Thursday, 1 February 2018
Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Ferris. The Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017 is designed to put in place a licence specifically for those fishermen who live on our offshore islands and who gain their incomes from island fishing. It is a small number of people in the context of the overall fishing fleet. Small-scale fishing is carried out by vessels with a length of less than 12 m, which do not use towed fishing gear, as listed in table 3 of Commission Regulation EC26-2004. We are talking about small-scale coastal fishing which occurs within a six-mile territorial limit, including the baseline. Most fishing in the six-mile zone involves fish that would not affect the quota and it is expected the quota required would be less than 1% of the overall national quota. The licence would be non-transferable and the holder would not be able to lease it or transfer it to any other person. The licence holder would have to be on board the vessel while fishing so worries about abuse in this respect are taken care of in the Bill.
We are trying to bring about the introduction of a non-transferable community island quota. I am delighted that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Andrew Doyle, is present because this comes from an earlier cross-party Dáil committee of which he was Chair. I congratulate him on his work to bring the Bill this far and, now that others have brought it further, I am sure we will be able to welcome the support of the Minister and the Government, who were there at its conception.
The quota is for appropriate species within the six-mile limit. We are talking about artisan fishing, which happens in many parts of the world in small coastal communities that depend on fishing. It is not about the big vessels. The people who engage in small-scale fishing look out to the sea and they notice that the fish stocks are getting smaller and smaller as the huge vessels, especially the supertrawlers, clean them out. Around this time last year I attended a conference at the United Nations on the sustainable development goals for 2014, which was about keeping our ocean environments clean and pure. One of the big issues was on protecting the rights of artisan fishers across the world and clipping the wings of large fishing vessels with regulations of some sort. Many fishermen find they cannot catch the fish they have traditionally fished for, sometimes for centuries.
This Bill deals with island fishermen because small coastal communities are under huge pressure. The proposal first came from the committee because island communities are being decimated by depopulation. Between 1986 and 2006, Arranmore Island lost 206 people, Bere Island in Cork is down by 63 people in the same period, and there are almost 120 fewer people living on the Aran Islands. They are losing their populations with every generation and the cross-party committee recognised that we needed to do something to help arrest that trend. We hope this Bill can be developed speedily to Committee Stage so that the Government can issue fishing licences to people who live on, and fish off, the islands for their livelihoods. It would use a very small portion of quota but would ensure their livelihoods were maintained and sustained into the future.
Some people have said it is difficult for the Government to divide the quota in this manner because the island fishermen do not have the necessary track record but article 17 in the regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy makes it clear that it is within the competency of the member state to decide how it uses the quota it is given, stating that member states shall use "transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature". The Government does not have to base the quota on previous actions by fishermen but can base it on the specific environmental, economic and social context in which these fishermen make their living. We are trying to ensure island fishermen can make a living into the future.
I come from south Leitrim, which has a very small coastline and no habitable offshore island. I am close to Longford in the midlands but people from all over Ireland have huge empathy with our fishing community. They understand that they go out on small boats to make a living, taking huge risks in the process. When people are lost at sea there is huge sympathy for the people in the community, who work hard to make a difference for their families.
This Bill is about a specific quota for island communities so that we can make a difference into the future. Many Deputies support the Bill and I appeal to the Minister, who was there at its conception, to work with his colleagues in government to make the Bill a reality. I appeal to him to support it going to Committee Stage and being passed in the Houses so that we can do something concrete for island communities.
This year, I will have been in this House for 16 years and, to be honest, there is an awful lot of bull and waffle here. However, this Bill, which was conceived in 2012 with the report of the committee chaired by Deputy Andrew Doyle, is one of the better things with which I have been associated.
In 2012, the Minister of State and the committee members were quite startled by the decline in the population of our rural communities and, in particular, our islands. Our all-party objective at the time was to try to do something to reverse it and to address the socioeconomic challenges facing our rural communities, including the island communities. As a result, we had to rely on other reports. There was a 2009 report relating to a review of fisheries on Ireland's offshore islands and sustaining island livelihoods as well as a report on Gaeltacht islands. Irrespective of whether they were Gaeltacht islands or English-speaking islands, it is quite clear that there was a historical dependence in offshore island communities on fishing as part of their livelihood. This had dried up and a source of employment and income was taken from them.
The joint sub-committee on fisheries was established in December 2012 and it commenced its detailed work in 2013 which culminated in a report on promoting sustainable rural, coastal and island communities. As the Minister of State is aware, during that period we met on eight occasions in public and on nine occasions in private with various group from a wide selection of stakeholders. There was a detailed consideration of issues arising from the oral and written submissions received as well as the research work undertaken by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. All of this contributed significantly to the development and finalisation of the 29 recommendations in the report, but the report has been sitting there since and my two colleagues, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Martin Kenny, have decided that this cannot be allowed to continue.
A significant amount of collective work went into this report and there was all-party agreement on it but report is just sitting there. We, therefore, took it upon ourselves and sought support from other parties and individuals in the Oireachtas to support the Bill. We have received an overwhelming response but, unfortunately, the Government has not committed as of yet. I hope that the Minister of State will give his support to the Bill. He will be living up to the work he did as Chairman of the committee, which was the genesis of the Bill, and to what he said during the debate at the time.
The motivation behind the Bill is that there is a forgotten community on our islands and in coastal areas. This community has been consistently neglected by various political parties down through the years and the reason it has been neglected is that it does not have the numbers to make a difference in an election. That is the reason this community have been neglected and abandoned by the political establishment of the State, and it continues to be the case. If one looks at how the Common Fisheries Policy works and the distribution of quota and so forth, it is designed and continues to be implemented to facilitate the big beneficiaries at the large end of the scale. That is wrong. Our natural resources do not belong to individuals and there is an obligation on all of us, as legislators, to ensure that we treat everyone fairly. This includes the people who live on our islands.
A huge indictment of the political system is the decline, as Deputy Martin Kenny outlined, in the population on our islands and along the coast since 1986. There is an obligation on each of us to ensure that we give them fair play and part of giving them fair play is to give them a sustainable income so that they can live where they and their parents and grandparents were born - they have a traditional link to those islands - rather than forcing them to emigrate to America, Australia, England or elsewhere to try to seek out a livelihood and an income. There is an income off their shore. A part of a lot of allocations of quota has been a historical track record. If people are prepared to look, there is a historical track record from our island communities that is going back generations. It dates back hundreds of years. They lived and worked and reared their families on the islands.
Recommendation 10 of the report, which is central to the Bill, states:
The sub-Committee recommends that the Government examines the feasibility of the issuance of 'heritage licences' to rural coastal and island communities. Such licences would optimally facilitate traditional fishing practices.
That is the purpose of the Bill, namely, to facilitate this traditional practice. It is to facilitate an economy on the islands where people can survive and live there.
Dangers have been pointed out. I spoke to a Minister already and he obviously had not read the Bill. He told me that our Bill means someone can stand at the end of a pier, wave his licence and give it to someone else to go back out fishing. This senior Minister had not even read the Bill. That shows the kind of bull that goes on in here. People make judgments without even knowing the facts about what they are doing or saying.
There are dangers which have been pointed out, including, for example, granting special terms and conditions for any sector that cause migration of vehicles into the area. We have dealt with that in the Bill, however. We made it quite clear that a person has to live on the island, has to be fishing for a living on the island and has to be onboard the fishing vessel. That is copperfastened. If people want to look at it, there is also a fallback position. A prime example is how Tralee Bay Oyster Society works. Both a licence and a permit are required to fish it. That is a fallback position. If the Government has a difficulty, it can insert that into the Bill on Committee Stage.
There is no reason the Government cannot support the Bill. If the Government has difficulties with the legislation, it can be tweaked. The Minister of State, when he was Chairman of the committee, stood over the concept. I am very proud to have played a part in producing the report and I am quite sure the Minister of State is too. It did an awful lot of good and gave a voice to the voiceless. These are the forgotten communities. It gave a voice to them and today we must support the Bill. Let it go to committee Stage and finally implement a report that has been agreed by all parties in the House.
I thank the Deputies for their insight into the introduction of the Bill. I also thank them for their references to the committee that I chaired. When the committee commenced its proceedings, I noted that I was the only member who knew nothing about fishing. I learned a lot, however, and I appreciate the co-operation of Deputies Pringle and Ferris, who were both members of the committee. This is a rather unusual situation as the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is away on a trade mission and, therefore, unavailable.
The Department's legal advice is that the Bill is not compatible with EU law and the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy. I wish to reassure the House, however, that the Government recognises the value and importance of maintaining vibrant rural and coastal communities. The Action Plan for Rural Development, Realising our Rural Potential, which was launched last year, is a whole of Government strategy aimed at delivering change for people living and working in rural Ireland. In the sphere of fisheries and seafood production, the Minister has been pleased to launch a range of schemes under Ireland’s European maritime and fisheries fund, EMFF, operational programme for 2014 to 2020. The EMFF programme is co-funded by the Exchequer and the EU and targets the development of Ireland’s seafood industry to support, in turn, the communities reliant on the industry for incomes and jobs.
I have witnessed the great projects supported by both the north-east and south-east fisheries local action group schemes, FLAGs, supported by the national scheme. Over the duration of the EMFF programme, the national FLAG scheme will deliver €12 million in funding to Ireland’s coastal communities. This is an eightfold increase on the previous scheme. More than 200 project applications were received under the scheme in 2017. The final 153 were selected by the FLAG boards for their contribution to community rejuvenation, enterprise, innovation, job creation and skills enhancement across the fishing, aquaculture-----
I will continue.
The direct, practical nature of the projects the FLAGs support is impressive and innovative. They include projects such as storage facilities for fishermen, which improve working conditions at harbours and piers, and the promotion of seafood through integration with tourism and community events.
Island fishermen and other inshore fishermen can, of course, avail of a range of other schemes, such as the dedicated inshore fisheries conservation scheme with its own €6 million allocation. This scheme funds the popular lobster V-notching programme, providing direct support to fishermen for engaging in the practice of demarking lobsters for conservation and putting them back to sea to support long-term healthy stocks.
I note a particular focus of the Bill is small-scale coastal fishing, which is fishing by vessels of less than 12 m overall length with non-towed gear. This is a feature of fishing in many of the ports and harbours around our coast, not just the offshore islands. Small-scale coastal fishing is a commercial activity from which a livelihood is derived. Under the programme, most of the grants available to small-scale coastal fishermen apply at a rate of 80% of the cost of the investment.
Small-scale coastal fishermen are already using Ireland's EMFF programme to invest at very low cost in selective fishing gear, to purchase a wide variety of essential on-board equipment and on-land equipment, such as ice machines and freezers to preserve and add value to catch, or indeed to purchase their first fishing vessel. To date, over 50% of all payments from the sustainable fisheries scheme have been to small-scale coastal fishermen. Bord lascaigh Mhara is using the resources of the EMFF programme to provide technical and business advisory services to small-scale coastal fishermen and to assist this important part of Ireland's fishing fleet in the development of fishery management plans and environmental requirements.
One of the responsibilities held by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is overseeing Ireland's role in the Common Fisheries Policy. The CFP is a set of rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks. Designed to manage a common resource, fisheries management is based on data and scientific advice, and control measures to ensure that rules are applied fairly and complied with by all fishermen. A key component of CFP rules is the requirement for a stable and enduring balance between the fishing capacity and the fishing opportunities of each member state. In this regard the rules lay down requirements for each member state to license every commercial sea-fishing boat in its fishing fleet. These requirements are legally binding on every member state and are set out in EU regulations.
This Bill before us proposes to create a system of licences for individual island fishermen. However, it cannot be divorced from the requirement to license each sea-fishing boat. Therefore, all the Bill could hope to achieve is to put island fishermen in the uniquely bureaucratic situation of needing a personal licence and a sea-fishing boat licence. Entry to and exit from Ireland's fishing fleet is managed through the capacity of each vessel wishing to be registered as an Irish sea-fishing boat with the independent Registrar General of Fishing Boats.
Capacity in the form of gross tonnage and engine power has become a privately owned tradeable asset which, with certain exceptions, may be sold, traded or realised as a financial asset on the tonnage market. I stress it is not an asset owned by the Department or the Licensing Authority for Sea-fishing Boats. We must be clear here what we are talking about. Capacity is a privately owned asset by which fishing boat owners can exercise rights to fish on a commercial basis - rights to earn their livelihood.
The existing licensing system for sea-fishing boats is administered by the Licensing Authority for Sea-fishing Boats on an independent basis subject to criteria set out in legislation and ministerial policy directives. The Minister is legally precluded under section 3(5) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 from exercising any power or control in individual cases, or a group of cases, with which the licensing authority is or may be concerned. Licences issued by the licensing authority are issued to the owners of sea-fishing boats to license the vessel concerned. The owner may be an individual, a partnership or a corporate body, including a co-operative. An independent appeals system is available to anyone dissatisfied with a decision of the licensing authority.
It is important to point out that the existing licensing legislation and procedures are available to and apply to islanders engaged in commercial sea-fishing. Island fishermen therefore already have access to a licensing regime which recognises their commercial sea-fishing activities, their right to earn a living from the sea, on the same basis as others in the fishing industry.
There are further complexities in how the Irish sea-fishing fleet is managed, including licensing conditions and segmentation. I do not propose to take up the time of the House going into such details. Suffice it to say that there are restrictions on the nature of stocks which may be caught, the fishing gear which may be used and the areas in which fishing may be undertaken.
This Bill, as I read it, proposes to confer a responsibility on the Minister to issue licences to any person either habitually or ordinarily resident on offshore islands to engage in fishing in a narrowly defined way. The Bill does not set out how residency would be determined, nor is it clear how the proposed application process would deal with applications by corporate bodies such as co-operatives and partnerships which come under the legal term "person". I am concerned that the Bill would, if enacted, be open to exploitation by those with very little fishing heritage or island connections.
The Bill does not define what is meant by the term "offshore islands" and seems to presume that islands have a six-mile territorial limit. Many islands around the coastline are contained within the baselines of the territorial seas of the State. These include the Blasket Islands, the Aran Islands, Inishbofin, Clare Island off Mayo and Arranmore Island off Donegal.
The Bill sets out an intention to create a "non-transferable community island quota". It is long-standing Government policy that Ireland's fish quotas are a national asset. Ireland's fish quota management system is designed to ensure the best possible spread among fishing vessel operators and also in terms of uptake of quota throughout the year having regard to fishing patterns and market conditions. Quotas for species which can be obtained using small-scale coastal fishing gear, such as mackerel and herring, already have set-aside allocations for the inshore fishing sector. Key inshore stocks are not limited by quota arrangements, for instance, lobster and crab species which are the mainstay for many small boats. I believe Deputy Kenny had this in mind when he referred to artisan fishing.
The Bill provides no means of review, repeal, surrender or withdrawal of a licence and provides for no sanctions, offences or enforcement powers to oversee the proposed licensing regime. These deficiencies demonstrate that the Bill is not fit to address the concerns of island fishermen or any other community dependent on fishing.
The Government has made conscious strides to create more inclusive and responsive policies to support and develop communities which are reliant on fishing and seafood production for valuable incomes. The Government introduced the fishers tax credit in budget 2016 recognising the difficult nature of working in the fishing sector. I believe this also featured as a recommendation from the committee's report.
When I was Chair of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Fisheries, it was evident that no representative body was specifically focused on the inshore sector and the needs of its communities. The Government moved to address this long-standing challenge by creating the inshore fisheries forums to give inshore fishing communities an effective say in policymaking. The national inshore fisheries forum, supported by its base of six regional forums, has given the inshore fishing sector its first dedicated platform to provide meaningful input into decisions, such as access to Ireland's fishing quotas, use of funds from the EMFF and conservation measures for inshore stocks, all of which affect how the sector can operate.
I understand that island fishermen have representatives on four of the six regional inshore fisheries forums and also on the national inshore fisheries forum, which the Minister, Deputy Creed, regularly meets. I am, of course, not surprised that island fishermen and their communities have recognised the opportunities being involved in this process bring and how they can contribute to a better long-term future for their sector.
The Government is committed to supporting coastal and rural communities, including through the provision of direct financial supports.
Ireland's EMFF operational programme is focused on the development of the seafood sector and is a critical part of our commitment and I urge all small-scale coastal fishermen on offshore islands and otherwise to avail of the supports in the programme. I stress that the existing legislation in this area provides an independent licensing process for sea-fishing boats and contributes to managing Ireland's fishing fleet within EU rules. The existing legislation and procedures are available to and apply to islanders already. This Bill would conflict with existing legislation and procedures and would create more restrictive licences for islanders than are currently available to them. That is why the Government, unfortunately, cannot support this Bill.
It is a long way from Wexford but I have some links to Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal. My parliamentary assistant, Christopher Oonan, has been going there in the summer since he was 12. His girlfriend's family are from the island and many sets of tyres have been worn out in pursuit of that woman. To say islands have been ignored by the State would be a serious understatement. Arranmore is the fifth most populated coastal island in Ireland with a population of 469 in the 2016 census. As its population was 803 in 1981, there has been a decrease of nearly 50%. The current unemployment rate is 52% for males and 40% for females. Almost one in four families on the island are lone-parent families. This deprivation is not unconnected to the fact that fishing has all but ceased besides that for a few non-quota species. I will read some words from Séamus Bonner, a fisherman from Arranmore and secretary of the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation. He states:
Seasonal fishing has always been key to the way of life on the islands. Taking fish when they were at their best and allowing them to recover in the off season is the island way. Fitting in with the natural way of things comes second nature to islanders.
In more recent times a different way of thinking has come about. Bigger is better is the order of the day. The outcome of this has been bad for island communities who depend on fishing to make a living and allow islanders to stay on the islands.
Instead of a varied fishery, islanders are forced by the existing quota system to fish for non-quota species such as crab and lobster, all year round. This is not only unsustainable for the islands and puts massive pressure on the few fisheries we have access to. It cannot last. The Bigger-is-Better policy has failed us.
Small changes can have big effects on the islands, we see the results in our school numbers and our young people having to leave the islands for work.
Islanders have recognised the need for change to our way of thinking on fisheries for a long time now. We have organised, first regionally, then nationally. Islanders from Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Cork have come together to work out a way forward.
The Joint Oireachtas sub-committee report on fisheries in 2014, which this bill draws its ideas from, charts a way through EU and national rules.
The Common Fisheries Policy set by the EU, recognises that islands are different and need special consideration and support. It is written into the CFP foundations:
Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper.”
The islands heritage license bill being debated today provides for this support. It allows fair access to CFP quota species so that island fishers can fish seasonally in tune with natural cycles and the weather.
It provides for low-impact island boats to earn an income for island families which in turn will support the islands all along our coast. Small-scale fishing is the way forward for a fairer Common Fisheries Policy.
I come from a county which does not have much in the way of islands. We have Bannow Island, which is not really an island, and the Saltee Islands and Keeragh Islands. In any case, we do not have island fishermen but we do have many fishermen of various shapes and sizes and some, like the island fishermen, have seen their traditional culture slowly eroded by many different factors. We have salmon net fishermen on our river in the south east. They used to build traditional cots which they then used primarily to fish and sometimes to race in regattas. Whenever the season allowed, they used traditional net-fishing practices to catch perhaps one or two salmon a day. These traditional fishermen were one of the first groups to get the bullet when Inland Fisheries Ireland decided to tackle the decline of the north Atlantic salmon stock. The major industrial polluters got a pass to warm the waters around our island and further afield. The agricultural industry got a pass for eutrophication and water extraction on our rivers. Coastal salmon farmers got a pass to spread sea lice and to forget to report salmon escapes. There is a tail race on the Slaney where salmon and trout get trapped on a daily basis. It is the biggest problem facing salmon stocks on the Slaney and Inland Fisheries Ireland pulled out hundreds of fish on a few occasions in recent years. The same authority cannot tell me how many times it has inspected this tail race because it does not disaggregate inspections.
My point is simple. Small, traditional fish catchers on islands or rivers were taken out of the equation. Major fish killers continued to operate with immunity and are subsidised to continue in many cases. This Bill seeks to protect a small but important group of fishermen, which I welcome. While legislation can dictate that certain groups should be allowed to fish, it cannot guarantee fish. The journey cycle of a salmon is one of the most incredible feats of nature and the obstacles that the north Atlantic salmon faces to survive and spawn are incredible. The biggest of these obstacles are created by man and until we address these factors that lead to declines in fish stocks, Bills such as this, while important, are somewhat secondary in the bigger scheme of things. There are many traditional coastal fishermen in Wexford and east Waterford, including Dunmore, Duncannon, and Cheekpoint, who rejected the salmon hardship scheme. When the Government paid for a buy-out of Irish salmon drifter licences, not everyone sold out. Some people waited, in good faith, for stocks to recover. That was 11 years ago and it will be 12 years this summer. Much of what I have already said about island fishermen and their practices applies to these small-scale coastal fishermen too. We seem to punish the smaller fishermen and reward the big boats and supertrawlers.
Conservation of our fish stocks is vital but the traditional fishermen in Wexford and Waterford can still offer a sustainable fishing future. Most of their boats are under 10 m in length and these fishermen only spend approximately half a year on the water. Might the Minister support affordable, comprehensive or polyvalent licences and capacity for these men who have been waiting for too long, in recognition of their patience and loss of earnings? Will the Minister at least meet traditional coastal fishermen in Wexford? Wexford is consistently shown to be one of the most deprived counties in Ireland, not unlike the economic situation islanders find themselves in. Surely, we need to consider how the lives of people in these communities have been further devastated by the salmon licence buy-out and lack of improvement in the salmon stock. All fishermen, whether island, coastal or river, would be served much better if the Government started to tackle the real problems with fish stocks and climate change.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Bhí an-díomá orm faoi dhearcadh na Roinne tráthnóna. Bhí trua agam don Aire Stáit a tháinig isteach anseo tráthnóna agus óráid réitithe ag a Roinn dó. Tá a fhios agam gur chaith sé na míonna ag réiteach na tuarascála seo linn istigh sa gcoiste. Mar a dúirt sé féin ag an dtús ní raibh mórán tuisceana aige ar na pobail chois chósta agus na pobail oileánda. Ag deireadh an próisis bhí sé chomh heolach le duine ar bith eile ar an gcoiste agus bhí sé thar a bheith tacúil.
Is cuimhin liom an lá a ndeachaigh muid amach go hInis Oírr ag seoladh na tuarascála seo. Go deimhin, chuaigh muid amach ar an eitleán an mhaidin sin agus bhí orainn teacht ar ais ar an mbád de bharr go raibh athrú aimsire ann. Ba é ceann de na bunchlocha sa tuarascáil seo ná go mbeadh deis ag na pobail cois cósta leas a bhaint as an bhfarraige timpeall orthu agus iad ag dul ag iascaireacht, ní le haghaidh gliomaigh agus portáin amháin ach le haghaidh chuile chineál éisc atá san fharraige timpeall na háiteanna seo.
Bíonn an-spéis agam i gcónaí i leagan amach na hóráidí a thagann ó na Ranna Stáit. Bíonn óráidí ann a bhíonn ag iarraidh smaoineamh ar na fadhbanna ar fad seachas ar réiteach na bhfadhbanna. Bíonn óráidí eile ann a nochtaíonn dearcadh difriúil - deirtear go bhfuil an fhadhb seo ann agus an fhadhb siúd ann, ach d'fhéadfaí iad a réiteach. Níl aon amhras anseo tráthnóna ach go bhfuil dhá mhórlocht ar an óráid a réitíodh don Aire Stáit anseo inniu. Ar an gcéad dul síos, déanann sé tagairt d'airgead atá á chaitheamh ar chuile shórt seachas ar iascaireacht. Níl aon mhaith bheith ag tairiscint rudaí eile dóibh siúd atá ina gcónaí ar na hoileáin agus an fharraige timpeall orthu agus traidisiún ag a mhuintir bheith ag iascaireacht. Tá siad ag iarraidh dul ag iascaireacht.
Ní thiocfainn leis an mhéid a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Wallace maidir leis an mhéid atá á dhéanamh do na hoileáin. Nuair a bhí mise mar Aire, caitheadh €100 milliún ar infreastruchtúr na n-oileán. Tá a fhios agam nár caitheadh mórán ó shin. Níl aon togra os cionn €1 milliún ceadaithe ó shin. Míneoidh mé an fáth go bhfuil sé tábhachtach a lua gur caitheadh €100 milliún ag an am sin. Tógfaidh mé oileán amháin, Inis Meáin, mar shampla. Go dtí gur tógadh Céibh an Chalaidh Mhóir, ní raibh aon chéibh ar Inis Meáin a d'fhéadtaí bád a fhágáil ann thar oíche. Dá bharr sin, go traidisiúnta ní raibh an cuóta acu agus, mar sin, ní raibh na báid acu. Ní fhéadfadh a bheith. Fiú ar Inis Oírr, cuid mhaith den am níl sé sábháilte bád a fhágáil ceangailte ann. Fós bíonn ar mhuintir an oileáin an bád farantóireachta a thógáil anonn go hInis Meáin le go mbeidh sé sábháilte san oíche, agus mar sin a bheidh sé go dtí go dtógfar síneadh leis an gcéibh. Ní raibh an chaoi inar rinneadh an cuóta riamh féaráilte ar na hoileáin.
Ba mhaith liom Árainn Mhór a lua mar shampla eile. Nuair a bhí mise mar Aire, bhí pleananna á réiteach agus bhíodar beagnach réidh le cur le Céibh an Rannaigh, an chéibh is mó iascaireachta ar an oileán. Bhí a leithéid de shíneadh ag teastáil go géar. I gcás na n-oileán, caithfear cuimhneamh gur baineadh an cead dul ag iascaireacht le haghaidh bradáin ach níor cuireadh tada ina áit. Nuair a baineadh an cead sin ó oileáin amach ón gcósta ar nós Inis Oírr, Inis Meáin agus Árainn Mhór, baineadh go leor dóibh. Ceann de na rudaí atá tarlaithe dá bharr ná go bhfuil an iomarca brú ag teacht ar na portáin agus ar na gliomaigh.
Glacaim leis nach féidir an Bille seo a chur tríd na Dála mar atá sé. Tuigeann an tAire Stáit an córas atá againn anseo. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh mórlach sa Dáil taobh thiar den Bhille seo. Tá Fianna Fáil ag tacú leis an mBille. Dúirt mé é sin le Sinn Féin ón gcéad lá. Tá iontas orm nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag tacú leis, ó tharla gur tuarascáil traspháirtí a bhí anseo. Ar ndóigh, dá gceadófaí an reachtaíocht seo ar an Dara Céim inniu, faoi na rialacha atá sa Dáil anois tar éis an athchóirithe iomláin atá déanta sa Teach seo, rachadh an Bhille go dtí an coiste le haghaidh scrúdú réamhreachtaíochta. Tabharfadh sé sin deis dúinn breathnú ar na laigí teicniúla agus leasuithe a aontú. Tá sé an-deacair ag lucht an Fhreasúra reachtaíocht iomlán fhoirfe a chur le chéile. Más gá, d'fhéadfadh an Rialtas cúnamh a thabhairt dúinn le Bille níos fearr a chur le chéile, rud a chiallódh go mbeadh an t-eolas teicniúil againn an chéad uair eile a dhéanfaimis é seo le bealaí a fháil an iliomad fadhbanna atá anseo a shárú.
Ní ghlacaim le cúpla rud anseo. Tá sé an-éasca sainmhíniú a dhéanamh ar na hoileánaigh a bhfuil buanchónaí ar na hoileáin orthu. Tá a fhios againn cé hiad féin. Nach aisteach go bhfuil na báid fharantóireachta agus an tseirbhís aeir go hÁrainn in ann oibriú amach céard is oileánach ann? Is fiú a rá freisin go bhfuil clár na dtoghthóirí ar fáil. Mar sin, tá sé thar a bheith éasca sainmhíniú a dhéanamh ar céard is oileánach ann, agus ar céard iad na hoileáin atá i gceist. D'fhéadfaí iad a ainmniú sa Bhille. Mar a deirim, tá go leor fadhbanna curtha romhainn anseo gur féidir iad a réiteach. Shílfeadh éinne a bheadh ag léamh an aithisc seo gur bheartaigh na hoifigigh go raibh siad in aghaidh na reachtaíochta seo agus gur aimsigh siad na bealaí inar bhféadfadh siad cur ina aghaidh seachas a rá go raibh siad ina bhfábhar agus go mba cheart dóibh na bealaí go bhféadfadh siad é a fheabhsú a fháil chun é a chur i bhfeidhm.
Tá ceist ollmhór amháin curtha ag daoine áirithe. Cárbh as a dtiocfaidh na cuótaí agus na rudaí sin ar fad? Nílimid ag caint ar bháid mhóra. Táimid ag caint ar bháid bheaga de 10 m. Bheadh an méid cuóta a theastódh na hoileánaigh le haghaidh na báid bheaga sin ar fáil dá mbainfí de na báid ollmhóra iad. Ní aireoidís uathu é. Dá n-aireodh, bíodh sé mar atá sé. Tá sé in am athroinnt a dhéanamh ar shaibhreas na tíre seo. Mar sin, nuair a bheadh an cuóta á roinnt arís, cuirfear an méid seo ar leataobh do na daoine beaga. Mar a dúirt mé ag an tús, caithfidh go bhfuil sé aisteach do na hoileánaigh, agus iad ag breathnú amach ar an bhfarraige chuile lá, go bhfuil cosc iomlán orthu dul ag iascaireacht na farraige timpeall na hoileáin le haghaidh iliomad cineál éisc, agus gan an t-airgead a bheith acu le dul agus ceadúnais agus cuótaí a cheannach ar an margadh oscailte ar phraghas an mhargaidh.
Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit dul ar ais go dtí an tAire sinsearach agus a rá leis go bhfuil dearmad mór déanta aige anseo inniu agus é ag cur in éadan an Bhille seo. B'fhearr i bhfad don Aire Stáit cur leis an obair iontach a rinne sé mar Chathaoirleach ar an gcoiste a réitigh an tuarascáil seo. Iarraim air an Dara Céim den Bhille seo a cheadú agus ligean dó dul ar aghaidh go dtí an chéad chéim eile sa phróiseas, an plé réamhreachtaíochta istigh sa choiste, ionas go dtiocfaidh muid ar bhealach caoi ceart lena gcearta bunúsacha a thabhairt do phobail na n-oileáin. Is gearr go mbeidh éirí amach i measc daoine nach bhfuil in ann teacht ar a gcuid acmhainní féin. Tá sé feicthe ar na cnoic againn agus feicfimid ar an bhfarraige é. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ar son na ndaoine, mar a bhí sé roimhe seo, nó an bhfuil sé i gceist aige dul in éadan an phobail? D'oibrigh sé chomh dian go pearsanta ar son an phobail sin roimhe seo. Tuigim nach dtitfidh sé ar an Aire Stáit an cinneadh seo a dhéanamh. Iarraim air dul ar ais chuig an Aire sinsearach agus a rá leis nár cheart dearmad a dhéanamh ar an gceist seo.
Tógfaidh mé é sin san áireamh nuair atá mé ag caint. Ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé, cosúil le mo chomhghleacaithe go léir i mo pháirtí, ina measc na Teachtaí Ó Cuív agus Murphy O'Mahony, ag tabhairt lántacaíochta don Bhille seo. Molaim go mór iad siúd a chur an reachtaíocht seo le chéile. Fáiltím roimh ionadaithe na n-oileáin éagsúla atá anseo sa Ghailearaí. Chím daoine anseo ó Oileán Thoraí, ó Árainn Mhór agus ó na hoileáin eile amuigh ón gcósta atá tar éis turais fhada a dhéanamh ó na hoileáin go dtí an tír mór agus ón tír mór go dtí Baile Átha Cliath. Ní féidir na turais sin a dhéanamh in aon lá amháin. Léiríonn a láithreacht anseo tráthnóna cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an díospóireacht seo. Ní inniu ná inné a thosaigh siad ag teacht anseo. Tá siad ag teacht anseo thar na blianta fada ag iarraidh brú a chur orainn cuidiú leo agus le cás na n-iascairí ar na hoileáin bheaga.
Ar ndóigh, téann sé seo ar fad ar ais go dtí an cinneadh dul isteach sa Chomhphobal Eorpach, an tAontas Eorpach, mar atá sé anois, sa bhliain 1973. Ina dhiaidh sin, cuireadh an Comhbheartas Iascaigh i bhfeidhm sa bhliain 1983.
When Ireland became a member of the European Union in 1973, there was no doubt but that it benefited greatly. This can be seen from our major infrastructure. Membership gave us free access to 500 million people with whom we could trade our goods and services.
I repeat what I have said on numerous occasions in the Dáil and European Parliament, namely, that the fishing industry paid too great a price for membership of the Union. At the time in question, those who negotiated our membership were of the view that the quotas that would become available in 1983 would be sufficient to allow the industry to develop. Of course, we have discovered, regrettably, that this has not been the case. The key that was agreed at that time, when we got some 4.8% in total of the quotas in Europe, and some 21% on a larger scale, or, if it was boarfish, some 90% on a larger scale. It was not sufficient to allow the industry to develop.
Let me return to the subject of the islands. As I said in Irish, I fully support the Bill, as does my party. I fully support the measures contained in it. The Bill, as drafted, may not be perfect. Those in Sinn Féin who drafted it would be the first to admit that. In all my years here, dating back to 1981, I have never seen a Bill that was not amended at all following Second Stage. Even the Government amends its own Bills. It will have an opportunity to amend this one. We may have an opportunity to do so. We want an opportunity to consider this Bill on Committee Stage. The Government should not oppose it. I will go into detail as we go along.
It is blatant, given the support this Bill is receiving from the various parties and individuals concerned, that it will go through. There will be an opportunity when the vote is taken on Thursday of next week to have a rethink. Not only is the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, present but the Minister of State with responsibility for the islands, Deputy Joe McHugh, is also here. While this is a marine Bill, it is, as the latter Minister of State would say, fite fúite with the islands. In that context, there has to be joined-up thinking.
The Bill would provide young people and those who are not so young with an opportunity to secure a livelihood for themselves and their families and the islands off our coast. I am very familiar with many of the islands, having represented the Donegal islands during all my years here in the Dáil and the islands off the coasts of Galway and Mayo during my time in the European Parliament. On those islands, there is no alternative source of employment. There is an opportunity for fishing and tourism, particularly as they are linked to heritage. This is a heritage Bill. We want to give the islanders an opportunity to make a living on their doorstep. We should remember that we have the most prolific fishing grounds in all of Europe. The islanders are not in a position to avail of the opportunities presented by those prolific fishing grounds.
The Bill recognises the traditional rights of island fishing communities, and it follows on from the recommendation of the joint committee, to which reference has been made. We have to be positive about this and give credit to the former Chairman of the committee and current Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. Time does not permit me to go into detail on the recommendations of the committee. Others have referred to them.
I remind the Government that we are not taking this step without precedent. In 2011, when I was a Member of the European Parliament reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy, I played a lead role on behalf of the party of which I was a member, namely, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, and secured and agreement, not just in ALDE and in the European Parliament but also at the trilogue. We discussed the matter within the Council, the Parliament and the Commission. I remind the House that the President of the Council at the time was none other than the present Tánaiste, who was then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He was very supportive of me at that time.
It is said that if we agree to this Bill, we will be running into difficulty with Europe. Europe has agreed that "Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper". Those were my words but they were adopted by the European Parliament and the trilogue. They are written into the Common Fisheries Policy. Therefore, to suggest that we might not be compliant with European guidelines makes no sense. The joint committee said something similar.
Let us have the opportunity to amend the Bill, as necessary. It may be said that it is not compliant with European legislation. If it is not, let us make the necessary amendments that make it compliant. We will work together. If the Minister of State wants to establish a small working group to table amendments, all of us will be very happy to participate. The Minister of State says the Bill may not be in conformity with EU legislation. He should make it conform. That is what we are here for.
On the residency issue, it is suggested in the Bill that one has to be the holder of the licence and that one has to be on board the boat. It is easy to amend the provision in this regard. What happens if someone takes ill on the day and there are two or three others on the boat? These are little amendments we can deal with. I do not believe they should be regarded as obstacles to proceeding with the Bill.
We will give the Government the tools necessary to amend this Bill. How can we do so? We can do so by giving the Bill an overwhelming vote of confidence on Thursday of next week, irrespective of whether the Government supports it. I would like to believe the Government will support it. If it does not, every Member of this House, whether a member of a party or group or an Independent, will support it.
I am delighted because, while I have chaired the proceedings on very many Private Members' Bills, I have never seen as many Members taking an interest as today. One should remember it is Thursday evening. This is a fair indication of the commitment of all the parties and individuals concerned. The full time allowed will be used.
Impím ar an Rialtas agus ar na Airí Stáit atá i láthair leis an gceist seo a fhreagairt thar ceann Roinn na mara agus Roinn na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar an mBille seo agus cinneadh a ghlacadh gan vótáil ina choinne. Tá an reachtaíocht seo an-tábhachtach do mhuintir na n-oileán agus dóibh siúd atá anseo sa Ghailearaí, atá ag déanamh an-ionadaíocht thar ceann na hoileánaigh.
I am sharing time with Deputies Pringle and Connolly.
While I represent the constituency of Dublin Central, I am contributing on the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill because of my very long association and relationship with one of the islands, Oileán Chléire, County Cork, and because of my visits to many other islands. I know about and value the benefits of island life, which I have experienced over many years. The islands have a special, unique atmosphere and way of life, not to mention scenery, natural beauty, peace and tranquility.
The wide range of skills that islanders have had to develop over the years are also very obvious because they depend on each other so much and that community spirit is evident.
I am not looking at islands through rose-tinted glasses because I also know the difficulties, pressures and practicalities of living on islands and the extra costs, in particular of transport of goods and animals on and off the islands, the way islands can be cut off due to adverse weather conditions and the effect of those weather conditions on the infrastructure and roads on the islands. It is vital that islanders can make a living - a viable income - in order to stay on the islands. Otherwise, we are going to see an increase in the outward flow to cities and abroad. We know island populations are falling and the viability of island life is under threat. We could do without any more Blasket Island scenarios.
Islanders have traditionally depended on farming and fishing but life has been particularly difficult for island fishermen. The Bill goes some way towards addressing those difficulties. I will use some of the time left to me to refer to what an island fisherman, a young man whom I know, said about the reality of life for him as a fisherman. He has been fishing all his life since he was a youngster right up to adulthood when he had his own purpose-built 10 m inshore potter. He invested heavily in that. He had taken out a mortgage on it but he was forced to downsize to a 20 ft. fibreglass boat a number of years ago. Part of the reason for downsizing was an inability to make repayments. He was forced to buy a licence to allow him to fish in an area where he had been fishing all his life and where generations of his family had also fished. He believes in the importance of regulating access to the fishing industry. Otherwise, it would be a free for all with unlicensed operators depleting the stocks.
In his 20 years fishing he tried to incorporate conservation measures into his fishing activities such as V-notching programmes, minimum size limits, maximum size limits for lobster and brown crab and also voluntary closed seasons. What he was doing was sustainable and he felt that was vital in order to protect the stocks and ensure viability. However, he said what is not sustainable is the current licensing system where inshore and part-time island fisherman have to pay huge amounts for a licence. He said that is preventing any young island fisherman from even considering having a future in the industry, which would otherwise enable them to make a living on the island. He also said the current licensing structure does not fit with the inshore way of fishing. It was designed for bigger boats where their ability to catch fish was measured by the amount of power, also known as kilowatts. Due to those boats becoming even bigger there is a scarcity of kilowatts and it could cost up to €1,000 to buy even one. I appreciate that talk of kilowatts is another aspect of the issue but the point he is making is that small island fishermen are being forced to compete against the large multinational fishing companies to buy the kilowatts. His point is that the Government has a responsibility to prevent our natural resources from effectively becoming privatised by monopolies. In most other countries in the world small inshore boats have a permit that allows them to fish, which is not tied to engine power and so they do not have to compete with the multinational cartels to buy access to the natural resources.
The 20 ft. boat he currently uses for fishing is too small to safely fish around the island which is eight miles offshore. He has to push the boat to its limits in order to make it profitable. Then he must also steam eight miles to the mainland to land his catch and collect bait often in poor conditions. The current licence does not allow him to upgrade as well as the cost factor being prohibitive.
B'fhearr leis fanacht ar an oileán, páirt a ghlacadh sa phobal agus leanúint ar aghaidh ag iascaireacht ach tá sé imithe anois as a bhaile dúchais. Ba mhaith liom aitheantas speisialta a thabhairt do na hoileáin sa Ghaeltacht agus tacú leo as an tslí ina bhfuil siad ag leanúint ar aghaidh leis an nGaeilge chun í a choimeád beo.
The Bill is going some way towards addressing the issues. What the Minister said earlier was disappointing but I hope that we can address them on Committee Stage.
I wish to start by congratulating the island fishermen for sticking with the fight they started, and to be parochial I will mention in particular the fishermen from Donegal. We started this struggle through the committee in the last Dáil. It was thanks to the work of then committee Chairman, now Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, that we managed to publish a report. I know he would like to support the Bill but he had to speak against it today. That is an anomaly of being in government at this stage, although he was in favour of the report published by the committee under his stewardship. It is a sad indictment that after all the work carried out by Dáil committees that reports fall on deaf ears within Departments. I am not just singling out the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as the same is true across all Departments in that many committee reports end up lying idle. For that reason we have introduced the Bill before the House to try to achieve what should have been achieved when the report was first published.
What is left out of this process is the island fishermen themselves who vested their trust in the Oireachtas to deliver on what is a reasonable demand. How many fishermen have been pushed further into debt by our inaction? How many have left fishing entirely and how many have left the islands because we have been unable to carry this process through for them? I believe that we all lose when someone has to leave an island or give up traditional fishing, in particular when it is due to the inaction of the Government.
The Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017 would go some way to showing that the Oireachtas is going to stand up for fishermen and their rights. This Bill on its own will not reverse the downward trend in the island fishing populations but it would help empower communities further to fight for their own survival and that is the least we should aim to achieve in this House today. The Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries in its report, Promoting Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities, and in its final recommendations stated that greater support for communities be provided. In recommendation 10 the report recommends that the Government examine the feasibility of the issuance of heritage licences to rural coastal and island communities. Such licences would, optimally, facilitate traditional fishing practices. The following quote from the report sums up the position when it states.
[In] regard to inshore fisheries, the sub-committee has some concerns. It would appear that plans advanced to develop the management of inshore fisheries now appear to be in abeyance. It would also appear that there is a paucity of data, in particular to inshore fisheries in the context of fishing and circumstances of the under 10 metre LOA category of vessel, the bulk of the fleet. It is clear that it is upon this category that many of the communities, which are the focus of this report, depend to a significant degree economically, socially, demographically and even culturally on inshore fisheries. In this context, the sub-committee asks the question as to what degree the Government is in a position to plan for the future of this industry and, by extension, these communities. It appears that there is a very fragmented governance of the maritime sector so the sub-committee also queries whether other, simpler models should not be examined by the Government.
That says it all. We need to take a long look at how the Department governs fisheries and find ways to reform that. It seems to me that the system is definitely broken. The Bill itself is in line with the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. Article 20 states: "small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper". If it was ever appropriate, now is the time. Section 19 of the CFP states: "Member states should endeavour to give preferential access for small scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen" which further strengthens the support for island fishermen. I am no friend of the EU but at least in this case the EU is standing up for island fishermen, which we are not doing. The island communities have looked around Europe to see if such a model exists anywhere else and have found similar models already working. One example is in Galicia in Spain and this model is based substantially on it. The Government cannot say that no such approach exists and that it is too difficult, which it probably will try to say here today.
The island communities have done great work in getting the issue this far, and hopefully we can get them the rest of the way. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention wider coastal communities and fishermen who are also suffering who could be helped by a similar approach for the very same reasons. The one drawback that they have is that they do not have the distinct area that an island has and in a lot of cases are working almost alone. I believe that they should be included in this arrangement and that was the view of the Oireachtas committee as well. Island communities are not properly represented but that should not make their issue any less important, it just makes it harder for them to get a hearing.
In conclusion, I wish to say well done to the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IMRO, in getting this far. I hope this Oireachtas does not let its members down and, by extension, that the Department will honour the recommendations of the committee report and respond to the express wishes of the Oireachtas.
Níl drogall ar bith agam mo bhuíochas a thabhairt don Bhille seo. Gabhaim buíochas le Sinn Féin as ucht é a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Níl sé foirfe, gan dabht, ach is féidir na fadhbanna, na lochtanna agus na laigeachtaí a oibriú amach ar Chéim an Choiste. Ar ndóigh, tá an Bille bunaithe ar an tuarascáil ón gcomhchoiste. Tháinig an tuarascáil sin amach i mí Eanáir 2014. Sin ceithre bliana ó shin agus, má tá an t-am agam, tiocfaidh mé ar ais go dtí an tuarascáil sin. Tá na moltaí ann iontach ar fad. Faraor géar ní cuireadh i bhfeidhm iad ach tá 29 moladh i gceist. Tá an Bille seo bunaithe go príomhá ar moladh 10. Ar ndóigh, tá an Bille i bhfad níos srianta ná an moladh mar luaitear sa Bhille na hiascairí atá ina gcónaí ar oileáin agus ní luaitear ar chor ar bith na daoine atá ina gcónaí ar an mórthír in aice na farraige. Tá sé thar a bheith srianta agus ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil an Rialtas 100% taobh thiar den Bhille seo.
I am fully behind the Bill. It is certainly not perfect and it has problems but they can be worked out on Committee Stage. Indeed, the Bill is based on the report produced at an earlier stage by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle. The Minister of State has been praised, and rightly so. I have taken the trouble of downloading the report and reading it.
Four years ago, the now Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, stood over what I would term as a radical document. Unfortunately, from what I can see, none of the 29 recommendations has been implemented. Today, in particular, we are considering recommendation 10. The Sub-committee on Fisheries chaired by the now Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, recommended that the Government examine the feasibility of the issuance of heritage licences to rural coastal and island communities. Such licences would, the recommendation suggested, optimally facilitate traditional fishing practices and so on. This Bill is far more restrictive than the recommendation. It simply refers to fishermen habitually living on islands. It is also limited by the nature of the licence, which is a non-transferable heritage licence, and the boat size referenced is particularly small.
I have before me the response of the Minister of State. Tá trua agam don Aire Stáit mar bhí sé 100% taobh thiar den tuarascáil seo agus anois tá sé ina shuí agus níl sé in ann tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille srianta seo. Bheadh mise ag súil le Bille i bhfad níos leithne ón Rialtas agus go háirithe ón Aire Stáit de bharr an méid oibre a rinne sé sa tuarascáil. I feel sorry for the Minister of State in a sense. He has done tremendous work and has come up with good recommendations. One in particular was altogether radical and lifted my heart: recommendation 6. Reference is made to a clear need for a statutory financial community gain in respect of agriculture and marine energy projects. Of course that recommendation was never realised. I do not think any of the recommendations has ever been implemented.
The Minister of State has stood behind recommendation 10. The Bill is far more restrictive than that recommendation. He cannot even agree to change the Bill in that regard on Committee Stage.
An adage comes to mind - the devil will quote scripture to suit his purpose. Certainly, I do not attribute any satanic characteristics to the Minister of State. However, he quotes from the Common Fisheries Policy to suit himself. Yet, he has ignored the preamble, which has already been referenced by my colleagues, paragraph 20 of which states: "Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper."
There are other references to helping islands enjoy sustainable life. The Minister of State referred to the difficulties of the reference to "habitually resident". Family law legislation has many uses of the term "habitually resident" without a problem for the purposes of judicial separation, divorce and other issues in family law.
I recognise that the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is in a difficult position, but that is the time to show leadership.
I have been here the longest and I have been waiting, so I will take my ten minutes. As Deputy Gallagher said, many of us have stayed around to contribute to this Bill and that only serves to emphasise its importance.
I compliment the Sinn Féin Party on bringing forward the Bill and on making a significant contribution in this area.
The Bill is about the future of island communities and small fishermen. It is a signal to these people, our people, that they are not being forgotten. It is clear to everyone that small-scale island fishermen have struggled for survival. In a brilliant article last July, Lorna Siggins wrote about Ireland's islands and how the offshore islands were fighting depopulation and neglect. People on the islands have felt abandoned at times. I know the story of one such fisherman. Many people know him although I do not. His name is John O'Brien from Arranmore in Donegal. The article neatly encapsulated why this Bill is so important. It has the clear objective of formalising the recognition in Ireland for small offshore islands that are dependent on fishing. Mr. O'Brien clearly struggled after he and several other fishermen on Arranmore refused to surrender their wild salmon licences when the ban on drift netting came into operation in 2007. He refused a compensation package. In a brilliant film for TG4, "A Turning Tide in the Life of Man / I mBéal na Stoirme" by the French film producer Loiec Jourdain the seed or idea of heritage licences for fishing tied to a cultural link to a specific area emerged. Mr. O'Brien’s advocacy and awareness was the acorn for this concept. It was all about a refusal to dispose of the rights of his children and grandchildren. That acorn started to grow and was strengthened as a result of the report referenced already this evening on promoting rural, coastal and island communities from the Sub-Committee on Fisheries. I have been a member of agriculture committees for the past 20 years, but I think I was out of favour for a year or so around that time the sub-committee deliberated and so I was not involved. The sub-committee operated under the chairmanship of the now Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. The report was published in January 2014.
Mr. O'Brien did not stop after his initial efforts. He went to the European Parliament and, with his colleagues, achieved the insertion of a clause in the Common Fisheries Policy allowing member states to protect island communities. He has already secured a major achievement. The idea of people telling us that our aims cannot be achieved is simply ceding far too easily to legal advice.
The Bill provides for the introduction of non-transferable community quotas for the islands that would be facilitated through the issuing of heritage licences to island fishermen in order to carry out traditional island fishing practices. Seasonal small-scale coastal fishing could be a life-saver for these communities, since it would help to sustain employment and thereby communities. In turn, this would help in the retention of school facilities and other important infrastructure on the islands. If we do not take proactive steps to sustain and maintain the island populations by specific policy measures, such as those contained in this simple but effective Bill, then the population will drift and disappear and important parts of our culture, heritage, music, language and dialect will be lost forever. I recognise that the Bill may well have to be refined and amended.
We are all aware that the ongoing losses suffered by Ireland's indigenous and sustainable island fishing communities are undermining the cultural life of our coastal peoples as they struggle and grapple each day with the threat of impending further losses. If this is allowed to continue without positive intervention, such as the measures as set out in the Bill, the fabric of coastal communities will inevitably disappear.
Other EU member states have argued successfully for heritage status for their islands. Yet, we are an island country but we have been tardy and reticent about our ambition to achieve the objective that Mr. O'Brien and his fellow brave fishermen have sought. This is our opportunity. If there is an EU objection to our reservation, we should tell those responsible to get stuffed. We have been craven long enough. The Sub-committee on Fisheries set out 29 recommendations to help and assist coastal communities in activities such as aquaculture, inshore fishing, tourism and seaweed activities. As I have said, the issuing of heritage licences under recommendation 10 can be instantly achieved by facilitating the passing of this legislation.
The sub-committee prepared a comprehensive report that necessitated many meetings, work and scrutiny. The recommendations are instructive. The sub-committee recommended that the Government should examine the feasibility of heritage licences to be issued by the Department for rural coastal communities representing and facilitating traditional fishing practices.
Let there be no more beating around the bush: let us stop kowtowing and adopting a subservient attitude to the EU Commission. These can be facilitated within the terms of the current Common Fisheries Policy framework. As far as I can see, the EU Commission seems to be generally happy or eager to support proposals if they facilitate the privatisation of our vital natural resources.
Various amendments can be made and if deficiencies exist in the Bill they can be remedied on Committee Stage. Definitions can be refined and appeal systems can be included.
As Deputy Martin Kenny stated, small-scale coastal fishing is defined as fishing from vessels less than 12 m in length and not using towed fishing gear. This is a precise legislative definition which the Labour Party unequivocally supports. As Deputy Kenny noted, this form of artisan fishing contrasts favourably with fishing by large vessels and super-trawlers which catch all before them and cause small fishermen to lose out.
For a century, the Labour Party has supported and worked with our island communities. I refer to the work done by Deputies, Senators, councillors and members of my party, from the former Deputy Michael McCarthy in Cork South West to the former Councillor Seamus Rodgers in County Donegal. Last July, Mr. Rodgers contacted the Labour Party Parliamentary Party immediately to ensure that we would support the Bill proposed by Sinn Féin. Fair play to Sinn Féin Deputies for being networked; they do not miss a trick.
Every year on Arranmore, the island on which the Bill was launched, the life of the great socialist campaigner, Peadar O’Donnell, is celebrated. Peadar, a socialist republican and lead organiser for the ITGWU, never forgot his roots in Donegal. He wrote the acclaimed book Islandersin 1928. The Islanders Weekend, which is held in his memory, is a unique event which examines how to make life more sustainable on our islands. The theme of September's gathering was "islands on the edge" and what could be done to make life more sustainable on our islands.
As a Deputy from an inland county, I am not familiar with coastal areas but I read about many of the issues to bring myself up to speed. I would be much more informed if we were discussing lake fishing. I had a busy two days reading the report on fisheries produced by the joint committee in 2012.
The Bill is welcome and timely and I applaud Sinn Féin Deputies for introducing it. If we are to support our island communities, there must be a commitment to sustaining a livelihood. Fishing is the resource closest to them.
The Bill was launched on the island of Arranmore by Deputies Martin Kenny and Pearse Doherty, and I know Deputy Martin Ferris also contributed to drafting it. Arranmore is an interesting example because it was the first offshore island to be connected under the rural electrification scheme in 1957, more than 60 years ago. Today, the Dáil debated the provision of broadband to 524,000 people living in rural areas who still do not have access to a service. They include places such as Ballynacarrigy, Ballymore, Castletown Geoghegan, Colehill and Lenamore in my constituency. My parish of Ballynacarrigy was divided up for the purpose of delivering broadband, which meant we could look up to the road and see works being done in Sonna. Arranmore Island got electricity in 1957. It is an absolute disgrace that broadband is not available in a large area such as Ballynacarrigy. The quicker it is provided the better. I would not like to think it will take hundreds of years. If the Government cannot give islands a proper connection to the modern world, it should at least allow islanders to fish the waters off their shores to try to eke out a living and pass it on to their offspring.
Peadar O'Donnell championed the rights of seasonal potato pickers who had to travel to Scotland. I have no doubt he would have been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure the Bill is enacted. The challenges Peadar O'Donnell faced in organising workers still exist, albeit in different forms. While the gig economy benefits some, it does not offer sustainable jobs with decent terms and conditions.
Fishing has traditionally been a mainstay for our islands and this Bill would ensure guaranteed rights and some chance of maintaining a population on them. For this reason, the Labour Party unambiguously and unequivocally supports it.
Táim fíorbhuíoch don deis cúpla focal a rá faoin Bhille seo tráthnóna inniu. Táim fíorbhródúil fosta as a bheith ábalta in éineacht le mo chomhghleacaithe i Sinn Féin an reachtaíocht seo a mholadh.
I am delighted to see so many Deputies contributing to the debate. It appears not all those who wish to speak will have their voices heard. It is good that there is such demand to speak on this legislation. I am pleased to be able to sponsor this Bill with my party colleagues, Deputies Martin Ferris and Martin Kenny. Some months ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Deputy Kenny to Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal where together we launched this significant Bill. I also presented it on Tory Island earlier this year.
The Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill is both significant and historic because it seeks to put an end to the years of decline we have unfortunately witnessed for all too long in our offshore island populations. In drafting the legislation, Sinn Féin worked closely and in consultation with the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, which is dedicated to promoting and defending island fishing communities. The origins of the IIMRO lie in the long struggle of Donegal island fishermen to achieve recognition of their rights. This followed the offshore ban on salmon fishing in 2006, which was closely followed in 2008 by the ban on all net fishing in waters known as Area 6A.
I am pleased to report that a number of IIMRO members are in the Gallery. They include Arranmore native, Jerry Early, and Seamus Bonner, who has been mentioned, as well as others who have been instrumental in developing, promoting and campaigning for the Bill before the House. It is only right that we pay tribute to these individuals for the role they have played in bringing the plight of island fishing communities to the fore. Without them, this Bill would not have seen the light of day. It was they who nurtured it.
Many Deputies referred to the report of the joint committee. I commend the Chairman of the committee at the time, the current Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle. The driving force for the report was the island communities, particularly on Arranmore. They wrote to the joint committee demanding to have their voices heard. Thankfully, the committee listened and gave them a voice. It then produced a report in which it recommended the legislation before the House. This speaks to the length of time people on the islands have been campaigning for their rights.
I referred to the organisation which was established before the national and regional inshore fisheries forums. Many would argue that it was the work of the IIMRO that led to the establishment of these forums. Sílim go mba chóir dúinn ár mbuíochas a ghabháil leo as a gcuid iarrachtaí go dtí seo agus iad fós i mbun feachtais chun aitheantas a bhaint amach maidir le cearta iascairí na n-oileán. Feachtas é seo ní hamháin in Eirinn. Feachtas é a bhí curtha os comhair údaráis na hEorpa fosta ag an t-oileánach John O’Brien agus cruachás na n-iascairí léirithe go soiléir sa scannán "A Turning Tide in the Life of Man".
When I use the term "cruachás" or "hardship" in English, no one in this Chamber should think for one second that it not an appropriate way to describe the difficulties our island fishing communities have been forced to contend with through the years. These are the communities of Tory, Arranmore and many other islands where fishing has long played a central role not only in the local economy, but in island life more broadly. This brings us to the nub of the issue and the reason the Bill is so important. If enacted, it will ensure, for the first time, that island based fishing communities have their rights to practice their long established traditional fishing methods protected and recognised by law. These are rights and freedoms which successive Governments failed to protect and defend for years. This failure to stand up for island communities has seen many of their inhabitants having their livelihoods unfairly robbed of them. It has meant that a once proud fishing people have been all but barred from fishing the very waters which surround the place they call home.
Let us put ourselves in their shoes for just one moment. A couple of weeks ago, when I spoke about the Bill on Tory Island, I had these very thoughts and I had them again earlier this week when I looked out at the Atlantic ocean from Arranmore Island. Imagine being the son or daughter of a fisherman from Tory Island and despite the waters around the island having been a means of sustaining and supporting one's family for generations, these same waters are now forbidden territory. That is the shocking and shameful reality facing island fishing communities and it must not be allowed to continue.
The Minister may wish to nitpick about the Bill, find flaws in it or use smoke and mirrors to deflect from it. However, if he genuinely believes in the future of island communities, he should agree to work together on it. One way or another, with or without Government support, this Bill will pass.
I ask the Minister of State, his officials and his Department to get on board, so that we bring in the best heritage licence Bill we can and we make sure that the reality I described about staring at waters ripe with fish but in which islanders are forbidden to fish is no longer the reality. This Bill is an effort to right that wrong. Our Bill is designed to facilitate the continuation of traditional fishing methods which have sustained island populations for centuries. If enacted, through exploiting the limited scope which exists within the Common Fisheries Policy framework, this legislation will allow for the provision of dedicated ring-fenced and non-transferable quotas on our offshore islands. It will provide for the issuing of licences to island fishermen habitually resident on these islands who engage in small-scale coastal fishing to earn a living. In an effort to ensure this legislation is robust, that its provisions are lawful and that the integrity of the legislation is maintained, we have purposefully included a number of restrictions. These are to ensure that the quota cannot be transferred to anybody else and that the licences cannot be traded or sold off, as has happened in the past.
Let me be clear. This Bill will not completely undo the imbalances in our current fishing laws, which are unfairly tipped the balance in favour of the select few. However, I believe passionately that this legislation will go some way towards ensuring that small island fishermen have a future in which islanders can fish their waters without fear, with impunity and, most importantly, with a future where they can have hope, not just for themselves, but for their islands and for generations of islanders to come. Seo é fáth nach bhfuil aon drogall orm an Bhille seo a mholadh don Teach.
I plead with the Minister of State. As I said, this legislation is going to pass, so I call on him to get on board. I said to the island community and the fishermen on both Tory and Arranmore that we have the support of Fianna Fáil, the Labour party and the Independents. There are enough people in this House who support this concept, but I told them that is not good enough. What we want is for this House to speak with one voice. This is even bigger than the issue of the right to fish for island communities. This will represent the House saying that we recognise island communities as special and distinct, and we are willing to carve out a space in Irish law for them, in recognition of the challenges and difficulties that have been placed on them by Governments and by nature. That is what this is about, so I appeal to the Minister of State not to call a vote on this Bill.
Let this House stand together and send a signal to the fishermen who travelled here today from our offshore islands, from offshore Donegal and elsewhere, and to those who were not able to travel but who want to hear that now they have a Government and a Parliament that recognise their identity and challenges and want to do something to make sure they have a future in the place they call home and that they love, the offshore islands.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak today. I commend the work of the committee which made this recommendation and Sinn Féin on bringing forward this Bill on the back of that recommendation. I welcome the fishing representatives from our islands in the Visitors Gallery.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, on his role, which has been remarked on by previous speakers, in chairing that committee and putting that valuable report together. It is absolutely crucial that these reports and recommendations are not just published but that they are acted on. The report of the committee the Minister of State chaired followed previous reports in the 2000s. There were two - in 2003 and 2007 - if I recollect correctly but their were two in previous years. It is crucial we see those recommendations put in place. There is no doubt that our island communities have suffered tremendously. As new jobs have been created in the wider economy, some in new sectors, these new jobs have not arrived on our islands. At the same time, the traditional jobs have been leaving them. As a result, incomes have been reduced, and the islands have experienced emigration in a way that other parts of the country have not. The income levels are much lower and all the statistics show that to be the case.
Those who live on the islands, however, are very dedicated, committed and loyal to their way of life and make the very best of the resources that are available to them. It is absolutely crucial that, from a national policy point of view, we try to assist and work with them. I commend the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation on the work it has done in pioneering this. I know from the Minister of State's contribution that he has a concern with the Bill and may not support it. However, I would point out to him that cross-party support means the Bill can go forward but that should not happen with the Government digging in its heels and trying to resist it. I encourage the Minister of State to embrace the Bill and work with it. If it requires amendment, let us have that debate on Committee Stage where that can be facilitated. The Bill can be added to and teased out further, as required.
The overall objective of 1% of quota, which is what has been indicated will be required, is not significant in the round. However, it will be particularly significant and important if allocated to the islands, specifically to island-based fishermen. The letter all Deputies received from Seamus Bonner of the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, in the name of the chairperson, Jerry Early, outlined very clearly the importance of the Bill. In the letter, Mr. Early wrote:
The ongoing losses suffered by Ireland's indigenous and sustainable island fishing communities are undermining the cultural life of our coastal peoples and they live every day with the threat of further losses. Making a living out of the sea is not just about fishing, it is a way of life and fundamental to the fabric of life in coastal communities.
People are sustained not just by the food and income it supplies, they are sustained by the songs, stories and ancient traditions it inspires. Ireland's islanders have been farmers and fishermen for generations, living in harmony with the needs of the land and the environment. However, current and future generations of island-dwellers are forced to emigrate or move to the cities, this unique way of life is being lost.
That puts it very well and puts the onus on us, as legislators, to ensure the life, incomes and cultural lifestyle of our islands, which are so important to the fabric of our country, can be maintained and to work with them to support that.
As spokesperson for agriculture, I must point out that in the areas of natural constraint scheme, there is a special category for islands, which pays at the maximum rate, in recognition of the fact that farming is more difficult on islands. We should do the same where fishing is concerned.
I support this Bill and I urge the Minister of State to allow it to go to Committee Stage with his co-operation rather than resistance. I call on him to work with all parties in the Dáil to ensure this very worthwhile objective comes to fruition so that we can support our island fishermen and communities.
I would like to begin by noting that I feel very blessed to represent a constituency that has islands. Everything should be done to enhance island living. The Common Fisheries Policy provides for small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing and efforts should be made to enable them to survive. The idea of heritage licences is set out in the Oireachtas report, a report which was endorsed by an all-party Oireachtas committee in 2014.
As stated by my colleagues, Fianna Fáil supports the main principles of this Bill and its passage on Second Stage. Island fishermen live and work in a harsh and unpredictable environment. Therefore, this Bill is all about fairness. Aside from this, the fishing sector is an essential part of the Irish economy, with Bord Bia advising that seafood exports amounted to €645 million in 2017. This is particularly relevant in light of Brexit. A hard Brexit would be detrimental to the fishing industry in Ireland. The Government needs to prioritise this and take a firm stance in regard to future trade links.
Recommendation 10 of the report calls for the Government to examine the feasibility of the issuance of heritage licences to rural, coastal and island communities.
Such licences would essentially facilitate traditional fishing practices in conjunction with the establishment of a producer organisation representing vessels under a certain length in designated areas.
I am speaking from the perspective of islands in West Cork where traditional fishing practices are, unfortunately, being eradicated. Once this unique and beautiful tradition, which is synonymous with Irish culture, fades out, it will be lost forever. In that regard, there is an urgent need to attract younger people into the fishing sector, but the future is far from certain. Specifically, I refer to Sherkin Island in my constituency. I am advised that nobody is working in the fishing industry on the island. The last remaining fisherman, a young person incidentally, decided there was no future in fishing, or in island living, and he left the island in the past few months to live on the mainland. Islanders on Sherkin, Cape Clear and Bere Island advise that no assistance is made available to them and even if they decide to stay on the island they are impeded by over-regulation. It is simply too hard to live off the ever decreasing remuneration derived from fishing.
The industry needs to be attractive but, more important, it needs to be viable. The West Cork Islands Interagency Group believes that the viability of the fishing sector will assist them in their objective to increase the population of our islands. Heritage licences are a lifeline to the fisheries sector. Strict regulations, which would limit the issuing of licences, would guarantee that those most deserving and in most need would receive same - essentially, those habitually resident on the island and those with vessels no longer than 12 m. This measure will ensure that small inshore fishing will survive and prosper. The Fianna Fáil policy paper seeks to build on the success of the Wild Atlantic Way by creating an “Irish Way”. Any progress needs to ensure that all sectors prosper and none is left languishing behind, which is currently the case, unfortunately, with the fishing sector.
I reiterate that the Government must make fisheries a top priority. The introduction of heritage licences would demonstrate the Government's commitment to this industry and in that regard I call on the Ministers of State and the Government to act accordingly.
Cuirim fáilte roimh na daoine uilig ó na hoileáin éagsúla timpeall na tíre atá anseo agus molaim an díospóireacht seo. Gabhaim m'aitheantas chuig Sinn Féin fá choinne na moltaí agus an Bille. Gabhaim m'aitheantas le mo chuid chomhghleacaithe, na Teachtaí Andrew Doyle agus Seán Kyne, a bhí agus atá anseo inniu.
It is important to have this wide-ranging debate on a Thursday evening. It is also important to recognise the island community representatives who are present to outline and highlight the significance of being from an island. I will get into my car following the debate and I will get a late dinner but they do not know whether they will make the last ferry this evening. That is the significance and hard reality of living on an island and that has to be emphasised again and again. The Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, prepared an excellent cross-party report and his heart is in the right place. He has the backing of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne and myself, and I have spoken to the Taoiseach at length regarding the issue. We want to do something within the parameters of the law and what is possible.
Unfortunately, we have an issue with process. Sinn Féin will win the vote later because it has the support of the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil but there is a difficulty with process. The Ceann Comhairle and I try to tease this out day in, day out under the new political regime. Upwards of 25 Private Members' Bill have passed Second Stage but they are sitting in a vacuum. We have to consider what will happen after the Bill passes Second Stage. It will go to the joint committee but not to Committee Stage. The committee will have to go through all the issues raised by the Department and the legal concerns raised by the Attorney General. However, that is the forum in which these will be debated and where all parties will tease them out. It will not go to Committee Stage even at that point. Following the joint committee's deliberations, a money message will be needed for the legislation and we are having difficulty with that.
We have the principle of this issue at heart. Representative organisations along the coastline have made submissions but I would like inshore fishermen to get a leg up as well as the islands and nobody opposes that. Singling out the islands is symbolic and we need to go a step further. I want to pursue this issue as best I can. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, has the knowledge of the islands in his constituency and we are having a cross-party discussion now. However, this is a process. What we do next will create expectation when the Bill passes Second Stage because Sinn Féin has the numbers.
I want to be part of that conversation. I do not want to be ag déanamh bréige. The Bill will go to the joint committee, not to Committee Stage, for further discussion and I want to be part of that. My two colleagues also want to be involved as well.
Bhí mé ag éisteacht leis an díospóireacht ar an teilifís i m'oifig sular tháinig mé isteach sa Teach agus gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis na Teachtaí Dála uilig. Is mian liom a rá arís go bhfuil sé mar phríomhaidhm i gclár an Rialtais seo geilleagar láidir a thógáil agus sochaí cothrom a chur ar fáil ionas gur féidir le daoine maireachtáil faoin tuath agus sna cathracha in Éirinn. Cuirtear muintir na n-oileán san áireamh sa ghealltanas seo agus tá a fhios go maith ag an Rialtas go bhfuil an fharraige thart ar an tír seo ar ceann de na hacmhainní nádúrtha is luachmhaire atá againn. Ní féidir a rá go bhfuil an Bille seo ag baint an leas is fearr as na hacmhainní nádúrtha seo d'iascairí na n-oileán. I ndáiríre, ní féidir leis an mBille seo gealltanas a thabhairt má eiseann an tAire ceadúnas nach gcuireann an Comhbheartas Iascaireachta ar fáil. Chomh maith leis sin, bheadh coimhlint ann idir Éireann agus tíortha eile ag éirí as ár tiomantas don Chomhbheartas Iascaireachta agus, i gcás bradáin, do prionsabal na hEagraíochta um Chaomhnú Bradán san Atlantach Thuaidh, or NASCO. Tugann an Fóram Náisiúnta Iascaigh Cladaigh atá bunaithe ag an Rialtas deis d'iascairí cladaigh cur leis an polasaí bainistíochta agus caomhnaithe.
While welcoming the debate and commenting on the engagement via the forums I have mentioned is particularly appropriate, to address the challenges facing fishing communities, the first industry-led strategy for the inshore sector is being progressed. I acknowledge the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, Enda Kenneally and Seamus Bonner, whom I have met on a number of occasions both during the discussion on the committee report chaired by Deputy Andrew Doyle and in preparation for the debate. As Minister of State with responsibility for the inland fisheries sector, I have mentioned my concerns regarding salmon. They pointed out that while they are not impacted by the Bill, they are not mentioned.
I appreciate that but it does not specifically mention species and it is, therefore, correct to put my concerns on record. I deal with both coastal and inshore fishermen in counties Donegal, Mayo, Galway and so on where salmon stocks are under pressure.
No, I have expressed my concerns and, as Minister of State, I am entitled to do so because no species is mentioned in the legislation, which they should be. I want to register my concern because there are international agreements. Ireland is a member of NASCO. It is important that as many salmon from Irish rivers as well as those of other countries migrate to Greenland or the Faroe Islands to feed before returning to those rivers to feed. The prospect of successfully restricting Greenlandic and Faroese fisheries to protect our indigenous stocks is greatly reduced if we inappropriately manage domestic and international stocks off our own coast.
I would like to point out that the Atlantic salmon is, of course, protected under the EU habitats directive, with which Ireland's salmon management regime complies. There is always spirited debate on rivers that are opened and closed under the catch and release system. Any deviation from current policy would run contrary to the international independent scientific advice which suggests the home river of offshore salmon cannot be identified and that it is not possible to disaggregate the individuals stock groups at sea. In view of Ireland's commitment to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, NASCO, principles and our obligations under the EU habitats directive and the Common Fisheries Policy, as outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, I have to register my concerns on these matters with reference to the Bill. That said, I register my support for the principle of the Bill, that is, support for island communities. I find the current fisheries policy across Europe and in this country as part of it not to be fit for purpose. There is a general principle that larger ships are generally safer and that we must accept that the safety of fishermen is hugely important, but the general policy of concentrating fishing quotas in the hands of a few is one which is unsustainable and very difficult to justify morally, environmentally or economically. I acknowledge that the Bill goes some of the way in protecting island communities and giving them a livelihood. I acknowledge the work and support of Sinn Féin. With the Ministers of State, Deputies Joe McHugh and Andrew Doyle, I have had long discussions with the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, on this matter. I support the general principle of the Bill, but as I said, I register my concerns about salmon.
First, I welcome the representatives of the fishing communities on the various islands who are in the Visitors Gallery to listen to the debate. I failed to do so at the start. It has been a lengthy debate during which many views have been contributed, but the consensus seems to be that Members are supportive of the Bill. In fairness, even the Ministers of State have said they are in favour of its broad principle. However, there are a number of issues which were raised in the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle's contribution which I would like to address, including the notion that the Bill gives one group entitlements above others. Yes, it does and unapologetically so. If we think about it, every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to put himself or herself forward for election to this Chamber, yet we have rules which state parties must select a certain quota of women candidates. Therefore, we favour some potential candidates over others for the simple reason that we have a problem in that we do not have enough women Members. Deputy Charlie McConalogue mentioned, as I had intended to do, the areas of natural constraint schemes under which special payments are made on the islands and in mountain areas. There are umpteen examples of the Government acknowledging in law special circumstances. It happens everywhere we go.
Another issue I want to raise is that the Government representatives say the Bill is too narrowly defined. They suggest residents of an offshore island who are engaged in fishing are defined too narrowly. They have also asked how residency will be determined. All of these issues can be dealt with on Committee Stage. That is how we deal with these things. The Bill would be 20 pages long if we were to go into detail on everything. We have to deal with these issues on Committee Stage. When we reach that Stage when we will actually put licences in place, as we hope we will, it will be up to us to ensure the Minister will put in place the conditions and restrictions needed. The Bill does not define the term "offshore island". There are already definitions of it. Therefore, the Bill does not need to define it, but we will deal with that issue when the Bill is taken on Committee Stage.
It is long-standing Government policy that Ireland's fish quota is a national asset. I took that point from the Minister of State's contribution. It certainly is a national asset. Therefore, as a Government and an assembly, we have the power and ability to decide how to use it for the benefit of the people and in the national good. It is my view and, I believe, that of the majority of Members that the national good will be served by marking off a small portion of the quota and ensuring it is given to island fishermen in order that they can continue to sustain their communities.
The Minister of State has said the Bill provides for no means of review, appeal, surrender or withdrawal of a licence. Again, that is an issue to be dealt with on Committee Stage. He has also said the Bill is not a serious attempt to address the concerns of island fisherman. That brings me to the obvious question: was his committee not serious about its report? The need for a Bill such as this was part of it. If he is saying it is not a serious attempt, he is saying the work his committee did and the report it produced were not serious. More questions arise from his contribution than answers. The first part dealt only with the various grants and subsidies available to all fishermen. All fishermen know about them because they absolutely need them to survive. In fairness, he was speaking about inshore fishermen.
The issue of salmon management raised by the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, is interesting. We did hear talk about salmon coming up rivers being affected. The reality is that, as stated in the Bill, we are talking specifically about quota species. As there is no quota for salmon, the species will not be affected.
Again, this an issue which can be dealt with on Committee Stage.
The other issue is that all of us in this assembly have a responsibility to the people. We have responsibilities to ensure everyone has a fair chance in life. I was on Arranmore with Deputy Pearse Doherty earlier this year. It struck me that the island was so much apart and a place aside. It was apart from the rest. It is separated by a huge body of water and surrounded by an ocean which quite often is violent, yet we have to remember that it and the people who live on it are still a part of the country. That is the key point. We are trying to set out something which will ensure those who live on the islands, thee vibrant communities that want to have a future, will have it and set out a place where they can have it.
Nobody is going to tell me that some multinational corporation will be brought in to set up an industry on the islands. That is not going to happen. We have to recognise that the islands have a difficulty and that the only way in which we can sustain them is by ensuring access to the natural resources around them - the ocean and the bounty it gives. Farming is difficult on the islands. We have to ensure their communities have the opportunity to fish the sea, as they have always done. That is what the Bill attempts to do.
On the difficulties the Ministers of State have raised, we accept that there may be difficulties and things which will need to be dealt with. They can all be dealt with on Committee Stage. We can get through all of them.
On the point made about the legislative process and the difficulties with so many Bills in the queue and so on, is that a reason to stop doing things? It certainly is not. I appeal to the Government to recognise what is happening. The Bill is going to go through. It will be a huge show of respect for the island communities if it receives the unanimous support of everyone in the House. At the end of the day, we have to stand up to the bureaucrats who will always find a reason not to do something. In my view and that of most people who have looked at this issue, there are a small number of civil servants in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who, for a number of decades, have destroyed the fishing industry in Ireland, even more than the European Union has. The Minister of State and the Government need to stand up to them. That is the first clink in the armour. This is the first time we can do something for the people, not for those who tell us that we cannot do things because there are rules. Rules can be changed.
The point was made that there was something illegal in the Bill. Is this not where we decide what is legal or illegal? Is this not where we make things legal if it is right to do so? The Bill is right. I appeal to the Minister of State and the Government one last time to come forward, step up to the mark, support the Bill and its progress through the various Stages and do something for the ordinary decent people who live on offshore islands to reflect the care the rest of the community has for them. Everyone in every part of the country has huge empathy for the people who live on offshore islands and the hardship they go through. We have an opportunity to do something that reflects that empathy. I again appeal to the Minister of State and the Government to join everyone in this Chamber to give the Bill unanimous support. I commend the Bill to the House and propose that it move forward.