Thursday, 1 December 2005
Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).
I welcome the opportunity to again address the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill. I welcome friends of mine in the Gallery from the Sacred Heart school in Killinarden, Tallaght. While Tallaght is a long way from the sea, people there have a big interest——
The Minister of State is clearly listening because I said last week that Deputy O'Donovan and other Fianna Fáil colleagues did not seem to be particularly happy. This week, however, and particularly today, I notice that Deputy O'Donovan is going around with a spring in his step, so matters have changed somewhat.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I welcome the fact the Leader of the Opposition is so interested in my contribution that he is staying to listen. I appreciate that.
Last week during this debate a number of colleagues talked about the tragedy of the Pisces and the effect this had on the community in Wexford. This week the wider community is deeply affected by the loss of the Rising Sun. We have all watched with horror that story unfolding during the week, and the loss of the fishermen, Mr. Pat Colfer and Mr. Jimmy Meyler. I wish their colleague, Mr. Ian Tierney, well in his recovery. Our hearts go out to all the families and the community in Kilmore Quay and the wider area of County Wexford. I offer my deepest sympathies as do my colleagues.
Those of us who have come through the bad weather in Dublin this morning can only imagine what it is like out on the seas. We have heard many accounts this week of the bravery of the coast guard and naval services as well as the lifeboat in Kilmore Quay. As someone who represents a largely urban area, I still have a great feel for the sea. I have said on other occasions that my paternal grandfather died at sea. It is good that we should applaud the efforts being made and I hope the Minister of State will take note of that.
I made a number of comments last week in terms of this legislation in my roles both as public representative and consumer. I think the Ceann Comhairle will agree as to the merits of eating fish. When I did the cardiac rehabilitation course at Tallaght hospital, the emphasis was very much on healthy eating. Fish was high on the agenda and I am always happy to stress its importance in our diet. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, will understand my interest in that regard. The main purpose of the Bill is to revise and amend the existing body of legislation relating to marine matters, particularly sea fisheries. It would be reasonable, therefore, to assume the legislation to be revised has been given careful consideration, and I have put that on the record.
One section of the Bill deals with the whole question of firearms and their use. I am glad that the use of firearms has been eliminated. The Naval Service has laid down strict standard operational procedures as to when a naval vessel may open fire on another boat. That is not what the section appeared to be saying and I am glad of the Minister of State's intervention in that regard. It is important to point out that only the Minister may give that particular directive. The subsection specifically mentions the power in the context of an order from a sea fisheries protection officer. We are rightly proud of the Defence Forces and we do not expect them or the Garda to be instructed to open fire on salmon poachers. The guns on our naval vessels must be seen as quite powerful. If they were fired at a fishing boat, they would have a devastating effect. I consider their use in circumstances where a fishing vessel may be illegally fishing to be an extreme provision.
The subsection refers to the use of a gun to fire a signal, so I presume this means firing blank ammunition. I suggest that fire star shell flares could be fired. I do not suggest that the Naval Service would be happy to open fire. I have every confidence in its ability to judge the situation in which it finds itself and take the appropriate action. The legislation could be clearer in this respect so I applaud the Minister of State's efforts to this end.
I acknowledge the presence of my colleague, Deputy Walsh, the former Minister for Agriculture and Food, who shares an office block with me. I have never had the opportunity of publicly applauding the efforts he made over the years. Even though I represent a major urban area such as Tallaght, there is also a rural community in my constituency in Bohernabreena and Brittas. Deputy Walsh did much for those areas and I am happy to acknowledge that.
Section 25 deals with assaults on sea fishery officers and provides that the person who assaults the officer may be fined up to €5,000 or serve a prison sentence of a maximum of five years. It rightly does not mention opening fire on the person with guns. Assaulting a sea fisheries protection officer is a much more serious offence than poaching. I hope no one asks me about my attitude to poaching as I believe it is quite law abiding. I am happy to support the Minister of State in his efforts to pass this Bill.
I will not be fooled by the spring in the step of Deputy O'Donovan or any other seaside Deputy just because the Bill will not be rushed through the Houses before Christmas. There is still no change and the Bill will still be passed. We would not be discussing the Bill if it were not to be enacted. As the Government has a majority, I presume it will go through.
I cannot understand the logic of the Government. The Bill is the opposite of what is needed and the Government does not seem to know what it is doing on fisheries policy. Rather than having a fresh partnership approach to the management of fish stocks around the coast, this Bill is simply a mixture of extreme and over the top measures which will serve no purpose other than to drive a deeper wedge between the fishing industry and the legislators who are supposed to be working for the good of everyone. The Bill is certainly not the answer and it is a wasted opportunity to improve the fishing industry. Movements within the industry have been crying out for change over the years. I cannot believe that there is a section in the Bill which provides for the use of firearms against fishing vessels. The Minister of State has agreed to withdraw that, but it is hard to imagine the Naval Service firing at or into a boat.
Fine Gael has often spoken out against the high levels of fines imposed on Irish fishermen in comparison with the EU average. I call on the Minister of State to decriminalise minor fishing offences. The Bill represents an ideal opportunity to introduce such a change. The following changes should be made in this Bill. It must provide for administrative and graded sanctions. It must also decriminalise fisheries offences. According to published EU data, 86% of all EU fisheries offences are now dealt with by way of administrative action. Why are we not acting in this way? I cannot understand that.
The section relating to seafood manager should be deleted in its entirety. This move will not improve control and enforcement. As laid out in this Bill, the seafood manager lacks accountability and sidelines the role of the Minister. Instead, a fully independent office should be established.
The automatic confiscation of catching gear must be changed to allow the issue to be decided at the discretion of the courts. This provision only applies to Irish vessels and that is particularly appalling. The fines and penalties in the Bill lack proportionality and must be reduced and changed. We need to enforce the principle that serious fishing offences attract serious penalties, but we must not push for harsh penalties for minor offences. Such a position will not be of benefit to anybody involved in the industry.
There is something very strange about this Bill. There seemed to be a great rush to get it through the Houses before Christmas, which has eased following talks with the Whips. I am always suspicious of legislation that is rushed. I was in this House when the famous rod licence Bill was rushed through Parliament. The Fianna Fáil Government of the day spent two years trying to defend the rod licence Bill, but it eventually had to be scrapped as it divided communities and was a serious misjudgment of legislation. Another example of rushed legislation occurred last year when the Tánaiste tried to push through the nursing home charges Bill before Christmas last year only to find out in January that it was unconstitutional. Rushed legislation is bad legislation.
I have not seen such opposition to a Bill since the rod licence legislation. Even Government Members have expressed opposition to it. Deputy O'Flynn, who is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, expressed his opposition, as did Deputy O'Donovan who is from a constituency with fishing interests. How will they vote on Second Stage? Rumours have been circulating that the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, is against the Bill. How could a Minister of State come before the Dáil to push a Bill through the House and pretend that he is against it? He should clarify his position. You cannot be in Opposition in Donegal and in Government in Dublin. It would be much better to be in Government in Donegal and to be in the Opposition in Dublin if you are serious about being against this Bill.
If everyone is against this Bill, why is it going through the Houses? Is it not significant that only one of our MEPs supports this Bill? Why does the Minister of State want the Bill to go through at this time? Does he know something we do not? If he does, he should share it with us so that we may see the light in what he is trying to do. I can see no logic in it. If he has acquired some secret knowledge from the EU or from his officials, he should let us know. This House is the place where we can put things right in legislation.
We are being asked to debate and pass a law, the true meaning of which remains unknown. The Minister of State should not leave gaping holes to be later filled by regulation.
That is a serious matter. Sidelining the Oireachtas and giving this Minister, or future Ministers, power by regulation is not the correct way to pass legislation. How can Members know what Minister will be responsible in the future? Perhaps the next Minister will not even represent a marine constituency. However, although we have such a Minister now, he does not appear to be heeding what fishermen want.
As multinationals come and go, we should learn to support our home industries, which will always remain in Ireland. As an island nation, we need to protect our fishing industry. In this respect, we can learn from our EU neighbours. Across Europe, the majority of member states deal with fisheries offences by way of administrative penalties. For example, in Spain in 2001, only four out of 3,500 fisheries offences went to the courts. Under existing legislation, all fisheries offences in Ireland are tried through the criminal courts. The subsequent fines imposed are significantly higher than anywhere else in Europe. This has been acknowledged by a number of EU Commission reports. Moreover, a criminal conviction for any person can have serious repercussions. This should not be the case in this respect. For example, criminal convictions are likely to interfere with fishermen's civil liberties. Many fishing families have children in America and possession of a criminal record might debar such fishermen from being able to visit their relatives in the United States. That is a serious matter which does not apply to other EU countries.
The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has consistently failed to manage our sea fishing resources. It has allowed the pelagic fish fleet to increase over the last number of years. The effect of the arrival of larger ships has been to increase the capacity of the pelagic fishing fleet by approximately 20%, at a time when we already had over-capacity in respect of our own quotas. The new super-trawlers have the capacity to travel further distances and to land their catches abroad. For example, in 2004, 75% of the pelagic mackerel quota was landed abroad. Large fish processing factories in County Donegal, such as those operated by Eurofish, Polarfish, Donegal Co-operative and Burtonport Fishermen's Co-operative, have closed in the past 18 months, due to the Department's mismanagement. Many of the remaining 14 fish processing factories will close due to lack of supplies if the current trend of mismanagement, control and enforcement is allowed to continue. We will become an island which has the richest fishing grounds in Europe but which has no fishing industry.
If the Department and the Minister put half the energy and resources into the fishing negotiations in Brussels as they have put into pushing through this legislation, it would be much more beneficial to the coastal communities and to the fishing industry. It is accepted, even by members of the Government, that our fishing industry was sacrificed during the EU entry negotiations in 1973. The catch by other countries from our waters is conservatively estimated at more than €2 billion per annum. At the Common Fisheries Policy review in 2002, we had an opportunity to renegotiate our position. A half-hearted delegation was led by the then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who had only recently assumed responsibility for this portfolio. The result was that nothing was gained for the fishing industry.
The same Department now wishes to introduce this draconian legislation to close what is left of our fishing industry and to leave our quotas to be fished by factory ships and super-trawlers, with no benefit to Ireland. The House should be debating the squandering of the country's resources by successive Fianna Fáil Governments, as well as by the Department. The last thing this industry needs is draconian and ill-conceived legislation designed only to cover up the mess created by the Department and the Minister, which is out of line with the norm in other European countries.
For example, ten years ago, more than 40 trawlers were based in Rossaveal Harbour in my constituency. This number has now been reduced to 15. The main fish processing factory there, Iasc Mara Teoranta, employed 400 people at its peak. A total of 30 people are employed there now. That is a scandalous running down of this industry in Ireland. The feeling in Rossaveal is that this will get worse and that the industry is irrelevant to the Government. In the last Fianna Fáil-PD Government, Galway West was represented by the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Frank Fahey, who promised €29 million and a deepwater pier for Rossaveal. While I acknowledge that some work was done on the pier, that promise, like many others made by that Minister, was never fulfilled. Rossaveal still awaits its urgently required deepwater pier which will not now be delivered.
Our fishing industry is in an extremely serious downward spiral. It is important in my constituency of Galway West as well as to all communities on the western seaboard. If fishermen continue to be treated in this fashion, they will leave the industry, in a manner similar to what is taking place in the farming sector. Ireland has richer fishing waters than any other EU state. It would be a crime if the Minister's legislation was the last nail in the fishing industry's coffin.
The ever-increasing fishing legislation and complicated regulatory framework has led us to a point whereby fishermen find it difficult to keep up to date with Irish and EU legislation. Regulations dealing with the management of fisheries have become extremely complicated. This Bill will only add to the mountain of legislation. Imagine a 76 page Bill containing more than 70 complicated sections or paragraphs. In effect, Members are being asked to debate and pass legislation, whose true meaning and extent remains unknown to them. The Minister should not leave gaping holes in the Bill to be filled later by regulation.
The sidelining of the Oireachtas is wrong. Placing regulatory power in the hands of this or any other Minister is a dangerous weapon. While this Bill should support the fishing industry, instead it will provide further hardship for the men and women who form the backbone of one of our most important indigenous industries.
As multinationals come and go, we must learn to support those industries which will always stay in Ireland. Across Europe, the majority of member states deal with fisheries offences by way of administrative penalties. Those found guilty of contravening quota notices will face fines nearly €10,000 higher than existing legislation allows. One of the most dramatic increases is for those found in contravention of a licence. Those found guilty of that offence will face fines nearly ten times higher than those in existing legislation. This Bill will raise the fine from €12,697 to €100,000. This Bill will only add to mountains of regulations.
In addition to these fines, there is also the issue of confiscation of catch and gear. Currently, there is automatic confiscation of gear and catch at Circuit Court level. However, this confiscation provision is only automatically applied to Irish vessels coming before the court. Why does the court have discretion on whether to confiscate catch and gear in the case of foreign vessels?
The EU report on behaviours which seriously infringed the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy highlighted the following fines. For fishing without a licence, on average one faces fines of €1,463 in Spain. In Ireland the equivalent amount is €21,400. Some fines proposed in this Bill are ten times higher than the current fines. For a logbook offence in Denmark, one would probably face a fine of €393. In Ireland, the same offence would cost €8,455. In the United Kingdom, if one is found to be fishing for a species which is subject to prohibition, one faces a fine of €2,328. In Ireland, the same offence would result in a fine of €23,125
How this can be considered an equal playing field is beyond me. This gives the impression that not only do we not support the Irish fishing fleet, but we try to stamp it out.
Representatives from the Irish fishing industry have been campaigning for the implementation of a fairer and more appropriate system, with penalties which fit the offence. This campaign has attempted to change the existing legislation. However, the implementation of the Bill in its current form will have an even more detrimental impact on the Irish fishing industry than the existing legislation. These are genuine and serious concerns about some of the proposals in the Bill. I wish the Minister of State would come clean and inform the House on the real thinking behind them because nobody seems to understand them.
If so, it will deny me, as a Member of this House, the opportunity to participate because I am not on the committee that will deal with the Bill. Committee Stage should be dealt with in the Dáil so every Member, the public and the press have an opportunity to see the amendments that will be made and rejected, or voted down by a Government majority. It is not right that Committee Stage will be taken when the Dáil will be in recess.
It is only an attempt to pass the Bill without the press, the fishermen and public knowing what the Minister of State is trying to achieve. The Minister of State will have every opportunity to answer any points I have made when he or one of his colleagues is replying at the end of this debate. I challenge him to tell us clearly what is behind his attitude to this Bill. There is no use in his talking out of the corner of his mouth and saying the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, introduced the Bill and that he is not for it at all.
There is no use in him saying it was drawn up before he entered office. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, is responsible for marine affairs. If he is really not in favour of the Bill, he should say so and allow it to be withdrawn. Alternatively, if he feels he must push it through on behalf of the Government and his officials, he should say so. However, he should spell out the reason for dealing with the Bill in this way and at this time.
I hope it is not live ammunition that is being fired across the House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House on the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005. I welcome the debate and the fact that a contribution has been made by Deputies on all sides of the House and from all areas of the country, not just the coastal constituencies.
The focus on fishing is long overdue and our native Governments have neglected the industry in a major way over the years. It is only in recent years that attention has been turned to developing the industry to realise its potential. Since my election in 1977, I have seen a major transition in the industry in Cork South-West, particularly in the ports of Castletownbere, Union Hall, Skull, Kinsale and Baltimore. It is the major industry in the constituency and, along with tourism and farming, it makes up the mainstay of employment. I am thankful the fleet and harbours have been modernised over the period. An initiative was taken by Fianna Fáil to modernise the fleet in 1997 and I thank Deputy Woods in this regard as he was Minister that year. It was a very futuristic and innovative development because, at the time, the average age of the Irish fleet was in excess of 30 years. It was the second oldest whitefish fleet in Europe. Fishing families can now be more content that the fishermen are at sea in much safer vessels than those of previous generations.
When discussing legislation and regulations, it is easy to forget that there is a human side to the industry. Fishermen have to go out in appalling and dangerous weather conditions. I wish some of the people drafting the relevant regulations would take a trip to sea now and again to note the extent of the danger and difficulties fishermen must endure. People do not fully appreciate the isolated nature of our coastal communities. Fishing is central to the economic and social lives of many coastal regions. If these areas did not have fishing, there would be no other source of employment. It is a pity there is not better access to many of the coastal ports. Having said that, access is improving. Roadways are improving a little, but not quickly enough, and the same is the case for harbours and piers. Technology, especially telecommunications technology, is improving but it will be some time before ports such as Castletownbere have broadband technology such as exists in the major technology and business parks in other parts of the country. To say peripherality is being addressed is not quite true and we must pay more attention to coastal communities and towns.
I know from my constituents that the fishing industry is going through a difficult time, particularly as a result of high fuel costs. Given the highly capitalised nature of the industry, increases in the cost of borrowing will have a major impact on the viability of the industry. I know fishermen who have to extend their credit periods, just as homeowners extend their mortgages. It is in this context and in light of the aforementioned social and economic issues that we need to discuss this legislation. In my three decades as a Member, I discovered that the vast majority of fishermen are sturdy and brave people. They have tremendous energy and capacity for hard work in dangerous and difficult conditions. Treating these people like criminals is not right in our modern democracy. A constituent called me recently to tell me that he had been fined €700 for having two untagged salmon. He is trying to build a house, get married and settle down. To be fined €700 for two untagged salmon was quite difficult.
Another constituent was tried in the Circuit Court because the value of his over-quota fish was €1,200. His fine was €5,000. His gear and catch were automatically confiscated, resulting in a total penalty of almost €25,000.
I do not know any other industry where this can happen. I had responsibility for agriculture for some time. Farmers would not have their milking parlours, fattening units or their wherewithal confiscated, nor would truck drivers have their means of livelihood confiscated. It just would not happen.
Had this vessel been foreign, the judge would have had discretion about the confiscation of gear and catch. I am aware there is a differentiation between people who are caught fishing illegally in foreign vessels and those who are just caught within the waters. Nonetheless, foreign vessels are treated differently from Irish vessels. It is difficult to comprehend how we can have that anomaly.
In addition, people who are tried and convicted in the Circuit Court have a criminal record. That is serious baggage for any citizen to carry and it causes untold difficulties. It is extremely serious for a young person to have a conviction as a result of a fishery offence. It is a severe way to treat people in this industry. I, as a parent, and parents in general would be slow to encourage their offspring to go into this industry. Parents will encourage their children to seek their livelihood in some other part of the economy where there will be a better and warmer reception for them and a degree of encouragement rather than a system that imposes outrageous penalties for relatively minor offences.
I am aware that we will be given the usual official line that there will be difficulties in Brussels if we do not enact this legislation.
I have always encouraged officials to find reasonable solutions in a reasonable atmosphere. Unfortunately, in this case we are being given all the reasons that we cannot do something as opposed to why we can. Finding obstacles rather than a resolution appears to be the attitude.
We must also ask if it is an appropriate use of court time to clog up the courts with minor offences to do with log books and so forth. We should not use the courts. I agree with the views of other Members on all sides of the House who said we should treat many of these minor offences as administrative matters. It does not make sense to put fishermen with relatively minor log book offences, for example, side by side in court with drug dealers and other hardened criminals. If this is the way we treat hard working people in a difficult industry, I do not believe we have a vision for a modern fishery industry. We must ask ourselves if it is a priority to develop this natural resource industry. At the very minimum, there should be a differentiation between major and minor offences.
I have severe difficulties with the detail of the Bill. In light of what I have said, it is essential that the Bill decriminalise the majority of fishery offences. Only serious fishery infringements should attract criminal proceedings. The Bill contains no provision for the decriminalisation of minor fishery offences and this runs contrary to the European system of dealing with such offences where 86% of them are dealt with administratively. We will get legal advice that we should not deal with them administratively and that the court system should deal with them. What other advice would one get from a legal person other than that things should be dealt with in the legal system? It is part of the old boys' club.
The European Commission representative at the recent JIC hearing stated that the Commission favours administrative sanctions over criminal proceedings. Why are they not included in the proposed legislation? There is no European impediment and surely we are capable of overcoming any domestic impediments. If a system is good enough for almost 90% of Europe, it can be applied in Ireland. One example I have been made aware of is that of Denmark where, if a vessel commits an offence at sea, it is handed a ticket by the navy and must return to port. The navy can continue to patrol the seas rather than escorting the vessel to port, as happens in Ireland. When the offending vessel arrives in port it must tie up for a period. This appears to be a sensible approach. It is dissuasive for the vessel, preserves the quota and does not use valuable naval and court resources. I am sure that if we examine the methods of control being practised by our EU neighbours, we will find a reasonable alternative. What we are seeking here is fairness and reasonableness and less of the jackboot attitude.
The second major issue I have with this Bill is the automatic confiscation of gear and catch for Irish vessels. If in other professions the means of livelihood were confiscated, the economy would not work. In a democracy it is an outrage. I cannot fathom it. As legislators, we cannot preside over this two tier approach any longer. It is time to address it and this Bill provides us with the opportunity to do so. I am glad the guillotine has been removed from debate on this legislation and that an opportunity will be provided for debate on Committee Stage. Even if one is not a member of an Oireachtas committee, one can attend and contribute to the meeting. There is also a public gallery in the committee rooms.
I will welcome Members making telling contributions in the debate on this Bill.
It is also worth noting the EU report on behaviour which seriously infringes the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy in Ireland. Ireland did not supply any figures for the 2003 report and having looked at the 2002 report, I can see why. The previous speaker referred to the average fines in Ireland and the average fines in Europe. The fact that the fines in Ireland are a multiple of those in Europe speaks volumes for our attitude to this industry. Nonetheless, despite the fact that our fines are so much higher than those imposed in Europe, this Bill proposes to increase them even further. The fine for the use of illegal nets, for example, is being increased from €63,000 to €100,000, the fine for contravention of quota notices is being increased from €25,000 to €35,000, and the fine for fishing in contravention of licences is being increased from €12,000 to up to €100,000.
The Minister would be neutered and sidelined. If we table a parliamentary question we will be told the Minister has no official responsibility for the matter and can wash his or her hands of it. This is not the way modern democracy should work. We have been elected, and fishermen make up part of the electorate of those of us elected in coastal regions, to speak for the people in Dáil Éireann. Now we are proposing to set up a seafood control manager who would be outside the reach of the publicly elected people in a democracy. This goes too far, and there should be accountability to this House and transparency.
The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher understands the industry and has a feel for it.
He wishes to develop the industry during his watch, and we want to help him. It would be an understatement to say that I would be disappointed if we do not emerge with a vastly improved Bill. The input of Members is what democracy is about. I still worry about the original drafters of this Bill, and the hostility towards the industry in the drafting of some of the sections is mind-boggling. I am a firm believer that the Minister of the day should have ultimate responsibility for the staff in his or her Department. The Minister should be available to Oireachtas committees, the Committee of Public Accounts and various statutory controls over high officials. This seafood control manager should be no different.
On the first reading of the proposed Bill, I was astonished to see the provision for the use of firearms. It may be the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Horatio Nelson, but I am not sure about the use of guns in the fishing context. I am glad the Minister of State brought his personal intervention to bear on the matter. The inflammatory section will be well and truly deleted. Thankfully, the Minister of State's commonsense and knowledge of the industry has been brought to bear on the issue.
It lacks credibility to simply suggest that Brussels is forcing our hand on the matters. We need a national strategy for this tremendous natural resource industry which has been neglected for so long. In the late 1990s I established a high level group to develop a strategy for the agriculture industry, entitled the 2010 study. This allowed examination of what the first decade of the new millennium would have to offer the industry. Before I left the post of Minister last year a mid-term refreshment of the national strategy was carried out. Is there such a strategy for our seafood industry? I ask the Minister of State to ensure that a similar strategy is developed quickly.
Seafood should be a part of the overall food industry. However, the Estimate for Bord Iascaigh Mhara is minuscule. BIM must develop the fleet and the seafood industry, and we are often told that seafood is so healthy and we must have quality and a modern industry. We are selling the industry short with the pittance that BIM has to develop the industry and promote the seafood element. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure there is a worthwhile and substantial budget for our native and natural seafood industry.
Having spoken to fishermen, I know they are despondent and morale is extremely low in the industry. They may be wondering if this Bill is the final nail in the coffin of the industry. They want encouragement, and we are depending on the Minister of State to safeguard the industry, restore morale and give people in the industry a future, both for themselves and their families. I would like to think that fishermen could say to their families that there is future in the industry, that a decent living can be made and that the workers will be valued members of the Irish democracy. I would also like to believe they could see themselves as a significant and influential part of our economy.
I wish to know in the grand scheme of things where our fishing and seafood industry comes with regard to the Celtic tiger. I do not see it mentioned or hear of it making an impact in many of the economic reports, and I would like to see this remedied. One fisherman said last week "if there is meant to be so much money in fishing, why are people looking to decommission vessels?" In my own constituency, nine vessels, all over 18m in length, have been accepted for decommissioning in the first tranche announced last week.
We clearly need regulations for the industry, and as legislators we must be wise to the type of legislation that will take us into the next decade and beyond. We must be fair and balanced with the legislation. We should encourage people into the industry and help them rather than drive them out of business by introducing penalties that far exceed measures taken in the rest of Europe at this time. I am confident the suggested amendments I outlined earlier will be taken on board by the Minister of State. He has a tremendous understanding of the industry, probably a better understanding than any other person in the House. These proposed improvements would also gather cross-party support and I know they have the backing of the entire fishing industry.
Deputy Walsh is a reasonable man. Will he vote against the Bill if it is not withdrawn? That would be the real test. Deputies on the Government side of the House can talk and be against the Bill but they will vote for it.
Tá áthas orm an seans a fháil labhairt sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo ar an mBille Iascaigh Mara agus Dlínse Mhuirí 2005. Cé gur Bille tábhachtach é, beidh Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ag vótáil ina choinne ag deireadh na díospóireachta seo ar an Dara Céim; míneoidh mé cén fáth ar ball. Tagaim ó dháilcheantar a bhfuil an-bhaint aige le cúrsaí farraige agus iascaireachta. Tá calafoirt iascaigh againn, ina measc, Rinn na Síóg, An Pasáiste Thoir, An Dún Mór Thoir, Dún na mBreatan, Heilbhic agus cinn eile beaga nach iad. Ag dul siar, sa 17ú aois bhíodh 5,000 fear ag fágáil slán leis na céanna i bPort Láirge gach Feabhra chun dul a dh'iascaireacht thart ar Thalamh an Éisc. Tá an bhaint sin ag an dáilcheantar le cúrsaí iascaireachta. Dá bhrí sin, tá an-suim ag muintir Phort Láirge agus, ar ndóigh, ag Teachtaí Dála, Seanadóirí agus comhairleoirí an cheantair i gcúrsaí mar sin.
The Waterford constituency has a very long tradition in fishing. In the 1700s there was a significant connection between Waterford and Newfoundland, which was discovered in 1497 by John Cabot. It has been said that if one put down a bucket tied to a rope into the sea at the time, it would catch cod because that fish was so plentiful at that stage. It is also said that at one stage, 25% of the European population was fed on cod from that general area.
There has been scientific indication that the stocks were in trouble some years ago and in 1992 the cod fishery was closed. The result was that 40,000 jobs were lost in an economy where alternative employment is difficult to provide. My information is that there has been no recovery in the stocks which are holding their own but no more than that. An interesting point in this regard is that the female cod traditionally tended to breed in year seven. Nature has its own way of dealing with problems and owing to the current pressure on stocks, the female cod is breeding from year four on. However, there has been no recovery in the stocks.
I wish to relate this issue to the situation pertaining to Irish stocks of Atlantic salmon. A story from the 19th century tells that apprentices in Limerick won a concession from their masters to the effect that they could not be fed salmon on more than three days a week. The obvious indication is that the stocks were strong at that time. However, stocks in Ireland are now in serious decline. Since 2002 the sector has failed to reach its own quota. In 2002 the quota was 219,649 tags but only 208,982 were used. In 2003 the quota was reduced to 182,000 but the catch was just 168,819. The scientific advisory group recommended 124,500 tags for the 2005 quota, although the National Salmon Commission later increased this to 139,900 tags. However, what concerns me is that just over 70,000 fish were caught, based on the number of tags used. This is less than 50% of the catch in 2004 when 145,453 salmon were caught from a quota of 161,965. The sector is failing to reach its quota.
The time is more than ripe for the introduction of a buyout system for drift net, draft net and snap net commercial salmon fishermen. In his most recent reply to me, the Minister of State indicated that he is considering a proposal that was put to him. However, to date he has not shown any great enthusiasm for a buyout.
Salmon licences are important in my constituency. While the fishermen who hold those licences do not earn their whole income from salmon, their salmon income is in decline and many would voluntarily opt for a buyout system provided it is fair. I emphasise that it must be fair. A buyout would be an important way of ensuring the maintenance of salmon stocks which are a major part of our history, heritage and tradition through the years, particularly an bradán feasa — the salmon of knowledge.
The Stop Drift Net Fishing Now campaign has proposed the methodology for a plan that would cost €25 million over a five-year period and which would be partially funded by the recreational salmon fishing licence holders paying an extra €50 for their annual licences. The anglers lobby has a legitimate place in this debate. Indeed, the tourism industry is very much to the fore in promoting salmon fishing.
The tagging system must be carefully considered in all its aspects. Older fishermen often continue fishing because it helps to finance the third level studies of their grandchildren. Particular individuals and families feel a great sense of history and heritage in their involvement over many years in salmon fishing and they would be reluctant to withdraw. For any buyout system to be successful, it must be voluntary. If some fishermen do not want to avail of the buyout, they should be restricted to the sort of quota of tags they would have had if no buyout had been introduced. The bottom line is to stabilise and conserve the stocks and give them the opportunity to recover to a level where sustainability is possible in the context of some level of salmon being caught each year.
Another important issue arises in this regard. As the Minister knows, the feeding grounds for Atlantic salmon are off Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Northern fishermen have gone down the road of not fishing in those grounds to protect the stocks. I understand there is impatience among these fishermen and that this restraint may not continue. If the northern fishermen decide to fish for salmon in the feeding grounds, a catastrophe would face us all. While I am not suggesting this will happen, it is a strong possibility that has been indicated to me by one person who should know.
As good Europeans, we should accept that the Irish catch is having an adverse affect not alone on Irish salmon stocks but also on the stocks of England, Wales, Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany. While this is not my major consideration in this debate, it is an important consideration nonetheless.
Fishermen who make a poor income from salmon fishing and who would be happy to leave the industry should be given an opportunity to do so by way of a buyout system. I see nothing wrong with the State putting resources into such a system. While I do not have exact figures, the Stop Drift Net Fishing Now campaign suggests a figure of €25 million and the Minister of State suggests a figure of the order of €70 million or €80 million. Whatever the cost, this is a very important resource and one we must protect soon. I understand that successful compensation programmes to end the commercial exploitation of salmon have been introduced in Canada, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Wales, and work in progress in Northern Ireland and England is moving ahead effectively. The North Atlantic Salmon Fund told me it spoke to some Irish commercial fishermen, 70% to 80% of whom were ready to surrender their licences permanently. The remaining 20% to 30% would agree to stop fishing but were reluctant to accept a permanent buy-out. Of them 5% to 10% opposed the buy-out and remained to be convinced of its merit.
All fishing enterprises involve sustainability and profitability. Our stocks are depleted to a critical point. There is the horrible prospect that what happened to the Newfoundland cod stocks will happen here. We do no service to commercial salmon fishers by not buying them out to protect stocks. If the stocks fall below a certain point they will not recover. That is what happened to the cod stocks off Newfoundland, although the fishery there is closed. No one would have believed such a large fishery could be fished out but that happened.
We need to protect the stocks of North Atlantic salmon as much in the interests of the fishermen, as of anybody else. The fishermen should be allowed to exit the industry in a dignified and fair way to protect this part of our resources.
The Labour Party is concerned about various aspects of this legislation. We were concerned when the Government came into power that it dropped the word "marine" from the title of the Department. This indicated an unwelcome attitude. That omission was rectified and I do not in any way question the personal commitment to, or knowledge of, the industry of the Minister of State with responsibility for the marine. Prior to the last general election a commitment was made to appoint a Minister with responsibility for marine affairs to sit at the Cabinet table. This was to have been a senior Minister of State but the proposal never bore fruit.
A significant part of marine responsibility is to be transferred to the Department of Transport. While I do not oppose change I remain to be convinced that responsibility for marine affairs is divisible because there are many interdependent areas in that brief. For example, there is an obvious need to ensure ships do not dump in fishing grounds and that activities surrounding ports or marine development are carried out in a way conducive to protecting fish stocks, particularly when fish are breeding.
Another minor but important point concerns section 17(3) covering the powers of sea fishery protection officers and the inspection and detention of sea fish. The section states:
Where a sea-fisheries protection officer detains in his or her custody under this section any sea-fish and the sea-fish is likely to become unfit for human food before the matter can conveniently be dealt with by any court, he or she may produce the sea-fish to a designated officer (where he or she is not a designated officer), and, if authorised so to do by the designated officer, shall destroy, sell or otherwise dispose properly of the sea-fish.
The idea of fish being destroyed is repugnant. It is wrong to destroy food in a world where there is hunger and famine. The civilised approach would be for the Minister of State to reconsider that section and eliminate the word "destroy". If fish is unfit for human consumption it should be destroyed but there should be procedures whereby fish fit for human consumption taken into custody is not allowed in any circumstances to become unfit for human consumption. We should preserve all aspects of this scarce resource wherever possible. I urge the Minister of State to deal sympathetically with that point on Committee Stage.
The Labour Party also believes there should have been more consultation with the stakeholders and their political representatives in regard to the Bill. It is not too late for that process although there are differing views on how Committee Stage will proceed. However, within the short interval between this Stage and the next the Minister of State should consult with stakeholders to hear their views and so improve the legislation.
I was about to move onto the business of harsh fines which other Deputies have raised but will conclude on this point. As a democrat and a Member of this House I wish to see this Bill made as effective as possible, for both a vibrant fishing industry, and for enforcement. That is important but it must be a profitable and sustainable industry.
I wish to share time with Deputy Kirk.
Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt ar an mBille seo, atá an-tábhachtach don cheantar i Loch Garman ina bhfuilim i mo chónaí agus ina rabhas ag múineadh le fada.
I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this Bill which is important to the livelihoods of many of my constituents. I express my sympathy to the Meyler and Colfer families on the awful tragedy that occurred in recent days off the Great Saltee Island. That tragedy typifies fishing activity for many people.
I first became acquainted with the fishing industry when I went to work in Bridgetown vocational college, approximately four miles from Kilmore Quay. Many of the students attending the college were children of fishermen. Many too were good hurlers and footballers. My later involvement with Wexford hurling and football teams brought home to me the awful social conditions under which people participate in fishing. None of the good hurlers and footballers went on to play at senior level for Wexford.
The sea shanties that we talk about and the beautiful way of life for fishermen is very different from what I discovered when I went to work in a fishing area. From Bridgetown I went to Ramsgrange where I taught Pat Colfer and Jim Myler who went to secondary school there. Fishing is important to County Wexford but its fishermen are experiencing difficult times. The fishing industry was not as important as other industries in the negotiations for Ireland's entry to the EEC. Neither did the 1983 Common Fisheries Policy reflect the hardships of the fishing industry. The Opposition parties were in power then when the policy was introduced. I do not want to be party political——
The Green Party was not part of that. Sometimes the hand-wringing engaged in when in Opposition does not reflect the reality of the political scenario.
We are lucky to have Deputy Gallagher as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with special responsibility for the marine. Unlike me, bhí seisean páirteach i saol na n-iascairí agus bhí sé ina iascaire é féin le fada an lá. The Minister was part of the fishing industry and grew up in it. There is no man better qualified to introduce this Bill with the sensitivity it demands. I thank him for coming to County Wexford on many occasions to talk to the scallop fishermen.
I empathise with the sentiments expressed by Deputy O'Shea on the salmon industry. The scallop industry was similarly affected. The scallop stocks could not be sustained as there were twice as many people fishing them as there should have been. Thanks to the Minister of State, he negotiated a decommissioning package for the scallop fishermen. While I am not long in politics, I do not believe decommissioning was available for fishermen before this. This is a scheme that many of my constituents are happy with and I look forward to the payments being made after 9 December.
This Bill is needed because of the Kennedy and Browne cases which underlined the basis for the legal implementation of fishing law. If these cases had never arisen, the Bill would still be necessary to stop foreign vessels taking a €1 million catch at a time. Overfishing must be combated. However, a distinction must be made between minor offences and those that threaten the very survival of the industry. From talking to many fishermen, many of whom are past pupils of mine, I note their serious and legitimate concerns about the Bill.
One concern relates to the need for balance. Fishermen do not want to be seen as common criminals. As for administrative sanctions such as on-the-spot fines for speeding on the roads, the Attorney General claims these cannot happen without further negotiation with the EU. Obviously, I want them to happen. There needs to be a distinction between summary minor offences and people who threaten the very survival of the industry. The depletion of fishing stocks and the clarification of fishing law will be dealt with by the Bill, thereby ensuring the preservation of the industry.
I was amazed to discover the provision allowing the Naval Service to fire on fishing vessels has been part of Irish law since 1959. Listening to Members, who have been in politics for a long time, decrying this, I was amazed some did not notice it before. The provision has been in place since 1959 and sincerity demands that Members are honest when dealing with the Bill's provisions. Thanks to the sensitivity of both the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey and the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Gallagher, this will be removed from the Bill, meaning the Naval Service will not fire on Irish fishing vessels.
The confiscation of fishing gear causes some problems of morality for me. I am reminded of the archbishop who said: "Give me a fish and you feed me today; teach me to fish and you feed me for life." If fishing gear is taken away from a fisherman, the victim becomes a burden on the State rather than a hard-working individual plying his trade. I have concerns about this but I know the Minister of State will examine the case with sensitivity. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go dtabharfadh mé faoi deara na sóirt coireanna atá i gceist. It is essential that we examine the nature of the crimes and that the Bill addresses minor offences.
The physical hardships experienced by fishermen are reflected in the stories of Tomás ÓCriomhthain, Peig Sayers or Fiche Blian ag Fás. It is an industry that was ignored when we joined the EEC and ignored further in 1983 with negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy. I recall teaching economic geography to leaving certificate students whose future was in the fishing industry. While many, owing to economic necessity, did not go on to take the leaving certificate, those who did would always take issue with the Common Fisheries Policy.
The Bill offers an opportunity to restore morale to fishermen and their families. It will allow the implementation of laws where the punishment fits the crime and protects the non-offenders against the small number of offenders. Balance is what it is about. Táim cinnte go dtuigeann an t-Aire Stáit go maith na deacrachtaí a bhaineann le saol an iascaire agus go ndéanfaidh sé a dhícheall chun iad a thabairt faoi deara sa Bhille.
I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on his commitment to the fishing industry, not just during his term in Dáil Éireann but also in Brussels and Strasbourg where he represented the people of Connacht-Ulster with such distinction.
The Bill's primary purpose is to modernise the legislative framework for sea fisheries. The principal Act in place was adopted in the mid-20th century and was subject to several amendments. It was designed for a sea fishing industry which primarily involved short trips by small boats. However, the sea fishing industry has changed beyond recognition since then in terms of the size of the fleet. It now includes many multi-million euro businesses with large Irish boats operating in far away regions and large non-Irish boats fishing in Irish waters. These boats often land their catches in Ireland. Many Members are familiar with the number of French vessels which land at Killybegs and Castletownbere.
The industry is now substantially regulated at EU level through the Common Fisheries Policy. In addition, the Bill is designed to fill a major gap in the Fisheries Acts regarding the implementation of the EU Common Fisheries Policy following litigation which resulted in the impugning by the Supreme Court of certain secondary legislation for lack of cover in the current Acts. It is necessary to amend the legal framework to have regard to these realities and to modernise our systems and structures so that best practice in fisheries management and control is implemented.
While the Bill represents a sound basis for progress, it needs further work. I am confident that the Minister of State will take these views on board before enactment. The regulation of the fishing industry in Ireland must accommodate the small vessel as well as the large fish processing boats that fish in European waters. In this regard, I suggest several changes to the legislation.
The Bill must provide for administrative and graded sanctions and decriminalise fisheries offences. According to EU data, 86% of all EU fisheries offences are now dealt with by way of administrative sanctions. The section relating to the seafood manager should be deleted in its entirety as it is only a mechanism for resolving an internal Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources management issue. It will add little or nothing to providing improved control and enforcement, lacks accountability and undermines and sidelines the role of the Minister. Should such a position be necessary, a fully independent office of seafood control regulator should be established with appropriate appeals mechanisms.
The automatic confiscation of catch and gear which only applies to Irish vessels must be changed to allow the issue to be decided at the discretion of the courts. The fines and penalties detailed in the Bill lack proportionality and must be reduced and changed. The underlining principle must be that only major fisheries should attract serious penalties. There is no reason a small fisherman should be put out of business because of a once-off indiscretion. Proportionality must be borne in mind when the issue of fines and penalties is discussed.
The provision on the use of firearms against fishing vessels must be deleted. Emotions can run high on the seas and tense situations might only be inflamed by the use of firearms. In society as a whole we condemn the use and prevalence of firearms. Surely, therefore, we should try to curtail the prevalence of firearms rather than legislating for their use on fishing vessels.
Listening to the debate one cannot but draw the obvious parallels between the fishing and agriculture industries, both of which are an integral part of the food production system in Ireland and the European Union as a whole. The changes which have taken place in both sectors since we joined the European Economic Community in the early 1970s have been seismic and phenomenal. One of the primary reasons for the establishment of the Common Agricultural Policy was security of food supply.
Time and tide wait for no man but I am certain the Bill endeavours to reflect one consideration, namely, that if over-fishing continues across European Union waters, the ultimate outcome will be the demise of the fishing industry. It is vital that we retain this integral part of our food supply chain and if intensive protection measures are required over a specific period, so be it. It is essential that those who have invested in the industry overcome the current temporary difficulty and have a viable industry in the long term, not only to ensure the supply of food for the Irish and European markets but also to support and sustain those who work in the industry.
I wish to share time with Deputies Crowe and Sargent.
I have major reservations about the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005 in its current form. Why is the Government seeking to introduce this flawed legislation? I am not alone in having these reservations, as many Members, including those on the Government benches, have similar reservations. Why is the Government so keen to press ahead with the Bill? When a division is called will the Government backbench Deputies stand by their principles and vote against the Bill? I am afraid they will not do so and the Minister of State will lead them like a flock of sheep into the lobbies to vote "Yes".
Is the Minister of State certain of that? If the Government claims its purpose is to bring Ireland into line with European Union legislation, the Bill will not achieve its objective. The measures are excessive and unfair to Irish fishermen and the proposed fines and punishments for infringements are disproportionate in comparison with those in place in other EU countries. For example, the penalty for fishing without a licence in Spain is a fine of €1,463, whereas the equivalent fine here will be €21,000. The Bill contains several other examples of such discrepancies which would impose a disproportionate punishment on the hard-pressed Irish fishing industry in comparison with its EU counterparts.
While I do not condone in any way the violation of fishing rules and regulations, it is unjust to impose on Irish fishermen penalties which are more severe than those imposed on fishermen from other countries. Fishermen here have long been penalised excessively. The Bill, as framed, is unacceptable to them and should be withdrawn.
I am also concerned by the proposal to allow the Naval Service to shoot at trawlers which fail to stop when requested to do so. Were such incidents to occur, they could easily result in serious injury or loss of life. This provision is unacceptable in any democracy and the Government will have to find an alternative approach to address the matter. Even Fianna Fáil Party Deputies have called on the Minister of State to remove the provision allowing the use of force.
The Government is putting a political spin on the introduction of the legislation by implying it has arisen as a result of the wishes of the European Union. Such an implication is not only untrue according to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Fianna Fáil Deputy Noel O'Flynn, but it also threatens to criminalise Irish fishermen. Why then is the Government pressing ahead with the legislation? Is it another example of its perceived policy of ignoring and downgrading all types of rural life and concentrating on corporate Ireland on the east coast, particularly the Dublin area? It is disgraceful that it will not invest time and resources in providing proper facilities for the fishing community. For example, proper piers and landing facilities are required in Quilty and Doonbeg and proper safety measures are needed in Doolin, all of which are in my constituency. The Government prefers to criminalise fishermen and seeks to justify firing shots into boats. I call on it to withdraw this crazy Bill and work towards improving the lives of fishermen and their families rather than wrecking them.
I draw the Minister of State's attention to the sinking of a fishing boat in the teeth of a storm in Quilty 12 months ago. What was the Government's response? It offered no assistance, despite the fact that fishermen's livelihoods were wrecked. We want proper landing facilities in Doonbeg, Doolin and Quilty. When will the Minister of State provide funding to protect those in County Clare who earn a livelihood from fishing. He has talked a great deal but I have yet to see him take action on the ground to help fishermen in my county. Did he do anything to help them when the boat I referred to sank? No, he said the storm which sank it was an act of God.
Perhaps he did not say it but someone did. Why did he not help the fishermen involved or give them money to restore their fishing boat? Will he ensure proper berthing facilities are developed to allow fishermen to rest in their beds without the fear their boats will sink if a storm occurs? That is a small price to pay. The Minister of State should not shake his head. He comes from County Donegal, which is similar to County Clare.
Did I give the Minister of State the name of the appropriate person? I look forward to his promise being met. On the previous occasion I raised this matter in the House, I asked him whether the facilities would be in place within 12 months. That is the challenge and I know the Minister of State, as a Donegal man, will accept it and deliver on it.
One of the most interesting aspects of the debate on the Bill so far concerns the differences it has highlighted within Fianna Fáil, and the opposition of some Fianna Fáil Deputies to the thrust of the legislation as it affects penalties on fishermen. In this regard, it is interesting that Fianna Fáil Deputies are attempting to have motions placed for debate in the European Parliament which, if accepted, would go completely against the intent of this Bill. The main thrust of the motions are that penalties should be proportionate and should not discriminate between national fleets and those from other EU member states and, above all, that the means employed to enforce legislation should not have the effect of criminalising fishermen.
Many people, including those in my own party, agree with the sentiments expressed, but surely the place to address them is here. The logic therefore of the opposition from within the industry and across the political parties represented here is that this legislation should be withdrawn. The whole system of regulations and penalties employed in the sector should be subject to a total review and reform. That will also require that this State demands that the entire basis on which Irish fisheries are governed through the Common Fisheries Policy should be re-negotiated and that the CFP be subject to a similar process to that undergone by the Common Agricultural Policy.
As regards those directly involved in the fishing industry and the risks attached, I want to raise an issue of serious concern that has been brought to my attention today. I want to raise this matter now because there will be no other opportunity to do so and it is an issue of the utmost urgency. The Navy believes it has found the wreckage of the fishing vessel the Rising Sun, which sank off the Wexford coast on Tuesday. The Navy has put in place a one-mile exclusion zone around the area of the wreckage and has indicated to the family that it may be a crime scene.
The Navy is causing great hurt to the family of the missing skipper Mr. Pat Colfer by telling them that divers are not to go down and search the sunken vessel for his remains. The Navy has indicated that it may be Sunday before divers are sent down. It has also indicated that there will be a criminal prosecution following any intervention by the family concerning the wreckage.
I have also been informed that the Navy has telephoned local divers instructing them not to go near the wreckage. The senior naval person on the scene showed great discourtesy and lack of sympathy towards Mr. Colfer's brother when he attempted to discuss the situation with him.
The Minister for Defence must intervene and ensure that the Navy does not hinder attempts to commence the search of the sunken vessel for the remains of the lost fisherman. This is a humanitarian request from a family which has been devastated by this tragedy. I appeal to the Minister of State, if he can, to intervene in this process.
The Minister must assure this House that every sympathy and understanding will be shown to the family by the naval authorities in any future dealings with them. I realise that this information is probably new to the Minister of State, but the family has contacted us about this serious situation so I would appreciate it if he could do something about it.
Tagann sé aniar aduaidh orm an méid eolais atá ag an Teachta Crowe mar gheall ar an tragóid is déanaí i saol na hiascaireachta sa tír seo. Ag an am céanna, agus muid ag léiriú comhbhróin leo siúd a cailleadh le blianta beaga anuas de bharr na hiascaireachta, ní mór dúinn díriú ar an mBille Iascaigh Mhara agus Dlínse Muirí 2005 chun ceisteanna a phlé atá níos leithne ná sin ach fós ceangailte leis.
I offer my sympathy and that of the Green Party, an Comhaontas Glas, to those bereaved by the tragic sinking of the trawler Rising Sun— the family of Mr. Jimmy Meyler of Passage East, County Wexford, and the family of the boat's skipper Mr. Pat Colfer, who are still holding out some hope of finding him, although hope is fading. We thank God that Mr. Ian Tierney of Kilmore Quay is safe. At the same time, however, we must bear in mind that this is by no means an isolated incident. There has been a mounting number of tragedies, such as that involving the Pisces and other vessels, which highlights the dangers that are now manifesting themselves for families around the country who depend upon fishing.
Apart from my national responsibilities as a party leader, I also speak as a public representative for north County Dublin. My constituents include fishermen working out of Skerries and Balbriggan, in addition to fishing from time to time out of Rogerstown, Loughshinny and other harbours along the coast.
This legislation is both vital and necessary in that we must all be reminded that fishermen are caught in a terrible, conflicting situation with less and less fish stocks together with an increasing cost base. That puts enormous pressure on them to take risks, the consequences of which can prove to be all too tragic. We are inheriting a situation, and the Minister of State's party was in Government at the time when this was set in stone——
No, I am talking about Jack Lynch's time. I am going back to the time when the negotiations took place that meant the allocation for Irish fishermen was 2.9% of European waters by value. I am also looking at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resource's own fishery vessels safety review group report, which indicated that on average boats are more than 30 years old. Some 64% of them were found to have serious deficiencies. All too often people are putting to sea in vessels which in the cold light of day they would probably not choose to go to sea in if they could have it any other way.
That is part of the reason this legislation is so important. The pressure on fishermen to go to sea is, in the words of one fisherman in my own locality, highly dangerous. I am quoting from one fisherman in the north County Dublin area who tells me that fishermen are going out to sea in unstable boats which are overloaded with technology. They are supposed to get a report from a naval architect but they do not. The boat becomes top heavy and in those circumstances it is small wonder that we have boats capsizing.
The Bill, as it relates to new harbours, is being welcomed by fishermen because at least we will know who is working on the boats and who is based in the harbours. Fishing is now mostly done by non-nationals, as many Irish people are not prepared to work in the conditions that apply to fishing boats in my area, which operate in the Irish Sea.
I have also been reminded of the fuel situation by fishermen. One fisherman pointed out that the fact that diesel is subsidised means it is being used in circumstances that otherwise would make one think twice. I have been given figures which show that the cost of fuel for ten days' fishing is €8,000. The catch needed to cover such costs puts such pressure on skippers and their crews that it really is surprising we do not have more tragedies at sea. When one adds the smaller returns from the industry, we can see that fishermen are facing a crisis.
The other complaint I have heard about in my area is the amount of discard being created because of this pressure, particularly on larger twin-rigged trawlers. One fishermen estimates that six baskets out of every 40 are discarded, destroyed and thrown overboard. They are not even logged. Deputy O'Shea spoke about a waste of food. If good food is thrown overboard and is not used against quotas, we in this country have a job to do to prevent this kind of wastage. In Spain, the discard is apparently used against quotas and Spanish fishermen, therefore, do not target smaller material. The Minister of State might smile at this and tell me he has other sources of information.
I wonder whether the Minister of State agrees with me as I received the impression he might have believed there was more information. I look forward to his reply as he might give me more details. These are the issues of which I have been informed.
No, by Irish fishermen. I am relating to the Minister of State the devastated lifestyles people are coming to terms with in fishing when they see the cost of fuel going through the roof, returns on their efforts yielding smaller and smaller incomes and the overheads of keeping boats in seaworthy conditions. As the Minister of State said, and I share his view, they also must compete with Spaniards and other nationalities.
Some say the main problem is that fish do not vote and fishermen do but I do not share this view. Many fishermen and trawlermen want conservation and the fair and consistent application of regulations. For example, the razor shellfish industry, which had no Government regulations placed on it and was fished off the County Meath coast around Mornington, was wiped out. That was a case where people wanted regulation but, because there was none, they decided to make whatever they could out of it while they could. It was not responsible of the Government to allow this to happen.
It is the same with drift net fishermen. People ask me why the Government is so slow in falling into line with other countries in respect of a buyout. These fishermen want the Government to take action in the interests of conservation. Tourism and coastal towns will suffer the longer this foot dragging goes on. I hope the Minister of State will understand that fishermen want a clear line from Government that is consistent, enforceable and will ensure that conservation is prioritised. They know as much as any of us that, unless there are fish, there is no fishing industry.
I rise to speak on a Bill of vital importance to the fishing industry of this country. I declare my interest in that, as the House knows, I live on a peninsula with one of the largest whitefish fleets based three miles from me in Greencastle. We could debate this matter such as Deputy Sargent did, who asked whether we were sold out in the early 1970s to the advantage of agriculture. Unfortunately, we cannot get a review of the Common Fisheries Policy that would readdress matters in a way we would like.
I am relieved that the guillotine to be applied to the debate has been removed. I thank the Minister of State and the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, for the interest they have taken in what we as backbenchers have to say. When we in this Chamber deal with important legislation, we must have the opportunity to have our thoughts heard, especially on Second Stage, to ensure that issues of concern can be reviewed prior to Committee Stage and, ultimately, Report and Fifth Stages.
There was concern that this Bill was being hurried; there is no need for haste. We in my area do not want to repent at leisure. In the context of legal mechanisms being in place to address the issue of illegal fishing, there is no obvious reason for undue haste. This is contrary to what has been said in some earlier commentaries which described this reforming and consolidating legislation as being: "urgently required to ensure that Ireland could meet its obligations under EU law and sustainably manage sea fishing activity in its 200 mile zone".
I have listened to much of the debate over recent weeks and I agree with many aspects, although not the previous contribution. On mad ideas such as shooting into boats, I believed the age of technology had gone beyond the need for tactics that related to ages gone by. I trust that this was a red herring. It will not distract me from the more central messages of the proposed changes. Regarding guns, I am not sure that a sea fishery officer needs either an armed garda or soldier to accompany him or her, as the Bill seems to state. Do members of our traffic corps need to be armed when they deal with motorists? I cannot see a difference between that and boats. It is an area that should be examined.
Before I deal with those changes, I would like to make a fundamental point. For years our fishing fleet was the oldest in Europe. I listened to Deputy Sargent and his information is, unfortunately, out of date. In the first years after I was elected I criticised the then Government for risking the lives of fishermen by sending them out to sea in what were, in effect, potential coffins. When Fianna Fáil entered Government it took on this issue and developed, in conjunction with an input from the industry, the whitefish fleet renewal programme to modernise the fleet. The Government lived up to its promises and the fishermen rose to the challenge the grant aid offered.
My home port of Greencastle gained as much as any harbour and more than most. It was and is seen as a great success coupled with the decommissioning scheme for the older boats and, recently, the decommissioning and support packages for smaller boats, which Deputy Sargent seems to have overlooked. I look forward to the Minister improving the facilities, which the Government has done over recent years in places such as Greencastle, for the landing of catches. A decline in the quotas for the sector occurred almost simultaneously. This was linked to the declining fish stocks and the need for management and approaches that would yield a sustainable fishery in future.
The fundamental issue is that we have fishermen who have invested heavily in good, safe boats that will take them to the fishing grounds to which others had the capacity to go to safely. However, now that they have mortgages for their boats, we say they cannot fish. I understand the concerns of Deputy Sargent and others about the issue of sustainable development, which is an issue for fishermen as much as anyone else. I understand the concepts of preserving and protecting and that not everyone has been scrupulous in his or her approach to what size of fish has been caught.
I also understand that when fishermen in my area proposed closing off particular areas in the early 1990s that were known as spawning or juvenile areas to protect stocks, both fishing organisations and the Department gave the impression that because 15 states needed to agree to the measure, it would be impossible. Our fishermen were ahead of their time as closed areas and times are now becoming acceptable. We are now learning what those in the north west were talking about 15 years ago. As such, what is this Bill about? Is it a big stick or a mechanism to aid the fishermen by increasing fines for illegal fishing to extraordinary levels when they are already European leaders? Does it help in any constructive manner the management of our fishery or does it ensure that officialdom can point to how seriously we take breaches of quotas?
The man in his new boat with his crew is at sea for more than a week and has told certain species of fish to stay out of his nets as he is not allowed to catch them. He is concentrating on a box of one species and half a box of something else. What happens? The fish do not listen to him and when he pulls up his nets he has dead incursions, so to speak, from these forbidden fish. If he is boarded, he is brought to shore. Even though most of his stock is legal, he will be referred to the Circuit Court. By this definition, his gear and catch will be confiscated, his boat will be bonded and he will either lose days fishing or pay the bond. He must then get legal representation for the court case.
I have heard stories of people having in the region of €5,000 worth of illegal fish on board that they refused to throw out. Deputy Sargent spoke about wasting dead fish. Research suggests that these fish should be brought on board as part of the recognised catch.
The fisherman might have a small number of illegal fish on board. He pays his crew, for food and fuel, after which he must buy new gear, pay for the loss of catch, days at sea and legal fees apart from the fines. He is practically put out of business by the sheer multiple nature of the value of all that compared with the amount of fish concerned in the initial arrest. This may come across as anecdotal and perhaps it is, but the current punishment does not fit the crime and this is my fundamental point. Increasing the level of fine will no more add to the debate or address the core issue.
This leads me to say bluntly that a mechanism must be found to treat different breaches in different ways. If there are minor breaches of our road traffic laws, there should be a type of on-the-spot fine so that one can either pay or choose to fight the case in court. In traffic offences it is understood that if one admits one was in the wrong, one can get off lighter.