Wednesday, 23 May 2018
European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2018: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
I am glad to have the opportunity to talk on this very important matter. These measures will hurt all the small fishermen. The Minister has said that it will only affect the bigger trawlers but it will hurt small fishermen in Castletownbere, all along Berehaven, down into Dingle and Cahirciveen, up the Kenmare river, Rossdohan, Blackwater and Tahilla. The same law will apply to all those people.
This is an unfair system and I do not like to see that smile on the face of the Minister. We are talking about people who are out on the sea. Their lives are in danger most of the time, while they are trying to eke a very difficult living, dealing with the elements most of the time. It is wrong to think that small infringements by these people will be dealt with via a statutory instrument. He should bring legislation through this House in order that we can all see what he is doing. Why does he not do that? Why is he beholden to Europe, which is not always on our side? This will affect everyone, down to the smallest operator. A tribunal, where a lesser standard of proof is required, is proposed to incriminate people and penalise them. That is my gripe with what the Minister is doing. He is very close to Castletownbere, Dingle, Cahirciveen and all those places.
I am amazed that the Minister is taking this high-handed action to deal with all the hard-working people whose lives are in danger most of the days they are out at sea. There are regulations requiring them to attend within a number of days. The number of days must be extended to give them a chance to defend themselves.
I start by thanking Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher for putting forward this motion, which is hugely important to the constituency I represent in Cork South-West, where fishermen put their lives at risk on a daily basis from Castletownbere right down into Bantry and Schull. These were once mighty ports with mighty fishing vessels coming out of them, all the way down to Unionhall and Kinsale. That has withered away, bit by bit, because successive Governments have not stood by the fishermen.
I have no problem making it known that I am totally against the recently published statutory instrument, which was set to introduce a penalty points system for fishing infringements. This proposed points system is completely unfair to fishermen. Not only can points be allocated to the fisherman's licence, they can be imposed on the fishing vessel itself. Why should fishermen suffer for the actions of others? Have our fishermen not suffered enough? They have suffered at the hands of a previous Government in 2007, when a drift-net ban was put in place. It was promised at the time that this would be reviewed after seven years. It is now 2018 and nothing has been done about it. In short, fishermen need more support from our Government. The drift net ban needs to be reviewed immediately if fishing and coastal communities are to survive.
Two High Court judges and the Supreme Court struck down the previous penalty point statutory system introduced by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, in a case brought before the courts by two Castletownbere fishermen. It is quite extraordinary that despite that fact, the current Minister, Deputy Creed, has decided to try to enforce European Union penalty points legislation by means of another statutory instrument without proper debate in this House and without a proper consultation with the industry. I am extremely happy that the two Castletownbere fishermen ensured that the previous statutory instrument was struck down by the Supreme Court. I am reflecting the anger within the fishing community up and down our coastline. The fishermen had to go to the courts and expend enormous amounts of hard-earned money. The Minister and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, were wholly dismissive of the concerns of fishermen when they first decided to introduce penalty points. Unfortunately, despite the kicking the Minister and the SFPA received from the courts when the previous legislation was struck down, it appears that this Minister is hell-bent on reintroducing the legal concept of administrative sanctions while repeating mistakes made with the previous legislation.
For the ill-informed, I wish to make clear that this statutory instrument repeats mistakes made in the previous one. This Minister insists on attempting to repeat the imposition of concepts of punishment that are wholly novel in an Irish context. The result of the introduction of these regulations and this form of punishment is that fishermen will once again suffer from a double exposure to crime and punishment. They can and will be prosecuted before our criminal courts by a closed administration system organised and run by people nominated and staffed by the Minister or the State. We need to support the hard-working fishermen of this country. I understand that some form of control system needs to be implemented, such as maybe a yellow card system. There should be proper deliberation, giving everyone the opportunity to speak about the system and the problems with it.
We need to stop pandering to Europe. That is all we are doing - pandering to Europe the whole time. With any issue, whether it is agriculture or fisheries, we pander to Europe and lie down for it. We need to consult with the men of the sea who have been chased out of our own waters for years with little or no support. Brexit is going to prove to be another nightmare for Irish fishermen. I call on the Minster to stop compounding the difficulty with further severe punishments and to stand by our fishermen.
At the outset, I compliment and acknowledge the great work of Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, not only with regard to this motion, but over the years when he has always been to the forefront of this and related issues. My job today is to speak up for small fishermen who have been blackguarded not just by this Government, but by successive Governments over the years. When I think of fishermen, I am thinking of the people I was elected to represent. They are in Dingle today. They are fishing out of Tahilla Cove in Sneem. They are in Castletownbere. They are people I speak to on a daily basis in Cromane, dealing with the trouble they have in trying to make a living.
At the end of the day all everybody is looking for is a thing called fair play. Unfortunately, over the years, small fishermen have been blackguarded. They have been let down, not just by the Minister, but by his predecessors of all political persuasions. There is nothing wrong with a small fisherman trying to make a living. Indeed, they are treated like criminals. I see what happens in the dead of night when these people are out at sea. They are just doing their work in bad weather and all types of weather. Their vessels are boarded and they are treated like criminals. Again, that is wrong. At the end of the day, they are Irish people, Irish fishermen trying to make a living.
Europe has dictated to us for long enough. We sold out an awful lot when we gave away an awful lot of our territorial waters. I have seen this first hand and I have raised it over the last several weeks. I have dealt with the Minister and his office with regard to particular details. I want to thank him for the work he has done on many of the problems concerning fishermen about which I have approached him personally. It would be unfair of me not to acknowledge that and I do so. I am thankful for the Minister's help.
However, he knows that what I am trying to highlight is the inadequacies in the system, whether they affect the fishermen at sea or the small people working with pots who are trying to make a living and who are being blackguarded, not just on a weekly basis but on a daily basis. They should be treated in the same way as the small farmer, in that they should be allowed to make their living. I call on the Minister at this late hour. Anytime he makes a decision such as this order concerning penalty points, I ask him always to remember that there are small fishermen out there who want to pass on their tradition. They want their business, which is a small business, to continue with family members. Unless they get assistance from the Minister, his Department and future Governments, they will not be able to survive.
It is funny how things do not change here. Sometimes things go in cycles. I remember that in the early part of the last decade, in 2003 and 2004, the whole issue of fisheries management was centre-stage. I remember the then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, had a bit of a struggle in his own party. There was a very heated contest around the introduction of new regulatory measures. At the time, I very much supported him in introducing the sort of sea fisheries protection authority which we are now discussing. I remember at the time sitting on a committee when the manager from one of the banks in Killybegs came begging us for help. He realised he had made a mistake. He had lent €400 million to the fleet there. A photograph of the fleet would show that any one of the vessels would catch more or less the entire Irish quota. The maths did not add up. The €400 million would not be paid back by what would be caught within the quota. The fishermen at the time said they were sick and tired of the illegality. They were sick and tired of catching four or five times the quota and operating through different forms of subterfuge. They said it was time to clean up their act.
Here we are 14 years later and we are still not cleaning up our act. I stand with the Minister on this issue. I think it would be a real tragedy for this Dáil to vote down a proper regulation of our fisheries, a proper penalty points system, and I say that for the sake of the fishermen. In the long run, if we continue to allow fishing to exceed quotas and to ignore the environmental prerogative to protect our fish stocks, there will be no fishing industry. It is in the industry's interest for us to have a sustainable, properly regulated and properly policed system so that fair play can apply and the fishermen and women who adhere to the rules know that they are not being undermined by a system which allows someone who is willing to bend the rules to get away with it. It beggars belief that 15 years on we still do not seem to recognise the basic principle that protecting our environment equals protecting our rural communities in the long run. That is why I support the Minister.
People say that the Minister has not heeded the Supreme Court judgments. I find that hard to believe. I am not a lawyer. I trust the Supreme Court to make the decision, but I have confidence that the Department has taken them into account in resetting these regulations.
I heard what the Minister of State said - I accept her word on it - to the effect that we have adjusted to take account of the Supreme Court recommendations. If there is a sound legal argument against that, I am sure someone will take a case and let the matter be decided by the courts. It is not for the Dáil to become a quasi-Supreme Court.
When I heard the various arguments, none convinced me that the institutions we have set up cannot be trusted or that we could not possibly have anything that is in any way influenced by the statutory organisations we have put in place to try to provide such protection. I despair of the sentiment that we do not trust our own system. When I hear the wholesale demeaning of the European Union regulations, I would say that I am critical of the European Union in that it has not been strong enough on fisheries protection over the past 40 to 50 years. We sold out when we entered the Union. We sold out our fishermen to benefit our farmers. I would love to get a hell of a lot back. I am glad that the sort of debate we should be having here took place in the Seanad earlier. There is a real interest among Members of the Upper House in establishing the type of marine protected areas that would protect our natural world from all the international vessels fishing in our waters. Most of the vessels fishing off our coast are from other jurisdictions. We would protect our fisheries stocks for the future if we went the route to which I refer. I wish we would look at that as an urgent issue for debate in the Dáil. We cannot blithely ignore the European Union regulations. I accept the Minister of State's argument that we will lose €37 million. If we sign up to the motion, we will throw away money with the fines. There are also other significant implications for us.
We also need to stop being the country that is top of the league in terms of environmental infringement. At some point, that will cost us. The rest of Europe will catch up with this country and say that we can no longer play fast and loose with environmental regulations, which is what we are proposing to do. I support the Government in this approach, not because it is a great champion of the environment but because we have to hold the line on this issue and stand up for putting in place a penalty points system, not weakening, debasing and undermining the Common Fisheries Policy. We should then seek, from a position of strength, to go further and set up marine protected areas in which fishing stocks would be protected and move away from the system whereby a small number of very large vessels seem to dominate Irish industry interests and are able to obtain a huge chunk of the quota. I would much prefer to see a more labour-intensive system where we support smaller inshore fleets and more sensitive, sustainable fishery methods. There are a whole range of things we need to do on this. The recently introduced proposal on the restriction of the number of large vessels operating within the 6-mile limit, stopping the catching of sprat - the feedstock for larger fish - starting a move towards the creation of significant marine protected areas, accepting the wisdom of E.O. Wilson, the great biologist, to the effect that we should set aside half of our natural world for conservation, because it is in dire trouble. In that context, the extinction of species, particularly in our marine environment, is a real threat we have to address. That is what we should be debating, not looking for further delay, prevarication, excuses and avoiding taking responsibility for looking after our fishing stocks and, by dint of that, our fishing industry.
The fishing industry has enough on its decks in trying to compete and survive - not to mention the Brexit debacle centring around fishing grounds - without having to deal with what we describe as a flawed statutory instrument that will cause further worry and fear. I have observed developments in this country over many years. We seem to have an obsession with using the stick first rather than the carrot when it comes to EU regulations. We all know how essential this industry is. It gives employment to over 11,000 people, full-time and part-time, and, as Bord Bia has indicated, is responsible for €645 million in seafood exports.
This is the third attempt to introduce penalties, with a huge mount of time already spent in the courts. In my view and in that of many others in Fianna Fáil, that time could have been spent providing funding and finding common ground. Deputy Gallagher has flagged this issue, and not just in recent times. He has raised it at meetings of our parliamentary party and in fishing communities. I commend him on his diligence in that regard.
It is important that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine does not blame us for stalling. If this discussion had taken place with the interested parties - I encourage him to find time to have that discussion with them - the issue could have been resolved quite quickly. Whether it is the fishing communities in Clogherhead, Annagassan, Greenore or Carlingford in County Louth, or those in Killybegs, Castletownbere and elsewhere on the island, SI 89 of 2018 is going to have an impact on them.
I reiterate that Fianna Fáil is supportive of the introduction of a penalty system for serious and flagrant infringements of the regulation. As previous speakers indicated, however, rules are about fairness and proportionality coupled with rights and entitlements. They should be at the core of the penalty system. We have a problem with the wording relating to the appeals process and, as Deputy Gallagher stated, we are seeking a workable solution. All we request is that the statutory instrument be withdrawn and an amended version be brought forward to ensure that proper transparency and fairness will be there for all concerned. As matters stand, the statutory instrument undermines the rights of fishermen and vessel owners in all of our coastal communities. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the issues which are causing the difficulties to which previous speakers referred be addressed. I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to go back into discussions. I am of the view that the matter can be resolved quite quickly.
On a beautiful day like today, it is a joy to watch fishing trawlers travelling in and out of harbours along the west Cork coastline. However, aside from and as well as this picturesque, ideal vision, it must be remembered that this industry was worth €645 million in exports in 2017. We all agree that regulations need to be in place and that infringements must be addressed. Therefore, a penalty points system is necessary. As my colleagues have already pointed out, however, such a system needs to be fair and respectful of fishermen's rights. As matters stand, under this statutory instrument, the fisherman or licence holder will be guilty until proven innocent. A burden of proof based on the balance of probabilities is totally inadequate. How can a system such as this be conclusive?
The proposed penalty points system makes no sense. Logic would suggest that points would arrive on the basis of a haul in its entirety. However, here we have a system whereby if a haul was to be sold in separate lots, penalty points would affix to each lot. This is unfair in the extreme. I know that many fishermen have expressed concern on the independence of the SFPA. It appears that this is justified in some cases. For example, I am advised that there were approximately 1,400 Spanish landings at Castletownbere and that the vessels involved were not exposed to a fraction of scrutiny that was levelled at Irish vessels making landings in the same harbour. By all accounts, the difference is glaringly obvious. Surely consistency is of paramount importance in order to be in compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy. Aside from this, the statutory instrument provides that the SFPA will assign penalty points. Then the authority will assign a three-person determination panel to assess whether an infringement has occurred. This panel will decide whether an oral hearing may be conducted. I cannot see any impartiality here. If it exists, perhaps the Minister will point it out to me.
Then there is the appeals process, which also creates huge problems.
Ten days are allowed to request an oral hearing or to forward a written submission. In general, an appeals process would allow a window of up to 30 days, and this is even more important in circumstances where fishermen are regularly at sea. Constraints like these are not helpful.
All in all, this statutory instrument is ill-thought out and not fit for purpose. As my colleague, Deputy Gallagher, has pointed out, it has already been challenged successfully in the courts. If further challenges are to be avoided, it is time for reasonable and sensible amendments. This has gone on for far too long.
The points being made today by Fianna Fáil and in particular by our spokespersons, Deputies Gallagher and McConalogue, are fair and reasonable. We want to support a system that is fair and in principle we support the penalty points system. Anybody who is in breach of the law should see the appropriate treatment. However, we must be fair to an industry that contributes significantly to our economy and the people who work extremely hard and in extremely dangerous conditions to make a living. By and large, they are law-abiding and they have the interests of their industry and fishing stocks in their heart.
As has been pointed out, this has been challenged twice before through the courts and it has failed. Would we not be better spending our time introducing a statutory instrument that is fair and which works, with cross-party support, rather than trying to bulldoze through something that will again finish up in court and, in all likelihood, again be thrown out? We would be back to square one.
The issues with the penalty points are blatantly unfair and I will not repeat them. Let us look at them and get a workable system in place. We must be fair to people on appeal. There are many cases where people can be accused of something in the wrong and giving them ten days to put together an appeal is just not fair. A reasonable time would be 30 days. Ten days are allowed for a written submission as well but we must be reasonable to people. In any walk of life, if a person is accused of something, they must be given the opportunity to appeal it and have the time to put together a reasonable case for defence.
Listening to colleagues and Deputy Ryan, it seems that with a little bit of cross-party work we can put together a procedure that would have the support of the House and the effect of ensuring the vast majority of fishermen working within the law would have the law behind them, with those working outside the law being punished appropriately. I ask the Minister, rather than bulldozing this or using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, to work together with us in the interests of fair play to formulate a workable and fair statutory instrument.
With regard to the momentous decision that this House will be asked to vote on next Tuesday - I appreciate the period between this debate and then - the House must look at the process by which it takes significant decisions like this. As the Government representative I am challenged by a wall of different views and it is entirely inadequate to get across the complexity of the message involved at the heart of this in the very little time afforded to the Government in Private Members' time. That is not any reflection on Deputy Gallagher, and I appreciate his long-standing concern on this issue. We have had long-standing engagement on it. What we are about to do and reflect upon is extraordinary and significant. I will put it in financial terms.
There is €37 million of funding available to us under the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, which is immediately in the firing line. There is over €200 million available in the MFF that supports the fishing industry in many ways, including processing, improved gear selection etc. That could be further jeopardised. We should also bear in mind that back in the early 2000s, the French were slapped with a fine for non-compliance with fishery regulations of €50 million every six months. We are about to embark on something that has enormous financial significance and the Government's opportunity to respond to this initiative amounts to two ten-minute slots in a debate. This is the only opportunity available to Deputy Gallagher but now is an opportune time to reflect on the gravity of what we are considering.
Another point being made loosely is what would happen if only the Government acted "legally". I ask Members to think about that. It has also been a criticism that we have been here since 2014 and there was a statutory instrument in 2016. The point was made by Deputy Pearse Doherty but that statutory instrument stands approved by this House. It is something we must reflect upon in the context of a vote that may take place next week. The argument was made that this Government is being reckless in the context of the Supreme Court ruling. It was right and proper that we waited on the High Court adjudication and the appeal to the Supreme Court before acting on a 2018 statutory instrument, and that is exactly what we did. That ruling did not come until December 2017. We have not hung around or prevaricated. We moved appropriately after a Supreme Court adjudication, which made two very distinct and important findings.
It indicated it is appropriate to proceed by way of administrative sanction through a statutory instrument. For the first time, it was confirmation that we can have administrative sanctions by way of a statutory instrument. On narrower grounds it found against the State and therefore the 2014 statutory instrument fell on the basis of the burden of proof. The 2018 statutory instrument has totally responded to the High Court ruling and the burden of proof has been changed entirely. Many Members have called it unfair, with Deputy Murphy O'Mahony saying somebody is guilty until proven innocent, but that is not the case. Many Deputies who spoke have not read the statutory instrument in detail, and it has much detail addressing each and every finding in the Supreme Court ruling.
Deputy Gallagher made a number of points, apart from his protestations that he is in favour of administrative sanctions, as he should be. This regulation was negotiated and approved by a Fianna Fáil Minister. It is prescriptive and there is no wriggle room. It is what we are implementing by way of statutory instrument. Deputy Gallagher indicated he is in favour of a points system but objected to the level of proof being "balance of probability". The Supreme Court stated quite clearly that we can have an administrative sanction regime - a European points system - but the burden of proof for such administrative sanction is the balance of probability. It is not "beyond reasonable doubt", which is the criminal sanction. Deputy Gallagher must make up his mind as to whether he wants to abide by the Supreme Court ruling or a hybrid system unknown to anybody with on one hand a balance of probability and, if we do not like that, an option of beyond reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court ruling in December 2017 clearly stated we can have a balance of probability administrative sanction regime.
Access to courts is provided for on a point of law. What else would one want access to the courts for other than on a point of law?
I very much take the point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan. I think his point was subsequent to that of Deputy Murphy O'Mahony, but Deputy Murphy O'Mahony again brought into question the integrity of a State agency. Would we attack the Garda in this House like we feel free and willing to attack the SFPA and to impugn its integrity and its commitment to doing its job right and proper? I do not think we would. We certainly would not do so with the Garda and we should not do so with the SFPA.
A point was made about the sale of vessels and how that is being dealt with in the statutory instrument. I wish to quote from the EU regulation that was negotiated by Fianna Fáil. It states, "The points assigned shall be transferred to any future holder of the fishing licence for the fishing vessel concerned where the vessel is sold, transferred or otherwise changes ownership after the date of the infringement." The criticism in this regard of the statutory instrument appears to me to be that we did not leave a loophole such that one could shift the tonnage or in some way diminish the impact of the sanction of points because one could shift tonnage in a way that minimised the impact of the conviction. The regulation is effective in this regard, and it is right that it should be so. This has been spun, of course, as an attack on the whole fishing industry, but nothing could be further from the truth. Who fears a points regime? The fishing industry? Only those who break the law fear such a regime.
To take up the point Deputy Danny Healy-Rae made, this is not about minor fishing infringements; this is a regulation that is specifically designed for serious offences. It is not about the generality of the fishing industry, which, by and large, is law-abiding. However, those who commit serious offences deserve the full sanction of the law and I do not think anyone disputes that. However, to judge from the contributions, one would think we want to create a fog and to have a system of administrative sanctions but administrative sanctions on a "beyond reasonable doubt" evidential standard. That hybrid does not exist, Deputy Gallagher. We need to be realistic and fair about what we are talking about. If this were only about timelines and oral hearings, I am sure we could fix this very quickly. However, there appear to be much more fundamental issues at stake here about whether we accept the findings of the Supreme Court. That is, I think, what is at issue. I slightly digress, but Deputy Calleary, as a legal person, must have smirked in some respect about the issues surrounding the Supreme Court ruling and the hybrid evidential standard being advanced. However, he did talk about the inshore fishing industry, and we currently have under way a consultation for the inshore sector. I look forward to the support of those who spoke very eloquently about the fishing industry and the inshore sector in the context of the recommendations that might come to me in due course about how we might best protect those in the inshore sector to ensure they can make a living in a challenged environment.
I made the point earlier to Deputy Pearse Doherty about the 2016 statutory instrument. We had the 2014 statutory instrument. That was the subject of a High Court and, most recently, a Supreme Court ruling. The 2016 statutory instrument, which Deputy Pearse Doherty, for some reason, seems to think he voted down, was not voted down. It stands approved by the House, and we will have to reflect on that.
As I said at the outset, the process for dealing with something as significant as this is inadequate. This is the first time the House has sought to annul a statutory instrument, and we should not do that without reflecting quite seriously on the consequences. The consequences are very significant in terms of the financial cost to taxpayers. We are not talking about small change here; we are talking about many millions of euro of taxpayers' money, money that is invested to protect the best interests of the fishing industry. I stand by the fishing industry. It is my job to stand by the fishing industry and I am proud to do so and to make efforts to build an industry that can achieve its potential. It is interesting to hear the contributions concerning our entry into the European Union and how it might have been sold out etc. Our industry today is multiples the size it was when we joined the European Union. Our industry then was by and large an inshore industry. We now have a fine fishing industry and we look for the maximum possible sustainable opportunities for that industry. Key to this is having an effective sanctions regime for those who put the livelihoods of the majority in jeopardy by unsustainable fishing practices. That is in essence what is at the heart of this matter. It is about penalising the few who are serious lawbreakers. This is not for minor offences.
I thank my party colleague and spokesperson on the marine and fisheries, Deputy Gallagher, for bringing forward this important motion. The reason for the motion is that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has laid before the House a statutory instrument known as the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2018. This statutory instrument allows penalty points to be applied to fishing vessel owners who ostensibly carry out illegal and unregulated fishing. My party is not opposed to the introduction of a penalty points system for serious infringements of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. However, any sanctions to discourage this activity need to have fairness, justice and equality for fisherman across the country at the core of such a system. However, sadly, it would appear that the Government's statutory instrument, as introduced in March 2018, does not display these qualities. Previous attempts by statutory instrument to resolve this issue have been found to be unconstitutional and this statutory instrument and the appeals process involved once again appear to be problematic. There are very real concerns that there has not been appropriate and fair consultation with those directly affected. As I said, this is now apparently the third time to resolve this issue. Two previous attempts were struck down and there have been comments about money being spent. However, the State must have incurred significant costs in the courts system in respect of these statutory instruments. As I said, I very much welcome Deputy Gallagher's bringing forward of this motion because it is crucial. In the recent Storm Ophelia, fishermen in Wexford faced significant damage and suffered significantly. Fishermen are struggling across the country but in particular after the damage that was caused by that storm. While we see compensation and support for farmers regularly, and that is welcome, I am at a loss to understand why fishermen cannot be supported in a similar manner. The programme for Government sets out very clearly that the blue economy is a key industry. However, we are not seeing, in my view, the necessary supports put in place to support the blue economy and the fishermen, in particular small fishermen who are very much struggling and will continue to struggle for some time because of this issue.
I return to the statutory instrument at hand. Significant concerns are being raised in this House about this statutory instrument, in particular its fairness and a resolution of this issue must be found. Fishermen who are fishing illegally, who are not reporting their catches, need to be dealt with and taken in hand. However, this needs to be done in a fair, workable and balanced manner in order that ordinary decent fishermen are not caught up in it.
I thank all who have contributed to the debate. As a Donegal Deputy, I am extremely pleased and proud that four of the five Donegal Deputies have come in here and contributed to the debate, namely, myself and my colleagues, Deputies McConalogue, Pearse Doherty and Pringle. I thank them for their support.
We would get the impression from listening to the Minister that this is all about money and that it is money that is so important. Let me remind the House of something. I have said it in the European Parliament, where I was a member of the fisheries committee for 14 years, working very well with various Ministers while I was there. I have worked there, I have said it there and I will repeat it here: the sector that has paid too great a price for membership of the European Union is the fishing sector, sharing our prolific grounds with all the European countries.
That cake was divided. The key issue now remains as it was then. The only increase we ever had was in boarfish. I single handedly ensured that. There might not be an abundance of boarfish now but when they do return, we have the highest percentage, at almost 80%. I did that on my own and did not have the support of the Government of the time.
I refer to a point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan. Whoever was briefing the Deputy in the early noughties is still doing so today. He is making allegations that the industry does not respect the rules and regulations. I have never seen the industry more regulated and more compliant than it is now and I am sure the Minster would be the first to acknowledge that.
The Minister asked "What about the points?" He is correct. They are not with the boat, but they are with the capacity and the Minister has acknowledged that in correspondence with me. It is all right to say that it is there when it suits and it is not there, but it is there. I do not have the time to go through the Supreme Court decision but in the coming days I will circulate to the Minister the amendments which I believe can be accepted by the Government and this House. We will not procrastinate.
The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, said that the reason for supporting this statutory instrument is because we are jeopardising €40 million in European funding. Is that a good enough reason? Are we prepared to sell the industry out once again, as it was sold out in the past? It is a pact. The Minister has said himself that it is not a good enough reason. It is ironic that last Thursday or Friday the Government decided it would ask for extra time. This is nothing short of blackmail. Whatever number of millions is in question, it pales into insignificance with the amount of millions of euro that have been lost by the sector.
I have always said that the engine of economic growth in the country is the private sector. It provides jobs in the most rural, peripheral regions where there is no alternative source of development. It is not the Government that provides jobs in those areas, but the fishing sector. The Government does not rural-proof its policies, as those of us who come from the peripheral areas of Europe know.
I am sorry that Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has returned, was not here earlier when I observed that the fishermen are the most compliant fishermen in Europe. Whoever is briefing him about letters to the Commission in 2004 should know that things have changed since then. We do not have time to discuss this today, but he is a good friend and I can explain it to him one-to-one another time.
The Minister made comparisons with the gardaí which I think was wrong. The proposed structure would be similar to the gardaí in detecting an infringement, later selecting the judges to adjudicate in the case, and that does not make sense.
If the Deputy reads the statutory instrument he will see that the appointment is made by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. It is made up of nominees, independent legal persons nominated by the Attorney General.
If the Minister accepts our amendments, it will be a matter for the Attorney General. If the Minister will let me, I will go through all of this because I have made it out in a tabular statement, where the judges have highlighted it. I would go further. The Attorney General who is advising the Minister and who was quoted at the time also has issues with this and no reference was made to that.
The Minister should not suggest to us that it is all on this side of the House. It may well be that the system here regarding statutory instruments is wrong. If it has to be changed, let us change it. Myself, Deputies Willie Penrose, Martin Kenny and others have offered to work with the Minister in coming days. I am sure that Deputy Eamon Ryan will also work with us, and put aside views he might have, to provide the Minister with a statutory instrument that will be acceptable. I am not proposing something off the top of my head. I have consulted widely on this and more than the Minister has. The Minister has consulted on the margins with the industry but he has never set out on a one-item agenda to discuss this.
The article which appeared at the end of March 2018 says:
Mr. Woulfe also warned that a new 'penalty points' system aimed at fishermen who engage in illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing is likely to face a Supreme Court challenge. The Cabinet signed off on legislation to enact new EU laws last week. He described the new bill as "controversial" and "difficult".
Those are not my words, but those of the Attorney General. He said:
The EU loves these things about sanctions regimes. Instead of just prosecuting people and having the criminal system and the civil system, you've something in between which is a sanctions regime.
Those are not my words: they are the words of the Attorney General.
I never interrupted the Minister but he has that habit. It will not wash with the industry. The Minister is there to protect the industry, but now he and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Government are here to protect Europe. Now let us stand up and protect the industry. He should give us a commitment tonight that he will sit down with all representatives to work out a statutory instrument which is fair, equitable and balanced.