem to get this into our heads. I hate to hear the word "decommission". Consider the likes of Bord na Móna and the palaver and PR that comes out - I call it the BS - about having created this, that and the other. We should compare the number of people working seven years ago with the number working today. It is by doing this that you add up whether people are better or worse off, not by saying we have such a thing coming in, that we are going to re-wet this and do this, that and the other. It is absolute BS. What the gurus can say in the media is unbelievable.
We have to stand up for the Irish fisherpeople. I was talking to Deputy Cairns yesterday evening. She is from a fishing area with small fishing boats. She said the fisherpeople never got the infrastructure needed in their area to help them. We should make sure that we provide the smaller communities - be they in Donegal, Kinsale or Wexford, or at any of the other ports - with the infrastructure they need to do what they can.
I listened to Deputy Michael Collins talk about putting in extra seats. It is a damnable thing to have to put in a seat in a boat for someone else to join you basically to shaft you. We have to stand up for rural communities on the periphery. They are on the coast. They are as important as anyone else in any other part of Ireland. We have to watch that Europe does not try to bully us into doing a horse deal on something: "Do you sacrifice one thing for the other?" I know there will always be trading, but it is a sad day when we own the biggest area of fishing water in Europe and we come out with the worst part of the deal. Everyone welcomes new technology, but you must liaise with and work with people. I have seen lobster pots and so on in respect of which cables are brought in. Basically, those fishers were told, "You have to get out of the way or we will drive through you." That is no way to work with people who have been in communities for years and years. Some of these foreign ministers barely have a pond in their area, not to mind a bit of sea. They should not be entitled to make decisions for us, given that we have such a big fishing area. We have a common travel area for flying with the Brits, and I am damn sure we can do something ourselves, whatever about Europe. I have always believed that people should look after their own and let the rest look after themselves. That is my honest opinion. We need to make sure we look after our fishermen and fisherwomen around the country.