Thursday, 28 March 2019
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The voisinageor neighbourhood arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided reciprocal fishing access for more than 50 years. They have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in Irish coastal waters. They have also allowed and continue to allow Irish-registered fishing boats access to fish in coastal waters off Northern Ireland. The Bill seeks to address a requirement identified by the Supreme Court, that is, giving the arrangements a legal footing to cement our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court upheld the finding by the High Court that the voisinagearrangements were not invalid but that there was insufficient provision for them in domestic law.
Section 1 of the Bill proposes to provide a legal provision to allow Northern Ireland boats to resume reciprocal fishing access under the voisinagearrangements by amending section 10 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006.
The proposed new section 10(1) asserts Ireland's exclusive right to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the State by maintaining previous provisions excluding foreign sea-fishing boats from Ireland's exclusive fishery limits unless authorised by law to fish there. Subsection (4) provides that anyone who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence. Subsection (2) explicitly provides for access to fish by sea-fishing vessels owned and operated in Northern Ireland within the area between zero to six nautical miles as measured from the baseline of the State's exclusive fishery limits. It further describes that this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing vessels. This is consistent with the concept of reciprocity, which is fundamental to the arrangements. Subsection (3) specifies this conditionality of access to give further assurance to the House that there is no question of preferential treatment for Northern Ireland vessels while fishing in our zero to six nautical mile zone. The policies and principles necessary for applying equivalent conditions are listed in paragraphs (a) to (e), with a further regulatory making provision in paragraph (f).
Section 2 of the Bill provides for a Short Title to the legislation, a collective citation and that the Bill, if enacted, will come into effect by means of a commencement order. Much has been said in previous debates on this Bill about engagement with the fishing industry. I regularly meet representatives of the fishing industry, including the producer organisations and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, which is constituted of representatives of all the regional fisheries forums. Both of these groups were briefed on the Bill as part of regular meetings and attended at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in June 2017 to give their views on the Bill. It is safe to say that they have made their views known.
On Thursday last, I hosted a further consultation session with the fishing industry representatives at the National Seafood Centre in Clonakilty and our discussions were detailed and considered. The Bill I present to the House today, as passed by the Seanad, reflects amendments adopted which address the main concerns expressed by fishing industry representatives on seeking equal application of rules and regulations. I also undertook to put on record the assurances received to date from the UK Government on its commitment to the voisinagearrangements for our boats and boats from Northern Ireland.
While there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland vessels will not change from what they were before. Northern Ireland vessels will simply regain the fishing access they have had for decades under the voisinagearrangements in the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State, subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats. While Northern Irish fishing boats are being granted access to fish, I have been asked to clarify the issue of the impact on Irish fishermen’s quotas under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. Northern Irish boats wishing to avail of the voisinagearrangements to fish for quota species under the Common Fisheries Policy in the zero to six mile area will need to have the necessary authorisation from their own fisheries administration to avail of UK quota for the species in question. This has always been the case and will continue to be the case. There is no question of other countries' vessels gaining access to the Irish zero to six nautical mile zone as a result of this Bill. The Bill clearly stipulates the boats that may avail of the access. What we are doing via this Bill is to reinstate arrangements which had been in operation up to the point of the Supreme Court judgment and which have been suspended on our side only pending passage of this legislation. This Bill seeks to re-establish the reciprocity on our side of these arrangements.
I acknowledge and understand concerns that have arisen on the issue of long-term reciprocity, particularly given the sensitivities around access to fishing generally in UK waters with Brexit looming. For its part, the UK Government has set out a consistent position on the matter of the voisinagearrangements for Northern Ireland. On 5 July 2017, the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, wrote to me on the matter of the withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention and expressly stated that the UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the voisinageagreement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I will quote the pertinent elements of the letter for the benefit of the House:
As the Prime Minister has said, we are committed to protecting our strong, historic ties with Ireland and to finding a solution that works for Ireland and Northern Ireland. We also remain committed to the principles behind the voisinage agreement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I know that you have discussed this issue with George Eustice. Please be assured that we are keen to work with you to find a firm legal footing for this agreement as soon as possible.
On 6 June 2018, I received a letter from the Minister, Mr. George Eustice, reaffirming the UK Government commitment and to protecting and supporting continued co-operation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Again, I will quote the pertinent elements of the letter for the benefit of the House:
The UK has not to date suspended the operation of the Agreement but we are increasingly concerned about the asymmetric application of the agreement and the lack of progress to rectify the situation. I would like to reassure you that the UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the Voisinage Agreement and to protecting and supporting continued cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have continued to honour the agreement, however, we will not be able to accept this unequal application indefinitely.
He went on to state:
I would welcome an update on progress of the Bill and steps which you are taking to put the agreement on a firm legal footing. We are keen to explore possible solutions to make sure that the Agreement can be reinstated as quickly as possible and that it can benefit both Irish and Northern Irish fishers.
In December 2018, the UK Government again reiterated its commitment in response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee fourth report as follows:
The UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the Voisinage Arrangement and to protecting and supporting continued cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have continued to honour the agreement. However, we will not be able to accept this unequal application indefinitely.
The week before last, on March 18, I met with the Minister, Mr. Goodwill, while we were both in Brussels and he again reiterated the UK Government commitment to the arrangements. In view of the finding of our Supreme Court, I took the opportunity to ask the Minister, Mr. Goodwill, if the arrangement is legally sound on their side and he expressed confidence that it is. It is important to be aware that the UK has demonstrated its commitment to the arrangements in continuing to allow Irish sea-fishing boats to benefit from access to the Northern Ireland zero to six nautical mile zone in circumstances of unequal application. It is time that we act to restore our side of this reciprocal arrangement. I ask the House to accept this Bill and to demonstrate that we are, and we will continue to be, good neighbours with Northern Ireland.
I want to put on the record the annoyance of this side of the House at the failure of the Government to introduce this Bill in a timely manner. The Bill was introduced in the Seanad two years ago. In the intervening two years, nothing was done until two vessels were apprehended and we now have to deal with this Bill as a matter of urgency. In an interview to RTÉ and a national newspaper the Minister, Deputy Creed, pointed the finger at the Fianna Fáil Party and suggested it was responsible for the delay and withdrawal of this Bill in the Seanad. That is not perception, but a fact, and I ask the Minister to deal with it. It is not a political charge but it is factual one. I refer in that regard to the RTÉ and newspaper interviews of November and December of last year.
This Bill should have been dealt with and the blame for it not being dealt with must be laid at the foot of the Government and, in particular the Minister, Deputy Creed, who decided that this would evaporate until such time as a vessel was apprehended. It is for that reason we are here today rushing through this legislation. We on this side of the House accept the principle of this Bill and the need to correct the historical failure to underpin the agreement of former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, and Captain Terence O'Neill, some 50 years ago, which was beneficial to small vessels on both sides of the Border within the nought to six nautical mile zone.
We are here now because of the decision taken by the Supreme Court which while it accepted there was an informal agreement said it had to be underpinned by primary legislation. Can the Minister confirm to this House that the view of the courts is that the voisinageagreement does not distinguish between sea fish and aquaculture? Is it correct that the judgment against the State on the voisinageagreement covers all species, not only sea fish? This referred only to sea fish when it was first established before a practice in the 1990s extended to other activities such as aquaculture and non-quota species.
I ask the Minister to confirm to the House that the Supreme Court judgment does not differentiate between species in terms of interdependence on the voisinageagreement and what is permitted to fish under the terms of that agreement. I also ask if the same interpretation is taken by the UK authorities on what is permitted.
The greatest area of concern is not necessarily sea fishing but mussel seed fishing. I have concerns about this. There is a Donegal man on hunger strike outside the gates of Leinster House. Deputy McConalogue and I met with the man's brother rather than the man himself because of the sub judicerule and his brother is very well versed on the issues. I am sure the Minister was asked this in the Seanad, but I ask him to extend the courtesy of meeting with that man before the end of the day and of taking his concerns on board.
Is the Minister satisfied that, if we enter into this agreement, the mussel seed resource of this State can be protected in a sustainable way? I am not sure if anyone has details of the state of our mussel resource and that is important to have. We must ensure that resource is managed so it is not decimated at the expense of those who have been fishing it for years.
The Minister referred to meeting various Ministers from the UK Government. They have asked the Minister if he is going to put this on a legal footing. Is this on a legal footing in the UK? We cannot question the judgment of the courts but the Minister might tell us if the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Robert Goodwill, MP, or the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, MP, are prepared to do that.
Does the Minister have any plans to introduce management measures under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 and, if so, what type of management measures is he considering? Will those management measures apply to all non-quota species, aquaculture or both?
Despite having two years to prepare this Bill, the Minister found that a lot of progress was made in the time after he withdrew the Bill from the Seanad as a result of meetings with stakeholders which were requested by Opposition spokespersons when we met him in his office on two occasions. We insisted that telephone calls on a Wednesday evening did not constitute consultation and the Minister eventually conceded to have consultations in the Department's office in Clonakilty. It is unfortunate that, even still, there were those who did not have the opportunity of consultation because some of those who were not consulted are more seriously affected than those who were consulted.
Does the 18 m restriction only apply to sea fisheries and not to aquaculture activities?
I want to give an opportunity to my colleague, Deputy McConalogue, but I hope that, during the course of Committee Stage, we will have an opportunity to ask more specific questions.
The Minister has handled this legislation badly over the past couple of years and the past number of weeks in particular. He failed to consult properly with the fishery organisations and that would have remained the case if not for the stance that Fianna Fáil took in insisting that, once the Bill completed Committee Stage in the Seanad, there had to be proper consultation. It was the Minister's intention to move ahead without engaging appropriately with the fishery organisations and more is rightfully expected of the Minister with responsibility for fisheries. That sort of approach was disrespectful to key stakeholders when it comes to the development of policy and national legislation.
This issue comes against the backdrop of Brexit. Fianna Fáil has traditionally been supportive of operating on a 32-county basis and ensuring there are good relations and no barriers to trade on land or water. We support the principle of voisinagein that regard and particularly at the moment when our national message on Brexit is to try and ensure that there will be no hard border or barriers to trade on the island of Ireland. Likewise, it is important that we are consistent, from a national point of view, in our approach to our waters and there is, therefore, an imperative to reinstate this voisinageagreement.
This led to a court case which the Department lost and that begs real questions of the Department about the costs associated with the case and its decision to pursue it. The courts found against the Government on the basis that there should have been a statutory underpinning of voisinagein order for it to be lawful and continue. The courts found that the fisherman concerned had not been well served by the State. It is unfortunate and unacceptable that one of those fisherman, a constituent of mine from Greencastle in County Donegal, Gerard Kelly, has been outside the Dáil for the past three days and the Minister has not seen fit to meet and engage with him on this issue and take his views on board. The Minister makes the case about the sub judicerule but, given that the second part of that case was decided in the courts last week, I do not accept that as an excuse for not meeting Mr. Kelly. The Minister should have taken the time to do that and it should have happened.
The other key issue that needs to be addressed is the management of the fisheries concerned. We need fair play whereby fishing vessels and fishermen operating under Irish licences are not disadvantaged when compared to the terms and conditions afforded to fishing vessels in Northern Ireland. There are big issues there as to how mussel fishery, in particular, is managed for its own health and ensuring that the fishermen continue to have a sustainable livelihood. The Minister must properly engage with the sector after this legislation is enacted to ensure there is a strong and properly regulated management structure in place to ensure fishery is regulated and that Irish registered boats are given a fair crack of the whip and an opportunity to make a living. I ask the Minister for assurances today that he will engage on allocation rights because I know the Bill is covering and reinstating the access that previously existed under the voisinage arrangements before the Supreme Court judgment.
We are an island people and, despite this, Governments have in the past failed to defend, promote and protect the fishing industry effectively. Successive Governments, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have failed to invest in and encourage the development of fish-related industries, specifically fish processing. At the same time, billions of euro worth of fish have been taken from Irish waters. This is not only a massive loss to Irish fishing communities but also to the economy of the island. Only a small proportion of the catch was taken by the Irish fleet. It is underdeveloped and, as fishing families know, it is often a risky and dangerous occupation.
A sense of the frustration of many of those in the fishing industry, particularly due to the lack of consultation, is personified by the fisherman on hunger strike at the gates of Teach Laighean.
In our time, we have seen the decline of the fishing industry and a significant loss of jobs over recent decades. Approximately 9,000 and 4,000 people are directly employed in fishing and processing, respectively. There is an onus on the Government to maximise the exploitation of the natural fishing resources in a managed and sustainable fashion, which should include a dedicated fisheries Minister. For the Government of an island nation, even one partitioned as we are at this time, not to conserve, manage or develop our fishing stocks for the national good makes no sense whatsoever.
The Bill is about giving legal effect to a convention in place since the 1960s that has allowed Irish fishing vessels from any part of this island to fish in any part of the waters of this island. It was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and but for the recent embarrassing arrest of two Northern trawlers, it might not be up for debate today. As the Minister has acknowledged, the Bill has caused considerable concern among the fishing organisations. Many are worried that if it becomes law, it could inadvertently open the door to the fishing fleets of the contracting parties to the London Fisheries Convention gaining de facto access to the six-mile zone. Sinn Féin has consulted some of the fishing organisations and our amendments are intended to address this concern. I ask the Minister to support the amendments.
Amendment No. 4 specifies that the beneficial owner of the sea-fishing boat could be resident in the North, thereby addressing the abuse of the spirit of the voisinageagreement, which saw multinational speculators use an address of convenience in the North to access inshore fisheries.
I am disappointed that amendment No. 8 was ruled out of order. Nevertheless, the spirit of the amendment is relevant and I appeal to the Minister to agree that the Government should seek to bring forward urgently and implement an all-Ireland sustainability and conservation management plan for non-quota species within the six-mile limit.
Amendment No. 9 is about ensuring a sustainable inshore fishery around the entire coast of our island and islands.
Amendment No. 10 directly addresses concerns raised by the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, which outlined a worry that at least six other countries will have access to Ireland’s six-mile zone. Our amendment states: “No provisions of this Act shall apply to the contracting parties under the London Fisheries Convention outside of the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland.” I urge the Minister and the Government to accept that the fishing organisations have genuine fears about the potential impact of the Bill on the sustainability of the fishing stock and, consequently, of jobs within the six-mile limit. Our amendment addresses the concerns of the IFPO and others.
We should also remind ourselves of the imperative of the Good Friday Agreement. The all-Ireland agreement emphasised the need for “consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland - including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis - on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the Administrations, North and South." It also urged the production of “common policies, in areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all-island benefit". It is clear that fishing is one such area. Specifically, among the areas for North-South co-operation and implementation identified in the Good Friday Agreement are the issues of inland fisheries, aquaculture and marine matters. The defence of the Good Friday Agreement, which has been at the heart of the Brexit debate and negotiations, must be a priority and the agreement must be protected, which includes protecting the rights of those Irish citizens who work in the fishing industry in every part of this island.
All parties will support the all-Ireland aspect of the voisinageagreement and the opportunity it offers for fishermen and women all along the coast, particularly inshore fishermen and women who are at the lower end of the income scale within the fishing industry. As the Minister is aware, the issue came about because of the Supreme Court decision in 2016, and the Government's delay in dealing with the issue has been raised consistently in the House. That point has been made by other Deputies and, therefore, there is no point in commenting further on it. The way to resolve any problem in any dispute is through consultation, listening and trying to address its causes. Were it not for the request that came from our meetings with the Minister after he met the four producers' organisations, we would not be where we are today. There are concerns with the Bill and its consequences, mainly in respect of the mussel industry but it is about much more than that industry. Other industries are equally concerned and must not be glossed over. A number of amendments have been tabled and I hope they will be addressed and considered in a positive way. We will await the Minister's response to them before deciding what to do. Overall, the most important part of the debate is that we emerge with a positive result to address the problems surrounding the reinstatement of the voisinageagreement from this part of our island.
Deputy Adams mentioned a management plan. I have been involved in fishing for most of my life. Without a proper management plan, fishing is wide open to abuse, whether from outside our jurisdictions or otherwise. A proper management plan is the way to deal with the problem. The amendments address a significant concern relating to fishing carried out on owner-occupied boats that have a flag of convenience and are registered in the Six Counties. That has to be put to bed today. One of the proposed amendments will change the requirement for the fishing boat to be "owned and operated" in the North to instead requiring the beneficial owner to be resident on the island of Ireland, North or South, and that must be considered.
Even though the Minister has ruled it out, the amendment relating to all-Ireland sustainability and conservation is central to the survival of any fishery. There needs to be conservation with the purpose of sustaining the industry. Otherwise, the industry will be fished out, as is happening all along the coast. Overfishing has destroyed many industries, such as those of lobster, brown crab, crayfish and mussels, and it has put people who are totally dependent on the sector in a bad way.
Another amendment will provide that any vessel "availing of the access permitted under the Act shall only be entitled to fish for a quota or allocation of any species". I again await the Minister's response to the amendment, which goes to the heart of the problem. I expect the Minister's response will help us all to make a proper decision at the end of the debate.
Has the Minister met representatives of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF? I know he has met representatives of the Killybegs Fishermens Organisation, the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation and the Irish South & East Fish Producers Organisation, as well as Francis O'Donnell and his organisation. The NIFF, too, has serious concerns and must be listened to. We have tabled amendments, which we will discuss later, while other Deputies have tabled other amendments and we will listen to the debate. The most important aspect is to do right by fishermen throughout the island to ensure they will get justice. Their livelihoods must be collectively protected and they must not be open to abuse. There is serious concern about the opening up of access to the six-mile zone for six other countries on foot of the Bill. We must address that matter today and we must determine exactly where the Minister and the Government stand on those issues.
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a contribution on this important legislation on behalf of the Labour Party. Like a number of Deputies present, we have pointed out the deficiencies and defects in the Bill, or at least those which may arise consequential to its implementation.
We do so in deference and with respect to the large number of groups and individuals whom we have met and who have contacted us as a party directly. Some of their views are significant and need to be addressed. We are fully cognisant of and aware of them and conversant with the background and genesis of the Bill and why it has arisen, so I will not rehash that. I regret that we are in this difficult situation. I do not think that we would be in such a situation if the opportunities available to the Minister had been taken up by him and officials in the past two years. There have been more than two years to reflect on this issue. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, of which I am a member along with a number of colleagues here, has done much positive work on this. We appreciate that this is an all-island situation which has to be addressed. We are not blind to the realities of it. I acknowledge that the Minister has had meetings with various people from the industry and some progress has been made to address some of the concerns of the fish-producing organisations, but there are other individuals involved too. Since April or May 2017, as my colleague, Senator Nash, said, there has been radio silence. That is a lost opportunity from the past two years. The time could have been used constructively to engage with parliamentarians, fish-producing groups, individuals and organisations.
People are concerned about this. I have spoken to Mr. Kelly, his brother, and other people who are involved. I spoke to Mr. Kelly and Mr. Barlow two years and two months ago. We had a very detailed conversation. One cannot but admire their pluck and courage to take on the State. At any opportunity I get as a barrister, I am delighted to take on the State because I believe in fighting for the small people. I have often gone in and am prepared to do it pro bonoif I have to. With the amount of financial resources that they invested in the Supreme Court, one cannot but laud their bravery and fortitude. That is why we are here today. It is important that the courts look at those things.
The voisinageagreement and London agreement are there, but as other people have indicated, people are rightly concerned about the impact of Brexit, which has far-reaching tentacles, as we know, and the ability of the British Government to honour its side of any agreement and reciprocal arrangements. Brexit represents a significant challenge to the fishing industry, like so many other industries in this country. It is clear that people feel aggrieved that, while we have many positive benefits from the EU, this area has suffered greatly. The Supreme Court has made a determination on this significant national resource-based industry in respect of exploitation of our rich fishing grounds and our quota share. I know there been pluses and win-wins in other areas but fishermen and fisherwomen feel shortchanged, especially small fishermen and women who do not have large multi-million euro boats or trawlers available to them. Their capacity to earn a livelihood is diminishing daily and the threat of total extinction of their way of live and ability to earn a living is moving into view.
We must fight to safeguard Irish interests relating to our fishing grounds and quota share, and the naked exploitation of our resources. While I am an inlander, more used to lakes, rivers and canals than the sea, I have listened to the anguish and plight of the mussel sea fishermen and others and how they feel. I appreciate that this is another argument which will arise in the second part of the judgment. A High Court case will be taken in this regard. It is a matter of gravest concern for these people, who try to eke out a living in difficult and challenging circumstances. It is in this context that my colleagues, Senators Ged Nash and Kevin Humphreys, raised it. I have never seen so many people participate, even at our own parliamentary party meeting. Deputy Howlin had some correspondence from people in Wexford on this relating to sea mussel exploitation. Senator Nash received correspondence relating to Louth. Councillor Martin Farren from Donegal was in constant contact with me about this. Deputy Brendan Ryan raised Swords, Skerries and so on. The context has certainly enlightened people in a big way.
I know the Minister gave some concessions on the size and length of the boat, with regard to the 18 m boats within six nautical miles. We are all aware of the statements which emanated from Secretary of State Gove on behalf of the British Government that the British Government intends to take back control of all of the waters governed by the UK jurisdiction. Are we to assume that, with the correspondence going back and forth from the British Government, there will be a level playing pitch? It can hardly get the time of day right over there now, never mind talking about this type of thing. That is a genuine fear and we have to face up to that and face the realities. It was consistent in many ways that the British would like to see the spirit and letter of the previous voisinageagreement provided for, respected and honoured. How can we accept the bona fides of some of those expressions that the voisinagemay be honoured by both sides and that there would be reciprocity in the absence of any commitment by the British Government to legislate to give effect to that? That has to be addressed. Will legislation be forthcoming from the British Government to give effect to the voisinageagreement and the reciprocal argument? If we were living in normal times, with letters of commitment flowing back and forth, even back when iar-Thaoiseach Lemass and Terence O'Neill were there, that was grand and they were honoured.
We are living in very uncertain times. Normal business has been suspended in the UK. Only an hour ago, they were talking about maybe having a third meaningful vote. They do not know whether they will have a third meaningful vote. This issue arrived back on the agenda as a result of recent events in Dundalk Bay. It is a sensitive time and issues are magnified in the context of Brexit and the delicate North-South and east-west relationships, which we all appreciate, as other colleagues have said. This has nothing to do with Brexit but everything to do with our rights, as a sovereign parliament, to make laws to govern our part. We have to take into account the interests of the people and communities that we represent. They tell us that they are deeply concerned. That is a point we have to make clearly in this regard.
The reality is that we have no idea what the post-Brexit fisheries or fishing relationship will be. I acknowledge that the Minister is doing his best. People are saying that we should stall the horses. There are mediation proposals where everybody would get an opportunity to mediate and see what would satisfy the arrangements that we are trying to make on an all-island basis. If we were to legislate, people are concerned that access would only be provided for the Irish inshore for those vessels that are owned, managed and operated by those who reside in Northern Ireland and have their businesses in Northern Ireland. I met the Minister and his officials and he indicated that that is not possible because that may bring other ramifications and consequences, as I understand it. I remember discussing a Dutch multinational corporation vessel with a Northern Ireland flag as a convenience, which in effect allowed UK vessels to fish in the Irish inshore. There is a significant impact on available resources from that. That letter from those people in Wexford was a salutary lesson on the impact that it was. Those people were saying that they are going off the pitch altogether. There will be none of them left and that will have an impact on employment.
I do not live on the coast but I see many here who do, such as Deputy Ferris. They probably made their living in the past from fishing. As the Labour Party's spokesperson for community and rural development, I know how hard it is to get three jobs in an area. I am sure there are ten, 12 or 15 jobs in some of those areas. I am sure they have reared families on that. That is the concern that we have. We know that it has to be looked at on an all-island basis to ensure that everything works out, but the issue is that vessels registered all over the place can come in and engage in exploitation. We have to tread carefully. It is a pity that we did not get an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny, because then we can get under the bonnet of legislation, so to speak, and tease it out. We all want to see a positive North-South relationship, which is very important. Our responsibility as a sovereign Parliament in the Republic of Ireland is to legislate in the interests of those trying to make out those limits. We have to nurture good relations. I have been inundated. The Irish Farmers' Association is a powerful lobbying group although I do not kowtow to it, thanks be to God, even it does not do as much. In 27 years, this is the issue on which I have seen the most representations. I was taken by that with regard to what we can do to advance matters. It is a difficult and delicate situation. I know that the Minister has set it out and I will not rehash that.
The Labour Party knows there is an objective to be achieved. The question is how to achieve it and the impact and consequences of the legislative basis that we are putting in to underpin the previous agreement. People tell me that under the reciprocity agreement, very few from the Republic go into the Northern Ireland waters. Our coast represents 84% of the total. Equality is an important issue too.
This is happening in the jaws of Brexit but it has been hanging around for a long time. It could have been dealt with in the past couple of years rather than waiting till the last minute to push it through. That has made a difference in how we would consider this legislation. We were prepared to speak on it before but the Government let it sit until we came to so-called Brexit or whatever is going to happen, and all of a sudden there is a mad panic to get it passed. That is a very retrograde step but it is not all that surprising when we think that the voisinage agreement has been around since the 1960s and has never been put on a legislative footing. This is not a reflection on the present Minister but on Irish Governments all along, for example, the common travel area has been around since 1922, 1923 or 1924 and was never put on a legislative footing. One would wonder what Government actually does in this State when it does nothing that will have an impact. Then it becomes a major crisis when we suddenly realise this is going to happen and we have done nothing about it, and legislation is rushed to deal with these issues. It is appalling and is a sad reflection on this Dáil that these issues have never been dealt with in a timely fashion. If this had been dealt with in the 1960s and put on a legislative footing, this case would never have come up but that is a different matter. This shows the way Government has operated in this country. How many other things are left that we do not know about and that we will discover have not been put on a legislative footing and the Dáil has to rush to legislate for only when the proverbial hits the fan?
We do not know how much fish Northern vessels catch in Irish waters or how much fish Irish vessels catch in Northern waters yet we have a Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The SFPA is unable to answer queries about how much fish is affected by this. That is the nature of this Government and Department.
We are actually talking about making sure that access is guaranteed for Dutch vessels to take mussel seed from around the State. This legislation should deal with mussel dredging and mussels, which were the subject of a Supreme Court case. We should be able to protect that industry.
This Department allowed Irish-based fishermen around our coast to buy Northern-registered vessels in order that they could get into the business because it is so expensive here. Fishermen who grow up in the communities and want to pursue that livelihood cannot afford to get into it because of the nonsensical system whereby previous Governments have allowed the tonnage system to become a private market and fishermen and people are excluded from it. The Department has turned a blind eye to people buying licensed boats in the North and fishing them in the South. It is appalling.
Whether or not we allow access for fishermen on both sides of the Border for up to six nautical miles off the coast of each other's jurisdictions is hardly the biggest problem. What is more important is what type of fishermen we allow. Are we allowing small self-employed business people or all fishing operations, including large corporate fleets? I know plenty of small fishermen who are only interested in sustainable fishing because that is the only way they can maintain a livelihood, by fishing when it is sustainable to do so. Those ethics do not apply to large corporate owners who sail in, take as much as they can and off they go. They just plunder where they can.
Aggressive fishing by Northern Ireland vessels has damaged our sustainable mussel-fishing industry. Michael Crowley from Killinick in Wexford was one of the fishermen who took a case to the Supreme Court. Some of our largest mussel seedbeds are in the south east and I have spoken to many fishermen who are very concerned about huge Dutch multinational corporations with boats that are registered in Northern Ireland coming down to the south coast and destroying the mussel seed stocks. They use a Northern Irish register as a flag of convenience. How can we guarantee that boats registered in Northern Ireland are in fact Northern Irish owned and manned by genuine Northern Irish fishermen? That has to be a crucial issue. Many fishermen are also concerned about UK boats getting access. The Minister said in his press release yesterday that he would address this registration issue today but it has not been addressed through the amendments to the Bill. The reference to residency in Deputy Clare Daly's amendments seeks to address this registration issue.
I find it very odd that the Government is rushing through this legislation at such breakneck speed simply in order to give a legal basis to what is a 60 year old agreement, a gentleman's agreement, one with no previous legislative basis and that is no longer suitable or appropriate to the modern world in which fishermen now operate. The Minister has acknowledged this point in debates about the Bill. He said the world has moved on quite significantly. If so, why do we not devise a new agreement that accurately reflects the realities of modern fishing? We also do not yet know what the Common Fisheries Policy arrangements will be and the UK Government has already indicated that it will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. Very few, if any, Southern-registered fishing boats fish inside Northern Ireland's six-mile limit and it is important to remember that when we talk about neighbourliness or reciprocating the deal. Several of the lads down home have told me that they are run out of the place when they go up off the Northern Ireland coast.
The Minister has repeatedly said that the Bill simply reinstates the position that pertained up to 2016, so in other words, it is no big deal. However, I am one of the many Deputies who vehemently disagree with that position and believe this is a very dangerous Bill. As other Deputies have said, nobody in here has any massive objection to Northern Irish fishermen getting access to our six nautical mile zone. We are talking about neighbourliness and so on and no one has a problem with that. There is, however, a very big problem with Dutch corporations flying Northern Irish flags of convenience coming to our inshore and decimating our natural resources. That is what this is about. It happened to our mussel seed, until the case taken before the Supreme Court in 2016. It was devastated by foreign boats. Available mussel seed dropped from 30,000 tonnes in 2002 to just 2,400 tonnes in 2013, pillaged by foreign interests with zero interest in fishing sustainably in our inshore. That is what is at stake here.
The Minister made the point in the Seanad that things have moved on, the ownership model has changed and when Senators voiced their concerns about what was going on, the Minister more or less said there is nothing we can do to stop it, that is the way it is, it is free movement and all that. We strongly disagree with those statements and there is something we can do. First, we can insert into this legislation a provision that only boats owned and operated in the North by people either resident there or in the Republic gain inshore fishing rights provided under this Bill. If the Minister is not prepared to do that, his real objective is exposed. The other option is to put this entire Bill into the bin. Both of those options are dramatically better than pushing this through today with unseemly haste.
IIt is not a case of moving with the times, European free movement or whatever buzzwords the Government is fond of. It is 100% standard practice for national authorities to retain control of the six mile zone and to restrict access to same to local boats if they want to. That is their prerogative and there is nothing in European fisheries legislation that says we have to open it up to foreign boats. It is entirely a choice that the Government is making. That is what it is. Equally, the Supreme Court did not instruct the Government to introduce a law in this area. All that it said was that the previous informal arrangement was illegal because it had no basis in law. The choice to legislate is entirely the Minister's choice and it is on his head if our inshore is turned into a wasteland, as it will be if he does not agree to the amendments that we have put forward. That would address the issue of the foreign boats but without that we are talking about standing over a wasteland.
I heard what the Minister had to say in the Seanad on the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. I listened to it very clearly. One of the things he said is that politicians are scaremongering. Politicians are not scaremongering. It is our constitutional right to raise concerns that are out there. This Bill has lain in the Minister's Department for two years. Every speaker has been picking up on that.
I have been calling for a stand-alone Minister for the fisheries and I have been justified in my call because something as important as this which could have serious consequences for inshore fishermen and for fishermen in general is being rushed through the Dáil. The Rural Independent Group along with a few Independent colleagues and Labour called last week for an extension of time on this debate and I am disappointed that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin refused to vote with us on that to allow us that time and voted with Fine Gael because we need time to discuss this. This cannot be rushed through and it should not be rushed through.
The island of Ireland has a coastline of 7,500 km. Fishing has always been important to coastal communities but extremely bad Government policies over the years have left fishing in ruins. An area known as the Irish Box was created in 1985. When Portugal and Spain joined the EU, both countries were banned from fishing inside it until 1986, at which point only a maximum of 40 boats were allowed to fish inside it. At that time, the Irish trawlers could catch an abundance of fish anywhere from the shoreline to ten miles offshore. It was almost unheard of in 1985 to fish out of sight of the land. Then Spain complained that it was discriminated against so the 200 mile zone that protected the Irish fishing grounds from overfishing was removed and they argued that a conservation area was all that was needed. What happened since then? The Spanish have raped our waters. Huge deepwater trawlers work 24/7 for 52 weeks of the year in Irish waters. The Irish trawlers are spending days before they can reach ground where they can make a viable living.
We are supposed to be in the EU. That would suggest to any right thinking person that the same rules would apply but that is not the case. Irish boats have to adhere to an extremely strict quota with electronic logbooks, the must give notice to the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, hours before they reach harbour so that they can be inspected on arrival, have their landings observed and sometimes wait after landing to make sure their logbook tallies with the weight. If there are any discrepancies, they face huge fines and confiscation of their catch, nets and gear at a huge cost but the Spanish fishermen can come into the pier and land their catch straight into an articulated truck without anybody from the SFPA to monitor it because it is powerless as the Spanish have a fleet quota. Nobody knows how much they are landing. Then there are Spanish trucks which we all know about in west Cork and they railroad right down through the roads through Glengarriff and Adrigole blowing cars left, right and centre. It is well known throughout west Cork and it is becoming a huge issue right down through Kealkill on their way to the ports so they can just railroad their way. This is an unbelievable situation to be allowed to carry on in 2019.
If we compare fishing off the Irish coast since 1985 it is barren in comparison. Ireland needs to reclaim the 200 mile exclusion zone immediately. It is already too late. It will take decades to recover but it needs to happen now. Castletownbere is more like a Spanish fishing port than an Irish port with so many Spanish boats landing fish caught in Irish waters.
Irish fishermen have lost their traditional right to fish for salmon since 2010. This was the worst thing ever to happen in coastal communities. It was meant to be reviewed after seven years and it is now 2019 and there has still been no review. It has been scientifically proven since that it was not the fishermen who were responsible for the decline. Our rivers are heavily polluted, the spawning beds are shaded by trees and our rivers are neglected but as usual, the easy target is the fishermen: ban them and their way of making a living and take away their traditional rights. The indigenous people are totally discriminated against. The fishermen have no voice. That is what they feel out there. Like the Native American, they are being pushed aside by bullies. Where was the EU when this was happening? Where is it now? Our rights are being violated. It is the basic right to feed their families and their survival is being taken away.
I refer to people such as Gerard Kelly, who is outside on his third day on hunger strike. Does the Minister have any humanity? I know he will say that there are certain restraints and he cannot talk about certain matters but God damn it he is standing outside there and he is lying there every night. It would not kill anybody to go out and talk to the person because he has a heart. He is only thinking of his livelihood and the livelihoods of his fellow fishermen. Surely to God it would not hurt anybody to go out and talk to him. The Minister said he would not do so after the Seanad debate on Tuesday and he is continuing in that stance. That man is still outside the Dáil. His family is sincerely worried, I am worried and I call on him to call this off because we will try to take up the fight in here if we will be listened to.
Since the mid 1990s, fishermen have lost their rights to fish for salmon and they have lost their right to fish for spurdogs because they are protected as a member of the shark species. They have lost their right to drift net for tuna and they have lost their right to fish for bass. Half of the white fish fleet has been decommissioned. Where does it end? Yet, our Government will not appoint a stand-alone Minister for fishing. The Minister is responsible for agriculture and that is where his full efforts and concentration should be. I ask the Minister and many fishermen would challenge him to come to any pier in Ireland and name ten different species of fish or fishing gear to explain how the gear works. It will not be until fishermen get a Minister who can do that and show he or she has a knowledge of the fishing industry that they can hope to be represented in a fair manner at any level.
If the Minister looks back to A Programme for a Partnership Government, there were one and a half pages in it set aside out of hundreds of pages. It just shows the little interest this Government has in fishermen. A Programme for a Partnership Government stated that: "This Government recognises that the greatest national resource that Ireland has is the sea that surrounds the island." However, this Government is already selling out our greatest national resource and is being supported in doing so by much of the so called Opposition in the Dáil.
The fishing industry has got a poor deal from successive Governments. The fishing industry got a poor deal when Ireland negotiated its entry into the EU. Much of our waters were given away. I mention the bluefin quota and I thank the Minister because in fairness he did listen to what I asked in my plea that the Irish Government would apply for a bluefin quota. That is the kind of fight we need going forward and I will be raising more issues on this point going forward because I have run out of time and my colleagues need to get in.
It was hoped that this Bill was at least delayed until the outcome of Brexit was known. There was time to have proper consultation with stakeholders. Why did the Minister not consult the Irish fishermen? Why did he refuse to meet them? Why did he not consult the Marine Institute to see if the grounds most affected, such as Dundalk Bay, can sustain more fishing boats? What about the different quotas for razor clams and fish and the difference in the legal size for crab, lobsters and velvet crabs? Northern Ireland boats can legally take a lot more than we can. How can this be policed by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority? These questions need to be answered.
As the Minister knows, Irish fishing vessels cannot fish within 12 miles of the Isle of Man and they are excluded from fishing inside a six mile exclusion zone around the entire British coast. The Minister wants to allow UK vessels to have access to Ireland's six mile fishery zones. This is not acceptable for the Irish fishing industry. The Minister also stated that all Irish registered fishing vessels of 80 m and over will be excluded from fishing inside Ireland's six mile fishery limit from 2021 onwards. Yet, the Minister is attempting to fast track legislation that will allow vessels from Northern Ireland to fish inside Ireland's six mile fishery zone.
As the Minister knows, the UK has already stated that it is leaving the London Fisheries Convention, severing the existing arrangements which allow for access to inshore waters between neighbouring states. Irish fishing organisations and fishermen are totally disgusted with this. In the Minister's speech, he said there were no questions of other countries' vessels gaining access to Ireland's nought to six mile zone as a result of this Bill.
Is there anything in the Bill that will prevent a UK or EU citizen resident outside Ireland and Northern Ireland from registering a fishing boat in Northern Ireland or the South, thus gaining permission to fish inside the six-mile zone? The UK Government has continually alluded to the fact that it intends to take full control of UK waters post Brexit. It is imperative that the Irish Government hold fast in changing legislation until we know for certain whether Irish registered fishing boats will be allowed to fish in UK waters. Surely new laws can be introduced in both jurisdictions to take effect on the same date if and when the United Kingdom departs the European Union.
I urge the Minister to meet Gearóid Ó Ceallaigh. Deputy Michael Collins and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle met him and his family last night. He has five young children, including two sets of twins, but he is being forced to be idle. He is a man who wants to work, harvest fish, pay for his vessel and look after his family. The fishing industry lost out badly in 1973 and ever since has been kicked around the place. It is the poor relation in the so-called great times in the European Union where it is looking after our farmers and everything else. We now know what is happening. The Minister has sold out on the industry, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne. They want to have a separate Minister in order that Deputy Creed can concentrate on being Minister for agriculture, but he is doing neither this nor that. He will not tackle the meat factories either or check the machinery used in monitoring the standard of beef. For him, it is all about big business. Nothing changes with Fine Gael. It is the party for the big people. Forget the daoine beaga; they do not matter. The landed gentry is all Fine Gael is interested in and the Minister will not listen in this instance either. It is a shame that the Independents and the Labour Party had to force a debate on this matter today. It was to go through without debate except that we stood up. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are all in bed together. Whatever Government comes out at the finish, it will not know what it is doing.
The Minister does not know what bed he is in, but he will know soon enough when he goes before the electorate who will know. I beg the Minister to meet fear uasal Ó Ceallaigh, taobh amuigh ag an ngeata anocht.
Last week when I was approached by some fishermen in my county, as were other Deputies, I listened to what they had to say. It is about conservation of a very scarce resource. Looking after fisheries means conserving them to make sure they will be available to fishermen, not just now but also in the future. It is about ensuring species will continue and still exist in 100 or 1,000 years' time. I say this with respect to some of the speakers opposite.
Deputy Michael Collins talked about rivers being more polluted than ever. That is not the case. They are in a much healthier state than they were many years ago. The use of industrial pollutants and pollution caused by human and farm waste, sewage and so on are guarded against far more rigorously to conserve and protect water supplies. That has a significant impact on fish also. The Deputy says we are not allowed to fish for salmon, but that is not actually true. The fact is there is a significant number of rivers in which one can catch or catch and release, while there are others in which one cannot fish at all.
That was a little more coherent.
Salmon cannot be caught in the River Boyne because the numbers are far lower than what we need to make sure the stock will be sustainable. Every single salmon begins life in the river comes back to it. The only way we can make sure there will be salmon into the future - the species is in danger of being overfished - is by conserving stock.
Wild bass was mentioned. It is a fantastic species. Wild bass take a long time - something like 20 years or more - to reach maturity. If they were allowed to be fished commercially, there would be none left in one year. That would destroy and despoil the species, perhaps removing them forever from our environment. It is not true or right to say the Minister, the Government, the European Union and others are out to prevent people from making a decent living. It is quite the opposite. They want to make sure they can make a living, that the industry will be sustainable and continue into the future.
I have only come to this issue in the last week or so. I hear my colleague, Deputy Fitzpatrick, talking about boats from Northern Ireland as if it was some strange place, rather than County Down being adjoined to County Louth. We live on an island and, as I understand it, rights are reciprocated, North and South, something with which I do not have an issue. I do not believe in partition, either on sea or on land. There should be fair and reasonable access to fisheries, North and South, if we want to have an all-island economy. However, there are issues with conservation, including with the razor stock in Dundalk Bay. It is finite and reducing and fishermen are rightly and properly afraid that it will be overfished, including by boats from other counties. They are saying they were not consulted and have raised questions about the Marine Institute being consulted. They have referred me to articles carried in the Marine Times.
I will always support conservation which is in everybody's interests now and into the future. However, policy must be wise and applied fairly. The fishermen in County Louth who spoke to me are concerned that other boats, regardless of from where they come, may have access to a diminishing reserve which just about has the capacity to give them a living. I do not know if that frames the question in a different way, but that is what they are saying to me. I reject the partitionist attitude to fisheries of other Deputies. It is silly. If we conserve what we have and there are reciprocal rights, North and South, that will be good for everybody. Conservation must be the key determinant. If fisheries off the coast of County Louth are under threat because of overfishing, they must be conserved. Local people should be least affected by conservation measures in terms of access.
I acknowledge the efforts made on all sides to protect fishing families. That four Dáil Deputies from County Louth and Senator Nash have taken time to address this issue speaks volumes, particularly about the concerns of inshore fishermen along the coastline. As others said, the short delay in stalling the rushing through of this legislation was welcome to allow consultation with interested stakeholders. However, it should have happened in the two year period, but the Bill sat on the shelf until suddenly, as I said directly to the Minister recently, the stage managed arrest of two trawlers in Dundalk Bay brought to a head the deliberate intent of the trawler men to drive a coach and four through the scrutiny of and the real issues surrounding the voisinagearrangements. I draw the attention of the Minister, as others have, to the lack of representation and audience given to the inshore fishermen, particularly at the meeting in Clonakilty, to which he referred.
As part of the discussion on this legislation and while recognising that all eventualities cannot be included in the Bill, I want the Minister to give a clear commitment to the House and reassure me and the 70-pIus fishermen we represent in Carlingford, Dundalk Bay, Annagassan and Clogherhead areas, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Marine Institute will conduct a full appraisal of fish stock with an ecological study of the six-mile zone along the Irish Sea coastline to ascertain if the area can sustain a potential doubling of the number of boats fishing there. A 2018 evaluation by the Marine Institute of the stock levels in this area conducted by Dr. Oliver Tully verified a stock decline. Currently, 50 razor boats are fishing a quota of 600 kg. In addition, 15 southern potting boats are fishing in Dundalk Bay.
While many, including Deputy O'Dowd, may accuse me of being partitionist in my approach to this legislation-----
-----and while I understand the concerns around voisinage, it is just as important that in conjunction with this legislation that the Minister regularises important issues to give a level playing field in sharing the waters around these islands, as mentioned by a Labour Party Deputy earlier. While I do not mind being accused of being partitionist, I make no apologies for being partisan in favour of those fishermen and their families in those communities, particularly in my own.
On quotas for razor clam and fish, I have been advised by the North East Razor Fishermen's Association that the legal sizes for lobster, crab and velvet crab differ in both jurisdictions. Will the fishery area be properly policed, especially with the stock being landed in different jurisdictions? Will the Minister assure me that the Bill will not open a door to opportunist and unscrupulous fishermen to seize the opportunity to register boats in Northern Ireland to avail of the freedom to ravish these waters? In the interim it might be appropriate that only registered boats, North and South, would be allowed to fish these waters and that their number be capped by agreement until the capacity of these waters in terms of their management and ecology is determined.
The 1966 voisinageagreement related to mackerel and herring fish in particular. The need to protect and manage the stock up to six miles from shore is crucial, especially in this area. There are proposals for wind farms in the area. I cite in particular the ESB's Oriel wind farm where large swathes of water will be legally no-go areas.
Much great voluntary work has been done on large-scale conservation of, in particular, egg-bearing female lobsters. All this work will be in vain when such efforts are not happening in Northern waters. Having ravaged, pillaged and exhausted their own stocks, they will do the same here unless this is addressed at departmental level North and South to have equality in both waters. Local communities in our 14 coastal counties depend greatly on inshore fishing. The sustainability of this industry will be seriously undermined if, when the Bill passes, it is not followed up closely with additional statutory instruments and bilateral agreements that are fair and bring equality. People talk about voisinage, neighbourliness and reciprocation. Neighbourliness is about being good neighbours and reciprocation is a two-way process that is balanced and of mutual benefit.
I continue to believe that this legislation is urgent in view of the court decision. In the event that the UK decides to leave the London Fisheries Convention, irrespective of whether Brexit occurs, this legislation will be seen to undermine our negotiation strategy. While I recognise the need to be seen as seeking a backstop on land, we could be seen as not wanting a backstop in our waters.
All of that said, I am a realist and know that the Whip will be imposed and the legislation will be passed today. I am expressing the concerns of many people in my community. I ask the Minister to consider a delay in the commencement order to verify the bona fides of the British in respect of their overall approach to the spirit of voisinageand whether there will be real reciprocation in all European waters. Such is the concern fishermen have over this that a person is on hunger strike outside the Leinster House today. From speaking to some of these fishermen I understand they will consider petitioning the President to refer the Bill to the Council of State regardless of what happens here.
The request that this Bill be parked has fallen on deaf ears despite the Minister's consultation in Clonakilty. It is clear to me that most Irish fishermen are frustrated and appalled at what is happening. They are at a loss to understand that the Minister is more interested in satisfying UK citizens while treating our own inshore fishing industry with what they believe is contempt.
I wish to conclude by reading a section of an email from a constituent this morning which succinctly shows the need for real reciprocation.
It is with great frustration and regret that I have to sit down and write this email...
It’s no coincidence that the 2 boats were arrested were in Dundalk Bay. The good fishing in the bay is direct result of conservation and selective fishing, v-notching and self-policing that has gone on in this area since I began fishing 25 years ago. These northern boats that have exhausted their own fishing areas by illegally fishing females, harvesting small lobster and crab for export to China are now sitting waiting to rape and pillage these waters that generations of your constituents have left a healthy fishery for us. I fear there will be nothing left...
I started fishing as a 5 year old with my father and grandfather. 8 years ago I got a loan from the credit union and bought a new boat and licence at great expense. I have to keep the boat and equipment to a certain standard in order to maintain my licence, also at great expense. My father and myself had to complete 2 different BIM courses to be able to keep fishing, also at great expense. I had to buy 2 lifejackets ... All of which these northern boats don't need to do.
So until they have ... tonnage at the same rate as we do, have the same safety and training standards as we do, then I don't see why this government is fishing through this ill-thought-out legislation.
Once again the fishermen are being ridden roughshod over.
We are dealing with this Bill today and I note from the Minister's contribution he has at least tried refer to some of the issues that have been raised by various members of the fishing community. As was said by previous speakers, we had a meeting a few weeks ago the outcome of which was that we sought to ensure that the Minister would engage directly with the representatives of the fishermen and the fishing organisations. I understand that happened last Thursday week for a number of hours. While the outcome of that was communicated very clearly to us, namely, that the fishing organisations still had many reservations around some of the issues they were concerned about, in general, they felt that this Bill would proceed. That was the general theme we got back from it. However, since then there has been a sense of possibly more concerns, particularly about the London Fisheries Convention, which is an issue that has come up clearly. People are concerned that if this Bill is to pass, it will allow boats from other countries that have signed up to the London Fisheries Convention equal access to Northern Ireland, which is also part of that convention. The Minister needs to deal with that issue and to spell out clearly the position in respect of that.
In terms of the broad thrust of the Bill, it is important to remind ourselves that, as many have said, we live on an island and if there are boats off the coast of County Mayo from County Kerry or County Donegal that have travelled to fish there, it is equally right that boats from County Derry or County Antrim would also be able to fish in those waters or vice versa. As a party that wants to see a united Ireland, which is one of our central objectives, we understand that this has to happen and that everything has to be done to make it happen. As the Minister mentioned, the Good Friday Agreement is part of that. We need to progress this forward. However, there are concerns and it is important to separate and outline those concerns.
As mentioned by previous speakers, some of the concerns relate to the broad fishing industry and what has happened in many cases where we have seen large boats from other jurisdictions come into our waters and plunder our resources and do all kinds of damage. In fairness, this legislation provides for restricting the size of boats to under 18 m and allows access within the six-mile limit. Those provisions address some of the concerns but there needs to be an emphasis on protecting the resource.
The main concern is regarding the mussel industry and the protection of the mussel beds. It appears there has been at least a degree of over-exploitation of those mussel beds in the past that has brought us to this situation. It is for that reason we tabled amendment No. 8, proposing the implementation of a all-Ireland sustainability and conservation management plan for non-quota species within the six-mile limit. While it has been ruled out of order, I would appreciate it were the Minister to address that and those issues, because they need to be dealt with. I note the bottom mussel forum, which is an effort across the two jurisdictions, North and South, to deal with this matter, has been up and running for approximately ten years now. It is timely to examine that, review what has happened and identify what has been positive and where improvements need to happen. What has been communicated to all Deputies from many of the fishing organisations is that there is room for major improvement in that respect.
Many of the other issues mainly relate to the ownership of vessels and to ensure that flags of convenience cannot be flown. Our amendment No. 3 and amendment No. 4, in the names of Deputies Clare Daly and Pringle, are similar and address the same point, namely, that those who own the boat need to be resident on the island of Ireland to guard against boat owners from abroad travelling to our waters and using them as a flag of convenience. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that does not happen.
On the issues that have been spelled out in our other amendments, particularly our amendment regarding the London Fisheries Convention, the scenario whereby boats from Belgium or other countries would be able to come under the radar in this regard would be of major concern for everyone. The Minister needs to assure us that will not be the case. The best way to do that would be to accept our amendment and its inclusion in the legislation would make it clear to everyone that this could not happen and that the London Fisheries Convention would be outside the terms of this Bill.
There are problems facing the fishing industry, particularly the inshore sector. The Minister has acknowledged that by some of the work he has done recently in limiting the size of boats that come into the inshore sector. That sector feels very much aggrieved by what has happened over decades within the fishing sector. When issues arise, they see them as another example of them being victimised and losing out to others. This legislation presents an opportunity for the Minister, the Government and all of us to be a champion for that sector and to make sure that does not happen and that what we are doing here in the context of this Bill will not do that.
The Minister stated that the fisheries in the zero to six-mile zone will need to have the necessary authorisation from their own fishing administration to avail of UK quota for the species in question. That brings me to an issue I would like the Minister address. In the context of Brexit, whether there is a deal, no deal or whatever transpires, it is clear that Britain will be outside the Common Fisheries Policy before very long.
If it is, quota will not apply to boats registered in the North because they will be outside the EU and therefore they will not have an EU quota. Unless they come up with some quota regime of their own, where will we all be in respect of all of that? What will that quota regime be? The current quota is organised and agreed among all the members of the European Union and while we have many issues with that, if Britain intends to independently set its own quota standards and size of quota, it can say it has quota to fish anything they like within the six-mile zone and bring it back to Britain. It is an issue with which the Minister needs to try to deal.
The Minister mentioned scaremongering in his contribution and people talking up the problem rather than looking for the solution. That is always thrown back at people who make representations on behalf of a community that feels aggrieved, left out and put on the back foot but at the same time, the major grievance we have is around the level of authority of the British boats. When boats from the South go up to the North, do they have a legal standing? It was challenged here and that is the reason we got into this situation. Had it been challenged in the North, perhaps there would be no legal standing there either. It is very vague in respect of that. The Minister said he asked the Minister in Britain about that recently and that he received assurances from him but I would say his verbal assurances are not worth the paper they are written on. Unless we have something solid we can see that it is underwritten in British legislation, where then do we stand?
I want to deal with the amendments before the House. The first two amendments in the names of Deputies Clare Daly and Pringle are on the issue of aquaculture and the mussel seed beds, as is our amendment No. 8, which was ruled out of order. They are issues with which the Minister needs to get to grips and come up with solutions for people and provide firm reassurances, not like the verbal assurances he got from the Minister in the UK but something that is real and on paper.
Our other amendments relate to the ownership of the boats, for which I hope we get support. There are three other amendments sponsored by Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins. While I understand where they are coming from in proposing them, I have issues with them because they are basically saying that the 26-county State stands on it own, we are not an island any more and that we recognise partition. We have issues with that and that is why we could not and will not support those amendments.
Amendment No. 9 regarding the quota or allocation of any species in accordance with the quota on both sides of the Border is a real hole in all of this and it needs to be dealt with appropriately I hope the Minister can accept it, which would mean we would at least have an assurance in respect of that.
Other parties have many views in this respect but while I sense this Bill will pass, these amendments need to be inserted in it. We need to be able to see that we are standing up for the inshore fishermen and fighting their corner. The man who is protesting outside the gates of Leinster House is an example of that. Whatever people's views may be of court cases, he is obviously a person of strong commitment who is prepared to make a stand. We must be prepared to admire people who make such a stand and acknowledge they are worthy of being considered.
I appeal to the Minister to also speak, if not to the man himself, then to people close to him; for example, his brother is someone the Minister could speak to. He should have a conversation around these issues and make sure we can make progress.
I thank Deputy Gallagher and all of my colleagues. With few exceptions, the overall direction of travel is one we are in agreement on. I appreciate the concerns that have been raised and I will try to deal with them as comprehensively as possible now and in the further debate on the amendments.
The beauty of this legislation is that it is short and succinct. It seeks only to put back in place that which existed up to the October 2016 Supreme Court ruling. As it goes to the heart of some of the concerns that have been raised, I will read into the record exactly what we are talking about. In its essence, the Bill is about keeping people out of our waters. Deputy Kenny alluded to this fear of the armada from the United Nations arriving into our inshore sector. In fact, the Bill specifically talks about keeping people out and it being illegal to come in other than by the provisions of the legislation, which is about allowing boats from Northern Ireland. The Bill states:
(1) ...a person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fishery limits unless he or she is authorised by law to do so.
(2) A person who is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland may fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles as measured from the baseline...
In layman's language, my clear understanding of that, and the advice available to me legally and otherwise, is that anybody else, other than from Northern Ireland, in our zero to six nautical miles zone would face the full rigours of the law.
I appreciate the point has been made by other speakers in the context of the London Fisheries Convention and the voisinagearrangements. Thevoisinage arrangements long predate the London Fisheries Convention. What the London Fisheries Convention did is acknowledge their existence and facilitated recognition of history and custom up to that point and their continued operation in this State up to October 2016, when the Supreme Court ruled. In essence, all we are doing is restoring the status quo ante, which I think is the term used by the Taoiseach in the debate. It is as simple as that. The legislation in all other respects is about locking people out of our zero to six nautical miles zone.
There are many nations that are participants or are involved in the London Fisheries Convention but this legislation is specifically about restoring what was the custom and practice up to the Supreme Court ruling. At that stage, if the London Fisheries Convention had enabled all of that to happen anyway, it did not happen. The custom and practice was that it was a North-South relationship. I think this is the right thing to do. We can get into all the complicated reasons of why it is the right thing to do but I think that, as citizens of the island, it is the right thing to do. We share this space together historically. It is a complicated relationship, North-South, and I know those who are closer to the Border are more in tune with the complexity of that.
I want to come to Deputy Breathnach's point. I take exception to being accused of being more interested in protecting the rights of UK citizens than of Irish citizens. My only imperative in this legislation is to do the right thing. There are many measurements of what that is, whether it is Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement, the troubled history we have had prior to that or the identity politics whereby some people in Northern Ireland look to London and some look to Dublin. This is a complicated area. However, I and the Government, and I think most of Deputies who spoke, acknowledge this is about reinstating something that existed. It is not about prioritising one political tradition or identity over the other. It is important in the context of that comment to say, in the context of people in Northern Ireland, that there are people-----
On a point of order, I want to make it clear that I was talking about giving equality of participation. Since voisinage has been in place, the whole arrangement in regard to the type of boats and how people are operating on both sides, North and South, has changed dramatically. I made very clear all of the disadvantages the current boats have, and I even said this to the Minister at the meeting a number of weeks ago. Although I did not allude to it today, I am talking about the grants that are available. That is why I have to say there is a favouritism towards the UK, and I stand over that.
It is worth reflecting on the fact some of the boats that fish in our zero to six nautical miles zone, or had fished there up to October 2016, would not consider themselves to be UK citizens, although others would. This is a complex area and I think we are doing the right thing by reinstating the arrangements.
The contributions fall into a series of areas which I hope to deal with comprehensively, and I will refer to my individual notes later. There is a danger we will start to conflate two issues in the debate: one is the principle of access and the other is management issues. The Bill only deals with the principle of extending or reinstating access that existed up to 2016. It is not about the idea of how we manage these resources. I accept management is a really important part of the issue and it is a very complicated piece of work, involving socioeconomic, scientific and environmental issues, stakeholder driven and involving livelihoods in two jurisdictions. Management is a complex piece of work and it is important that we do not get bogged down in regard to a specific species. Deputy Gallagher raised this in the context of the Supreme Court ruling. At paragraph 28, Mr. Justice O'Donnell stated: "In particular I agree that reciprocity is only required at the general level of fishing, and is not required at the level of each species." There is a danger in this debate that we get captured by one particular sub-sector of the inshore fishing endeavour, which would be unfortunate. It is about the broader inshore sector. I was asked by Deputy Martin Kenny or Deputy Ferris whether I met the inshore fisheries forums. There is no representative group of the fishing industry I have met more in recent times than the inshore fisheries forums, most recently as part of the broader consultation in Clonakilty, which was mentioned by many.
With regard to consultation generally, the context in which we find ourselves in the House in an effort to get this passed is one people can interpret for themselves in terms of the Bill being introduced originally in the Seanad. While I do not propose to go into that, people are familiar with the circumstances. Neither can I accept Deputy Breathnach's comments, which I think are also unfortunate, although I accept we had good engagement bilaterally. He referred to a stage-managed arrest. The enforcement authorities of the State do not act at the political direction of the Government or anybody else. I think-----
There are parties to an arrest and there are two sides to that. I appreciate that the Deputy wants to clarify this. The enforcement authorities of the State do not act at the political direction of Government.
We are dealing with this in the context of the legislation.
This legislation is, in one sense, informed by broader Brexit considerations, and we cannot ignore that fact.
On the issue of consultation, I have engaged more often than not with the inshore fisheries forum. We had a particularly intense engagement recently because we launched an inshore fisheries strategy and, for the first time, the potential of the sector is being given due recognition. I am committed to ensuring that the sector gets the recognition it deserves. I urge those Members who raised issues of management to look at the Department's website which deals with consultation and management. There were more than 900 engagements with the Department on the recent management decision taken on boats fishing in our inshore waters. We have extensive consultations on fisheries management. I acknowledge the progress that is being made by the regional and national forums in terms of driving conservation agendas on crab, v-notching and so forth. Anyone who comes in to fish in the six-mile zone will be obliged to operate within the same parameters as our own inshore fishermen in terms of boat size, conservation measures and so forth. That is an absolute commitment and it is reflected in the law.
I have dealt with a quite a number of the questions raised. Deputy Wallace spoke about reciprocity and argued that this Bill does not represent reciprocity and is unbalanced. However, I have clarified that Northern Ireland boats will only fish here under the same terms and conditions as Irish boats. It is not the case that they will be able to fish under entirely different circumstances.
Deputy Clare Daly said that the Bill is dangerous and made reference to Dutch corporations. She also said that restrictions must also apply to our own fishermen. They will only come in under exactly the same terms and conditions as ours. The different models of ownership are referred to in the High and Supreme Court judgments dealing with this issue. The courts said that times have moved on from one man and his boat in the 1960s and that our laws and practices must reflect the fact that ownership structures have changed. As I said in Seanad Éireann, corner shops are now limited companies in many instances. In that context, it is only right and proper to expect that ownership models employed by the fishing industry would also change. Reference was made to mussel seed and to Dutch corporations. I do not believe the latter are active except insofar as there may be Dutch ownership interests in the Northern Ireland fleet, as there are in the register in the Republic of Ireland. Those engaged in the mussel sector must use the mussel seed on the island of Ireland. It is not that they can pillage the seed and take it elsewhere. They have to use it on the island of Ireland so it is creating jobs and supporting employment on this island.
Deputy Pringle asked why we are choosing to put the arrangements on a legislative footing now. In the context of Articles 2 and 3 and the 1960s, the arrangement was of its time and once those articles were changed, one could argue that it would have been appropriate to put it on a statutory footing. It was argued that we should not just accept the bona fides of the UK. Our bona fides were challenged and theirs could also be challenged. It was suggested that we should not accept their word, but surely their deeds speak for themselves. To this day, our fishermen still go north and fish in their six-mile zone. The House of Commons report asked how long the unbalanced approach could be expected to continue. We are just reinstating a previous arrangement and putting it back in place as it was.
Deputy Michael Collins comes from west Cork. The sound of doors slamming on our Northern Ireland counterparts would make another west Cork man and the Deputy's namesake spin in his grave. I have no doubt he would be spinning in his grave in response to that particular contribution. It was quite shocking in many respects, but so be it.
Deputy O'Dowd alluded to management, and while that is an important issue, it is not the main concern of this legislation. My Department, in consultation with all stakeholders, is always interested in progressing these issues. However, I point out to my Sinn Féin colleagues that this is made more difficult in the absence of a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland. One must ask from whom the Executive takes instruction in terms of an all-island approach to managing a resource.
The Minister has responded to most of the questions that were asked but he has not dealt with my question on how much stock we are talking about here. I asked how much fish is caught in the six-mile zone but it seems that neither the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority nor anyone else can answer that question.
I asked the Minister about UK and EU citizens coming to Northern Ireland or the Republic, looking for licences. It does not seem to be covered in the Bill. Is that a loophole? I also asked if Dundalk Bay is capable of dealing with more boats but the Minister did not answer that either.
The issues raised by Deputy Fitzpatrick relate to management, but this Bill does not deal with fisheries management issues. It is not a panacea for every ill in the fishing industry. It seeks only to establish the principle of access or, more correctly, to reinstate it. The issues of fisheries management are broader.
Deputy Pringle asked what is caught on average in the six-mile zone. I have figures for the 200-mile zone.
In the period 2011 to 2015, the Republic of Ireland caught 84,850 tonnes in the UK's 200-mile zone, which was valued at €83.83 million. In the same period, the UK caught 62,381 tonnes in the Irish 200-mile zone, valued at €71.25 million. The figures indicate that we caught more in their waters than they caught in ours.