Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Seafood Taskforce Final Report: Statements


1:05 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and colleagues. I apologise for the slight delay in starting.

I thank the House for this opportunity to update it on the outcome of the seafood task force process that I instigated in March this year in response to the unacceptable outcome for Ireland’s seafood sector of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA. It is appropriate that I begin by recalling the details of the TCA as they pertain to our seafood sector. It was clear during the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement negotiations that fishing quotas were going to be a particularly difficult issue and it was one of the principal reasons for the protracted negotiations on the TCA. A no-deal Brexit scenario would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and also possibly displaced into Ireland's fishing zone. That was the doomsday scenario. The Irish fishing fleet catches about one third of its catch in the UK waters and if access to UK waters was denied in a no-deal scenario, it risked losing access to that catch and in addition other EU vessels operating in UK waters would be displaced into our waters.

When the Taoiseach and I met the fishing industry this time last year it identified a no-deal Brexit as the worst possible outcome for the Irish fishing industry. The agreement reached was less severe than that, and less severe than it would have been had the Barnier task force agreed to the UK negotiating demands. Nevertheless, the trade and co-operation agreement was still a very painful outcome for Ireland. The agreement reached provided that, as the price for continued access by EU vessels to UK waters, there would be a transfer of quotas across a range of fish stocks from EU member states to the UK.

In January of this year, I published an analysis of the quota transfers for Ireland across the different stocks and the implications. The quota transfers are to be spread out until 2026. The aggregate final quota transfer by Ireland to the UK is valued at a €43 million loss to Ireland’s fishing sector by 2026, amounting to a 15% reduction compared to the overall value of Ireland’s 2020 quotas. The upfront loss for 2021 is very sizeable at around 60% of the total, or a loss of €26 million at the quayside.

My Department’s analysis also showed that because of the stocks concerned, Ireland is contributing a disproportionate share of its quotas, compared to almost all other member states and this is clearly inequitable burden sharing. Throughout 2021, I have consistently made it very clear to the Commission and other member states that Ireland considers that the transfer to the UK involves a very high share of some of our most important stocks. I pointed out that within the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, Ireland contributes by providing rich fishing grounds for EU member states and our exclusive economic zone provides spawning and nursery grounds on many of the core stocks which are shared with the UK and on which the trade and co-operation agreement quota package and the Common Fisheries Policy depend. I also strongly expressed my disappointment that the principle of burden sharing within the EU member states has not been adequately respected. I made clear that the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland has contributed to a strong sense of grievance within our fishing industry and indeed more broadly. I have raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing at EU level and in bilateral exchanges with the Commissioner and other EU member states at each and every suitable opportunity that has arisen and I will continue to do so.

During his visit to Ireland at the end of September, Commissioner Sinkevičius met with industry representatives in Killybegs and heard directly from them that Ireland has paid too high a share of quota under the trade and cooperation agreement. I followed up with a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner on all the issues arising. The Taoiseach and I met the Commissioner to further emphasise, from a Government perspective, that addressing burden sharing is a priority for Ireland and the Taoiseach has pursued the matter with the Commission President.

I have made clear that this important element of the Common Fisheries Policy must be included by the Commission as part of the full CFP review and form part of the formal review and the Commission report to the European Council and European Parliament on the functioning of the CFP. Last week, the Taoiseach, having previously met the President of the European Commission on the burden sharing issue, again wrote to Ursula von der Leyen on the issue of the inequitable burden on Ireland in terms of quota transfer under the TCA and to reiterate the Government’s call to find practical ways within the EU to address this issue.

I, as Minister, have continually pushed strongly that a solution must be found, and I intend to continue to keep the focus on this situation and to use any opportunity available to seek constructive solutions that would help to alleviate this unacceptable position. Together with these initiatives on addressing burden sharing, I was determined that our fisheries sector and the coastal communities that depend on fishing should be appropriately assisted with the impacts of the trade and cooperation agreement.

In March of this year, I established a seafood task force whose terms of reference were to examine the impacts of the TCA on our fisheries sector and coastal communities and to identify initiatives that could be taken to provide supports for development and restructuring, so as to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing fleet, and to identify opportunities for jobs and economic activity in coastal communities dependent on fishing. I asked the task force to consider and recommend constructive actions that would help to alleviate the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland in the agreement. I asked the task force to consider how all available funding streams could be used to address, to the extent possible, the initiatives identified and the State agencies to support those initiatives.

An important context for the work of the task force was an EU Brexit Adjustment Reserve, BAR, fund that was being negotiated at EU level at the time I established the task force. The BAR regulation was enacted on 6 October 2021, with Ireland allocated by far the largest share of funds at almost €1.2 billion in current prices, recognising that Ireland is the member state most impacted by the departure of the UK and by the Brexit co-operation agreement outcome. Fisheries and coastal communities were an important element of the negotiations on the member state BAR allocations, with fishing in UK waters and maritime border regions with the UK accounting for €184 million of Ireland’s BAR allocation. The purpose of the BAR is to provide EU supports to counter the adverse economic, social, territorial and, where appropriate, environmental consequences of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in those member states most adversely affected by the withdrawal, and to mitigate the related negative impact on the economic, social and territorial cohesion.

The BAR, understandably, has a particular focus on regions, local communities and sectors most affected by Brexit. Importantly, the BAR is 100% EU funded and the Commission will be providing pre-financing this year and in 2022 and 2023, making the BAR an invaluable tool for Ireland and other member states to use to counter the impacts of Brexit and the trade and cooperation agreement. The BAR will see Ireland implement Brexit mitigation measures this year and in 2023 across the economic sectors most impacted by Brexit. The eligibility period for the BAR ends in 2023. Formal BAR funding applications to the Commission will follow by 2024, which will make the pre-financing already provided definitive.

Another important context for the work of the task force was the new European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, EMFAF, which again was being negotiated at EU level when I established the task force. The EMFAF regulation has since been enacted on 7 July of this year and Ireland is allocated €142 million in EU funds under the EMFAF, with the Government to provide co-funding for this level of EU investment.

Unlike the BAR, the EMFAF is solely focused on member states' seafood sectors and coastal communities. My Department is preparing a new seafood development programme under the EMFAF and I expect it to be adopted next year.

In establishing the task force, I strongly believed that a once-in-a-generation event such as the trade and co-operation agreement required a collective response involving the seafood businesses and coastal communities most affected by the TCA and with the intimate knowledge of the sector to know what initiatives are best able to address the impacts of the agreement. The task force comprised ten representatives of the fishing sector, including the four main fishing co-operatives in Castletowbere, Greencastle, Ros a' Mhíl and Clogherhead, the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum. It also included representatives from the aquaculture sector, coastal communities and a range of State bodies with an important role to play in addressing the impacts of the TCA, including Enterprise Ireland, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Bord Bia, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and coastal local authorities. The task force was led by Aidan Cotter, the former CEO of Bord Bia, who was assisted by a steering group of Margaret Daly, deputy CEO of seafood processor Errigal Bay Limited, and Mícheal Ó Cinnéide, former director of the Marine Institute and member of the aquaculture licensing appeals board.

The task force undertook its work with great enthusiasm and professionalism. It met on 14 occasions in a seven-month period and I know there was much work undertaken outside of those meetings as well. To assist its work, the task force undertook a public consultation and received 27 submissions. Task force members also made multiple submissions to inform its deliberations. These submissions, much expert analysis by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and the expertise of the task force members helped to inform a full and detailed examination of the TCA impacts by the task force and a healthy debate within the task force on its recommendations.

I received the final report of the seafood task force, entitled Navigating Change, on 11 October. The report recommended 16 support schemes at a total estimated cost of €423 million. The task force acknowledged in its report that its recommendations would give rise to substantial public expenditure which will need careful consideration in order to ensure that the best possible value for money is obtained when public money is being spent or invested, as required under the Government’s public expenditure code. The task force report also acknowledged that the assessment of the range of measures recommended, the development of detailed schemes, and submission for state aid approval can only be approached on a phased basis, and accordingly will be progressed on a prioritised basis. The task force requested that a full assessment of the proposed support schemes by the relevant Departments and State agencies, in the context of the necessary Government criteria for public expenditure, be carried out with a view to implementing the schemes, subject to any necessary modifications.

It proposed in its report that in the period from 2021 to 2023, the measures necessary to implement the task force recommendations should, to the greatest extent possible, be funded from Ireland’s allocation under the Brexit adjustment reserve. Of the task force recommended support schemes, in the region of €300 million could potentially be eligible for funding under the BAR, subject to other funding priorities for the BAR and to Government assessment of the recommended schemes and their being accepted. The balance of the recommended schemes would fall to be funded over a longer period under my Department’s seafood development programme, should they be accepted by the Government.

I will now outline some of the recommended support schemes. Without doubt, the most significant scheme recommended by the task force is the implementation of a permanent voluntary decommissioning scheme for the whitefish fleet at a cost of €66 million, recommended to be funded under the BAR. The TCA quota cuts have had wide-ranging impacts on our seafood sector and coastal communities depending on the seafood sector, but most of all they call into question the economic viability of the whitefish fleet as it stands. With lower quotas available post Brexit which will continue to decline on a phased basis up to 2026, our entire whitefish fleet will suffer diminishing economic returns. This is not sustainable economically and risks being a catalyst for breaches of fishing regulations.

To inform the task force on the scale of fleet restructuring required, a profitability analysis was carried out by Bord Iascaigh Mhara. This analysis quantified the number of vessels required to be removed from the fleet in order to return the various fleet segments to the level of profitability prior to the TCA. This analysis estimated that some 60 whitefish polyvalent and beam trawl vessels of a gross tonnage of 8,000 tonnes would need to be removed so as to return these fleet segments to profitability. This equates to 26% of the whitefish fleet by number. Removing this amount of capacity would potentially free up approximately €38 million of quota for the benefit of vessels remaining in the fleet, thereby securing their future viability. The task force recommended a decommissioning scheme of this scale.

It is clear that this is a severe blow to the whitefish fleet and the coastal communities dependent on fishing. However, I note that the task force was unanimous in recommending this initiative and the task force included all of the main representatives of the fishing fleet. The recommendation, of course, reflects the post-Brexit reality of the TCA, which is that there are fewer fish to be shared among the whitefish fleet. The task force concluded that it is absolutely necessary to voluntarily shrink the fleet to this extent so that the remaining vessels can survive in business.

Permanently leaving the fleet and the livelihood many families have known for generations is a major decision for any vessel owner. The task force recommended that the scheme be voluntary and, of course, that is appropriate. It estimated the necessary compensation for those leaving the fleet at up to €12,000 per gross tonne. This amount would cover all costs, including vessel owner compensation, crew payments and costs for scrapping of vessels. I am mindful that crew members of fishing vessels being decommissioned must be compensated as a mandatory condition of the payment to the vessel owner and I will be ensuring that this happens. As an important complementary measure to the decommissioning scheme, the task force recommended that scheme payments be subject to similar tax treatment as the decommissioning scheme implemented in 2008. The task force believed this was essential to incentivise sufficient vessel owners to apply under the scheme if it is to reach its targets to take out sufficient capacity to restore incomes and fleet balance to the pre-TCA situation.

In an important recommendation to accompany the recommended decommissioning scheme, the task force report recommended that a scheme be implemented to essentially decommission off-register fleet capacity. Off-register or latent capacity is fishing capacity that is licensed for use but not currently in operation for reasons such as vessels being lost at sea, damaged, in need of repair or upgrade, or up for sale. My Department’s licensing authority for sea fishing boats maintains a register of capacity that is currently active or on-register, as well as capacity that is inactive or off-register. Off-register capacity is very relevant to the proposed voluntary whitefish decommissioning scheme because it is a possible route back into the fleet for vessel owners whose boat has been decommissioned. While off-register capacity is latent and does not use up quotas, should a former vessel owner purchase off-register capacity and use it to introduce a new vessel to the fleet, this would take up quota and negate the benefits of the voluntary decommissioning scheme.

This issue of off-register capacity was identified as a serious risk to the success of a decommissioning scheme in a cost benefit analysis conducted on behalf of BIM by Grant Thornton in 2016. Grant Thornton found there was a level of re-entry to the fleet following previous decommissioning schemes. Of 73 vessels decommissioned, 19 new vessels were reintroduced. The Grant Thornton report recommended that a decommissioning scheme should not be implemented unless the issue of off-register capacity is addressed in tandem.

At the time of the task force report, there were 15,466 gross tonnes of off-register capacity, which is almost twice the level of capacity the task force recommended be decommissioned. This is clearly a significant risk to the success of the decommissioning proposal. The task force recommended that we implement a once-off scheme to buy out off-register capacity, at a set price to be determined. The process of preparing the details of a decommissioning scheme is time consuming, including conducting a new cost-benefit analysis, as required under the public spending code for a scheme of this size, agreeing within Government that the proposed scheme should proceed, legislating for tax treatment of scheme payments and securing state aid clearance.

Should the voluntary decommissioning scheme proceed, vessel owners will need some time to reflect on their own situation and the payments offered under the scheme and there will be time taken for the application and approval process. Taken together, these matters mean it could be summer 2022 before the benefits of the scheme would be felt by other vessel owners in terms of available quota being shared across a smaller cohort of vessels. For these reasons, the task force recommended that a second round of voluntary temporary fleet tie-up scheme supports be implemented in 2022 for the whitefish fleet. As Deputies know, a voluntary temporary tie-up scheme is already being implemented over the October to December period, at a cost of €12 million, as recommended to me by the task force in its June 2021 interim report. That scheme is assisting the whitefish fleet with the reduced incomes in 2021 arising from the TCA quota reductions this year. A similar, second round of tie-ups in 2022 is proposed to support the income of the fleet, pending the full benefits of a decommissioning scheme being felt across the board. That proposal is costed by the task force at €12 million in 2022 and is recommended to be funded under the BAR.

I turn now to the wider impacts of the TCA quota cuts, which, as I said, undermine the viability of our fishing fleet. I have outlined a proposal from the task force to take out 60 vessels from the whitefish fleet. Should such a scheme proceed and achieve its targets, we could see perhaps 400 crew members lose their jobs. A separate impact of the TCA quota cuts is the significant loss of raw material supply to our vibrant seafood processing sector. Fewer fish being landed by Irish vessels means less raw material supply for our processors to be transformed into the added-value seafood products we see on our supermarket shelves, which have underpinned the strong growth in seafood exports in recent years. Replacing that raw material is not easy but there are possibilities. There are logistical difficulties and cost issues in seeking to import supply from the UK, particularly when other member states impacted by the TCA are seeking to do the same.

There is, of course, an abundance of fish caught off our coasts by other member state vessels, which generally return to their home ports to land their catch. Between 2015 and 2019, the Irish fishing fleet caught, on average, 38% of the value and 35% of the volume of all fish caught in our 200 mile zone. Clearly, there is significant potential, particularly with rising oil costs, to attract an increasing amount of the fish caught by other fleets into Ireland to drive the development of our processing and other marine support industries. We have seen some great successes in recent years, particularly in Castletownbere and Killybegs, in attracting these foreign vessels to land their catch in Ireland. By further developing our processing and support industries, we can create a more attractive market proposition to encourage more EU, UK and Norwegian vessels to sell their catch to Irish processors. The loss of raw material supply to our processors, if not addressed through positive interventions, as recommended by the task force, risks these processors losing hard-won markets and reducing their profitability, and may lead to loss of employment in coastal communities already impacted by the jobs lost from decommissioned vessels.

A further knock-on effect of the necessary voluntary decommissioning of up to 60 fishing vessels is the impact on ancillary and support service industries in coastal communities. Fewer vessels means less boat maintenance work, net-making and provisioning. This outcome risks further loss of employment in coastal communities. The widely representative task force I put together carefully considered all these interrelated impacts and recommended an integrated response via investment in marine infrastructure, seafood processing and aquaculture, supported by community-led local development.

In regard to the seafood processing sector, which comprises approximately 160 firms, the task force recommended facilitating substantial investment in seafood processing enterprises to support greater utilisation of raw material, improved efficiency, development of new offerings and demonstration of quality and sustainability, as well as building capability and innovation through people and processes. This investment will protect and enhance their viability and position them to attract additional raw material. While my Department's European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, EMFAF, programme has been providing similar supports over the past seven years, the scheme recommended by the task force would provide temporarily increased graduated grant aid rates of between 30% and 50% during the period of BAR funding for 2022 to 2023, with the higher rates targeted at secondary and tertiary processing to provide an immediate stimulus to overcome some of the constraints arising from Brexit.

The task force recommended that supports of €90 million be provided, predominantly in 2022 and 2023, through the BAR and subsequently through the EMFAF, over the period up to 2027. The task force was of the view that this level of funding, when combined with industry funding, would give the sector a unique opportunity to implement the transformational change required in response to the TCA. Transformational investment on this scale would foster increased employment in the processing sector, mitigating the loss of employment arising from the TCA quota cuts, and could position our processing sector as an increasingly attractive market for foreign vessels operating off our coasts.

While there are direct impacts of Brexit and the TCA on the aquaculture sector, similar to many other areas of our economy, the recommendations of the task force for investment in the sector are primarily based on its capacity as an alternative native source of raw material supply to our processors and an alternative source of employment in coastal communities. The sector shares many elements of the skill set possessed by fishing crew and presents an ideal career opportunity for crew of former fishing vessels, benefitting both the aquaculture sector and former fishermen. Ideally, it will keep former fishermen in their coastal communities. The task force recommended that both the BAR and EMFAF funding sources should be utilised, as appropriate, to develop Irish aquaculture to mitigate against the negative impacts of Brexit that have been most pronounced in other sectors of the Irish seafood sector. It recommended that graduated grant aid rates should apply in order that the categories of activity that are most impactful would be incentivised, with total aid of €60 million being made available for investment over the period up to 2027. This would stimulate the modernisation of aquaculture sites in line with international best practice, increase resource efficiency and reduce environmental impact, advance understanding of market opportunities and innovation capability, and develop technical, marketing and management capability.

The task force report noted that public marine infrastructure, including piers, slipways, pontoons, etc., is a critical enabler to maximising the use of, and benefits to be gained from, our rich maritime resources. High-quality publicly owned marine infrastructure facilitates the development of myriad uses and enables commercial fishing, aquaculture, sea angling and other marine leisure and recreational activities to develop and flourish. The development of this range of water-based activities drives related onshore activities and helps to diversify and build resilience in our coastal communities. The task force recognised that modern public marine infrastructure is a central and essential element in creating an integrated response to the impact of the TCA on coastal communities. Accessible and safe public marine infrastructure would enable community-led local development through our fisheries local action groups, FLAGs, to support the development of a wide range of marine activities and help to diversify and build resilience.

The task force proposed that the earlier years of a support scheme should focus on small-scale, shovel-ready local authority projects, which would be funded under the BAR and would give immediate construction stimulus to the coastal communities impacted by the TCA. The resulting infrastructure development would provide a more long-term platform for the development of new and diversified economic activity in coastal communities. The provision of this enhanced, publicly owned marine infrastructure would be a key enabler in allowing integrated application at a local level of the task force's other recommended initiatives for the seafood sector, namely, locally led development and marine tourism initiatives. The task force is recommending an €80 million, five-year initiative for the development of publicly owned marine infrastructure.

Community-led local development, CLLD, empowers communities to support initiatives to create employment and economic activity to sustain livelihoods in an area-based approach and, accordingly, has a key role to play in addressing the impact of the TCA on Ireland’s coastal communities. For the past nine years, my Department has been implementing to great success a CLLD approach through the seven fisheries local action groups, FLAGs, through my Department’s European maritime and fisheries fund programme. Providing seed funding for new businesses, funding to diversify or expand and enabling capacity development that will allow people to use their skills for new opportunities in the marine sector is paramount to keeping these communities viable in the long term. The task force recommends that significant funding be made available through the FLAGs to support coastal communities impacted by Brexit to diversify their economies into the wider marine sector, where local skill sets are particularly suited.

1:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister. He will have an opportunity to continue his statement in his closing remarks.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Carthy and Conway-Walsh. The report of the seafood task force is presented as the future of the Irish fishing industry and a blueprint for creating vibrant coastal communities. While there are some good measures in it and, of course, welcome funding, we must face the hard reality. The report, if implemented, will further reduce the Irish fishing fleet and, by consequence, the Irish fishing industry.

Ireland has approximately 20% of Europe's northern and western fishing waters. A total of 30% of all fish landed in Europe is produced in Irish waters, yet we have some of the smallest fishing quotas for species in all of Europe. Since we joined the European Economic Community, EEC, in 1973, Governments have made mistake after mistake in building a vibrant and sustainable Irish fishing industry. It is arguable whether we want to build or have an industry at all at this point. It seems that, when this or previous Governments have had to negotiate to fight for our fishermen, the default position has been to raise the white flag. The Irish fishing industry has always been the sacrificial lamb.

Ireland has taken part in two EU-funded decommissioning schemes that dramatically reduced the Irish fleet, and now there is another decommissioning proposal to get rid of a further 60 boats. In 2006, there were 280 boats of more than 18 m in the Irish fleet fishing offshore. After this latest scheme, that fleet will be reduced to one third of what it was 15 years ago. What a damning indictment of Government policy and failure over the past 15 years. While we tear apart our fishing communities, countries such as France and Belgium are investing in the upgrading of their fleets. This is no surprise when we consider the percentage of the fish they take from our Irish waters compared with what is allocated to our own fishing fleet under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. I reiterate only 15%, or even less, of the total value of the catch from Irish waters, the exclusive economic zone under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, is allocated to the Irish fishing fleet. This is utterly shameful. In contrast, 75% of the fish in British waters is allocated to their fishing fleet.

We have long called for a full review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Is there an appetite among the Government or the Civil Service to go to Europe and fight for such a review? A partial review is to commence in January but we need a full review, with everything on the table. We need to find and build solidarity and alliances with other European partners and truly reopen the Common Fisheries Policy, once and for all. The unfairness must end and what better opportunity than now when Brexit has changed so much? It is the profound unfairness and injustice, above everything else, that sticks in the craw of the Irish fishing community.

For decades, Irish fishermen have watched European fishing vessels come into Irish waters and fish away at huge quotas compared with those for Irish boats, then watched them unload their uninspected catch into frozen container trucks and go home to their own countries. Meanwhile, Irish vessels are chased from pillar to post by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and the Naval Service with much lower quotas, and have recently been forced to unload their iced catch on the harbours, de-ice it for inspection and only then send it to the factory for processing. It would be laughable were it not so serious.

Let us take just one example to prove this. This goes to the heart of so-called relative stability, which has been, and continues to be, a complete and utter disaster for Irish fishing. During the formative years of 1977 to 1982, the Irish system did not record its catches in any accurate manner. Let us take the example of monkfish. The French currently have an allocation of 50% of the monkfish in Irish waters, while Ireland has 5%. Is that fair? Something has to give, things have to change and the Minister and his Department must lead that.

This year, when the flotilla of fishing boats sailed up to the River Lee and into Cork city, and then up the River Liffey and into Dublin city, it marked a sea change. The fishing industry had united in protest and opposition to the disastrous policies of the Minister's Government and those who preceded it. No more would they accept weak negotiation on their behalf, no more white flags or jelly bellies. The year 2021 has seen pelagic and polyvalent quotas reduced by 30%, demersal quotas by 20% and the inshore fleet reduced to targeting non-quota shellfish. Our industry is dying and, as far as it is concerned, the State is assisting in its dying. As I said earlier, the French and Belgian states are sponsoring the building of new vessels, while we in Ireland are proposing the decommissioning of a further 30% of our offshore fleet of over 18 m, or 60 of our boats. When you step back and think about it, this is worse than bonkers; it is self-destruction.

Where do we start? Burden-sharing must be reopened in these upcoming December talks. The reality is there has been none. The burden of Brexit on the European fishing fleet may as well have been undertaken unilaterally by the Irish industry. That must be the starting position. Negotiations are always tough, but now is the time to show steel. Once and for all, Ireland needs the Minister with responsibility for the marine and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to stand up for Irish interests. At the very least, he needs to go to Brussels with a minimum levelling-up approach imprinted in his thinking. This would take account of at least some small element of the historical loss and unfairness we have suffered. It would also set a marker for the upcoming review of the CFP at European level.

Gone are the days when we were the best boys and girls in class, when we would say, "Yes sir, no sir" and take what we were given in terms of quotas. It is time to defend our industry, be proud of our immense natural resource and outline to Europe what we want and need in order to build our proud industry. We want our fair share of what is ours and will not stand any more for being stamped on and told to put up with everything.

Representatives of various fish producer organisations attended yesterday's Oireachtas committee meeting. They did not enthusiastically endorse the report and they certainly did not enthusiastically endorse decommissioning. They did so with a heavy heart. They have fishermen on their books who have no future, through no fault of their own but through that of Government after Government. They do not believe things will change and they will avail of this scheme with a very heavy heart.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is being negotiated between Britain and Europe.

The Minister and the Taoiseach need to insist that we have access to those negotiations because they will have an enormous impact on our fortunes at the Council. The Minister will have a limited engagement in the days ahead while these negotiations continue.

The island communities have real concerns about this report. They have made submissions and I will forward to the Minister their submission outlining their ongoing concerns. They are not enthusiastically endorsing this report.

I conclude my contribution by quoting the famous Luke Kelly poem:

For what died the sons of Róisín, was it greed?...

Will German, French or Dutch inscribe the epitaph of Emmet?

When we have sold enough of Ireland to be but strangers in it

For what died the sons of Róisín, was it greed?

Were words ever more appropriate to what is happening in our beloved coastal and fishing communities?

1:45 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I am not from a fishing community. I do not understand the complexities of the fishing sector and have never made any pretence that I do. However, I have been listening and all of us in this House need to listen to what is becoming an endangered species, the Irish fisherman. It is one of the travesties of an island nation that we do not have a world-class fishing fleet and world-class fishing industry that would inspire pride in all that it does.

In that context I read the seafood task force report. In completing its work, the task force described the seafood sector as being in the eye of the storm regarding the Brexit fallout. I thought it was a very apt description because for many sectors the impact of Brexit still looms on the horizon, but for our fishing communities and those in ancillary industries Brexit has become tangible very quickly. Through the agreement, the Irish fleet lost 15% of its annual quota. Prawn, monkfish and haddock were particularly impacted. As Deputy Mac Lochlainn very eloquently outlined, that does not even begin to tell the story of what our fishing communities will endure as a result of Brexit. It is not losing 15% of a fair catch; it is 15% of what has been a raw deal for our fishing communities for generations.

We need to be big enough and bold enough to say that our fishing communities were sold out upon joining the European Economic Community. They have been sold out by every Government since in their lax attitude to negotiations relating to fishing industry. That is been evident again in the trade and co-operation agreement. We recognise as much as, if not more than, anybody the need to secure a Brexit withdrawal agreement. However, the difficulties with the agreement are not necessarily over what was agreed with the British, which comes down to hard tacks, but over what was actually agreed at EU level. As Deputy Mac Lochlainn has said very clearly, that exposes the fundamental failure within the Common Fisheries Policy.

The task force report we are debating makes recommendations to spend €423 million. While we could debate at length the merits of each individual recommendation, it is unfair that every time we consider a review of this, the default proposal is always to decommission, get rid of boats and pay people off. A number of other identifiable options might be of assistance to our fishing community and we need to give thought to that.

Whenever I have met representatives of fishing organisations or seen them appear before the Oireachtas committee, they stress they do not want to be paid to give up their livelihood, something that is probably true of us all. They do not want to be paid off essentially. They want to be able to do what their families have been doing for generations. While some will accept a decommissioning deal if it is on offer, it is not because they want to abandon their sector but because they feel their Government has abandoned them. There is a fundamental problem in our approach to this issue. Historically, Irish Governments have accepted that fisheries was a battle they could not win. Too much of this has been left in the hands of a small number of officials. We have not had a political grasp on our fisheries sector for quite some time.

Last year, I asked the Minister if he agreed with me that this issue was so profound that we needed a Minister of State with responsibility for the marine. He argued that it is so important that it should be on the senior Minister's desk. With due respect to him, we have seen nothing that indicates he has given this the level of priority that it needs within government. As Opposition spokesperson on agriculture, food and the marine, I have seen that the areas relating to agriculture and food are so profound and important that it is impossible for me to stay fully on top of that and, at the same time, deal with what is potentially the most complex issue in any Department.

We have a Minister of State with responsibility for organics and forestry - matters that should be on the Minister's desk and over which he should have control. I would argue that it will be much more appropriate to have a Minister with direct responsibilities for fisheries. We can see the evidence in the contributions from Deputy Mac Lochlainn today. It makes a difference when somebody is working continually on the issue, knowing the issues inside out, meeting people from the sector every day, engaging with them and finding solutions. This results in the articulation of policies that will make a difference.

This is not a personal attack on the Minister. I do not think anybody has the capacity to deal with the complexities of issues in both farming and fishing. We need to have a Minister with political responsibility and somebody who has the political strength within government to bring this to the heart of government negotiations. We need fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which has absolutely failed Ireland.

However, here is the twist. I accept that if we go into a room where the Common Fisheries Policy alone is being discussed, we will not get agreement among other member states for the type of reform that is required. Most other member states have been laughing at Ireland's position since the 1970s. The only way we will get the type of reform needed is if this is brought into the heart of the European negotiations on every budget, every treaty change, every proposal on financial services or whatever the case may be. Ireland needs to set out as a political priority for our membership and within our membership of the European Union that if we want to see progress and developments at an EU level, fundamental to that must be a change to the fishing policy. That needs to be led by the Head of Government as well as by a collective move by the Government. The only way that can happen is if there is the political realisation that change needs to happen and I am not convinced that that realisation has yet happened.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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As the Minister is aware, our fishing industry makes a significant contribution to the economic and social fabric of many small communities located around our coastline, not least in the coastal area of my home county of Mayo. Every day of the week, people in the fishing industry tell me they feel let down and abandoned. Sinn Féin fully recognises the importance of co-operation at an international level, predominantly through the EU, for the sustainable management of fish stocks.

That said, the current Common Fisheries Policy is a terrible deal for Ireland and always has been. This has been the result of a litany of historical failures by successive Governments to secure a fair deal for our fishing sector. This has been compounded by the disaster of the recent Brexit trade and co-operation agreement, as the Minister knows. The agreement saw €199 million worth of EU-wide quota transferred back to Britain. Approximately €43 million, essentially a quarter of the total, came at the expense of the fishing sector in this State.

The sector lost 15% of its total quota.

The European Commission is in the process of conducting the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which will be presented to the European Council and parliament at the end of next year. It is vitally important that there is substantial reform, but how can the sector trust the Government given its track record? That is what people are asking me. I know a meeting has been arranged for tomorrow morning at which the Government does not want any outside voices. This is very disappointing because we need to work together in order to sort this out for the sake of our coastal communities. That is what fishermen along our coast and certainly those along the Mayo coast expect from us.

The seafood task force was established to make recommendations to the Minister on measures to mitigate the impacts on the fishing industry of fish quota share reductions arising from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The report refers to the longer term fleet restructuring measures through the voluntary permanent cessation schemes, including the inshore sectors. I want to balance recognising how important the fishing industry is with also recognising how underdeveloped it is by international standards. The fishing fleet operating in Mayo is predominantly the inshore fleet. While short-term supports for voluntary cessation may be necessary, the idea that the long-term solution is to downsize this sector in Mayo is completely unacceptable. The fishing industry provides and essential source of income for many people in communities along the coast of Mayo, and fishing is one of the few jobs that sustained communities throughout the tough times. When a State reduces its fleet, it takes a retrograde step. This is the third time decommissioning has been introduced. Fishermen want to fish. They do not want tie-up schemes or decommissioning; they want quotas to be allowed and to be allowed to do the job they love. They feel totally abandoned and let down by successive Irish Governments, and they want a fairer distribution.

We need to implement the recommendations of the final report for the very survival of fishing and coastal communities, but this cannot be the end of it. Unless there is a fairer, more balanced and viable approach our communities will be decimated. We need a fairer quota system. This is not only about the overall quota system, but how it is distributed as well. We need to know, in the context of places like Erris where there are no processing plants - which is a failure of the Government - how that money will be spent. Can it be spent on piers, infrastructure and other areas? Article 16, on how quota is divided, is not being implemented properly in Ireland. We have 1,500 vessels of which less than 50 have mackerel entitlements. One medium vessel has an allocation equal to 1,000 smaller vessels. That is not right. The unfair distribution of the quota as it stands must be looked at.

I hope the Minister will take from today's debate what is need for the coastal communities, because the coastal communities and the fishermen in County Mayo feel completely abandoned by this Government. They will not be put off by meetings with no opposition present and no hard questions being asked. We have a responsibility to work together. The Minister has a responsibility in government. Sinn Féin's spokesperson, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, has done Trojan work on this. We want to work with the Minister. We want to get it right, not just for now but for ten and 20 years' time and into future generations.

1:55 pm

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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One of the things that sticks out in this report and the Common Fisheries Policy is the phrase "level playing field". Where is this mythical level playing field when it comes to the Irish fishing fleet? No other nation had imposed upon it a 15% reduction in its fishing quotas, which will lead to the loss of up to €43 million per year. No other nation was asked to decommission a major portion of its fleet. No other nation was offered a voluntary tie-up scheme. A funding scheme is not the answer to fishers who, over decades, have built their modern fleets, their small prosperous coastal communities and provided the country with an industry valued at €1.22 billion per annum and employing more than 16,000 people.

The pretext is the premise that this will somehow reduce the number of fish caught and balance the books. All the while, Belgium, France and Spain are substantially investing in and adding to their fleets with modern super-trawlers being constructed as we speak. While we, once again, sacrifice our country's natural resources, we are allowing other countries to fish with impunity and receive all the benefits of the lucrative global superfood product.

As the saying goes, there is no use in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. I hope and pray this is not the case here. It is in the Minister's hands, as the representative of the fishers of Ireland, to ensure burden sharing is proportionate to the quota transfers across the board. It has not gone unnoticed that Britain's first move in the Brexit negotiations was to stake its claim on territorial waters and use its fishing fleet as a trump card and for major bargaining leverage in the negotiations. It has not gone unnoticed that the 15% reduction in quotas has left our industry in a most disadvantaged place. This must be addressed and rectified in the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which is due to be completed by 31 December 2022.

A full and comprehensive plan must be deployed and acted upon to protect what we have and to invest and grow our fishing aquaculture and processing industry in a responsible and sustainable way. These are valuable assets that belong to and enrich our nation. I find it incomprehensible when I see the future of fishers being bought off, with processors closing and job losses in order to facilitate France, Spain, Belgium and others reaping the rewards of our fishing waters for many years to come. Meanwhile our fishing boats are decommissioned and tied to the piers. I implore all stakeholders to put forward their case in a strong and bold manner, because the clock is ticking and there is no time to lose. The stakes are high for the sustainability and future of our fishing communities, including in Kilmore, Rosslare, Slade and Duncannon in my home county of Wexford.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The report sets out the stark reality facing the Irish fishing sector, which is in the eye of the storm that is Brexit. In the hundreds of headlines and news reports on Brexit, fishing is not mentioned enough. Despite the massive impact of the ongoing change, coastal and island communities' livelihoods depend on the sea and they are often overlooked. The Irish fleet has lost more than 15% of its annual quota, which is compounded by supply chain disruption to and from the UK as well as transport links with continental Europe.

The key issue here is one of imbalance. The report highlights the imbalances between fleet capacity and resource availability as a result of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. There is also the imbalance in the distribution of the decreasing Irish quota with the inshore sector getting disgracefully low allowances in some cases. Brexit is an incredible challenge for the fishing and seafood sector, but now all we can do is see it as an opportunity to recognise and set out policies that will guarantee the sustainability of coastal and island communities.

Our fishing quota is a public resource. It has to be distributed equitably between smaller vessels and operators as well as large players. Any schemes or measures to counter the Brexit impact cannot be allowed to reinforce current imbalances. The loss of fishing opportunities is felt by all fishers, and any response must recognise this and adjust historical and existing disparities. The closure of the artisan hook and line fishery for mackerel for vessels under 15 m in length in June is a clear example of the inequality. The 2% of the quota assigned to the inshore sector ran out halfway through the year, leaving more than 2,000 boats - almost 2,000 families - without access to this type of fishing. At the same time, 98% of that quota is allocated to just 49 boats. I raised this injustice with the Minister in June, and nothing happened. Since then, the smallest of vessels, which were just trying to getting by, were not permitted to catch even a few dozen mackerel to sell at the likes of a farmers' market using a fishing method which, as we all know, is probably the most environmentally friendly of all. Why is our fishing regime set up to benefit a few big players and not the majority of fishers? This is similar to our agriculture policy and pretty much like our housing and health policies. The same story unfolds.

This policy choice also conflicts with Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy, which states that the allocation of quota must be based on "environmental, social and economic" benefits. Where is the evidence of that in Ireland's policy? The preamble to the policy specifically states "Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper." Our inshore fisheries are more environmentally friendly. They practise the kind of fishing that has been found in coastal and island communities for centuries. This is where the vast majority of employment in the sector is. This is the segment that should get the most support. It should get at least a fair allocation of quotas and funding.

The submission of the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, now a producer organisation, PO, makes very clear recommendations which need to be met if the Minister and the Department are serious and genuine about supporting inshore fishers. These recommendations include a flat-rate payment for all registered vessels of 12 m or less. The submission also recommends that vessels of between 12 m and 18 m which do not qualify for supports under other Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR, measures should be supported under a similar scheme. It also says that the issue of access to fishing opportunities by the national fleet should be examined through a formal public consultation in light of the decreases in quota. These are also sensible and important actions the Government can and should take.

Piers and marine infrastructure are vital in facilitating the seafood sector. I welcome the report’s acknowledgment of this. It states that ‘"Public Marine Infrastructure (Piers, Slipways, Pontoons etc) is a critical enabler to maximising the use of and benefits to be gained from our rich marine resources" and recommends an €80 million, five-year initiative for the development of these features. This is not only vital and necessary funding, but it will also reap multiple benefits for the fishing, recreation and tourism sectors, which will generate considerably more for local economies. However, this funding must be in addition to existing investment in piers and slipways because, as everyone who is from a coastal area will know, current resources for this area are vastly inadequate and the Government needs to recognise this and provide fresh investment rather than relabel existing measures. I hope that makes sense.

I have continually raised the need to fund our small piers as vital infrastructure for inshore fishing. A pier in a bay or on an island can support ten or 20 families and can keep people in rural areas and on our islands. In west Cork, there are a great many examples of piers like this. Many people fish off them, creating employment. The likes of Dunmanus, Colla, Durrus, Allihies, and Turk Head - I could list more - all need investment. Too many small piers dotted around our coastline and islands are falling into disrepair and lack basic amenities like slipways.

Islands must also be recognised in this category. They require basic infrastructure if they are to participate effectively in a sustainable fishing industry into the future. The Minister needs to support the development of a network of onshore infrastructure on the offshore islands to facilitate the island fishing fleet and shore-based seafood collectors. Given the limited range of small vessels and their vulnerability to weather conditions, offshore islands should be equipped with combined landing, storage, processing and retail units to facilitate short fishery supply chains and the adding of value to catches.

The task force outlines the case for investment in public marine infrastructure. The Government needs to implement this and ensure that small piers and islands get the investment they desperately need. I have spoken to the Minister about this but, when I was on Cork County Council, the coastal management committee ended up talking about how to get more funding rather than about what projects in Cork needed funding because there was no money there for them. There is no point in everybody going in and fighting for their own local pier. There needs to be funding for more of them.

Different representative organisations have also raised concerns that must be addressed. The Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance has highlighted the lack of clarity regarding how many of the recommended measures will come from the EU Brexit fund. There is also confusion as to whether those applying for decommissioning will have to refund any tie-up scheme payments they received. In addition, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation has pointed out the inadequacies of the proposed decommissioning scheme.

This discussion is not only about seafood, but about the future of our coastal and island communities as a whole. It is about families and whole cohorts who are dependent on this sector, including those involved in culinary and environmental tourism. There is a glaring need for a citizens' assembly on our maritime future. The legislative framework around marine planning and development is rapidly changing with vastly insufficient input from the communities affected. Brexit has now underscored the inequities of our quota and funding allocations. We are still awaiting an offshore islands policy and massive sections of marine zones are going to become protected areas. We need to have a clear understanding of how this all fits together. We need to have a vision for the future of our coast. I urge the Government to convene a citizens' assembly on this in the next year.

The seafood sector task force’s report is an enormous opportunity to set out a fairer policy which recognises the inshore sector and supports coastal and island communities. It is now up to the Government to make that happen.

2:05 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I agree with an awful lot of what has been said. We are dealing with the final report of the seafood task force. It lays out starkly the position of the fishing industry and the communities that lie behind it. We have had many reports on many issues over many years but we have not necessarily done anything other than bind them and present them well. We have not always done the business or carried out the required due diligence. There are fishing communities across this island, including in Clogherhead and other areas in my constituency. The Minister has had a number of interactions with fishermen and realises, or at least has been told about, the difficulties they are dealing with. We know what we could be looking at. That has already been said. I am talking about reductions in the fleet. Brexit is the gift that never stops giving and following the trade and co-operation agreement, our share of quota has been reduced by 15%. Only 30% of fish landed in Irish territorial waters go to the Irish fishing industry. We have great difficulties in this regard.

We have three major asks in respect of this report. The first is that too much of a burden is being put on the Irish fishing industry. There are also very significant issues in respect of financing, funding streams and the rules around them. We need these to be updated and we need a system that is fit for purpose. Beyond that, we are dealing with a third issue, the most major one of all. I have heard a term used here. I have used it myself and I am going to use it again. With regard to the Common Fisheries Policy, the Brexit negotiations and the trade and co-operation agreement, we see that once again the Irish fishing industry is the whipping boy. It was not sufficiently defended and it is now feeling the pain. We started from a bad place and ended up with a reduction of 15% in the quota. When the opportunity arises as quotas and the Common Fisheries Policy are renegotiated, we need to invest greatly to ensure delivery. Of course, there are many people who will want to avail of particular funding as regards decommissioning and so on. That is fine but we need to look at the fishing industry overall. We need to ensure it is able to deliver a stream of healthy food for us into the future. Even beyond that, we need to look at the positive impact the fishing industry has had in our communities.

It would be very difficult to talk about this and the whole issue of Brexit without noting the utter madness of a British Government which, I think it is fair to say, does not care at all about Ireland. That is the only view we can take.

We have the absolute madness now that we could be talking about new British immigration laws that might see non-Irish EU citizens living in the South needing to apply online for pre-travel clearance to cross the Border. This could be a matter of them crossing the Border to get to work and then crossing back. They would be leaving from the South to then end up back in the South. It is utterly unworkable and it once again shows how Britain in any of its determinations and negotiations concerning Brexit does not care in any way, shape or form about Ireland or the North. It only cares about that aspect as a pawn. This is an issue that we must be solid and firm about. I also brought this issue up yesterday with Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič. I refer to the impact this will have in future. It is fair to say that everybody here agrees that we must be solid. The Irish protocol is the only show in town and there can be no return of a hard Border.

To return to the issue at hand, we have an opportunity now to follow through concerning the report from this task force, and first and foremost is a renegotiation of the CFP.

2:15 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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The issues facing our fishing industry are many. It would be impossible to mention or discuss all the problems that fishermen have raised with me in the context of this report, but I will do my best.

Looking at the executive summary of the seafood task force report, a couple of paragraphs jumped out at me. These state that:

The Irish seafood sector is, in many ways, ‘in the eye of the storm’. It has been shaped by the common experience of EU membership, alongside the UK, since both joined the EC, as it then was, in 1973. Irish boats fished the shared waters in the English Channel or off Scotland and Killybegs trawlers became familiar sights in ports such as Ullapool and Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands. The Brexit/TCA deal has brought a sudden and dramatic shift in the landscape for the entire Irish seafood sector, in a number of respects: - Irish fleet has lost access to 15% of its annual quota, mainly affecting pelagic stocks, prawns (Nephrops)and whitefish stocks such as megrim, monkfish and haddock

- Irish seafood exports to UK, a key market, worth €80 million pre-Brexit, are impacted

- Irish seafood imports from UK (worth €219 million in 2018), a key input to the Irish retail and processing supply chain, have been disrupted

- Vital seafood export routes, primarily the ’land-bridge’ via the UK, have been curtailed

- Established Irish/UK links at scientific and policy levels in EU and ICES have been lost.

The key question arising, of course, is what are we going to do about this situation and how are we going to protect our fishing industry from further harm and devastation. "Burden sharing" is a phase often spoken when it comes to fishing. It is such an apt name, because so many burdens have been placed on the Irish fishing sector. It is not reward sharing, but burden sharing. Surely the spirit of the EU is to help people and not to place burdens on them. The Common Fisheries Policy is an outdated, severe burden on our Irish fishers. To quote again from the report:

"[...] Ireland contributed about 15% of the total value of our total 2020 fisheries quota to the Agreement. Proportionally, this is substantially more than that of any other Member State impacted by the TCA".

Again, we see that it is the Irish fishers who pay the heaviest price. The Government owes it to the Irish fishing industry to do all that it can to create the conditions for our fishing industry to thrive. We made many concessions to get an EU agreement over the line. Our fishermen were neglected. The unlevel playing field is another major concern of fishermen that I have mentioned previously in debates here concerning the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021. Some of what I said then needs to be repeated, because it is still causing significant anger among those in the industry and, moreover, particularly in our Wexford ports. Irish people who commit infringements in Irish waters will have penalty points applied by the Irish authorities. Yet, when foreign masters commit infringements in Irish waters, they will not have penalty points applied by the Irish authorities. All we can do is to notify the authorities in their countries of origin. That is if they were to be an inspected at all. We should have the opportunity to police our waters as we see fit, rather than only being able to refer offences to the authorities in other jurisdictions. It is a fundamental issue of sovereignty over our affairs. While Ireland has seen many benefits from our membership of the EU, our sovereignty over things such as our fishing rights has been steadily eroded to the detriment of Irish fishers.

We do not have a level playing field. It seems that we are not currently able to police our waters and we do not have the right to punish offenders in our waters, which is a concerning state of affairs. There is an urgent need for a review of the Common Fisheries Policy, if ever these issues are to be dealt with to deliver a policy for how we fish today and not 50 years ago. The report states that:

The Minister has set down that Ireland is seeking a comprehensive review, to inform a full reform of the current policy. He has made clear that the CFP review must take stock of the disproportionate impacts imposed on the Irish fishing industry by Brexit and the TCA. He also made clear that Ireland will be seeking to address the imbalance in the quota transfers [of] the TCA.

I have heard him say that myself. I welcome the news and I sincerely hope it is not an empty promise on his behalf. We must stand firm on this issue during negotiations and debates. I wish the Minister well in this work because the fishing sector is absolutely relying on him. All Irish fishers want a fair deal and a level playing field to allow the sector to be sustainable.

From 1 April 2021, certain Irish fishing boats, many based in County Wexford, have not been allowed to land their catches in UK ports. They have had to use EU ports instead, adding extra time and cost to their journeys, including hundreds of extra nautical miles and kilometres, plus the added costs of getting their catches back to Ireland. They have to do that to earn their living and to help their communities to survive, with added risk to life and limb. It also results in greater levels of emissions, which the Government seems only to be concerned with at some level. This burden of not being able to land catches in UK ports would not have been quite as bad except that we offered five extra landing ports in Ireland to facilitate foreign-registered fishing vessels landing catches here. Therefore, we bent over backwards to accommodate people we have no responsibility for. Yet, our fishermen feel cast to one side.

I also wish to raise the issue of salmon drift net fishing. This is a forgotten sector and one I discussed briefly with the Minister. In 2005, the sector was effectively closed down using the guise of protecting fish stocks. In 2006, a €25 million decommissioning scheme, or hardship scheme, was introduced. Only those who agreed not to reapply for their licences were compensated for their loss of livelihood. A response to a parliamentary question that I submitted a few weeks ago said that 1,046 licence holders had availed of that scheme. A number of licence holders had decided against applying for the scheme, as they wanted to be able to resume fishing in the future, as many had done for decades beforehand. They were assured that they could do so. Now, 16 years later, they still have not been allowed to resume their fishing activity. In some instances, people have been stripped of their livelihoods and prevented from engaging in salmon drift net fishing for 16 years.

The Government has a responsibility to these people. The response to my parliamentary question stated that only 79 people still had active licences in 2021. That might be a relatively small number, but those are 79 people without the opportunity to earn a living from salmon drift net fishing. The situation has impacted far more than just those 79 people holding the licences, however. It has also impacted their families, if we take into account that at one point this activity provided those people’s livelihoods.

This fishing has been banned for a period that has been extremely long and that could not have been unforeseen. I can only assume that in 2005 it was expected to last for possibly a year or two. Now that there are only 79 licence holders, can we not reinstate their right to fish? If we are not going to do that, we have to compensate them. Fair is fair. When the fishing was stopped for these people, there were well over 1,100 licences active and now there are only 79. They deserve better from Government than to be just cast aside and ignored. It is their opinion that Government does not care as these are only 79 votes. I do not wish to believe that we would cast any group aside because of a vote. I ask the Minister to consider how we would deal with the 79 licence holders going forward. If resumption of the fishing is not possible, a hardship scheme should be reintroduced to take care of that.

2:25 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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One of the major recommendations from the task force interim report is that a month-long voluntary temporary cessation scheme would be offered to 220 whitefish vessels impacted by the quota reductions in the period from September to December. Fishermen have been raising their concerns about their industry since long before the Brexit trade deal was signed prior to Christmas 2020. All concerns put forward by the entire sector have been ignored by the Minister. The Minister's actions have seriously disadvantaged the Irish fishing sector. This has been compounded by the EU ruling that means fish need to be weighed on piers.

The greatest thing that is required for the fishing industry is for the Government to develop a backbone and a willingness to fight at European level to save it from being decimated. That is the one element that has been consistently missing over the last 48 years of our membership of the EU. Successive Governments have been completely subservient to every rule, regulation or guideline that has ever come from the European Union. Successive Governments have failed to recognise the true potential of the Irish fishing industry.

The seafood task force report is a complete distraction from the real impacts of Brexit. It is a deeply cynical move for the Government that failed the sector during the Brexit negotiations to compound its failings further by seeking to decommission large portions of the Irish fleet. All talk now is about burden sharing. Where was the talk about burden sharing 12 months ago and a year and a half ago? The Brexit trade deal must be revisited. The Common Fisheries Policy which is up for renewal shortly must be used to get a better deal for Irish fishers.

Under this Minister's policy on fisheries, some boats are tied up for long periods due to a lack of quota. Bigger boats could be tied up six months of the year now. The same Minister wants to put fishermen and fisherwomen completely out of existence via this report's recommendations. The Brexit deal and the withdrawal of the weighing derogation were two straws that really broke the camel's back within the Irish fishing sector. Brexit took away 15% of our already minimal quotas. That is a really hard blow to the industry. It equated to 25% of the industry's income. Every year for evermore those fish are gone to the UK around the Irish coast. We only have 7.5% of monkfish quota and 3% of hake so it is very low. The EU granted €199 million worth of fish to the UK as part of the Brexit trade deal and out of that Ireland had to give €43 million worth of fish. We consider that to be desperately unfair. The sector is being slashed by an annual cut of at least €43 million simply due to Government sell-out. This will impact the sector every single year. My colleagues in the Rural Independents Group and I highlighted this earlier in the year.

The evidence illustrates that our fisheries Minister and the Government blindly allowed Brussels to give away Irish fishing quota during crucial Brexit negotiations. In doing so, they have betrayed not only the sector and coastal communities but the entire country. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, sold the Irish fishing industry out during the Brexit negotiations. When I raised these issues in the Dáil on numerous occasions this year and last with the Taoiseach, his response was flabbergasting and deflective in nature. He chose to take a defensive and elusive tone which lacked any acknowledgement of the extent of the destruction by this Government of the Irish fishing sector. The Taoiseach's response clearly indicates a deep and uncaring lack of understanding for the sector. This was previously demonstrated when he signed into law a highly destructive penalty points system when he was caretaker Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in August 2020. Replies I have obtained to a series of parliamentary questions confirm that the Government blindly supported the EU negotiators and mandate in the context of the Brexit negotiations. This provides infuriating confirmation that the Irish fishing industry must now pay the price for our Government opting to toe the Brussels line in the Brexit negotiations.

The shocking utter lack of engagement and dialogue with the EU side on behalf of the Irish fisheries sector by the Minister in the months leading up to the Brexit deal is now glaringly obvious. In fact, at his first meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 21 September 2020, the Minister failed to raise the Irish sector's pre-Brexit concerns. At his second meeting on 19 and 20 October 2020, he again failed to table or raise discussions on the Brexit fisheries implications for Ireland. Instead he chose to engage in a rather meaningless three-way bilateral meeting with fisheries Ministers from France, Denmark and Netherlands. At his third EU fisheries meeting on 16 November 2020 no fisheries items whatsoever were raised. One would be forgiven for wondering what was being discussed at such fisheries meetings. Further meetings attended by the Minister on 27 November and 15 and 16 December, at which the Brexit fisheries elements were discussed, point to the Minister acting as a protector of European quota interests rather than a protector of the Irish share of the quota. This new information serves to illustrate the complete blindness with which the Minister and the Government trusted the EU negotiators. It also illustrates that the Minister and the Government strategically chose not to stand up for Irish fishing interests and instead sought praise from the Brussels elite. Sadly, this was at a time when Irish fishermen were depending solely on the Government to protect their interests.

In an overall context, data from Dublin City University indicates that Ireland's share of the total fish catch in the Irish maritime zone is only 15% or 16%. This means that the other 85% is caught by foreign vessels. The Brexit fisheries deal means that Irish vessels are hit with massive quota reductions in neighbouring UK waters while other EU countries got sweet deals. Despite the fact that foreign vessels continue to extract 85% of fish from Irish waters we now have a Government that is hell bent on forging ahead with a wide-scale decommissioning of the Irish fleet, dressed up as some sort of a review process and contained within this report. It is telling that none of the Minister's colleagues from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party are here today to back the Minister up on this stingy deal for the Irish fishermen. Decommission them, get rid of them. That is the plan. All the while, foreign vessels will be allowed to continue fishing our waters. It is no wonder Irish fishing and coastal communities feel let down by the Government. The sector was only seeking a fair distribution of quota, nothing more and nothing less. They were betrayed in that request.

The Government should have made a decision to adopt a much tougher stance during the Brexit negotiations. The Taoiseach failed miserably to clarify why he and his Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine chose to let the Irish fishing sector down. This arrogant and aloof attitude cannot be tolerated as it is destroying the livelihoods of our fishermen and fisherwomen while also destroying coastal communities. It has us now on our knees with a begging bowl in front of Europe. The only solution being offered by the Government is a public relations exercise dressed up as a pathetic review after the fact. This review has one long-term objective, to decommission a large volume of Irish vessels. As a Deputy who has consistently stood shoulder to shoulder with our fishing industry, I will not be accepting this hoodwinking approach. I will continue to fight every day for our fishermen and fisherwomen. I am again calling on the Minister and the Taoiseach to go back to Brussels and seek a greater share of the quota for the Irish fishing vessels, currently 15% or 16% of the Irish maritime zone, in order to make up for the mess created by their own inaction. Failure by the Government to heed this call will result in a decommissioned Irish fleet and almost all fish in Irish waters being caught by foreign vessels due to lazy policies by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and his Minister and Deputies with the support of Fine Gael and the Green Party.

What are the species landed by the Irish fleet that make up the 35% of landings the Minister spoke about earlier? Does he know how many tonnes this amounts to? Is he telling us the full amount caught in Irish waters by every fishing boat of the EU was 300,000 tonnes when the Marine Institute says 3.7 million tonnes were caught by EU vessels in 2020? We have less than 1% of the fish caught in Europe.

Whoever wrote the Minister's report and speech should be retired. Is he aware that the European Commission has written to the SFPA asking about breaches of landing obligations? It is threatening to withdraw millions in funding for our national Naval Service. Is there anyone listening to the industry calling for a level playing pitch? Why are foreign boats sailing in and out of our ports with little or no monitoring of their activities when our fishermen will soon be putting some seats into their boats for the inspectors because there are so many on board so often? We lost access to Rockall, and €5 million worth of squid are gone. Where has the Minister covered this in his report? An additional one-month tie-up is being proposed, which means no fishing and no earnings from other species. This is of little or no help.

There are many issues I could address. The inshore sector has also been badly hit and is on its knees. Coastal and island communities will be hit badly. Nothing can compensate people for losing their livelihood. I refer to people who have fished the sea day and night and went out in rough times to put food on people's plates in this country. No Deputies from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Greens showed up here today. That is a scandalous sign, and it is a scandalous statement by them that they do not support what the Minister is putting before us today. I certainly do not.

2:35 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. I am not going to claim I am as knowledgeable about fishing as many who live in coastal areas. My analysis is that much of what is happening has been driven by bad EU policy down through the years. It seems that the EU, as a combination of nations, wants the big monopoly to do everything. One time a builder could go to the council and tender for three, four or five houses and build them; now, if an area is being developed, the builder's bonds and turnover will not be big enough. Unless you are a big builder getting funding from somewhere abroad, meaning you have the necessary turnover, you are not considered. The HSE has gone down the same road. It wants one supplier to do all - the big guru that will have it all. Regarding roads right around the country, the thresholds related to turnover are quite unbelievable. Consider the case of Irish Water. Regarding group water schemes, we used to have a saying down the country that a tractor, transport box, digger and a couple of people would do the job. Now people are given a region and if their turnover is not big enough for it, even though they might have done the job down through the years for 100 or 150 houses, they are regarded as too small. They are being shoved into a corner as subbies, and they have to sub off those who are able to control a whole area. It appears that the EU, in all its legislation, wants bodies to be dealing with one person. The job goes out to tender, a decision is made on turnover, and then it is a case of bye-bye. The sad reality of this, no more than in the fishing sector, is that we had companies that came from Spain and other parts of the world to tender for work here. Some of the outcomes were not very favourable. The practice leaves Irish people scratching their heads.

When I hear about fishing, the Brexit deal and some of the proposals, decommissioning comes to mind. Decommissioning is taking people away from the work they were doing, to put it very simply. People have to sell their boats and are offered a few measly pounds. It reminds me of the time of the beet issue in Ireland, when farmers were sold a pup, to put it very clearly. Why are we, as a country, constantly stopping things that give people a living and then saying, with hindsight, that we should never have done so as it left us exposed? Let me give a case in point. In Europe, we are like a little bird within the nest with our beak open because we are waiting for gas so we will not perish to death. It is the same with fertiliser. We are relying on countries that are sparring with the likes of Russia. They are trying to kick Russia in the mouth but, at the same time, we want their gas. Tariffs are put on things. The whole exercise by the EU has to be questioned. The only area where the penny might have dropped for it is the farming sector. I have said before that I support the Minister on convergence, but in 2000 or 1999 it was a matter of punching as many bullocks as you could, at nine months and 18 months. The more land and bullocks you had, the bigger your payment was, but the small fellow or lady with a few cows on ten, 20, 30 or 40 acres did not have the money to do this and ended up at the bottom of the ladder. That is why we have lost so many farmers in the farming sector. It became unviable for the poor devils. The EU now seems to be driving towards having one big commercial operator, farmer, fisherman and builder. The aim is to have one in each sector so that when invoices come in, you do not have to be looking at 40 little subbies torturing you or ringing you; you just look at one. That is not the way to build communities.

When the EU started off, it was a community, the greatest thing that ever was. However, we seem to be heading towards what it calls fiscal union. It is like marriage; it is either love or divorce, one or the other. The EU needs to have a ferocious rethink. Ireland has the biggest area of fishing waters in Europe but we seem to have got the worst deal. I am not referring to the Minister's time but to when the deal was being divvied out. We got a ferociously bad deal. Now, with Brexit and the tightening that is coming, other countries are also looking for the few fish left in the waters we are talking about. We are blocked from going over to theirs, so our people fishing in our waters for our fish are the big losers.

Let me outline the sad part. I am no expert in fishing but watch what is going on. I watched a ship that came from Australia to fish in our waters. I would say it would gulp more in 15 minutes than 200 fishing boats that we would have going out from our little ports. The difference is that the 200 little fishing boats that go out from our little ports involve 200 families that are living in 200 areas and helping 200 communities and others in business. We do not seem to get this into our heads. I hate to hear the word "decommission". Consider the likes of Bord na Móna and the palaver and PR that comes out - I call it the BS - about having created this, that and the other. We should compare the number of people working seven years ago with the number working today. It is by doing this that you add up whether people are better or worse off, not by saying we have such a thing coming in, that we are going to re-wet this and do this, that and the other. It is absolute BS. What the gurus can say in the media is unbelievable.

We have to stand up for the Irish fisherpeople. I was talking to Deputy Cairns yesterday evening. She is from a fishing area with small fishing boats. She said the fisherpeople never got the infrastructure needed in their area to help them. We should make sure that we provide the smaller communities - be they in Donegal, Kinsale or Wexford, or at any of the other ports - with the infrastructure they need to do what they can.

I listened to Deputy Michael Collins talk about putting in extra seats. It is a damnable thing to have to put in a seat in a boat for someone else to join you basically to shaft you. We have to stand up for rural communities on the periphery. They are on the coast. They are as important as anyone else in any other part of Ireland. We have to watch that Europe does not try to bully us into doing a horse deal on something: "Do you sacrifice one thing for the other?" I know there will always be trading, but it is a sad day when we own the biggest area of fishing water in Europe and we come out with the worst part of the deal. Everyone welcomes new technology, but you must liaise with and work with people. I have seen lobster pots and so on in respect of which cables are brought in. Basically, those fishers were told, "You have to get out of the way or we will drive through you." That is no way to work with people who have been in communities for years and years. Some of these foreign ministers barely have a pond in their area, not to mind a bit of sea. They should not be entitled to make decisions for us, given that we have such a big fishing area. We have a common travel area for flying with the Brits, and I am damn sure we can do something ourselves, whatever about Europe. I have always believed that people should look after their own and let the rest look after themselves. That is my honest opinion. We need to make sure we look after our fishermen and fisherwomen around the country.

2:45 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all the speakers for their contributions to this very important debate. It is obviously an important time and has been a crucial year for our fishing sector. It was a very difficult year for our fishermen, coming out of the impact of the Brexit agreement. It was really important we had this debate to discuss the sea fisheries task force report, which was presented to me in October, and to get Deputies' views on it. I thank the Sinn Féin Deputies who contributed and Deputies Holly Cairns, Verona Murphy, Michael Collins and Michael Fitzmaurice.

I will make a couple of points overall about the contributions. A number of Sinn Féin Deputies spoke, and even after all that time and all those contributions, I am still none the wiser as to whether Sinn Féin supports the sea fisheries task force report or does not. I have no idea. I listened carefully to all the contributions and I have not a clue what its position is. I do not think the Sinn Féin Deputies themselves know. It certainly will not have been clear to anyone listening in to the debate. They might clarify that in due course. My objective over the past year, and indeed in advance of Brexit, has been to support our fishers in every way possible. I have been fully supported in that by my Government colleagues both in advance of Brexit, in protecting us against the threat it posed, a very fundamental threat to fishers' livelihoods and, subsequently, in respect of the damage that agreement did. We all knew the threat that Brexit posed to our fishing sector. It was never going to be a good story. It was always about protecting the sector in every way we could against it. I find it ironic that Sinn Féin Deputies have stood up this evening to talk about standing up for fishermen and working hard for fishermen when I think back to when Brexit was happening. As the House will recall, the Brexit deal finally happened on Christmas Eve last year, on Thursday, 24 December. I remember that the previous weekend the news broke as to what could be in the deal from a fisheries point of view and how damaging it might be. Very significant efforts were going on within the Government to push back on that. I remember that afterwards, on Christmas Day, our officials were working in Brussels dealing with the outcome of the agreement. I remember that on the following day, St. Stephen's Day, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I met with fisher representatives to discuss the stark implications of the agreement for us. Despite members of the Sinn Féin Party now talking about standing up for fishermen, there was over that period not a word out of them on fishing, despite the fundamental moment that was for our fishing sector. We as a Government were standing up in every way we could. There was not a word out of them. They say that the weekend before Christmas it became clear what the implications might be - not a word. On Christmas Eve - not a word. It was into the new year before there was any comment from a Sinn Féin spokesperson about the impact Brexit would have on fishing. Yet once the water calmed and the storm passed and once it was safe to come back out, they were out talking about standing up for fishermen again. It is therefore a little ironic to listen to their comments now when they were nowhere to be seen at that pivotal moment.

At least Deputy Collins was absolutely clear that he does not support the task force report. The report was put together by stakeholders, that is, by fishers themselves. It is a pivotal moment for our fishing sector. I brought together the fishing stakeholders to advise me as Minister on how we as a Government could best support the fishing sector to address the implications of Brexit, fight at European level on its behalf and address the implications to come out of that in respect of the impact on quotas. Those fishing stakeholders, including fisher representatives and co-operative representatives, have put together this report and these many recommendations advising me and the Government as to how we can best support this sector. I note that Deputy Collins does not support their recommendations and does not support the seafood task force report put together by those same stakeholders whose livelihoods depend on it. At least Deputy Collins is clear on his position in that regard, unlike some other Deputies. However, I thank Deputies across the board for the many contributions.

In establishing the task force earlier this year, I strongly believed that such a once-in-a-generation event as the Trade and Cooperation Agreement required a collective response involving the sectors and communities most affected. For these reasons, as I said, I set up the task force in such a way that there were 17 representatives of the sectors and communities impacted by Brexit on it, together with State enterprise development agencies. I received the final report of the task force on 11 October. I compliment the task force on the exceptional job it did in identifying the impacts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on our fishing fleet and coastal communities and on proposing an integrated plan to mitigate those impacts and set those communities back on a path to prosperity. The report recommends 16 support schemes at a total estimated cost of €423 million. Approximately €300 million of that could potentially be eligible through the BAR. The task force identifies a number of high-level impacts arising from the TCA that I wish to recall.

First, the TCA quota reductions have created an economic imbalance between fleet capacity and fishing opportunities, rendering the whitefish fleet unprofitable. Second, the TCA quota cuts have caused a significant loss of raw material supply to our vibrant seafood processing sector. The loss of that raw material supply to our processors risks these processors losing hard-won markets, risks reducing their profitability and risks loss of employment in coastal communities. Third, while large parts of the inshore sector have not been directly impacted by the quota transfers under the TCA, many have been impacted by route-to-market issues and increased operating costs, which compound other weaknesses in the sector. The combination of impacts from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement risks significant loss of employment and economic value in coastal communities.

Coming out of that, the task force report sets out an integrated plan to mitigate the four core impacts and other consequent effects on the TCA. As discussed, first, on returning the white fish fleet to profitability, there is a proposal in relation to a decommissioning scheme. Second, in supporting the processors with the loss of raw material, there is a proposal on direct investment in seafood processing companies. Third, in addressing the impact on the inshore fleet, there is a recommendation to introduce a decommissioning scheme and assess ways to remove inactive vessels from the inshore fleet. Finally, along with the investment in seafood processors and aquaculture enterprises, there is a proposal to invest to diversify the economies of our coastal communities through a combination of investment in public marine infrastructure and community-led local development through fisheries local action groups, FLAGs.

Overall, the seafood task force report is comprehensive. It deals with this once-in-a-generation impact and outlines and supports how I can take, as I have done, measures at European level to try to improve our quota situation to address the burden sharing outcome of the TCA which has been so impactful and damaging to our sector, and importantly, to invest in our sector to maximise its capacity, to create and maintain employment and to support coastal communities over the next number of years. Once again, I wish to thank Aidan Cotter, chair of the task force; Margaret Daly and Micheál Ó Cinneide, steering group members; and the many stakeholders from our fishing communities and fishing representatives who put in much time and effort and attended full-day meetings on many occasions to put together this comprehensive response, looking at all aspects of how we, as a Government, can support them in the time ahead. I will continue to work my way through the recommendations and will do all I can to support our fishing sector and our fishers, both at European and national levels in the time ahead.

2:55 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I wish to raise a point of order. I wish to clarify that one of the organisations, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, has rejected part of the report on the decommissioning scheme. The Minster has failed to recognise that. I will reject the same part of the report for the same reasons.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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It is a unanimous report.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I ask the Minister to go back to Europe and fight for a quota-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not a point of order, Deputy.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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That is what we need. I want to make that point. It was not made clear that the organisation had rejected that part of the report.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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It is a unanimous report.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Martin Browne wishes to raise a point.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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There is a perfect example of what Government is at here. I was at a committee meeting and we were going by the schedule that had been put in. Ministers are appearing ahead of schedule. That is why I missed my speaking slot. I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle. The Minister talked about Sinn Féin. We have made it quite clear that we are not supporting the report. The Minister can say all he likes that he does not know where Sinn Féin is coming from. For the first five minutes of his speech, he talked more about Sinn Féin than he did about the actual report.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Fair enough.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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We are not supporting any report that is decommissioning one third of the fleet. It is time the Minister and the Government went to Europe and fought for change instead of coming in here and throwing slanderous remarks.