Dáil debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

1:27 pm

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [43785/21]

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee which deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [47859/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53177/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53179/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53181/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with marine and fishing will next meet. [53390/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.

Issues relevant to the marine and fishing sector are discussed, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees. This includes the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change or the Cabinet committee on Europe, in addition to the Government co-ordination committee. These committees meet regularly. As with all policy areas, issues arising in the marine and fishing sector are also regularly discussed at full Government meetings, where all formal decisions are made. We have ongoing sectoral meetings with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials on the issues pertaining to fishing and Brexit and so forth.

The marine and fishing sector covers a broad range of areas that impact on all our lives throughout the country. As an island nation, Ireland has a special relationship with the ocean. In developing the marine economy, everything must be done to protect marine biodiversity and to secure a sustainable future for the marine and fisheries sector, while supporting coastal communities. The Government works with all relevant stakeholders progress these objectives, including supporting the fisheries sector to deal with the effects of Brexit and changes to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement; the publication of the Maritime Area Planning Bill on 1 July, which will establish a new agency responsible for regulating development in maritime area to be called the maritime area regulatory authority; the continuing work to maximise the use of offshore renewable energy resources available to us given our location at the Atlantic edge of Europe; and ensuring capability in our ports to enable them to successfully respond to the challenges arising from Brexit. In addition to meetings of the Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I regularly meet with relevant Ministers, to discuss particular issues, as well as with representatives of the sector.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank and congratulate the Taoiseach on his performance at, and contribution to, the COP26 summit in Glasgow. While it has been met with much cynicism by the Opposition, I firmly believe it was, by far, the best contribution by any Irish leader at any Conference of the Parties held to date. It reaffirmed our commitment to climate action. It is also important to note that we went there with a climate action Bill that has been described as best in class globally. I thank and congratulate the Taoiseach in that regard.

The seafood task force proposed a range of supports and measures for the fishing sector, part of which includes, unfortunately, a necessary decommissioning scheme. The scheme has been met with mixed responses. One area of the sector I wish the Taoiseach to focus on relates to tier 2 boats. These boats have both whitefish and mackerel fishing entitlements. The mackerel quota has been most severely impacted by Brexit. While a figure per gross tonne has been proposed for the whitefish sector, it has been proposed to apply the same gross figure to tier 2 boats, which also have a mackerel entitlement. That mackerel entitlement must be taken into account and these tier 2 boats have to be offered a larger quota amount per gross tonne under the decommissioning scheme. That is the only way the scheme, as proposed, will be availed of and will work. Will the Taoiseach consider that specific issue?

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach basically said in his reply that there is no specific committee meeting on marine and fishing. We are the only island state, which will hopefully be a nation in the near future, in Europe. There are two junior Ministers in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, neither of whom deals specifically with fisheries and the marine. That indicates the level of commitment the Government has towards fishing communities.

Deputy O'Sullivan represents a fishing community and he should know that the view of fishermen up and down the coast is that the task force report was a fait accomplibecause under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, our fishing fleet is allocated 15% of the fish in our own waters under this policy. The fishing fleets of other EU member states get 85% of the fish in our waters. Let us analysis this further, in case there is any doubt about these figures. Some 29% of the north-east Atlantic waters are under the Irish exclusive economic zone. We receive 7.6% of the monkfish allocation, 5.3% of hake and 5.3% of haddock. Let us consider France, which has 23% of the north-east Atlantic waters. It gets 59% of monkfish, 45% of hake and 67% of haddock. This is utterly shameful. How can anyone representing the fishing community not come in here full of anger at what is happening in our coastal waters?

The Taoiseach can frown all he likes. He should have a plan for the upcoming CFP negotiations. He should stand outside the Berlaymont and say that we no longer accept what is happening to our fishing communities. He is now asking communities to decommission a further 60 vessels. Based on 2006 figures, of the vessels longer than 12 m, we will be down to one third of our fleet. This means thousands of livelihoods will be gone in addition to hundreds of millions of euro each year.

I will reiterate my comments during the pre-European Council statements last week because the Taoiseach missed them. We are the laughing stock of Europe; we have the richest fishing grounds in Europe and we are handing fishing rights away without a fight or even trying. The Taoiseach should get some fire in his belly and focus on fisheries and the immense natural resource surrounding this country. Will he set up a dedicated committee for fisheries? Will he create a plan for the upcoming negotiations on the CFP to secure our fair share of fishing quotas in our waters?

1:37 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We have three other Deputies to speak.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I presume we will get the same amount of time as the two previous speakers.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, but there are only 15 minutes for this slot.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It should be shared out fairly. I was going to raise the issue of the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which the Taoiseach mentioned, but for the week that is in it, I will raise an issue regarding forestry, which I assume this Cabinet committee also deals with because the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the various other Departments that deal with forestry are also under its remit. As I understand it, the division that deals with fisheries and ports also deals with forestry. I will ask the Taoiseach about that.

I put it to the Taoiseach that, this week, the week of the Conference of the Parties, COP26, the Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of forestry. I was shocked to see the forestry dashboard figures. To be honest, I was not shocked because the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has made this point. While we are talking about protecting the forest estate, in reality, five to ten times more trees are being cut down than are being planted every year. Five to ten times more felling licences are being issued than afforestation licences. This is happening year after year so there is net deforestation while we hear high-flown speeches in Glasgow about protecting the forest estate and expanding it to deal with climate change. That is hypocrisy. If we are seeing net deforestation, that is a serious problem.

I must raise something that was brought to my attention in this regard this week. I refer to Coillte selling off forests. I am holding an advertisement for 37 acres of forest Coillte is selling off in Enniskerry, on the Wicklow-Dublin border. Does the Government know about this? Does it think it is okay? There is a right of way through this forest, which is a public amenity forest. There are bronze age cooking pits in it. It is of great geological significance and Coillte is flogging it off. We fought, and I organised demonstrations, back in 2013 to stop the plan to sell off harvesting rights for the entire Coillte forest estate. We got commitments at the time that the forests would not be privatised. I have put in parliamentary questions on this and I contacted Coillte this week, although I have not got a response. That is absolutely shocking. Will the Taoiseach look into that? Does Coillte have to ask the Government for permission to flog off public forest? It certainly should have to. It is being advertised for €250,000, by the way. That is 36 acres of forest for €250,000. That stinks, apart from anything else. We have to do a hell of a lot better than we are doing on forestry. We are getting net deforestation and the State forestry company, which is entrusted with being the steward of the public forest estate, is flogging off public forestry. That is utterly unacceptable.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I will be very brief. In September, the ban on large trawlers fishing within Ireland's inshore waters was lifted following a Court of Appeal judgment. These trawlers are extremely damaging to our coastal environments and fish habitats. They damage our marine biodiversity. They are also damaging to the interests of small fishers. They do not practise a sustainable form of fishing and they should be banned. These massive trawlers have consistently overfished sprat in particular, killing seven times the level recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in the year before the ban came into effect. This overfishing of sprat has massive knock-on impacts as they are an essential food source for whales. We need to stop this overfishing before it is too late. The Taoiseach has known for more than a year that this ban faced being overturned. What contingency plans did he put in place to reintroduce it?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I too will be brief. I will raise the issue of migrant fishers. A review of the atypical scheme has been promised. This commitment coincided with, or possibly arose because of, recent research by Maynooth University's department of law, which catalogued ongoing abuses experienced by migrant fishers. Will the Taoiseach commit to meaningful consultation with the International Transport Workers Federation, ITWF, in the course of the review, given that it has committed personnel and resources to working with migrant fishers working on Irish flagged-vessels over the last decade and has presented their grievances to the Workplace Relations Commission and other State bodies? The ITWF has highlighted that the Department of Justice's impending scheme for the undocumented could be a means to regularise the status of the many currently undocumented fishers still operating on Irish vessels if the scheme is sufficiently inclusive. The broad parameters that have been announced include conditions that one has to be undocumented and working for four years. However, many currently undocumented fishers have been in Ireland for longer than four years but may not have had documents at some point within the last four years. Common sense dictates that they should be included and I am asking for a commitment that they will be.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach has only one hour - I am sorry, I mean one minute and 40 seconds - to respond-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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He would need an hour.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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-----and I will have to interrupt him because we have to get to the next group of questions.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan spoke first and it was he who put down the basic question. I appreciate his contribution on the climate change issue because he has consistent and very strong views on the climate change agenda. We have a lot of work to do as a country to deliver upon our commitments. It will take the resolve of not only Government, but every Member of this House, to do the right thing in respect of the emergency for the world, and particularly for younger generations and children not yet born, presented by rising greenhouse gas emissions. We must do the right thing and I appreciate the Deputy's support in that regard. With regard to the seafood task force, the decommissioning scheme and tier 2 boats, the Deputy makes fair points. He has raised these on a number of occasions. I will talk to the Minister again in that regard.

Following on from Deputy Mac Lochlainn's comments, I have been very active in respect of the fishing industry. I created a structured dialogue with all of the sectors both pre and post the Brexit decision. The Deputy can go on about the Common Fisheries Policy but it is subject to ten-yearly reviews. I met with the Commissioner for fisheries when he came to Ireland. I also met with all of the fishing representatives. It is interesting that one of the reasons we suffered so much from the Brexit decision on fisheries is that the Common Fisheries Policy gave us access to British waters to a very extensive degree, particularly with regard to our mackerel quota in British waters. A no-deal Brexit would have been catastrophic for our fishing sector and that had to be avoided. Having said that, the deal that was done was unfair to Ireland and disproportionate. We received substantial funding from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. We received approximately 20% of the overall fund, which equates to approximately €4 billion. We will obviously allocate some of that to the fishing industry and the coastal communities affected.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry; we are out of time.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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May we have two minutes extra for this grouping to allow the Taoiseach to answer our questions? We kept within time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We would really need five minutes.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We kept within our time. Could we even have a minute and a half?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does the House agree to take two minutes from the next group of questions?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Two minutes, yes. We need it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is the reality of the situation. I met with all those representing the sector even prior to becoming Taoiseach. There were a range of issues on the agenda. One was the Common Fisheries Policy but it was the Common Fisheries Policy that gave us the access to British waters which is now restricted because of the agreement between the European Union and the British Government in respect of fishing. In our meeting with the Commissioner, it was clearly signalled that, in the forthcoming review, we will be pushing for restoration and better measures to facilitate greater access to fish for Irish fishermen more generally. We will continue to push for that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I need an answer as well.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy did a lot of sloganeering but I heard nothing by way of-----

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Everything I said today was based on facts. They were absolutely 100% facts.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is the same old stuff that has been going on for 30 years.

1:47 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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They are facts. He said I was sloganeering but they are facts.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach without interruption.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is all sloganeering, as far as I am concerned. We need to get involved in solution mode and the Deputy is not. He is involved in politics and opposition for the sake of it.

To respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett's points, we are not speaking from both sides of our mouths. There have been many objections to tree planting in the country, which has held back the growth of forests. There is commercial forestry but we need far stronger native woodland development and growth. We need to finance that and we will. I do not know the background to the Deputy's point. He has a habit of coming in and raising an issue, and when I research-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I have a copy of the advertisement to sell off forests.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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When I research it, it turns out not to be quite the same as the Deputy presented-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----but I will pursue the issue he raised. I will seek responses from Coillte in respect of the issue he raised. More generally, the point I am making is that we need to grow far more trees than we are growing in this country. There are too many obstacles in the way of growing trees-----

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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The Taoiseach cannot see the wood for the trees.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We passed legislation in this House to try to streamline the planning processes around granting licences for afforestation, and that is the reality. The Deputy needs to be honest about that too and call it out when it comes on his doorstep.

I will pursue the issues Deputy Barry raised. I agree no quarter can be given to anybody who would abuse migrant fishers and migrant workers within the fishing industry. It is unacceptable behaviour. In respect of those who may be undocumented as a result of that, I will certainly pursue the issue that has been raised regarding affirmative action on that position.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will take four minutes from the next group of questions.