Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
123. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will approve an advance to new fishing producer organisations of up to 50% for the implementation of production and marketing plans approved by the Department to enable timely delivery of these plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16765/22]
This goes right back to the old problem that faced us. With small groups starting off, which comes first - the chicken or the egg? Basically, the European Union recognised that small fishing producer organisations, POs, being set up to go forward with their production and marketing plan, PMP, would need cash upfront and it provided for that in the European regulation. I understand the Department has not been willing or able for whatever reason to make that funding available. As the Minister will be aware, the latest PO to be recognised represents probably the smallest but the one with the greatest employment of people along the coast, and that is the inshore fishermen. What progress can be made to help this group to get off the ground and deliver what it needs to deliver for inshore fishermen?
I thank the Deputy for raising this.
The Department's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, programme is the principal source of funding for the sustainable development of our seafood sector. At this stage, the programme funds are mostly committed and the programme is nearing its end. The new European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund Regulation was adopted in July of last year and work is well advanced on preparing the Department's new seafood development programme, which will bring us up to 2027. I anticipate adoption of that programme later this year.
My Department's EMFF producer organisation scheme provides supports to POs. Part A of the scheme provides supports of up to €55,000 to groups of fisheries or aquaculture producers working to achieve recognition as a produce organisation, while part B of the scheme supports POs that have been recognised by the Department up to a maximum of almost €100,000. The new PO recognised in 2021 did not apply for a grant under part A.
The EU Common Provisions Regulation provides that grants under the EMFF programme may take the form of reimbursement of eligible costs incurred and paid by the beneficiary or, alternatively, through simplified cost options, SCOs, which are essentially fixed grants based on the past grant history of the beneficiary. The new PO recognised in 2021 is only commencing implementation of its first PMP in 2022. In accordance with the EU regulations, that PO will be due for support after submission in 2023 of its annual report and related grant claim and vouching documentation.
I am aware of the tremendous commitment and support the Deputy has given to the islands marine resource organisation PO. It has been a great step forward, in particular, for the inshore sector. It is something I strongly support as well. It will be of benefit to the sector having that extra co-ordination there.
My reply has addressed the supports that are available.
I understand the Article 66 derogation allows for advance payment. Europe foresaw this but this was not included in the scheme for whatever reason previously. I understand the Minister is developing a new scheme for the new period. Would it be possible to include the advance in it?
As the Minister will be aware, it is common across Departments where new organisations are starting to give them an advance. It is repayable if what is meant to be done is not done but it is not uncommon. I cannot imagine that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or anybody would oppose this because, as I said, this is common practice. One could point out many schemes, particularly in the community sector, where these advances are made.
It is not fair on small groups trying to get off the ground. It is an inhibitor to have to come up with the cash upfront and then claim reimbursement.
The Minister knows how difficult it is for small groups such as this to get money from the banks.
Article 66 of the regulation allows the managing authority of the programme a partial derogation from the regulatory requirements, in that a 50% advance may be paid after approval of the PO's PMP. This derogation is not included in the PO scheme, which was approved at the programme's outset by the monitoring committee of stakeholders. The scheme states that only once the marketing plan has been approved by the Department as the competent authority and the annual report for the year concerned is also approved will it be eligible for support under the scheme.
The challenges in providing a 50% advance have to do with how the costs would not be known because of the lack of a previous history. We are developing a new scheme, though. The Deputy has raised an issue and I will have it assessed further in that context.
I understood from the Minister's initial reply that a PO could get it while developing the programme and trying to achieve recognition. It could then get a second grant for implementation. I believe he stated that the organisation we are referring to did not apply for it for the first part, so it has developed a programme and achieved recognition. Presumably it has a PMP, so we know the costings. There is precedent across the State system of upfront payments being made to allow new groups to get off the ground. I sincerely ask the Minister to include this organisation.
I believe he mentioned a figure of €100,000, but we are only discussing 50% of that - €50,000 - and it would only apply to new groups, of which he said there was only one. Therefore, this would not be a case of "Open Sesame" that would bust the Department. Single farm payments and all the other payments being made by the Department dwarf this.
The Minister referred to the monitoring committee, but it comprises those who are already in the tent. There is an awful habit in this country of groups pulling up the drawbridge once they have gone inside. He has to consider the wider interest. I beg him to consider this very small concession. It could be included in the plan and there would not be a large stream of new fish POs.
The success of the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, in obtaining producer status was welcome. Deputy Ó Cuív made a good, practical and important proposal. Any of us who engage with the IIMRO knows that it is an impressive representative and advocate.
This is a critical matter. Speaking as Sinn Féin's fisheries spokesperson, that fishing is central to island communities is the basis on which we engage in the matter. If we can engage with the IIMRO, its plans will be exciting. This is a practical and important request and I ask that the Minister deal with it urgently. It is quickly doable and would ensure the IIMRO's success.
There is a pathway for the likes of inshore fishers, given the regional and national structures available to them. There will be opportunities in that context, but the focus at this moment is on the islands' fishers.
I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for raising this issue and for his advocacy on, and research into, it and the regulation. It is important that we support our new POs in getting established. I have been supportive of the PO in question. It is playing a major role and providing a significant service to inshore fishers and, in particular, island communities. I will assess the Deputies' points and Deputy Ó Cuív's proposal.