Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Question 85: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the FGS report on the management of Ireland's inland fisheries will be published; his views on its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28189/05]
In December 2003, my predecessor appointed expert and specialist consultants to undertake a high-level review of the inland fisheries sector in Ireland. An independent steering group was also established to oversee the work of the consultants.
The aim of the review is to deliver a root and branch examination of the State's role and objectives in the inland fisheries sector. The consultants were required: to evaluate the adequacy of the current model for the governance of the inland fisheries sector; to define the current relationship between the Government, the Departments and the inland fisheries sector, and suggest new and more effective models; and to recommend a structure that will contribute to the optimum development of the inland fisheries resource in Ireland.
As I previously advised the House, the report of the first stage of the high-level review of the inland fisheries sector in Ireland was received from the consultants earlier this year. While I appreciate that previous indications were that I expected to publish the report before now, I am sure the Deputy will understand that given the complexity of the issues involved, it was important that the Department had sufficient time to adequately consider the report and its findings and to develop a suitable strategy for the implementation of its recommendations, if accepted by Government.
As part of its consideration, the Department has recently engaged in usual consultation with other Departments to ensure that agreed proposals can be presented to Government. It is my intention to bring this report to Government in the very near future and to have it published as soon as possible thereafter. As the Deputy will appreciate, until such time as the report is presented to Government, I am not in a position to comment on its recommendations or implementation.
That was an outrageous reply given the Minister of State has had the report since May. There is huge uncertainty among the seven fisheries boards. Certain elements of the report have been leaked. Some people in jobs are uncertain as to what they can do or what will be the level of investment. The Minister of State said he is waiting for consultations. What is so extraordinary about the report that it cannot be published?
I have had the report for some months. I took the opportunity to discuss it in detail with the officials and with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey. I then circulated the report to other relevant Departments. I have arranged meetings, which have taken place, involving a number of Departments, including the Departments of Finance, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Arts, Sport and Tourism. The memorandum to Government will be finalised on the basis of these discussions and the formal responses received from them. This is a major review of our inland fisheries and we want to ensure it is absolutely right. Within a matter of weeks the report will be before Government and if accepted I will publish it immediately.
How much were the consultants paid for the report? Did the consultants' brief not include the incorporation of the views of all the vested interests to which the Minister of State has now indicated the report has been circulated for opinion? I assume the consultants would have talked to the key players, North and South, with vested interests, such as those in tourism, to discuss the impact of the report and the further ongoing development needed given the huge under-funding of inland waterways.
The current consultation is not with the industry but with Departments, which does not cost anything. I should have pre-empted the question about the cost and I will advise the Deputy of the cost of the review. However, we recognise the importance of conducting a wide consultation process. The consultants organised a programme of face-to-face consultation meetings and interviews with all of the stakeholders with an interest at national and local level. They also undertook a wide-sweeping range of focus groups and workshop sessions last year. In-depth research has been carried out and I hope this will culminate in changes. While leaks may have taken place and rumours exist, people should refrain from considering these and await the publication of the report at which point I will be anxious to obtain their views.
Is it not extraordinary that a report commissioned in 2003, which the Minister of State has had for almost six months, has still not been published? Who were the consultants and how much they were paid? It is an excuse for not doing anything.
The Minister of State has overall responsibility for marine matters. Does he not feel the report, commissioned by the Department with his imprimatur, should be available for discussion in the industry? It is extraordinary that we have been waiting two years for the report.
The consultants are Farrell Grant Sparks, as I am sure the Deputy is aware. The brief they were given was to carry out a root and branch examination of the central and regional boards, and the Government's involvement in the governance of the sector as well as the involvement of other State bodies, including the Marine Institute, BIM, ESB, Dúchas, as it then was, the EPA and Fáilte Ireland. It is a very detailed report.
It was not done on behalf of the Government. As I recall they were asked to carry it out on behalf of the company. My Department had no involvement.