Thursday, 3 June 2021
Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill is being brought forward to consolidate in one stand-alone enactment the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation and to update it to reflect recent developments in international law. It is a technical Bill that establishes in domestic law the framework of different maritime zones of national jurisdiction recognised by international law. Within those zones a coastal state is entitled to regulate human activity only to the extent permitted by international law. Within each zone states have different sets of rights, which I will explain shortly. It is important to emphasise at this stage, however, that the purpose of the Bill is simply to provide for those zones and their limits in domestic law. Separate legislation regulates different activities within those zones, depending on the activity concerned, and that is not the purpose of the Bill.
The regulation by states of human activity at sea is governed in the first instance by the international law of the sea and, as I have said, a state may only regulate an activity at sea to the extent permitted by international law. The oceans and seas are shared spaces in which different interests of states compete. Unsurprisingly, coastal states may wish to exclusively control activity in their coastal waters while all states have an interest in preserving freedom of navigation and other freedoms of the seas. International law seeks to balance these different interests.
The development of international law in this field has been greatly influenced by advances in technology. These advances have led to enormous increases in both the scope and scale of human activity at sea. During the last century, the age-old division of the seas between, on the one hand, a narrow territorial sea to which the sovereignty of the coastal state extended and, on the other, the high seas beyond the territorial sea came to be regarded as inadequate to deal with this increased activity. A number of efforts were made to develop international law, beginning with the 1930 Hague Conference under the auspices of the old League of Nations and culminating in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which met for ten years from 1973. That conference adopted the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established a comprehensive framework within which all activity in, on and under the seas can be regulated. The convention was ratified by Ireland in 1996 and currently has 168 state parties.
The 1982 convention recognises five different maritime zones of national jurisdiction within which the coastal state has the exclusive right to regulate activity to different extents. In general, the closer the zone to the coastal state's land territory, the more control it may exercise over activity within that zone. The zones of national jurisdiction are the internal waters, the territorial sea that may extend to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone that may extend to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles and the continental shelf, comprising the seabed below and, in some cases, beyond the exclusive economic zone.
Beyond these zones are the high seas and the "area", which is the deep seabed beyond the continental shelves of states. A different legal regime applies within each zone and so a coastal state has a different suite of rights and duties within each zone. What activities a state may regulate will depend on the zone in which they are carried out. In general, the international law of the sea seeks to strike a balance between the jurisdiction of the coastal state to regulate activity in its coastal waters and the jurisdiction of the flag state over the vessel from which that activity is being carried out. A coastal state may not assume for itself greater jurisdiction than has been recognised by the convention without intruding on the jurisdiction recognised as belonging to the flag state. The purposes of the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, therefore, are to provide in domestic law for the establishment and delineation of each maritime zone and to clarify the State's rights within each one.
The Oireachtas first made provision for the maritime jurisdiction of the state in the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959. That Act established the outer limit of the territorial sea at three nautical miles and made provision for a straight baseline system. It was amended in 1964 and again in 1988 to reflect relevant developments in international law. Subsequently an attempt to consolidate this legislation was made in Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, which also established the State's exclusive economic zone. Separately the Continental Shelf Act 1968 conferred power on the Government to designate as Irish the continental shelf seabed beyond the territorial sea.
This Bill is being brought forward now for a number of reasons. First, the Bill will bring the State's maritime jurisdiction law up to date, reflecting in particular developments in international law and practice in recent years. The Bill sets out in detail the sovereign rights and jurisdiction the State may exercise on the continental shelf and within the exclusive economic zone, in accordance with international law. As Deputies will be aware, it is expected that increased levels of activity and development will take place in the exclusive economic zone in coming years, in particular with the production of offshore renewable energy from floating installations.
Second, the Bill will consolidate the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation in one accessible, stand-alone enactment. This is particularly important in the context of the new national marine planning framework and the forthcoming marine planning and development management Bill. Third, the Bill will ensure the exercise of order-making powers is guided by policies and principles linked to the detailed rules set out in the 1982 convention.
The Bill consists of 33 sections and two Schedules. Many of these provisions re-enact, with updates, provisions of the 1968 and 2006 Acts. I draw particular attention to the following provisions. Section 6 of the Bill deals with the baseline and replaces and builds on section 85 of the 2006 Act. It establishes the low water mark along the coast as the normal baseline from which the breadth of the State's maritime zones is measured and clarifies for completeness that this includes the straight line across the mouth of a river where that river flows directly into the sea. It also provides a power enabling the Government to prescribe by order straight baselines and bay closing lines in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 1982 convention and preserves the existing straight baselines and bay closing line orders.
Section 7 defines the State's territorial sea. The 1959 Act and subsequent legislation used the term "territorial seas" but the singular 'sea', as used by the 1982 convention and other instruments of international law, is now employed. A power to prescribe by order boundaries in the territorial sea is also introduced. Section 9 is a new provision and clarifies for the avoidance of doubt both that the sovereignty of the State extends to the territorial sea and that the State owns the seabed of the territorial sea, as well as the mineral and other non-living natural resources located there and all forms of potential energy in, on, under and above the territorial sea.
Section 10 extends the State's criminal jurisdiction to cover offences committed on or by foreign vessels in the territorial sea and section 11 sets out the procedure to apply in prosecutions of such offences. Section 12 defines the State's contiguous zone, which is the zone within which a coastal state may enforce its customs, immigration and fiscal rules and where it has jurisdiction to protect historic wrecks and archaeological objects. It lies outside the territorial sea and may extend to a maximum distance of 24 nautical miles from the baseline. Section 13 defines the State's exclusive economic zone, providing a power enabling the Government to prescribe by order the boundaries of the zone in accordance with the 1982 convention and preserves the existing boundaries order.
Section 14 sets out the sovereign rights and jurisdiction enjoyed by the State within the exclusive economic zone. As part of the compromise reached at the Third United Nations conference, coastal states do not enjoy sovereignty within the exclusive economic zone, as they do within the territorial seas. Instead they have a more limited set of sovereign and jurisdictional rights relating to the exploitation of natural resources and the protection of the marine environment. However, these sovereign and jurisdictional rights are exclusive and cannot be exercised by any other state. This more limited set of sovereign and jurisdictional rights enables the preservation of many of the freedoms of the high seas within the exclusive economic zone, in particular the freedom of navigation for the vessels of all states.
Section 15 clarifies the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State in the exclusive economic zone. Sections 16 to 19, inclusive, replace sections 2 and 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968, which will be repealed. Section 16 defines the continental shelf in accordance with the convention and sets out how the outer limit of the continental shelf is to be determined.
Section 17 provides a power enabling the Government by order to designate seabed within the outer limit as Irish continental shelf and preserves the existing designation orders. Section 18 sets out the sovereign and jurisdictional rights enjoyed by the State on, in and under the continental shelf in accordance with the convention.
The legal regime of the continental shelf is concerned mainly with the exploitation of the non-living natural resources located there, in particular the oil, gas and other mineral reserves. Section 19 clarifies the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State on the continental shelf.
Section 22 makes it an offence to commit on board an Irish vessel beyond the territorial sea any act which would be an offence if committed within the State. A number of enactments already provide for this in respect of specific offences, such as offences under the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Act 2008 and the Biological Weapons Act 2011. However, given that the primary jurisdiction over any ship is the jurisdiction of the flag state, the opportunity is being taken now to extend the criminal jurisdiction of the State to all Irish vessels in respect of any act committed outside the State which, if committed inside the State, would be a criminal offence. This is already the position with offences committed on board Irish registered aircraft under section 2 of the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1973.
Section 24 provides that proceedings for an offence under the Bill may be taken in any place in the State. Sections 25 to 33 make technical amendments to a number of enactments to reflect changes that will be effected by the present Bill.
The Schedule 1 to the Bill sets out the texts of relevant parts of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These are: Part II, which deals with the territorial sea and the contiguous zone; Part V, which deals with the exclusive economic zone; and Part VI, which deals with the continental shelf. Schedule 2 is a table of consequential amendments of other enactments.
As I said, the Bill will consolidate and update the State's maritime jurisdiction law, as well as making it more accessible in one stand-alone enactment. I thank Deputies for their consideration and I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge that this Bill is being presented as an opportunity to tidy up existing legislation under a single enactment. I welcome the consolidation of existing legislation in one place. I further acknowledge that the Bill sets out Ireland’s maritime rights under international law and the law of the sea. I must question, however, the willingness and capacity of the Government to assert Ireland’s rights under international law. I and my party have concerns that the responsibilities Ireland has towards our sovereign waters and the marine will not be properly exercised.
We, as a nation, have further responsibilities that go beyond that of the law. These responsibilities relate to our moral duty, our duty of stewardship, and of the guardianship of our maritime resources for our future generations. These responsibilities are intertwined and place a particular onus of responsibility on the Government of our island.
The area of fisheries demands further scrutiny. The Irish fishing industry is of immense economic, strategic and social value to the State. It is estimated that the fishing industry contributes more than €700 million annually. Varying estimates suggest that between 11,000 and 14,000 workers are employed in the industry. At a strategic level, be it rightly or wrongly as things turned out, there is no doubt that various Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments have leveraged Ireland's fisheries in multilateral trade agreements, particularly within the EU. The treatment of our fishing communities by the Government stands comparison with the tenacious bargaining campaign by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, with his European counterparts on behalf of the wealthy farmers of this country when he essentially collapsed the CAP negotiations to maintain the status quo that suits the rich farmers. It is a fact that of the astronomical amount of fish taken from Irish waters annually, only 42% or so is taken by Irish trawlers. Very few European states make such a gift of their natural resources to their fellow EU member states.
On the north and west coast of this island the fishing industry has a particular social impact above and beyond the financial contribution that can be measured within the industry alone. The reliance of our coastal communities on the fishing industry is immense, especially when we recognise that the majority of these communities do not possess any natural resources other than the sea. A whole host of service industries have grown around fishing. The fishing industry has provided social cohesion, identity and heritage for communities, and in many instances it is the only alternative to the emigration of the past.
We must consider also Ireland's responsibility to police the 200-mile economic zone that surrounds our coast. Our failure in this and our inability to secure our own sovereign waters has been called out. The European Commission has instituted a formal administrative inquiry into Ireland's ability to enforce EU fishing and environmental regulations in Irish waters. It was a Fine Gael Government that not that long ago campaigned on securing back our sovereignty, which had been sold out by its coalition partners in Fianna Fáil. We are now dependent on the assistance of our EU partners to conduct naval patrols in sovereign Irish waters because, as a consequence of Government policy, we lack the naval power to do so ourselves. This is a shocking indictment of this Government.
So far in 2021, one third of the Naval Service fisheries' patrols have had to be cancelled for a variety of reasons. In many instances it was because the Naval Service lacked the personnel to staff the vessels. In other instances it was because the Naval Service lacked the qualified personnel to keep the vessels seaworthy. I have spoken many times in this House on the failure of the Government to resolve the issue of staffing in the Defence Forces. This is an ongoing issue of the Government that is alarming, scandalous, and a stain on the record of this and preceding Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments. In the past year 2,700 fishing vessels were inspected in Irish waters. While this figure may seem high, consider the number of vessels that escaped inspection due to the failure of the Irish Government to put a fully resourced Naval Service to sea.
In conjunction with this legislation there is a serious need to examine the damage that super trawlers are allowed to wreak in Irish waters. They are hoovering up our fish stocks, they are devastating the ocean bed, and they are responsible for releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, which had been stored naturally in the ocean bed. Devastating and irreversible damage is being done to the ocean beds by deep sea trawling. Much of the damage being done cannot even be quantified as these depths remain unexplored. The damage can never be undone. Maritime species yet to be discovered may be rendered extinct without us ever knowing that they existed. The record of our stewardship stands in shame.
The north-west coast is now, and will become, even more important in terms of the Naval Service's responsibility towards our national security. It is a site of important communications cables. If we have learned anything at all in the past while it is the vulnerability of our State's cybersecurity.
Last summer I commented on the presence of a British Royal Navy warship in the waters off the coast of Donegal. This is just one of many foreign warships that use Irish waters for manoeuvres. It is a matter of fact that when conducting anti-submarine warfare drills in British sovereign waters, the Royal Navy is required by law to consult with environmental groups and abide by strict requirements that prevent harm or injury to marine life such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. The Royal Navy, however, is not subject to any such laws or requirements in Irish waters.
I put it to the Minister of State that this is totally unacceptable. There are numerous recorded instances of the stranding of whales and dolphins around our coast as a direct result of the activities of foreign navies.
We know they are responsible as the Irish Naval Service does not possess anti-submarine warfare capacity. There is a real need that steps be taken to protect Irish marine life.
I also want to mention the issue of the disputed jurisdiction of Rockall. Lying off the Irish coast, it is an area contested by Britain, Denmark and Iceland. It is valuable in terms of the natural resources that lie in its vicinity and its rich fishing grounds form an important hunting ground for Irish trawlers, which have a long history of association with the area. Since the British withdrawal from the EU under Brexit, the rights of Irish trawlers to fish there have been curtailed. We have had instances of Irish trawlers being forced out of the area, out of Irish waters, by British warships. The question must be asked as to why. It is because the Irish Government, for whatever reason, has failed to assert the sovereignty of the Irish people over Irish waters.
The British have made claims on Rockall going back as far as 1955. In 1988, the Irish Government conceded that a large part of Rockall was under British jurisdiction. In 1988, Eamon Gilmore made a further agreement with the British, which was concluded on the basis of EU membership and commitments under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. This agreement has been rendered null and void as a consequence of Brexit. The Government needs to revisit this agreement. In the post-Brexit world, in the interests of the nation, the Government needs to restate Ireland's claim to Rockall, in order to allow Ireland to continue to pursue its EU fishing quota under the Common Fisheries Policy and under the principle of equal conditions of access in British waters.
Sinn Féin will not support the Bill on the grounds the Government is rushing it through and not discussing it with key stakeholders or allowing it to be scrutinised by them, most especially, the Irish fishing sector. Our approach will depend on how the Minister of State and his colleagues in government approach the amendments that will be tabled. I sincerely hope, given the concerns I have outlined and the feedback we have received from many NGOs and academics, that the Government will approach this in a spirit of goodwill and take on board the amendments we plan to table on Committee Stage to strengthen the legislation, to ensure it is fit for purpose, to improve it and, most importantly, to ensure it protects our sovereign rights over all our waters.
We all understand what the Bill is supposed to be trying to do, which is to bring together and consolidate into one Act various pieces of legislation on maritime law. The truth is that for most people, living on an island is something they very seldom think about or have any knowledge of. However, it is something that can have severe repercussions for us as an island nation if we do not get it right. This is why it is important that the Bill is taken at a proper pace and that the Government considers it properly, consults widely and ensures it has the action right when it considers the Bill.
For many people, the issue is about fishing and those who use the sea as a means of making their livelihood. Many of those in the fishing industry have grave concerns about what the repercussions of the law might be and how they might affect them and their industry and the future of people who live in coastal communities who depend on the fishing industry.
It always strikes me that people who live in our coastal communities have a huge gripe. Many of them are small fishermen with small boats. They are inshore fishermen who cannot make a living or get a quota. They always find themselves foul of laws made in faraway places, which are supposed to be to protect the environment but they see the environment around them being ravaged by big fishing vessels that are simply there to make maximum profit from the sea while they and their communities suffer and cannot make a living. This is the chasm that exists between what laws set out to do and what they actually achieve, which frustrates and annoys many people.
We need to look very carefully at this legislation as we move forward with it. The issues we have, particularly regarding the sea and what lies beneath it, and the damage being done to it through fishing and other industries, is something on which we have to have very tight laws. Geological surveys are continually being carried out for all kinds of activity, mainly in the search for minerals and carbon in industries such as coal, oil and gas. We are told we are supposed to be moving away from these and leaving them behind and that we are switching to sustainable and new industries, and yet we find all of these geological surveys are being carried out around our coastline and every coastline in the world and they are damaging the seabed so much and the ecology there. One of the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations is about life under water and life under the sea and how we make sure we preserve it. We are committed to doing this but so much of the activity that happens from an industrial perspective in our waters flies directly in the face of it.
We need to rethink much of what we are doing. There needs to be an emphasis on ensuring we deliver for the people who make their living from the sea so they can see this is about protecting their livelihoods and protecting this natural resource and making sure we do not destroy it for future generations. The ecology of the ocean is as much a part of making sure we protect ourselves from climate change and everything else as what we do on land, and perhaps it is even more important.
The issue of Rockall and its jurisdiction has also been raised. Ireland had always considered it to be part of the Irish nation but we find that while Britain claims it other jurisdictions also seek to claim it, including Denmark and Iceland. The fact it was simply sold away in the past by a previous Government is something we should reconsider. I suggest the Bill should examine whether we can reaffirm our rights for all of our island. Only 10% of the Irish nation is above sea level and the rest of it is underwater. While they may be European waters as part of the EU, at the same time we as an Irish nation have a right to defend our jurisdiction and we should do everything we possibly can to do so.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill presented by the Minister of State. As the Minister of State has indicated, this is a consolidation Bill to set out the legal framework for Ireland's maritime jurisdiction. As the Minister of State explained section by section, it is quite a technical Bill not only consolidating enactments going back a very long time but also, in essence, an enabling Bill for the State to set out its jurisdiction over maritime areas in clear legal framework terms.
The national maritime framework has been discussed in the House. In truth, very limited discussion took place on it and most Members who spoke were very critical of the amount of time the matter received. There will be further significant legislation that will address many of the issues the maritime framework has touched upon in operational terms.
Unlike land planning, much of what can be regulated at sea is subject to international law. Treaties are negotiated over time. The Minister of State probably instanced the most important of these, which is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was concluded in 1982. This important legislation determined international territorial waters, for example, the 12 mile nautical limit. Prior to that, various limits existed, with some claiming territorial limits of 12 miles and others claiming territorial limits of 200 miles.
It was agreed that would be, as the Minister of State has explained also, an economic zone with different rights accruing to the sovereign state than the extensive rights that accrue to our territorial waters.
No doubt there is renewed focus on the marine environment right now. The fact that there are enactments and various debates before this House underscores that. It has not always been the case. Quite often, despite the fact that we are an island nation, we have turned our back to the sea and focused more on terrestrial activities to our great detriment but we now need to focus differently not only on our waters, but on the oceans in general. We need to look at it from an environmental perspective, from a fisheries perspective, from an energy perspective and from a transport perspective. I hope to touch upon all of those in the few minutes that I have because each of those areas of important activity is critical to us as an island nation.
The first principle in claiming to have legal rights over any space, be it territorial or maritime, is dependent on our ability to map that space, to know what is in it and to know that we have the capacity to protect and defend the legal rights that we assert. This legislation gives to the Oireachtas and the Government the capacity to set out what our sovereign territorial areas in our maritime coasts are but it is meaningless if we do not have the capacity to vindicate those rights.
The Naval Service was strengthened with four new modern vessels in recent years and in the worst of times, the resources were found to provide that level of capital investment which is absolutely critical. There is now never a greater need than since Brexit for a strong and independently sustainable Naval Service. However, we have an enduring and wholly unacceptable crisis in the Defence Forces generally, but particularly among that skill set we need to keep our ships at sea and our aircraft in the air. Ships, over the past year, have remained tied up in port for want of specialist crew. This follows a previous decision to take ships out of operations and to disperse their crews in a desperate effort to provide adequate ships company to keep at least some of our naval vessels on patrol at sea. The flight of skilled people from all branches of our military continues despite commitments to address and resolve this crisis given repeatedly in this House. The root causes have long been identified. In a report, Workplace Climate in the Defences Forces, the Defence Forces personnel themselves underscored what was required. They addressed the key issues of pay and living conditions, career management and performance management, culture and stress and the process of recruitment and training. I will not go into all these matters. I have not the time. That particular report, among others, set out the recommendations and the specific actions needed to resolve these difficulties. There has been endless discussion and the reality of loss of personnel and gross under-staffing remains. That poses a real threat to the security of the State, our capacity to intercept illegal cargoes including drugs and our capacity to carry out our legal commitments to fulfil our undertakings to our EU partners to protect our fishing waters and our fishing resources. It also impacts on our capacity to safeguard the very marine areas that this Bill gives the Oireachtas and the Government the powers to designate.
This issue has become a matter of national embarrassment, quite frankly, as we depend now on others to vindicate Ireland's sovereignty. We cherish Ireland's sovereignty. We celebrate its vindication and its acquiring but we are betraying that sovereignty if we have not the capacity to ensure that our waters are properly protected.
In the air, too, the Air Corps was promised the replacement of the CASA maritime patrol aircraft. Those particular two aircraft have been in active service since 1994. It was agreed some years ago that they would be replaced by two new Airbus C295 aircraft. Those were ordered in 2019 but they are not due to arrive until 2023. I cannot understand any level of procurement that would take years to come about because I understand that the Czech airforce at the same time placed an order for two aircraft that are being delivered this year. All of this is a cause of deep worry and I hope something that will now finally be resolved and addressed because it makes a nonsense of setting out our sovereign territorial rights if we simply do not have the capacity to enforce them.
I want to talk about the areas that I have set out. The first area I want to focus on briefly is energy.
The Government energy strategy is to reach zero carbon and is hugely dependent on offshore wind as a significant component of the generation of electricity to meet that target. It is clear that this energy will be developed in two phases with fixed turbines in the shallower waters off our east coast being developed first in phase one and the more technologically challenging floating turbines which will be required to harness the enormous potential of wind off our west coast to follow in a second phase as the technology evolves and is developed. Each of these huge investments - absolutely required if we are to have energy sustainability for ourselves and to decarbonise as we promised - will need to be serviced. The decision on which port will service each of these major developments on the east coast and on the west coast is urgently awaited. Certainly, a decision to decide which port will service east coast wind - I have spoken to the companies which want to invest in the development of this wind potential - is urgently required now. There is no guarantee that enormous capacity will be serviced from a port in the Republic of Ireland. The ports of Liverpool and Pembroke are clearly in the running. It would be an enormous failure of the State if we lost to a British port the capacity to service offshore wind off our own coast and that is potentially to happen. I understand that there is a huge reluctance in Government to pick a champion and say this is the right port. Obviously, I will advocate for the port of Rosslare. Rosslare Europort will make its own case. It is commonsense in terms of its location and capacity and it already has been used as the port to do the pilot work for the Arklow Bank turbines that are already in place.
It will make its own case and stand on its own merits, but it needs investment. There is a notion that the Government is reluctant, be that down to a shyness over state aid rules or some other reason, to decide that we need to have a port within the Republic that can do this work and that we will support it in its bid to do so. Let me be crystal clear - if we do not champion a port and instead leave this to the marketplace, we will lose this business to one of the ports I have mentioned or another port outside our jurisdiction. That would be a crying shame. I hope the Minister of State will take note of what I have said and bring it back to his Government colleagues, as we need to determine a champion. State aid rules will not apply in Liverpool, Pembroke and so on. The Welsh and English Governments will be willing to ensure their ports have the capacity to make this bid. I will be watching the matter with extraordinary interest.
I wish to discuss fisheries. There is a genuine and understandable sense in the fishing industry of being let down at the deal struck on Brexit insofar as it impacted on that sector. The Government has acknowledged this. It is not an acceptable or good deal for the fishing industry. In the negotiations, the State had many clear objectives. The House set objectives for the Government, foremost among which was maintaining European solidarity as well as a border-free island of Ireland post Brexit. The latter was an essential objective, one that skilled negotiation and the holding of solidarity among the EU 27 achieved for us, but I am afraid it was done at a cost. Part of that cost is now being paid by the fishing sector. In truth, this is compounding the long-held and strong view of our fishing industry, one that is difficult to argue against, that from the outset of our EU membership, which by and large has been very positive for the State, our economy, our people and our development, the industry was sacrificed in our initial EEC negotiations to safeguard other interests that were regarded as more important at the time. We must not compound that view now. I ask that we seek again to rebalance the agreement so as to ensure the significant advances we have made in developing a fishing industry with markets all over the world. I was privileged in a former role as Minister to present sea products from my own constituency and across the island of Ireland at fairs in Japan and China, where there are large markets and considerable potential. However, we must ensure the industry has the capacity to continue operating.
Regarding transport, direct connectivity from this island is essential. We have long depended on the UK land bridge for the bulk of our exports to continental Europe. The situation has changed substantially, though. Since 1 January, the number of direct sailings from Rosslare Europort to continental Europe have increased by more than 400%. This is a remarkable change. I had the pleasure of chairing the economic committee of the British-Ireland Parliamentary Assembly last week where submissions made by interested parties indicated that the increase was likely to be a permanent change. We need to ensure this direct connectivity is maintained, we seek other ports and, through the Irish Maritime Development Office and the Department of Transport, we drive more connectivity so that we are not dependent on the land bridge. Of course the land bridge will continue to operate, but if we can get our goods directly to markets through direct ferry links between this country and continental Europe, we should be developing those new markets. I am not referring just to the traditional ports in France and new ones that have come on stream since 1 January, but also other connections through Spain, the Netherlands and further afield. We need to connect Ireland in a maritime sense in the same way as we have connected Ireland by air to places over the past 20 years without the old dependence on transiting through London if we wanted to go anywhere. We have changed that dependence over the past 20 years and we now need to have same mindset when it comes to the maritime sector and have many more ports connecting this country to markets across Europe and further afield.
The marine environment is important. There is no point in us talking about claiming sovereignty if we do not live up to our responsibilities to maintain a pristine environment. We have fallen down in terms of sewage discharge and the level of investment in treatment plants. Significant capital investment is still required. The dependence of Irish Water on being in the same queue as schools, hospitals and health centres for money to undertake this vital work is a great disadvantage. I hope that we can find some mechanism for it to be able to borrow off balance sheet in the same was as the ESB has done so that it might provide an infrastructure that ensures that our waters are pristine and we as a nation are not contributing to the pollution of the seas.
This is important legislation, if largely technical. When the other Bill, which is not a Department of Foreign Affairs measure, is before the House, we will have an opportunity to deal in more detail with some of the issues that I have set out. In general terms, though, a consolidation of our capacity to set out our jurisdiction is something that I welcome.
Like other Deputies, I have reservations about what underscores this Bill and the bestowing upon the Minister of potentially sweeping powers by means of a simple statutory instrument. It is impossible to support the Bill without substantial amendment, which we in Sinn Féin intend to do. We believe that the Bill's fast-tracking without proper due diligence is not good governance, given that the Bill will have major economic and social implications for our country and, importantly, future generations for years to come.
Perhaps the Minister of State will respond to my first question. Were this legislation to pass, would it be possible for a Minister to create maritime areas that would include tax incentives and free economic zones controlled entirely or partly by other jurisdictions? How much of this would be done through a mere statutory instrument and without full Oireachtas scrutiny?
So far, there have been limited consultations on the Bill with fishers, the tourism industry and coastal communities. Fishers in my area of Wexford are already facing the fallout of Brexit and the recent slashing of quotas. They feel abandoned by Government policies that directly put their industry under economic threat. We can add the small charter boat industry to that. To think that the livelihoods of those involved could depend on the stroke of a Minister's pen is unbelievable. They should also be consulted when legislation like this is being proposed by the Government. Let us consider the example of wind farms. We know how urgent it is that we move to renewable energy. Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone is on board with the prime principle of a fair and just transition. I am concerned about the management and impact of this essential infrastructure on small businesses and nearby communities that make their living from our waters and seas.
It is not just the wind farms themselves but the safety zones imposed around them, which can add extra nautical miles and disrupt common regular routes of smaller boats. People must be consulted but if the fast-tracking of this Bill is anything to go by, they will not be. That causes mistrust in the system and erodes the Government's duty to protect people as we change over to greener energy.
I will raise the issue of fishing rights, energy and mineral rights surrounding Rockall. I ask the Minister of State why he has not made any specific representations on behalf of the Irish people regarding Rockall, yet the Scottish Government wishes to undertake discussions with the UK Government on the transfer of fishing rights, oil and gas resources to the Scottish Government. For this Government to abandon the question of the sovereignty of Rockall is incredible, unbelievable and unforgivable.
Ireland's maritime area extends to almost seven times its land mass, which is one of the largest sea to land ratios of any EU state. This area contains considerable natural resources and opportunities for sustainable development that will help support our coastal and island communities if managed properly. This Bill is described as a technical one to update and gather different national and international laws concerning our maritime space. It outlines different types of maritime zones and attempts to clarify some of the State's rights regarding each one.
However, with these rights come responsibilities. The law in its current form and policy context does not address the obligations that accompany the rights it asserts. For this Bill to achieve its purpose, we need greater co-ordination and, crucially, the involvement of sectors impacted, in addition to proper resourcing of the State bodies that will be expected to regulate activities and enforce the law hundreds of kilometres out at sea.
I will highlight three points regarding the Bill: an absence of due process and involvement of impacted communities; the capacity of State services to enact our rights and responsibilities, including an incident last week involving an Irish fishing vessel; and an absence of climate and biodiversity obligations.
First, the absence of pre-legislative scrutiny should be a matter of concern to all of us. Not only does pre-legislative scrutiny enable a full exploration of the implications of the Bill, it allows affected communities and industries to share their perspectives and concerns. Without that process, the law will be pushed through with disgracefully little input. Coastal towns and villages, fishing organisations, maritime tourism, rescue services and volunteers, energy and geographic experts and sailors, all have vital experience and knowledge that could and should inform this law. Without those inputs, we have to ask in whose interest is this Bill.
The final version of the maritime planning system was rushed through against the objection of fishers and many of us. The maritime area planning Bill is on the way. While it is encouraging that proper attention is being paid to our maritime space, it is wrong this is not being done in partnership with the relevant communities and sectors. Ministers can point to consultations and meetings they have had, but what mechanisms are actually in place for people to challenge aspects of the law that go against their wishes, or to contribute to laws that are rushed through which directly affect them? Not only do fishing and coastal communities feel as though the Government is ignoring them, they often feel it is working against them. The fishing protest in Cork last week is the latest example of a deeply frustrated sector that, despite assurances from Government members, feels there is little interest in supporting the industry.
It should also be noted that this Bill comes under the Department of Foreign Affairs. Fishing communities are already burdened trying to keep up with obligations regarding the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and recently there are new requirements from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Basically, they are being pushed around between sections and Departments, unsure of where to go and who has responsibility for what. Instead of streamlining issues, recent changes appear to be complicating matters, more than anything.
Inshore fishers in Dublin and on the east coast are experiencing disruption caused by surveys for potential offshore wind farms. Limitations on their capacity to fish are being imposed with little consultation and vastly insufficient supports. They have also made the reasonable request for formal structures allowing facilitated mediation and arbitration for developers and fishing communities, if necessary. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is working towards a seafood offshore renewable liaison process but is unsure on arbitration. There is a very clear need for this type of mechanism. Inshore fishers are making very sensible and very reasonable requests. If they are to have any faith in the new planning system and offshore developments these structures need to be put in place. If Government and civil servants had listened to these concerns earlier, liaison processes might already be operating and functioning.
There is a value, not to mind an obligation, in listening to the experience and perspectives of people who live by the sea and depend on it for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, this is another Bill that is ignoring this wealth of knowledge. It is worth noting that any of the people I spoke to in fishing communities welcomed the introduction of offshore wind energy, but at the very early site investigation stage are losing out on two thirds of their annual income. That is just at the site investigation stage, so what are they to expect when it comes to the construction stage? If we want offshore wind energy, which we all do, this has to be done in a fair way.
Second, this Bill’s assertion of different rights is only as good as the capacity to regulate and enforce those rights. Regrettably, it is clear we lack that capacity at the moment, not to mind addressing the contents of this Bill. The Naval Service is the clearest example of this. Due to years of underinvestment, we lack the personnel to operate our ships. Speaking at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence last week, Gerard Guinan, general secretary of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, explained that: "number[s] of personnel actually available to go to sea is extremely limited... In some instances, vessels worth tens of millions of Euro are idle, for [the] lack of appropriately trained staff." We know from media reports that one third of our fishery patrols have been cancelled by the Naval Service so far this year and that the State has had to rely on EU ships to patrol fishing waters due to naval shortages.
There is little point in bringing in a new marine jurisdiction law without the necessary resources to make it operational. Without investment in our Naval Service, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority rescue teams, scientific researchers and other relevant groups and bodies, this Bill is just performance presented as substance. Incidents of a Spanish trawler involved in a dangerous confrontation with Irish fishermen last Friday, and another trawler detained for allegedly fishing illegally in Irish waters, indicate the type and scale of issues that arise. In the case of the confrontation, the affected fishermen said they felt the State services were not available to support or help them. This is a very real reminder of the issues at stake. This is not just a technical Bill. It concerns the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities, the same communities that have been denied input into it.
Finally, the Bill has no references to climate and biodiversity obligations. It references renewable energy, geothermal energy and fossil fuels, but is light on the corresponding climate and biodiversity dimensions. At a time when the Government is progressing the climate action Bill and is committed to legally protecting approximately 30% of our marine areas, it is contradictory and nonsensical not to have explicit references to our environmental obligations in this Bill. Numerous international laws and EU directives that intersect with this Bill are not sufficiently included or considered. If we are to take the climate and biodiversity crisis seriously these matters need to be present in all relevant laws, including this one.
It is essential that this law provides both rights and responsibilities. We need frameworks to encourage the sustainable development of our marine resources, structures to protect sustainable and inshore fishing and mechanisms that really value our coastal communities. This law is an opportunity to outline and promote our marine space and potential but it needs to be done with due process and, most importantly, in partnership with those affected.
The decisions taken in this Bill and associated Bills on maritime planning will have major repercussions for the future, particularly the future of Fingal and the seashore along north County Dublin. The marine planning Bill, which will establish a marine planning system for our maritime areas similar to that in place for land planning, is coming down the track. What is in that legislation, like this Bill, has to be an agreed vision constructed through engagement and conversation with planning experts, marine biologists, the fishing community and coastal communities. To date, this has been very much lacking.
Only recently, the marine planning framework passed through this House with hardly any debate. Engagement, communication and conversation with planning experts, marine biologists, the fishing community and coastal communities is necessary because if we do not get an agreement on a broad range of fronts, mistakes in maritime and marine planning will be made similar to those in north County Dublin, which is dealing with the legacy of planning failures on land.
If we fail to do our jobs properly at this stage, there is no doubt that there will be unintended consequences down the line for both the offshore energy industry and our environment. It is clear that we need regulation of development in our marine areas and seashores but we have to make sure that the voices of the planning experts, the marine biologists, the environmentalists, the fishing community, the coastal communities and all the people who have a vested interest are heard in order to make sure that any changes brought forward work for everyone in a holistic and well thought out way.
There are serious outstanding sovereignty issues that need to be addressed around Lough Foyle and Rockall. The Irish Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs must get real about these territorial disputes to ensure they can be resolved.
Ó fuair an tír seo neamhspleáchas, rinneadh neamhaird ar an bhfarraige timpeall orainn agus ar an saibhreas aiceanta atá san fharraige. Is trua é mar tá i bhfad níos mó farraige timpeall na tíre seo ná mar atá talamh sa tír. Tá saibhreas ollmhór ann ach is gá é a úsáid ar mhaithe leis an bpobal. Is cuimhin liom a bheith ag feachtasaíocht in aghaidh ballraíocht na tíre seo san Aontas Eorpach. Bhí mé i mo mhac léinn ag an am agus níor thuig mé tuige an raibh muid ag díol amach ár saibhreas amach ón gcósta go deo na ndeor nuair nach raibh an saibhreas a bhí ag tíortha eile san Aontas á roinnt go cothrom. Níor ghlac mé riamh leis an argóint nár cheart go bhfágfaí againne é de bharr nach raibh na hacmhainní againn go traidisiúnta le leas iomlán a bhaint as. Ní fios cé mhéad airgid a chosain sé an tír seo mar nach raibh muidne in ann ár n-éisc féin a bhaint amach as ár bhfarraigí féin. Níl aon bhreith ar m’aiféala mar creidim gurb iad na socruithe iascaigh a rinne an tír seo cuid de na socruithe ba mheasa a rinneadh riamh. In ionad tionscal foirfe ag fostú na mílte duine timpeall ar an gcósta tá na héisc ag dul i bhfad i gcéin agus gan cúiteamh ar bith againn dá bharr. Caithfimid a bheith cinnte nach ndéanfar a leithéid leis an gcuid eile den saibhreas atá san fharraige. Go hidirnáisiúnta, síneann an fharraige sin i bhfad níos faide amach ná mar a shín sí fadó. Caithfimid a bheith aireach faoin chaoi a dtabharfaimid faoi seo. Caithfimid déanamh cinnte go bhfuil díospóireacht bhríomhar agus iomlán againn faoi cén bealach is fearr tabhairt faoi fhorbairt ár n-acmhainní nádúrtha atá amuigh san fharraige.
Deirtear, mar shampla, go bhfuil an ghaoth is láidre agus is fearr ó thaobh giniúint leictreachais againne ach caithfimid ceist a chur orainn féin cé a gheobhaidh an tairbhe as sin. An ndéanfaimid cinnte an t-am seo gur muidne, pobal na hÉireann, a gheobhaidh an tairbhe? Glacaim leis go bhfuil saineolas agus infheistíocht le déanamh sna rudaí seo agus go mbeidh infheisteoirí mar chuid den scéal ach ní fheicim cén fáth nach mbeadh baint ag comhlachtaí Stáit leis amach anseo, ar nós an Bord Soláthar Leictreachais nó cibé leagan de sin a dhéanann an ghiniúint sa lá atá inniu ann. Tá go leor leor maoin eile istigh san fharraige, cuid de gar don chósta agus cuid níos faide amuigh. Caithfimid cinntiú go mbeidh muid cúramach agus airdeallach ach ag an am céanna nach bhfágfaimid go díomhaoin é agus go mbainfimid leas as. Tá bóthar anróiteach le siúl againn ach caithfimid é a dhéanamh.
I welcome this Bill. We have been totally remiss in the way we have treated our marine resources. I understand that we recently had to suffer the indignity of asking foreign fishery protection to come in and protect the seas around our coast. I find that absolutely extraordinary. We knew from the beginning of our membership of the European Union that we had been dealt, and accepted, a bad hand as regards fisheries, starting with accession and all the way through to last Christmas when, as I foretold in November, we wound up giving a disproportionate amount of our resources away. I do not know if we gave them away or if they were taken from us but we certainly came off very badly in that negotiation. It is only when one lives in a coastal community and looks out to sea as far as the eye can see, and maybe beyond that the odd time from an airplane, that one realises just how big those resources are, how valuable they could be, the employment they could create and the wealth they could create in the development of technology. Do we have a comprehensive plan as to how we are going to develop those resources and maximise the advantages for this country? Do we have any concept of the vastness of the resources we have? The Marine Institute has done much work in surveying our resources. That has been hugely important but have we even been willing to put enough resources into that type of work in order to know what is there, what is exploitable, what needs to be conserved and how to do both? It is a pity that this debate is taking place late on a Thursday evening. It is as if it is an afterthought. The problem since Independence is that our marine resources have always been an afterthought.
I agree with some of the sentiments Deputy Ó Cuív expressed. It is a fact that fisheries have been an afterthought for many years. That is the reason we are here last thing on a Thursday evening. We all accept that we got a terrible deal on fisheries on accession to the European Economic Community. It is always the group that gets sold down the river, for want of a better term, so it is not shocking that fishermen have huge difficulties with the deal that was struck on Brexit and the trade and co-operation agreement, TCA. We do not have a great history of protecting our sovereign territory and our sovereign waters. We came to a decision on Rockall in 1988. Deputy Brady and others spoke earlier about the need to revisit that decision in a post-Brexit world, particularly as regards fishing quotas and ensuring we can provide the fishing industry within this State with what it needs to survive.
This Bill has been sold as a consolidation or a cleaning up.
To be fair, some of that is to be welcomed. However, there are major failings in this legislation and on that basis we will not be supporting this Bill. A major level of stakeholder engagement is required. Like many Deputies, I have been contacted by many people in the fishing industry regarding the difficulties they are experiencing and the worries they have concerning the marine planning framework and all the other necessary infrastructure which will be required if we want to develop our capacity in offshore wind power generation.
We must ensure that we involve all the stakeholders and all those in the fishing industry in the interests of ensuring sustainability. It should be no different to how we should be dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations for farming. That aspect should be about delivering a sufficient amount of money to as many farmers as possible to sustain family farms from the perspective of securing for the rest of us a steady supply of very good quality food. That is what must be done.
I have had several engagements with some organisations and companies looking at developing offshore wind projects. In that context, we must ensure that the framework is correct and, beyond that, we must also ensure that the right pieces are put in place regarding guaranteeing consultation. We must also ensure there is payback for all the communities concerned and ensure the sustainability of the fishing industry.
Our fishing industry has been on the receiving end of many body blows in the last 50 years. There have been increased regulations, reduced quotas, the opening of our waters to outside competition and many other impacts. In fact, the whole treatment of the fishing industry by this and previous Governments has been a disgrace. We have abdicated all responsibility to the EU. When I or other politicians raise the serious concerns of those in the fishing industry, we are usually met with handwashing, buck-passing and finger-pointing. We are told that nothing can be done about an issue because it is an EU matter. That seems to be the stock response when dealing with fishing. We have to wonder what is the point of having a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at all. The Minister deflects to the EU, and if that does not suit, then he deflects to the regulatory authority, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA. This cannot be the ongoing situation.
In late April, I highlighted the lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to issuing licences for marine activities. Two separate licences for two separate activities are granted by two separate Departments. These are granted for activities in the same waters which are ultimately in conflict with each other. I reiterate what I said then. The fishermen of Wexford, Duncannon and Kilmore Quay want to be able to head out and earn their living, and not to have to arrive home to find a threatening "cease and desist" letter waiting for them in their postboxes from some billion-dollar cable-laying conglomerate. This is one example of where our fishing industry has been treated with disdain. There has been no consultation and no engagement in this regard.
We now have an issue concerning the regulations, in which we are expecting fishermen to weigh their fish on the quayside. The control plan mechanism was in place because the Department signed up to something that was completely unimplementable in the first place, without consultation with the industry and, subsequently, it had to be derogated. Overnight, the fishing authority, the SFPA, is now stating that it is up to the fishermen themselves to provide the quayside weighing mechanisms and, in so doing, is turning the whole industry on its head by demanding that fish be weighed on the pier or quayside. By way of comparison, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, does not require hauliers to provide weighbridges to weigh their trucks on the roadside. Yet, the SFPA expects the fishing industry to do just that.
Burdens are being placed on the people in our fishing industry which we would simply not dare to place on those in other industries, nor would Government agencies get away with doing that. In Kilmore Quay, for example, fish can be transported a few hundred metres up the road and weighed there. However, these new procedures mean that weighing facilities must be installed on the publicly used pier in the port at the expense of the fishermen themselves. It is totally impractical, and it strikes me that those making such decisions have no regard for the daily challenges which fishermen face.
Fish are stored and carried in ice. It is no mean feat to remove the ice on the quayside, weigh the fish and then put them back in ice for onward transportation. This is all a consequence of the European Commission revoking Ireland's control plan on the basis of unproved and unprosecuted allegations against the entire Irish fishing industry, on foot of information received from the SFPA. This must not be allowed to jeopardise Ireland's reputation in the production of premium quality fish. I am in touch almost daily with fishermen and those involved in fish processing. They are exasperated with the new state of affairs. Until now, they had a digital weighing mechanism certified by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, and all it was necessary to do was to hit a button and the information then went straight into the Department. As a result of our control plan being revoked, it is necessary for fishermen to complete pages of handwritten paperwork for every catch. Expecting people to move from digital methods to paper is going backwards.
If a driver leaves Kilmore Quay in a truck to collect fish around Ireland's coasts, he or she must consider his or her legal driving time and accordingly allot time to return to the processing factory, where a hundred people will be waiting to process the fish. That driver's time is now taken up with having to complete reams of handwritten paperwork as well. Actually, in one case, it was 42 pages, which jeopardised being able to carry out the collections and then return to the factory within the allotted driving time. It is complete and utter madness. This affects fishermen bringing their catches ashore, the food processors and the truck drivers on tachographs, sending those drivers over their driving time and making delays inevitable. Therefore, this situation also affects the staff in the processing plant and, in turn, disrupts the fish supply chains. This is a commercial reality and I have no doubt that the case before the courts will deal with the commercial reality. It would be nice if the Government did so first.
When it comes to the EU, however, all that seems to matter to the Government is that we are seen to be the good boys in the class, the bootlickers and the lickspittles, while our fishing industry has been treated like a doormat. What do our fishermen want and how can we help them? I ask that because these problems must be solved to the satisfaction of the fishing community. My discussions with those involved have identified several things which must be done. Top of the list is the renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, so that fishing quotas and total allowable catches would be governed by zonal attachment under the rules of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. There should be no delay in this regard, nor any excuses given. Irish fishers have been disproportionately impacted by Brexit and the agreement on fisheries, which is accepted by the Government. Therefore, the Government must endeavour to ensure that renegotiation of Europe's quotas happens as soon as possible.
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA, was unfair and unjust and did not reflect the rules concerning a level playing pitch in respect of relative stability. This must be put right so that an equal share of the burden is borne by all the member states. Regarding enforcement, penalty points should only be applied to licence holders and skippers following a court conviction. The revoking of Ireland's control plan by the EU Commission on the basis of unproved and unprosecuted allegations against the entire Irish fishing industry must not be allowed to jeopardise Ireland's reputation in the production of premium quality fish. Access to our traditional fishing grounds at Rockall must be negotiated by diplomatic means. Turning to migrant workers, the atypical working scheme governing non-EU and non-EEA fishers must be reviewed to ensure a level playing pitch for all those working in the agrifood sector.
Workers who spend in excess of 24 hours at sea must be granted equal rights with all other workers under our Revenue and taxation laws.
I implore the Government to listen and take these requests on board before more irreparable damage is done.
I am delighted to speak on this Bill. Our seas have been the poor relation and have been treated as a second-class asset. For generations we looked at the sea as something out there, a place where people went out to fish and that was it. The real potential of our seas has not been realised. We are so lucky that we are an island nation, surrounded by the seas. However, like the timing of this debate during the last shift on a Thursday evening, we have put the seas to the end of the agenda. My colleague Deputy Verona Murphy's eloquent appraisal of our fishing industry shows that we have treated our fishing resource and the employment associated with it with disrespect for generations. It is time we reappraised all that we are doing with regard to fisheries. I am not from a constituency where it is a major issue but as an Irishman, I believe it is important to respect all of our industries and natural resources.
The Minister of State alluded to the fact that the Government recognises that we must treat our seas with respect. This legislation is a tidy-up job in advance of the preparation of our planning framework for the seas. If we are to realise our potential as a nation, as a green economy and as a place with pristine natural resources, we must have a proper framework for the sea. My experience with our planning framework on the land is that it is fraught with every kind of obstacle to proper and productive development. We need a planning framework for our seas that will stand us in good stead for what we need to do. There has been much talk about climate action legislation and about how we are going to create a green economy and transform our energy production but we must remember that the sea gave us the gas that comes in to Corrib. If we had not had that gas over the last ten to 12 years, where would we be? The gas and oil that came into Ringaskiddy in Cork came from the seas and was very much welcomed at the time. We should not treat these industries with disdain either because they have served the economy well.
We must make sure that we realise the full potential of the seas. The green energy potential of the sea through offshore operations must be realised. We must also make sure that we have the correct onshore infrastructure too. The development of ports like Galway, Foynes, Waterford, Rossaveel, Killybegs, Cork and Dublin must be done in a way that ensures we can exploit the full potential of the sea. We must resource the Marine Institute, which is based in Galway, but not just in the sense of ticking a box. It must be used as a tool to discover all that we can develop within the seas. We must do that as a matter of urgency. The Government must look at this as the start of the realisation of the greatest potential this island will ever see. It is the start of the industrial revolution of the seas. Working together we can reach the full potential for fishermen, offshore energy, tourism and all that goes with that. If we continue on the path of complications and do not deal with people head-up, with everybody getting a front load of what is expected of them, we will run into trouble. At every point we must make sure that what we are doing will enable us to realise our full potential.
I am delighted to have spoken on this Bill. I am sure a lot more legislation related to planning will be brought before the House. Let us work together on it to make sure it is workable and that everybody understands how to deal with it.
I welcome the opportunity to examine the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021, which updates and consolidates the State’s maritime jurisdiction legislation. As a representative of the maritime constituency of Dún Laoghaire, I welcome this legislation. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for preparing this important Bill and for introducing it to the House.
The State’s existing maritime jurisdiction legislation has been developed in a piecemeal fashion, reflecting ongoing development of the international law of the sea over the past 60 years. The Oireachtas first made legislative provision for Ireland’s maritime jurisdiction in the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959. That Act established the outer limit of the territorial sea at three nautical miles, the so called three-mile limit, and made provision for a straight baseline system from which part of that limit could be measured. The 1959 Act was amended in 1964 to give effect to the London convention on fisheries, where states had agreed to establish the 12-mile exclusive fishery limits. The Continental Shelf Act 1968 conferred power on the Government to designate seabed, beyond the territorial sea, as Irish continental shelf in accordance with emerging international agreement on this issue.
In 1976, following political agreement at the United Nations, EEC member states agreed to extend their exclusive fisheries limits to 200 nautical miles and an order under the 1959 Act to this effect was made by the Government.
Following the Second World War, as the range and scale of human activity at sea greatly increased, pressure developed to allow coastal states to extend their jurisdiction further out to sea. This was resisted by some states that placed more value on preserving the freedoms of the high seas. These competing views were finally settled with the adoption in 1982 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, at Montego Bay, Jamaica. The 1982 convention is a comprehensive constitution for the oceans that establishes the legal framework for the regulation of all activities in, on and under the sea. The convention fixed the maximum breadth of the territorial sea at 12 nautical miles and established a new maritime zone, the exclusive economic zone. This zone, which may extend to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles, is a compromise between the two competing views.
Today's Bill brings the State’s maritime jurisdiction law up to date, reflecting in particular the development of international law represented by the UNCLOS which was ratified by the State in 1996. The Bill sets out in detail the sovereign rights and jurisdiction the State may exercise on the continental shelf and within the exclusive economic zone, where increased levels of activity and development are expected to take place in coming years, in particular the production of offshore renewable energy. It should be noted this Bill is separate to the proposed maritime area planning Bill referred to by Deputy Canney, which will seek to regulate wind farms. The aim of this Bill is to consolidate the existing legislation, creating a clear statement of the State’s rights and duties in each of its maritime zones. It will help to avoid errors in making and considering planning applications. The Bill will address the absence of policies and principles guiding the existing statutory power to designate the continental shelf and the limits of the State’s other maritime zones, a constitutional issue identified by the Attorney General, by linking it to the detailed rules set out in UNCLOS. The new Bill will preserve the existing boundaries and seaward limits established to date for each maritime zone and provide order-making powers for the Government to prescribe boundaries and limits agreed with neighbours or established under UNCLOS processes.
It should be noted that there are a number of unresolved issues in the north east Atlantic Ocean and in the Celtic Sea, as well as coastal issues at Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. This Bill has no direct impact on the Rockall dispute. However, given recent events it is an opportune moment to reassert that Ireland does not recognise the UK's territorial claim to Rockall. Rockall cannot sustain human habitation or economic life and therefore cannot form the basis of a 12-mile territorial claim nor a claim to its own exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I would call on Irish authorities to continue to engage with their UK counterparts to de-escalate the fishing disputes around the islet and negotiate a permanent agreement that reflects international law.
While this Bill consolidates the legal framework that supports our territorial and economic claims, it is crucially important that the Government makes investments in practical means to asserting our rights. More investment needs to be made, for example, in maritime science, along with further investment in our Naval Service, the Irish Coast Guard and in other areas.
The Government is bringing this Bill forward having once again undergone no prior public consultation with no prelegislative scrutiny or regulatory impact analysis accompanying this Bill. At this stage I am not one bit surprised, however. We have seen first hand the acts of the Taoiseach in the Dáil when I questioned him on the incidents that happened off the coast of Castletownbere last Friday morning. I rang the Taoiseach's office in Dublin and I was told I would be put through to the Cork office as this was a Cork issue. I left a message and none bothered to call me back. I also emailed the Taoiseach that morning - and thankfully I did because he is claiming that I never contacted him but we have proof - and asked him to intervene in this act of piracy off our waters. According to the Taoiseach I never made a call and according to him I made other calls which I never made. I have asked the Ceann Comhairle to clarify this for the record of the Dáil.
Fishing, our maritime and our seas have been left at the bottom of the pile by successive Governments. Like many speakers before me have said, the living proof of that can be seen here. We are in the dying minutes of this week's Dáil programme and this discussion on fishing has been put at the last part of the agenda. I would love to know why it has always been the poor relation of Irish politics. Why was there not more prelegislative scrutiny of this Bill?
Scrooge must have been playing a part in Brexit negotiations during Christmas as our pelagic fishing fleet lost 25% of its quota. Mind; this was at Christmas, just in time to put the knife further into the families of the fishermen. Happy Christmas indeed. Then we find out through parliamentary questions that fishing was not even discussed in the meetings during the Brexit negotiations. What the hell was this Government doing? Why was it asleep at the wheel and letting the EU's Michel Barnier steer the boat? Fair play to him; he steered it perfectly for the French and the other European countries at a massive expense to the Irish fishermen and the Irish fishing fleet.
I can remember coming into the Dáil and pleading with the Taoiseach to force involvement in this issue. I know we have had successive Governments in this country that have not wanted to insult our fellow Europeans and we tend to lie down and bow to every request they put before us. It is a case that if they ask us to jump we ask how high, especially with fisheries. I pleaded with the Taoiseach to force involvement in the discussions on the waters and the seas in Brexit and he said "No" and that Michel Barnier would look after us. We know now what happened. It was a disaster. I spoke to people out in Europe and we are the laughing stock of Europe. Imagine the Irish Government is the laughing stock of Europe on Irish fisheries because they know we are the whipping boys and that if anything is to be lost the boys in Ireland will take the hit. They think the Government believes that our fishermen will lie down and take this but the Minister of State should believe me, the Government is totally underestimating them.
To top it all off, we have this weighing debacle. The SFPA knew about the weighing crisis in December 2020 and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine also knew and they never consulted with the fishing industry in the four months before announcing the crisis. Clearly the views of the sector mean little to this Government. If they did, the Government would have sought those views prior to making any decision on three destructive policies it has inflicted.
To add insult to injury, during my questioning of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he said that he knew the EU officials were seeking changes to the weighing of fish since last December. However, instead of providing a copy of this audit report to the sector into tangible discussions, the report was mysteriously leaked to the media, which facilitated the SFPA to enforce a harsh new pier-based weighing system at 5 p.m. on 16 April last with one hour prior notice. Now the SFPA comes before our committee and says it is always in full consultation with the industry, that it has a great relationship with the industry and that it is in constant contact. Then we find out what we were not told then, that is, that it knew of such a crisis that hits inshore fishermen and pelagic fishermen hard and brutally and has huge impacts on the quality of our fantastic Irish fish. The SFPA and the Minister knew there was a crisis in December and instead of sitting down with the industry and working it, they hid that information. Why did they do that? I am on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I have stated my view that we have been misled because if the SFPA was working with the industry why is that on 16 April at 4 p.m. the industry did not know there was a fishing weighing crisis and by 5 p.m. there was a massive crisis. As I said, the SFPA knew this for months and so did the Minister and they hid it from fishermen. What were they afraid of and why did they not debate it? We continuously refuse to debate fishing as a serious issue in this Dáil. I continue to ask in every form and way I can to make sure we carry out a full investigation into each crisis as it arises and have a full debate on who is responsible. This has been refused to me until this discussion.
The new regime involves a closed circuit television system linked into the office of the SFPA and potentially shared with EU officials. This is more Orwellian practice and creates a new "Big Brother is watching" experience, despite the Irish sector having been the most regulated in the EU prior to this change. From what I can gather, one infringement was discovered. If that was related back to driving on our roads it would be a case that one motorist is caught so everybody has to be penalised. That is insanity but it is fishing and there is a game on. It is our maritime and our way of life and there is a trick on here to force the fishermen into decommissioning and taking whatever they get. Anything to get the hell out of the waters and hand it over. That is the game and those are the facts. No one can stand up here and deny that.
The Minister's approach is appalling, keeping in with the Government's agenda to tarnish and criminalise fishers. It shows an atrocious level of contempt for the entire sector. The Minister provided no consultation, transparency or even a transitionary arrangement. Any Minister who ploughs ahead with a raft of intimidating new arrangements which are procedurally flawed, utterly unworkable, negatively impacting the quality of fish and criminalising fishers on a 51% balance of probability is no friend or ally of the sector.
I would like to speak about the peaceful protest that the fishermen of west Cork and Ireland took part in last week when they came into the Port of Cork.
The scenes on the way into the port showed unity. Those fishermen have had enough. It was a peaceful demonstration. They handed a letter into the Taoiseach's office where some of the children were given lollipops. The fishermen need more than lollipops. They need results. The Irish fishing sector needs results and protection and it has not got them.
The families of those fishermen have had enough. It was great to see the families there during the protest. It is time for this Government to stop bowing down to the EU and to start standing up for fishing communities in Ireland. It is time the Government stood side by side with our countrymen and put this country first.
There was no pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill and that is further proof of how we have neglected our fishing industry. I sat before the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party during negotiations for Government. They were looking for the vote of the Rural Independent Group and had reasonable discussions with us. I had only one red line. We need to protect our maritime industry and my only red line issue was that we have a senior Minister for fisheries, even though there are many other issues in west Cork. That request to appoint a senior Minister was refused to the people of Ireland. We can now see the exact results of that refusal. Our Taoiseach and his predecessor have no interest in appointing a senior Minister for one of the richest resources in this country and that proves they have sold out the industry behind the people's backs. It is no longer behind their backs. They are well aware they have been sold out. They know they have been sold out for decades but they are starting to fight back and they will be heading to the capital very soon. That fight will be peaceful but strong and I will support them every inch of the way.
We had five Ministers for agriculture and the marine in a little over 12 months. Those were Deputies Creed, Calleary, Cowen and McConalogue, and the Taoiseach acted as Minister during that time. The Taoiseach was acting Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for a few weeks and the first thing he applied was penalty points. Well done, Taoiseach. We pat him on the back. Imagine a system that would mean if one got penalty points on one's driver licence tonight, even though one could prove one was sitting in the Dáil, those points would not be removed. That is the situation with these penalty points. It is a shocking, unfair system that the Taoiseach of this country put in place with a flick of his pen and without any consultation with anybody. He says Europe called and when Europe called, the Taoiseach answered.
I spoke earlier about the SFPA and it must be answerable for many of the issues that are going on at the moment. I spoke at great length about the weighing crisis of which the SFPA had knowledge. Why did it not disclose that to the industry, get talking and try to get the situation resolved before it became a crisis? I am worried about inshore fishermen and their situation because they must weigh every box of fish, empty it and weigh it again. It is nonsensical rubbish. I do not know how this situation is going to affect the pelagic fishermen.
The situation with Brexit has stumbled on. I mentioned Michel Barnier and the weighing crisis. It is just one incident on top of another. There was a ramming incident in Castletownbere last Friday. The frustration is palpable. There is no protection of the Irish fishermen in Irish waters. That day is well and truly gone. The protection is for foreign vessels. People on Irish vessels are being arrested if they commit any small infringement. There is no interest in protecting the Irish fishermen.
The lack of interest has been demonstrated today by the fact that speaking slots were available but Government representatives have failed to turn up and fill them. In west Cork, representatives are giving out that there is no time to debate the issue. There is time to debate this maritime Bill this evening and Government representatives have not turned up to use those slots. That says it all.
I have grave reservations about a Bill that has not received proper pre-legislative scrutiny. I will seriously consider voting against the legislation until we at least accept the issues and put this issue at the forefront and not at the back, which is how all fishing issues have been treated in recent years.
As I said, there is a massive resource in our seas. We have a brilliant fishing fleet out there. The fishermen want to bring beautiful food from Irish waters to the world. It can be done. All that is needed is the investment of time and the interest of our Government. We should not be pushing things down the road. I mentioned the ramming incident and, in fairness, the Ceann Comhairle is allowing a debate on that matter later tonight. However, when I have brought that issue to the Dáil, the Taoiseach has done everything to discredit me instead of talking about the issue. He is trying to run away and take away from the story. The real reason for that is he knows his Government has failed Irish fishermen. He is embarrassed. He is furious when I mention the issue but this is an honest forum in which to do so. It is the only forum I can raise the issue. I do not know if there was anything in the national media about the massive peaceful protest last week. Somebody said they saw a small corner of the protest shown on RTÉ. It has its own agenda and that is fine. I will do everything in my power to keep the agenda of fishermen and fisherwomen before the Dáil at every available opportunity. There is a weighing crisis, a penalty points crisis and the Brexit issue and I will bring those issues before the Dáil at every available opportunity.
The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 was published on 4 May 2021 to provide an opportunity to raise fishery matters and to seek clarification on Rockall, as that will be an issue for fishermen and fisherwomen, who are united on this matter. No prior public consultation took place. There was no pre-legislative scrutiny. No regulatory impact analysis accompanied this Bill. The housing Bill came before the House a number of weeks ago and there was uproar because there was no pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government is back again with another Bill without pre-legislative scrutiny. Would the Government not have learned its lesson from a couple of weeks ago? It has not.
My colleague mentioned the talks around the formation of the Government. I was also in the room with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Ryan and our Rural Independent Group, including Deputy Michael Collins. The one thing Deputy Collins looked for in the programme for Government was a senior Minister for fisheries. It was the main thing for which he looked. We can now see why we need a senior Minister for fisheries. This is the perfect example.
We have seen the new process for weighing fish. The Tánaiste said today that SMEs account for more than 50% of the employment in Ireland. The fishermen and fisherwomen of this country are also SMEs. What does the Government do? It puts more regulation and paperwork in place. That has a knock-on effect on processors and hauliers. Everyone has a huge amount of paperwork to do. Imagine that was the case in another industry and I was to go into a quarry tomorrow morning for stone. If I was to undergo the same scrutiny as the fishermen, I would have to unload my truck of stone, weigh it at a weighbridge and then put it back into the truck again. That is the type of stupid stuff the Government is coming up with. There are digital ways, means and formats to do the weighing. The Government should get with the times.
Excuse the pun but the Government has sold our soul. This is a complete cod of what it has done to the fisherman and fisherwomen of this country. The Government has sold us out. It seems that on everything we ask it to negotiate for Brexit and the fisheries, the Government sits in the room and says, "Yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir".
Michel Barnier has taken everything from us and given it to the French and the rest of the European states. He left us with nothing and the Government sat there and took it. The Government is here to fight for the rights of our fisheries and the rights of all the people who are included within the fisheries and it has done nothing. The disappointment is beyond words. Those in Government should be ashamed of themselves for not fighting for the people in the fisheries in Ireland.
It is interesting, as the Bill is being discussed, to listen to the debate around fishing, and what has happened to our fishing industry.
I know the Minister is probably fed up with it but this legislation does not specifically cover fishing or the fishing industry. It is, however, a very important part of our whole maritime resource, which needs to be addressed and looked at. It outlines historically how the State has looked at the maritime resource over the years.
There is no doubt that fishing, as an example of how not to look at the development and potential for development of our resources, will be telling tale. It will be a telling tale led by the fact that those who were pointed out by the Government as being our so-called friends in Europe were actually the people who stole our fishing from us. I use the word "stole" because when we were negotiating to join the European Union, it made the only responsibility of the European Commission at that time the conservation of fishing rights. Why did it do that? It did that because Ireland, Denmark and England were increasing the amount of water resources of the European Union fourfold at that time. It did that because it knew what we were bringing to the table and we did not. That is a shame on us. We have to be blamed for that because the Irish Government did not know what we were bringing to the table. In fact, the Government did not believe the fishing industry when the fishing industry told it what we were bringing and it allowed that to happen.
As I understand, the Government was told straight up at the time that if it wanted to be included in the fishing negotiations, there would be no negotiations. Fine Gael's former leader, Garret FitzGerald, wrote back to me after addressing the Patrick MacGill Summer School in Glenties at the time around 2000 or 2002. I wrote to him about it and he wrote back and confirmed it to me. He said the EU never treated us badly after that. It did not have to.