Thursday, 12 May 2022
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
I want to start my comments by revisiting the issue of Killybegs and the scandal of how it has been handled. The Minister was at a public meeting there in recent weeks and he saw at first hand the scale of the anger and frustration. That is not just today or yesterday as it has been building up for many years. There has to be a solution to this. What is being asked of our industry, fishermen and fish producers in Killybegs is not asked of anybody else anywhere in Europe. I spoke that night and the Minister will have heard my comments, but I want to put them on the Dáil record so anybody with an interest can understand.
As we speak, in Killybegs, in a fish factory that I have seen with my own eyes, when fish are landed to be weighed, in that one factory alone there are ten CCTV cameras trained on the weighing system that belong to and are fully controlled by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, the regulator. SFPA staff can keep an eye while not even leaving their office in Killybegs and they can watch the weighing happening in real time. If they want to be there physically, they can also do that. If they want to go around to the back end of the factory and check the trolleys, and check there is 20 kg in every box and 60 boxes, which is 1.2 tonnes, it is not hard to do. They have cameras trained 24 hours a day and it can be recorded for 31 days.
I ask where in Ireland today is there any industry in the private sector that would accept the regulator having eyes on it 24 hours a day. That is what they are willing to accept in Killybegs to address the concerns that may be there. That is what is in place right now. How on earth can our regulator not tell Europe to look at the scale of the oversight we have, which is unimaginable and would not be tolerated anywhere else in Europe? However, that is the scale we have and that is what we have achieved, and that is still not good enough for the SFPA or, indeed, the Government and the Minister to put to the European Commission. The Minister knows in his heart that it is outrageous, even if there was any justification for the concerns, but we have got to the point where even that is not acceptable.
We are denied quota so we are denying fish to our own fishermen. These factories would love to be producing fish landed by Irish vessels but they have to keep people at work, so vessels from other countries - from Norway and Denmark – have been landing in recent weeks. They land at the pier and no matter what weighing system they use, there is only a 2% allowance for the water. The Minister can imagine blue whiting that has to be maintained at 30%, 40% or 50% volume of refrigerated water to keep it fresh in order to comply with European food safety regulations. Yet, there is only a 2% allowance for the water even though it is about 30% or 40% water to keep it fresh and safe. The Minister can clearly see that that is madness, whereas it can just be taken up to the factory, where there are ten CCTV cameras trained on it. This is bureaucratic madness and the Minister knows it is wrong, but it is not getting sorted out.
To make things worse, rather than turn their fish for human consumption into fish meal, two of the vessels landed in Derry and 40 trailers transported the fish to Killybegs just to make a point. We must remember that the harbour in Derry is designated as a European Union harbour and it is included in the Irish protocol that we are all talking about right now. Our own Irish State agency is now saying to these factories in Killybegs, which were just making a point that this is bureaucratic madness, that their weighing permits are being removed and it is taking their livelihood away from them in real terms because they landed in a harbour “outside of Ireland”. They are suggesting that Derry is outside of Ireland. They are doing the British Conservative party's job for it. They are basically enforcing a hard border and ignoring the protocol that we all fought for. The Minister knows that is the political reality, whatever way they want to phrase it.
I state again that there are seven designated harbours in the North of Ireland. My understanding is that 150 landings of fish came through the North to Irish fish producers in the last four months, and some 35% of the seafood that comes into the Twenty-six Counties - the Republic of Ireland - comes through the North. This is the practice. I believe that what is happening is vindictive. I believe the factories that made a stand, stood up for themselves and said they cannot take this anymore, that this is totally unreasonable and would not be seen anywhere in Europe, are being punished for making that stand.
The Minister cannot let this continue. I appeal to the Minister and the Taoiseach, who stands over the shared island plan and the shared island unit that is funded and envisioned by him. How on earth can we talk about a shared island when we say that to land fish in Derry is outside of Ireland? We know what is happening here. These factories took a stand. The community in Killybegs took a stand. They said they are not going to be criminalised anymore, they are not going to let themselves be misrepresented and they are not going to destroy their industry. Boats will just turn away if this is the way they are going to be treated and if there is a chance that their catch could be devalued in that way.
I am taking all of my speaking time today on this issue. There are so many things I could say about fisheries but I am asking the Minister and the Taoiseach to please intervene with the SFPA to return to common sense and to make sure that the people of the south-west Donegal and Killybegs have a future in the fishing industry. I ask them to please do that as urgently as they can.