Thursday, 29 April 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Fishery Harbour Centres
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter and the Minister for taking it in person.
Post Brexit, the harbour in Dunmore East has been removed as a port for British and Northern Ireland-registered fishing vessels to land their catches. Since then, seven ports have been redesignated, six on the west coast and one, Howth, on the east coast, but Dunmore East is not one of them. In response to my colleague Deputy Mac Lochlainn, the Minister previously stated that other areas were not designated because of lower landing figures but that he would keep it under review and his ears would be open to challenge. I hope they are open to challenge during this debate.
Deputy Mac Lochlainn has also engaged with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, on this matter, which is the body that will be responsible for operating the landing measures. The SFPA advised Deputy Mac Lochlainn that no additional resources would be required by it to reintroduce the limited hours' landing schedule that was in place previously.
This is an easy fix. It requires the Minister's agreement and signing-off. It would be very beneficial to the economy of Dunmore East and I ask him to consider it as a matter of urgency.
I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister on 20 January and his response did not provide a resolution. I thank him for the invitation to engage with him on the issue of south-east fishing on 11 May. As Deputy Cullinane has highlighted, this is a significant economic issue for Dunmore East. The travel time to Dunmore East for fishing vessels that access the fishing grounds known as the Smalls is five or six hours. However, they cannot access the port and are forced to go to either Castletownbere, which is 17 or 18 hours' travel distance, or Howth, which is ten or 12 hours' travel distance. This has obvious emissions, economic and even safety impacts. Will the Minister review this matter? There are fisheries protection officers and facilities at the port to allow Department officials to check landings. This is an issue of rural regeneration and support for our fishing ports, in particular Dunmore East. I ask the Minister to give this matter favourable consideration.
I corresponded with the Minister as far back as 19 January and I have raised it with him personally since then. The decision made by his Department to designate five additional ports for Britain and Northern Ireland-registered vessel landings for both illegal, unregulated and unreported, or IUU, and North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEAFC, purposes, while omitting Dunmore East, means that, in effect, there is no designated port to serve UK-registered boats anywhere between Castletownbere and Howth, as my colleagues have pointed out, leaving the entire south-east coast unserved. This has an impact not only on the port of Dunmore East and the fish processing services that rely on the port but also on the fishers through higher operating costs and carbon emissions, as Deputy Shanahan mentioned. Furthermore, I worry about the risk to the safety of ship crews, who may choose in the event of bad weather to make for a port where they can land their catch over the nearest safe harbour. In conjunction with my colleagues, I ask the Minister to find a resolution to this issue, if possible.
I thank the Deputies for raising the issue and for their contributions. That the three of them are coming together, as Waterford Deputies, to raise the issue shows the importance they place on it. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has also been raising and discussing the matter with me. I welcome the opportunity to address it in the House.
As the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, in January 2021 five additional ports were designated for landings by Britain and Northern Ireland-registered vessels, namely, Greencastle, Rathmullen, Burtonport, Ros a Mhíl and Howth. The five ports join Killybegs and Castletownbere, which continue to be designated for landings by vessels of any third country origin. I designated these five additional ports having regard to the level of activity by Britain and Northern Ireland-registered vessels in the recent past.
Any Britain or Northern Ireland-registered boat landing into any of the seven designated Irish ports must comply with additional documentary and procedural requirements as a result of the changes brought about by Brexit. The designation of ports is within the states' authority but all requirements and protocols are subject to EU and international law and must be strictly adhered to in order to gain entry to such ports.
The designation of the five additional ports was an important decision that allows fishers and small vessels in particular to continue landing at Irish ports following Brexit. The SFPA has undertaken significant work in putting in place the arrangements necessary, including additional staff, to provide for these port designations. I am glad the outcome will mean many of those fishers will now have the opportunity to access a number of additional ports.
There are significant practical and cost implications for the State in the designation of EU ports for third country landings as, under EU regulations, such designations represent an entry point to the European Union, following which food is free to circulate within the full EU Common Market. On this basis, for any ports designated, Ireland is obliged to ensure that it has in place a meaningful control presence.
As outlined by the Deputies, Dunmore East has not been designated at this point but this will be kept under review. In 2018, there were 15 landings by UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels into Dunmore East. This reduced to nine landings in 2019 and reduced further in 2020. Over the two years, 2018 and 2019, the total landings amounted to 318 tonnes into Dunmore East by UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels. I understand that these were landings of nephrops, mainly from the Smalls. I included Howth as a designated port at the beginning of the year and this provides a landing option for UK Northern Ireland-registered vessels fishing for nephrops in the large fishing grounds in the north Irish Sea and may also provide an option for such vessels fishing in the Smalls or Labidine. I designated Howth because, unlike Dunmore East, there were 26 landings by UK-registered vessels into Howth in 2018 and this increased to 28 landings in 2019.
I can also assure the Deputies that the current ports designated and the opening times and days for those ports were decided to allow UK-registered Northern Ireland vessels to continue to land into Irish ports, while ensuring that the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, has the capacity to continue to perform its vital control functions effectively. I reassure the Deputies that the designation of ports for landings does not preclude vessels from coming into ports for force majeurereasons such as the need to reach a safe harbour.
I thank the Minister for his response and the clarification that he will keep all of this under review. This makes sense. It would also make sense to designate an additional port on the east coast. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said as to the reason Howth was picked over Dunmore East, but I do not believe it should be a case of one or the other; it could be both. I invite the Minister to visit the harbour at Dunmore East when restrictions are lifted. I have been in correspondence with him on a number of different issues relating to the harbour, its development and the development of ancillary businesses in the Dunmore East area. It is not just about boats landing for force majeurepurposes. Regardless of the numbers the Minister cited, every boat that lands creates opportunities for businesses. When they are gone, those opportunities are gone, which represents a loss to the harbour and surrounding areas. I ask the Minister to look at this again and to visit the port at some point, when travel restrictions and his own commitments permit.
I too welcome the Minister's statement. The one point I would make is that the comparison is not valid. If one looks at the size of Howth Harbour and the level of activity there and compares landings at Howth with those at Dunmore East, one will see that the landings are quite a lot more important to Dunmore East relatively. I ask the Minister to take that on board. Deputy Cullinane made a very good point about supporting and progressing commercial activity. We have had a lot of issues in the south and particularly in Dunmore East in trying to expand the fish processing sector in the region. There are obvious benefits to be obtained. We will again be debating the climate Bill in the House next week and we will be discussing emissions and so on. If one adds up the emissions of those boats being forced to go to Castletownbere or Howth, that metric alone represents a fair argument for designating Dunmore East Harbour.
I thank the Minister for coming in to take this question. I also welcome the fact that he is going to meet with us on 11 May. That is very welcome. As I understand it, the staff and infrastructure are there. I do not see this as involving any great additional cost. Deputy Shanahan has outlined the additional travel time involved in travelling in from, for example, the Smalls and the increased carbon emissions involved in doing so. It is a matter of cost efficiency. Fishers are already operating on very small margins. We should not make them travel this extra distance and incur those extra fuel costs to land their catch. Even a cursory look at a map of Ireland shows one that there is a massive swathe of our coastline between Castletownbere and Howth, which obviously serves a massive swathe of our offshore. This makes sense. This issue is easily solved without incurring any great cost. I welcome the Minister's commitment to keep this matter under review.
I look forward to it. I thank Deputies Ó Cathasaigh, Shanahan and Cullinane. As I said earlier, it is good to see the Waterford Deputies working together. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has spoken to me personally on this matter, as have the three Deputies. They have all also spoken to me on a number of fisheries issues pertinent to the county. I acknowledge all of their representations in that regard. I certainly look forward to visiting the county whenever time and the easing of restrictions allow. It has unfortunately not been possible as yet due to the Covid restrictions. I will have virtual engagements with the fisheries community and with Oireachtas Members over the two or three weeks with a view to engaging and connecting with all fishers and with representatives and stakeholders in coastal areas and the marine sector. I look forward to that.
The argument has been well made. The strategic importance of Dunmore East is very relevant in this regard. Certainly, when one looks at the map of Ireland, it is a strategically appropriate place for any additional designation. As I said, when I made the initial designations after Brexit, I did so in immediate response to the Brexit situation. I had to take into account the various pressures on the control authority at that time. I also took a significant look at the various landing patterns in different ports in making my designations. That was central to the assignments and designations I made. As I pointed out in my contribution, the number of landings by Northern Irish-registered UK vessels at Dunmore East is small and has been so over the last two or three years. Nonetheless, it is a strategically important location and, in coming to review it, I will certainly keep that in mind. The point was also made that there is Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, SFPA, infrastructure and offices in place, which is also an important consideration in this regard.
I thank the three Deputies and my ministerial colleague, Deputy Butler, for bringing this to my attention and for working together on behalf of the county. I will certainly continue to engage with them in seeking to make progress on this matter.