Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Inshore Fishing: Motion [Private Members]

 

9:57 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises that: - the Irish inshore fleet comprises approximately 91 per cent of all our fishing vessels, and supports between 2,500 and 3,000 full-time jobs in rural and coastal communities;

- the National Inshore Fishermen's Association, the representative body for the small inshore fishermen in Ireland, have been highlighting their serious concerns regarding the collapse in the processed shrimp market, which is impacting many inshore fishermen;

- in light of the duel dramatic fall in market prices together with rising costs, the inshore fleet, by far the largest sector of the national fleet, is now under extremely severe pressure;

- the collapse in this market is not merely confined to the shrimp market, given that buyers of shrimp for "cooking" generally also purchase velvet crab, another staple of the inshore fleet;

- the generally strong prices available within the shrimp market in the run-up to Christmas are no longer available, which adds a significant financial strain upon the inshore fishermen;

- all inshore fishermen operate within boats that are under 39.3 feet in length, with many using punts of only 16 to 18 feet long, to provide a livelihood for their families, during rough weather, in tough and dangerous conditions;

- already this winter inshore fishermen have had to deal with poorer than usual weather conditions, incorporating strong gales and storms since mid-October, resulting in shorter workable windows of weather in which to operate;

- the detrimental foundation of the fishermen's current predicament was laid early in 2022 when restrictions on the already meagre 400-tonne allowance for hook and line mackerel made the fishery uneconomical; and

- due to the restricted inshore mackerel quota, buyers made the decision to resort to Spain to provide quality line-caught fish for their discerning customers; further recognises that: - all fishers, including the inshore fishermen, have been hit extremely hard by record high fuel cost increases, while bait prices have also "soared" (mainly due to almost all bait now being imported) as larger whitefish vessels have taken advantage of tie-up schemes;

- as a result of the various challenges facing the inshore sector, and the lack of Government support, crewmen are now leaving the sector, with replacement labour proving difficult, if not impossible, to procure;

- unfortunately, small fishermen are facing annihilation, a problem exacerbated by the current Government which has decided the simplest solution to deal with the loss of the Irish fishing quota, due to the Brexit European Union (EU)/United Kingdom Trade and Cooperation Agreement, is to decommission the whitefish fleet;

- Irish boat owners are forced to sit in the harbour and watch as their EU neighbours from France and Spain land fish from Irish waters in Irish harbours, while benefiting from a fuel subsidy implemented by their governments on the back of a derogation given by the European Commission;

- the larger whitefish vessels have already received four tranches of financial support, yet the Government have provided no financial support whatsoever to the inshore fishermen who are understandably feeling completely neglected at this point in time;

- the European Commission has recently adopted the €285.4 million European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) 2021-2027 seafood development programme, which includes a €134 million EU contribution and a Government of Ireland contribution of €116 million, and has the objective of providing resources to mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, through socio-economic development and support for coastal communities;

- the fisheries data for 2021-2022, published in the first of what is expected to be an annual fisheries report produced by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), documents the threat posed by rising fuel and energy prices on the entire Irish fleet;

- the aforementioned BIM report points out that in 2020, average fuel costs for fishers per litre were €0.42 ($0.41), whereas in mid-2022 the average stood at €0.90 ($0.88), representing a 114 per cent increase, and representing 28 per cent of the average fleet's potential operating costs;

- the BIM report also found, if fuel prices and other operating costs such as insurance, repair, and maintenance remain level or continue to increase further, there is a "considerable risk" that many fishing fleets will begin to operate at a loss, forcing more and more vessels to tie up; and

- the increase in operational costs is particularly challenging for vessels that have crew shares, as there are reduced wages for the crew once fuel and other operational costs are removed from the boats' income; and

calls on the Government to:

- accept that the Irish inshore fleet is heavily impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, and that direct State financial assistance of at least €12 million is now long overdue to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the crisis and support the vitality of coastal communities;

- immediately allocate funds from the available EMFAF, to provide direct financial support to the Irish inshore fleet, which makes up 91 per cent of Ireland's fishing fleet;

- allocate this funding to all impacted inshore boats through the BIM Grants Portal system, as it would allow for an almost instant allocation system to be rolled out, which would provide short-term immediate relief; and

- urgently act to grant this unique and diverse inshore fishery fleet a greater quota allocation with diversification to other species, to facilitate and encourage young people to opt into fishing as a career, rather than coastal rural areas becoming desolate due to ongoing emigration.

I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill and Mairéad McGrath in our office for putting together this motion. I am delighted to be part of the Rural Independent Group, which puts forward this motion today on behalf of every inshore fisherman, in west Cork and throughout the country. The motion is confined to inshore fishermen who, but for the Rural Independent Group, would never get a mention here in the Dáil.

The Irish inshore fleet comprises approximately 91% of all fishing vessels and supports between 2,500 and 3,000 jobs in rural coastal communities. Similar to those in the bigger fleet, the livelihoods of these inshore fishermen are mainly unaided and, sadly, more and more inshore fishermen are leaving the sea, their place of employment. Storm after storm strikes our shoreline year after year but, sadly, even though many fishermen could prove massive damage or losses, a refusal here in the Dáil meant they got no aid to replace lost gear, in spite of the many calls I made.

Many of the inshore fishermen I know in west Cork fish for shrimp. Their income has been severely affected by the collapse of the processed shrimp and velvet crab market, which impacts many inshore fishermen. Today, we back the call for a direct financial package of €12 million from the State. The Minister met the National Inshore Fishermen's Association before Christmas. Its members laid bare the crisis and aid is now required. The motion calls on that to be agreed. If the Government is only feeding fib stories to the inshore sector, the Minister should be honest enough to vote against the motion. Without €12 million in compensation, many of these decent people will go out of business. If this emergency fund is not announced today, I will tell every inshore fisherman and woman that they have been conned by the Government. This would not set a precedent. The Minister rightly aided the pig sector to the tune of millions last year to rescue their business, which was in a similar crisis.

We also need to look at a fuel subsidy for inshore fishermen. They must spend large amounts on fuel for their inshore boats, especially as it is petrol that they use. There was a European fund to which other countries applied for their fishermen, but the Minister refused to apply it to Ireland. I presume the reason is that he would not get permission from the Green Party to help fishermen. It is intolerable that funds allocated by the EU Commission have not been apportioned to our inshore fleet, while other EU countries draw from these funds in the form of fuel subsidies for their respective inshore fleets. I will listen with great interest to what the Minister has planned to aid these hard-working men and women.

While the €12 million will not be the greatest solution, it will help fishermen in some way to adjust and to prepare themselves, going forward. It is completely unacceptable for the Minister with responsibility for the marine and the Government to ignore the genuine astronomical pressures on fishermen. The lack of any financial support for this unique sector could be called cruel, in particular as up to 3,000 jobs are now in jeopardy in rural, coastal communities.

Our motion today also instructs the Government to urgently grant the inshore fishery fleet a greater quota allocation, with diversification to other species. This quota need not come from quotas to the larger Irish fleet, it can come from the quotas given to other countries around the world of Irish fish out of Irish waters.

I very often blame the Green Party for much of the difficulty rural Ireland finds itself in, but when it comes to fisheries it is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that have destroyed the fishing industry in this country, as year after year, decade after decade, they turned a blind eye to every quota we could obtain and, sadly, handed away the quotas we had in our own waters. It is wrong that in this Dáil I hear Deputies either favour the inshore sector, the smaller man, or the larger fishing fleet, the so-called bigger guy. We should unite and fight as one, as it suits the Government to have them fight apart, like the old British way of divide and conquer.

In negotiations with the now Tánaiste and now Taoiseach, Deputies Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar, on government formation in 2020, I had two red lines if I was to support the government. One, is that there would be no downgrading of Bantry hospital. We all see why I did not get that granted. The other was a dedicated Minister for fisheries, which was denied to me, and the country. Not even a junior or super junior Minister was offered. Even the Taoiseach at the time, Deputy Micheál Martin, asked where I thought we would find the ministries, and which one would they drop if they acceded to my request. Hey presto, when it suited to keep the nod-and-wink politics going, he parachuted two super juniors to keep the boys and girls happy. Of course, neither of them is fisheries. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, must think I am here to have a go at him personally, but I am not. I did not ask who was to be the Minister for fisheries, just to have a stand-alone Minister for fisheries solely responsible for the inshore fishing and larger fleet. This request was refused point-blank, and we now see the consequences of the actions of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have proven to be totally against the fishing sector down through the years. We have a massive, rich resource surrounding our country, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have handed it bit by bit to the foreign fleets.

The Minister has funded improvements to piers, which must be welcomed, but does he realise what the fishermen have said to me recently on the issue? They say it is no longer for fishermen, because they are finished. They say the improvements will be for everybody else but them.

While I mention funds, what about the funds required for Union Hall Pier? This is vital. Both the Minister and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, raised the hopes of locals in Union Hall and Glandore when they were on a damage-limitation visit to west Cork after the shocking Brexit deal, but they forgot to bring the chequebook, leaving locals angered and dismayed because it meant that much-needed works at Union Hall Pier remain undone.

For those fishermen in west Cork who are fighting on, we need the Baltimore breakwater works to commence. I spoke to Independent councillor, Karen Coakley, yesterday, who told me that this can be done and that the special area of conservation, SAC, can be moved in such cases, which she is fighting to have done through Cork County Council. I urge the Minister to sit up and take note of this, as this work is urgently required for the fishermen of Baltimore.

I congratulate the people of Courtmacsherry and beyond, who have kindly donated a top-of-the-range lifeboat. I had the pleasure of being with all the locals at the pier on Sunday welcoming this state-of-the-art boat, which will help save lives at sea in the years to come. I say a big thank you to all concerned, and to the volunteers on the lifeboat who put their lives at risk to help others. When every inshore fisherman or woman goes to sea, they put their lives at risk to bring food to our table and to feed their families. They must go out in all weathers. Then this work stopped. These inshore men have trained all their lives to be masters of the sea but did not train for any other profession. In the rural places I represent: Crookhaven, Goleen, Schull, Ballydehob, Bantry, Glengariff, Adrigole, Castletownbere, Union Hall and Baltimore, and further east all the way to Kinsale - I could go on - the livelihoods of these people is at risk. They will need time to adjust. I hope the Minister recognises that and will give the €12 million in aid that is being sought today.

I was brought up to respect fishermen by my mother who gave us a serious warning to do so, even though she did not have a background in fishing. This is why I always call for their very survival. I now call for a change of mind in the rank and file of the Department towards fishermen. Likewise, we must have a change in the mind-set of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, towards Irish fishermen. If this does not change, the Government will wipe out both sectors.

Prior to Christmas I was contacted by a fishing vessel off Castletownbere, which was being continuously surrounded by a foreign vessel. There was a near-ramming incident last year and in previous years a person's life was lost because of the carry-on. I brought the issue to the attention of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to find out where the responsibility lies. The SFPA does not seem to want to respond. The Department does not want to respond. The Taoiseach does not want to respond. It is an astonishing situation to think that Irish fishing vessels, which can prove by video that they are being circled and surrounded by foreign vessels off our waters, have no protection whatsoever. If there is an infringement by an Irish vessel, there would be no problem responding. The vessel would be surrounded and brought ashore to Irish waters to face prosecution, but when it comes to saving lives, there is nobody out there to help them. This will have to be clarified, as to who has rights and how Irish fishermen can be protected when they go to fish in waters, which is their true entitlement.

However, I hope he backs the motion on the basis that €12 million will be allocated to the inshore sector and a fuel subsidy will be given to the sector immediately. If the Minister gets up to support this motion and does not give either of the requests by the inshore fishermen, he is only codding them. He will not fool us and he certainly will not fool the public. I will be listening with great intent to his speech to see what he has in store for inshore fishermen.

10:07 am

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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I hope this motion will generate cross-party support across this House. We know the sector needs protection and it certainly needs its unanswered calls answered, however late in the day it may be. I commend my colleague, Deputy Collins, for all his work and the passion and leadership he has shown with regard to having fishermen's and fisherwomen's issues addressed in this House. It is high time the Minister took notice. I hope we can get support across the House.

As my colleague has noted, the Irish inshore fleet comprises of approximately 91% of our fishing vessels and supports between 2,500 and 3,000 full-time jobs in rural and coastal communities. One has to wonder why it is that organisations such as the National Inshore Fishermen's Association, NIFA, have to make their argument repeatedly and loudly to Government and why it is there are such delays in responding from the Government's side. Is Government of the belief and view that inshore fishermen can simply be discarded, ignored or perhaps spoken down to in a way which they would not dream of doing to representatives, for example, of the tech industry?

What really infuriates me about debates of this kind is what seems to be an acceptance that all of our natural resources are simply up for grabs or that they can be left to wither on the vine. The only natural resource about which the Government appears to give a damn is wind and we all know why that is; the big subsidies and the big boys in the corporations. That is all the Government cares about. If it is not wind, the Government does not want to know. I ask the Minister to look at the sell-out of our sugarbeet sector. It was once thriving and is now forgotten. Look at our natural oil and gas fields which have bans placed on their exploration. Look at our peat sector. In a reply to my parliamentary question, I was told 19,000 tonnes of peat and peat-related products are being exported from the country and have been exported to Japan in the past decade and yet the Government is punishing Irish people and banning them from using their own resources.

There is a pattern here. All of the things we have on our doorstep and the resources we have in our seas are being divvied up and sold off with no regard to or respect for how it will impact on vulnerable coastal communities or, indeed, on rural communities. Today we are talking about inshore fisheries but tomorrow some other area of rural life will be attacked and some other indigenous sector of value will be undermined or sold out. I find it incredible. The Minister's predecessors in Fianna Fáil really must be turning in their graves. We have seen the sell-out of fisheries and now the sell-out of forestry. It is shameful. The Government has sold out and chipped away at our sovereignty. It has absolutely betrayed the Irish people and is nothing other than a shower of traitors. I will make no apologies for that statement.

Where is the advantage to the Irish people and fishing communities in allowing such vital resources and activities to deteriorate to the point of collapse or the sell-out of precious resources? It is so disheartening to look back and survey the wreckage that has been delivered upon rural Ireland and coastal communities by the financial policies of a tiny, insignificant, ideological and bizarre party which is controlling the Government right, left and centre. That party is clearly the tail wagging the dog. Today, it is the turn of the fishermen and fisherwomen to suffer. Tomorrow, it will be somebody else. Make no mistake about it, the Googles or Intels of this world will not suffer. They get the red-carpet treatment. The ordinary men and women of rural Ireland, the backbone of the rural economy, are the ones who will take the brunt for the Minister's policy, lack of leadership and shameful betrayal. They will bear that brunt.

However, the time is coming when the people of rural Ireland and coastal communities will say they have enough. I believe that time is now. We are sick and tired of the policies of ruin and destruction. There is simply no good reason for the Government not to support this motion or for any other party or group in this House not to support this motion. We must send a signal to the fishermen and fisherwomen of Ireland that we stand with them in solidarity, support them and will help them. If it were not for great leaders such as Fr. John Joe Duffy in Donegal, we would be in bigger trouble. At least those people have that man.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I will stop the clock. Perhaps you might withdraw the comment with regard to "traitors", Deputy.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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I will not withdraw that comment. It is my view and my perception that they are traitors.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask you to reflect on that.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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All we have to do is look at our forestry.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I will not go into a discussion. We are over time and in fairness to your colleague, we have held the clock.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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As a farmer, can the Minister imagine a day sitting and watching all his neighbours out working his land and getting paid by a subsidy given to them by the Government? Can he imagine sitting at home, looking out the windows and seeing people farm his land and getting subsidies for it from the Government? This is exactly what is happening to the smaller boat owners sitting in the harbour on Irish waters and looking at France and Spain fishing there, while benefitting from a subsidy. The Minister's Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government sold them out. Many people from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who are absolutely astonished and dismayed, come to me on a weekly basis and want to know what the parties they have followed all their lives are doing. They see something such as this and say, "oh my God". They ask whether Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies are really representing the parties they are supposed to represent, because they are not representing the people who have followed them.

The market for shrimp and inshore fisheries has collapsed. About 1,700 of these fishermen and fisherwomen are currently in financial trouble. They are not able to claim VAT back on the petrol that they are using, even though it is available to the bigger trawlers. I ask for €12 million from the €285.4 million that is available from Europe's fund for Ireland to deal with the cost-of-living increases due to the war in Ukraine be given to the shore, shrimp and velvet crab fishermen and fisherwomen. This group is represented by the velvet crab organisation. It can be so easily done on the portal of An Bord Iascaigh Mara, BIM, because BIM has all their details. These fishermen and fisherwomen need the industry to survive. In 2020, their fuel cost was 42 cent per litre, of which our Government took 50% in tax. In 2022, they were paying 90 cent per litre, of which the Government took 50% in tax. The Government took an additional 45.5 cent in tax which is more than double of what they were paying in the previous year. It needs to give back to these people what it has taken off them in tax alone. This is the smaller side of the fishing industry which accounts for approximately 1,700 small vessels which are dealing with a loss of fish quota which the Minister's Government gave away. The Government gave away our fishing rights and the Minister is responsible for this.

We heard about unfair competition from larger foreign commercial vessels from my colleague, Deputy Collins, who has been fighting for fisheries every day since he came in here. The Rural Independent Group has been fighting for it as well, with regard to the cost of living in particular - especially in fuel costs of which the Government takes 50% in tax - and the war in Ukraine and weather conditions which have been especially bad this year.

I am from a farming, rather than a fishing, background, but it is the same sequence of events. Last night we stood here to discuss the same situation in forestry. Now we have forestry sold out, farming sold out and the fisheries sold out by a Government led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with the Greens. The people, from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who put their trust in the Government to protect them in rural Ireland are dismayed to find their representatives from counties such as Limerick are not using their voices to protect the next generation of families coming through.

All the Minister's Department and Government are doing is taxing them out of existence, giving away funding to larger groups and forgetting about the real people of Ireland, who are the squeezed middle working class. The Government is going for the big conglomerates. Why can it not protect the people who put it here? I call on Deputies from both Limerick city and county to stand up and represent the parties and rural Ireland, which put them here. Give us our voice back at a Cabinet where all these decisions are being made.

10:17 am

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion on inshore fisheries. It is a sector which needs and deserves attention in this Dáil. It is close to my heart. I have fought tooth and nail for it as Minister to do all I can to support it. It is central to everything I do as Minister responsible for the marine. It is good to see it getting some floor time here in the Dáil. For the first time since I was appointed as Minister, it is good to see this, which is the first time that any group has tabled a motion on inshore fisheries. It is great. I thank the Deputies and ask them, please, to do it more. The Opposition in general does not give this issue enough time, so it is good to see it getting some time. It allows me an opportunity to update Deputies on things I have been doing to work with the inshore sector to develop it, promote it and try to ensure its income is protected.

As I say, this is close to my heart. The inshore fishing sector is part of my local community at home, including Urris pier, Malin Head pier, Glengad pier, Bunnagee pier and Greencastle pier. All of those depend on the inshore fishing sector, including all the people in those parishes I went to secondary school with, sat in the classroom with and grew up in communities with. As Minister responsible for the marine, I have invested money in all those piers I just mentioned. An average of €20 million, on balance, has probably been invested in all those piers and harbours over the past couple of years. That just includes Inishowen. I am from north Inishowen. I have a commitment to the inshore sector throughout the country. By far the largest number of boats, although they are all small, and families are dependent on the inshore sector.

I thank Deputy Collins for tabling this motion. He mentioned Union Hall pier, which I know very well. I remember two summers where I spent holidays renting an apartment in Glandore. I walked from Glandore to the fish shop in Union Hall to buy fish to take back to cook for our evening dinner. I know Union Hall well. I have invested in Glandore pier as Minister. I have not invested in Union Hall pier other than to provide some fencing, which was applied for and which I granted, but I did not receive any other application for funding for Union Hall. It is a local authority pier. I have spent more than €50 million as Minister on local authorities' small piers and harbours throughout the country in the last 18 months. Normally, in any one year, about €3 million is spent and I have spent about €50 million. Unfortunately, I have not received any application for Union Hall, which is a Cork local authority pier. If I had received an application, I assure Deputy Collins I would have done all I could to put money into it. Somebody, who seems to have been Deputy Collins, has been asleep at the wheel. He gave out to me for not giving funding for something for which I never got an application.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I will clarify that for the Minister.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's colleague and brother who was co-opted to Cork County Council has been its chair. It is the local authority that was supposed to make any application. I ask the Deputy to get those ducks in a row before giving out to me for not granting funding.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I will come back to the Minister on that. He was given a plan when he was in Union Hall.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I will move on and deal with the issues here. The Government has been committed to supporting the inshore fisheries sector in specific ways, including ensuring inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and recreational fishers and that pair trawling will be prohibited inside the six-mile limit. I am very supportive of this objective. I met specifically with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, in December last year to hear its concerns and goals for the inshore fishing sector. The NIFF and its supporting network of six regional inshore fisheries forums are consultative bodies established to foster industry-led development of proposals for the management of fish stocks within six nautical miles of the Irish shore. The NIFF is in the process of implementing the first industry-led strategy for the Irish inshore fisheries sector. Its vision is that the inshore fisheries sector will have a prosperous and sustainable future delivered through a united industry with a strong, influential voice.

My Department's Food Vision 2030 strategy sets out further aims to enhance the development of sustainable inshore fisheries and to balance them with safeguarding fishing-related livelihoods and protecting the marine environment. The priorities identified in the strategy include the development of a profile for the inshore sector, building the sector's capacity to engage with policy development and enhancing the industry's understanding of management and planning for inshore sectors. I particularly welcome the forum's input to the recently updated bivalve protocol. I am satisfied it plays a vital role in defining the procedures for opening a new fishery for wild bivalve molluscs or extending the scope of an existing fishery. I also look forward to its input in addressing concerns about a recent decline in brown crab stocks along the coast. Following engagement with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, I requested a review of the management of the Irish brown crab fishery to identify measures that could be introduced to support the sustainability of brown crab stocks. That will be undertaken by a multidisciplinary working group.

Importantly, I was glad to be able to announce the recognition of the National Inshore Fisheries Association as a producer organisation this week. It is an important step forward for the inshore sector. This is the second EU producer organisation, along with the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, to be awarded that recognition during my term as Minister. The sector has strong representation. There are a significant number of producer organisations and spokesperson organisations for the fishing sector.

As I pointed out, for the past two and a half years when I have been Minister, there has never been a Private Member's motion about inshore fisheries. Likewise, representation by producer organisations has been light in recent years. Inshore fisheries did not have a producer organisation. There are seven or eight producer organisations across the sector but they all represent the whitefish sector, which is much larger than the inshore sector, the pelagic sector, which includes the large boats that go far out to sea, or the processing sector. Significant professional voices represent the processors, the pelagic sector and the whitefish sector, but there was no paid professional voice to represent the inshore sector. The inshore fishermen were all too busy at sea, making a living, but did not get their voice heard at a national level. I have worked with them to change that. They now have two producer organisations that have staffed offices and paid professionals working day-to-day, all year round, to represent them and make sure their voice is heard at a national level and they get fair play within the sector as well as from Government.

I will address a few other issues in the short time I have. The mackerel hook and line fishery is important for the inshore sector. I note the position outlined by the Deputies in their motion. I have asked Bord Iascaigh Mhara to engage and look at how we can add value further to the hook and line sector so that it is a premium product. We are monitoring, on an ongoing basis, how we can manage the hook and line fishery in a way that best works for inshore fishers. It is an important step forward. As the Deputies know, I visited piers and harbours throughout the country and engaged directly with fishermen on the pier and with inshore fishermen. The thing that came up at all piers, from Urris to Kilmore Quay and everywhere in between, when I took up my role as Minister, was the need to work on and get the spurdog fishery open. I am glad to say I secured that at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in December. For the first time in more than ten years, we have a spurdog fishery. It is an important step forward.

The reopening in December by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the north-west herring fishery was an important step forward. It is an important fishery for the inshore sector and fishers know its value. We will try to build on that. I launched a new consultation in recent days on how to manage this fishery. Engaging in this consultation will be important for inshore fishers in particular.

Regarding financial supports, last year I put the Brexit fisheries model adjustment scheme together following the task force. The inshore sector does not normally fish quota species, so Brexit's impact on quotas was not as great on the inshore sector, but we put together a Brexit package for the sector that delivered €2,700 for small inshore boats and €4,000 in direct cash aid to other inshore boats. That was significant.

I will be continuing this work in-----

10:27 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Nothing this year.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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-----every way I can to back the inshore sector. Please, do a bit more across the board to ensure the value of the inshore sector is recognised across the floor of the Dáil.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Nothing this year. The €12 million was refused.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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Next is Deputy Mac Lochlainn. Excuse me, I am wrong. The next slot is the Rural Independent Group's.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Chair.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I need my glasses.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I have always respected the Deputies Healy-Rae. They can always take a place from me.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for recognising that we were the only group that tabled a motion representing inshore fishers. They have been left behind in many ways. The Minister spoke for ten minutes, but he did not say whether he would accede to our request for €12 million for inshore fishers in our coastal communities. They are on their knees. The situation has been spelled out for the Minister. For example, the season for shrimp fishing is September to March. Since September, the situation worsened badly because there was no market in Spain, Portugal and other tourist destinations. The price was bad and there was no market in the end. Since mid-October, there has been storm after storm and wind after wind, and many fishers have either been unable to fish or have only been able to fish poorly. Their window of opportunity was short. They ceased fishing from 1 December because there was no market. We are asking the Government for €12 million to tide them over and try to keep them going. Every other sector, including in other countries, is being looked after well by their respective governments, but our fishers are being left behind. They are an integral part of coastal communities. If they do not make a few bob, shops, local pubs and local restaurants will also be left behind.

We have to accept that our inshore fishers are affected by the major increase in the cost of fuel and that they cannot get VAT back. The Government will blame the war for the fuel costs and the loss of the market, but we are calling on the State for financial assistance of €12 million to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of the crisis.

Smaller piers are being neglected. I can think of those that are local to me, starting on the Kenmare side and going all the way along to Templenoe, Blackwater, Tahilla, Rossdohan, Oysterbed, Sneem, Gleesk and so forth. On the other side are the piers at Coornagillagh, Kilmakilloge, Lauragh and Castletownbere.

There are many small fishers in those areas who are trying to improvise and keep going. They are getting no social welfare payments and are working by doing small bits of farming or building. Fishing was an integral part of their incomes, but it is lost to them completely now. The Minister says he comes from a place much like the ones we represent. These people have boats of less than 12 m in length at between 16 ft and 18 ft. I think of people like Mr. Frank Riney, Mr. Michael Clamper, Joe Jim at Blackwater and the O'Sheas of Rossdohan. There are two sets of O'Sheas there – Mike and Donal. There are also the O'Briens in Sneem. These people try hard. Their work is dangerous. I used to work on the roads along the bay and I often asked why they were out on bad days when the wind was blowing and the rain was down. I was told those were the best days to get more fish.

Large trawlers come up the bay in Kenmare. The Government says it is involved in the protection of smaller vessels, but what is it doing when two large trawlers sail up either side of the bay with nets across it to clean everything out? I raised this matter at the Oireachtas committee a few months ago. What will the Government do to stop this from happening? It is unfair. These trawlers are taking everything, which means we have had no mackerel. Many people have told me there has been no mackerel this year. I remember fishers from Macroom, Innishannon and so on calling to the bar with buckets of mackerel. They would throw out a few and they were grand, but there has been no sign of them in recent years because there has been no mackerel. The bay is being cleaned out. We hear about large factory ships landing at Dingle Harbour. They are so large that 12 forklifts can work on them at the same time. We are told they are from different countries, so there is no accountability and they cannot be taxed. We are even told of Chinese factory ships, and we know what harm the Chinese are doing beyond factory ships. Fishers at Cahersiveen and other piers are being impacted. I call on the Government. Please, it is looking after every other section of the community, including other nationalities, well, but we are leaving these people behind. We have to look after them. They are an integral part of our coastal communities. They are important to the likes of the Lake House, the Blackwater Tavern and Helen's Pub in Kilmakilloge, which is run so well by Ms Helen Moriarty and her staff. These people and local shops depend on fishers surviving.

I respectfully appeal to the Government to come down when its members are asked to. The Minister says he is from a coastal community, and he is. He must look after coastal communities – his own people – no matter what the Green Party or anyone else says. This is his time. He is the Minister in charge of these small fishers. I respectfully appeal to him to look after them. This is an important issue. We are the only group to table a motion like this one.

I must highlight the state of the two roads on either side of Kenmare Bay. The road to Lauragh is crisscrossed by trees, which fish lorries are hitting.

West of Blackwater Bridge, the other road is a state. If an articulated truck went around a car, the car would be under it. Then a few miles back the road we can see where 2 km of a footpath and cycleway was put in but there is no cycleway leading to this new cycle path or out of it. It makes no sense in the world. People lose their lives there and there are crashes there every day. It is so important that we have a safe road for these vehicles. I am glad when I see these big lorries going up to the village carrying fish. It is because we are producing something. In the few seconds I have left, I want to thank Star Seafoods and the McCarthys for the employment it has provided over the years. There is a new generation there now and the company is looking the local people and trying to employ people. The cost of fish and the scarcity of it at the present time is impacting on that. We must ensure that places like that are kept going. We have been hit badly enough as it is, but if we lose the people who are involved in working in inshore fishing, our communities will be completely doomed.

10:37 am

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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First, I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. It has been my honour and privilege to work alongside Deputy Collins, particularly over the last three years. We have relentlessly raised the plight of our fishing communities in this Chamber, in the committees and out there in the wider community. I look forward to working with Deputy Collins over the time ahead. He is very passionate about our fishing communities.

We produced a document a number of years ago. At the time I toured pretty much all the piers and harbours around the coast. As the Sinn Féin spokesperson, I continue to talk to fishermen every day of my life. I have appealed to the Minister again and again to listen to our fishing communities. Like me, he is from the Inishowen peninsula and is surrounded by piers and harbours. He is in the perfect position to be briefed and advised by them. From the Inishowen peninsula round the west of Donegal down to Killybegs and right round our coast, it is the Minister's responsibility to act on what they are telling us. What they are telling us is that they are staring out at the Irish exclusive economic zone, which stretches out for 200 miles in front of them. It is a huge resource and a potential creator of wealth and jobs for those fishing and coastal communities. However, due to the failures of our Government over the years in the Common Fisheries Policy, we have not seen the proper return of our own natural resource that is right in front of us. The Minister knows that from the community he is from in the Inishowen peninsula. That has been a profound failure.

I want to emphasise the very important comments that Deputy Collins made. None of us is buying into the idea of divide and conquer. I was given good advice from a fisherman in the west of Ireland when I started as the Sinn Féin spokesperson on fisheries and the marine. He advised me to be careful not to buy into the idea of big versus small fishermen and divide and conquer. He told me to fight for all of them and do what is right and fair by all of them, so I support the exclusion of larger boats from the six-mile limit. I support a fairer share of mackerel, herring, spurdog and, indeed, arguably exclusively bluefin tuna if we can ever get one bloody fish to take back, rather than having to release it again. I ask the Minister to think about it. Bluefin tuna is the one of most lucrative, if not the most lucrative, species of fish in the world today. It is now accepted by the Marine Institute and the Department that it is in abundance in our waters, yet Irish fishermen have to catch and release. They take tourists out, catch the fish, which is, by the way, feeding on our own fish, and release it. It is a predatory fish. It gets fattened up. All the countries of Europe and the world are catching these fish within our exclusive economic zone, and outside in international waters after they have been fattened here. We have not even got one fish. The allocation to the EU of bluefin tuna increased by something like 75% in recent years because the species is doing well again, but we can only catch them on a rod and release them. Imagine the extra wealth that could bring to inshore fishermen. There is over-reliance on crab, lobster and other shellfish. Having to rely on them is not going to be a future for our inshore fishermen. The Minister knows that and has been told that.

I want to welcome some good news. I will be fair with these points. The spurdog issue was a crucial one. Everywhere I went, particularly in meeting the inshore fleet on the smaller piers right down the west of Ireland and round into the south east, mention was made of getting access to spurdog. It is good and welcome news that that quota has been secured. I ask for more of that. I want to welcome the fact that the National Inshore Fisherman's Association, NIFA, is now a producer organisation. That is welcome, but I am going to throw a challenge back to the Minister. It is really important that we include the islands in this motion. We must stand up for the fishermen of the islands. We must take the island and inshore fishermen all together. As the Minister knows, the island fishermen and the inshore fishermen now have producer organisations. Now that they both have producer organisations, it is critical that they have a place at the table because mackerel and herring quota are public quota and they need to have a fair share. Killybegs has built up a pelagic industry through hard work over many years. We have to fight for the fair share of pelagic fish. The Minister is aware of the issue with blue whiting and I believe he has been working with the industry on that.

I am very critical of the failure of the Government over decades now. The words used by Deputy Nolan are very strong ones, but I must say that if we speak to fishermen, that is how they feel and those are the words they use. I am sorry to say it, but those are the words they use about the Department. They are really angry. They call it the "Department Against the Marine". The Minister is from a fishing community in Inishowen. I believe that some of the things he has done recently are very welcome, but we have to do more. The Minister has people in his party and from his party in the recent past in Donegal who are passionate about the fishing industry, who would be brilliant people to advise him. The Minister should listen to them. Perhaps he is starting to listen to them because there is some positive stuff happening here. As long as the Minister takes positive actions and fights for fishermen, he will have my support and the support of the Deputies present. However, if we continue to see a Department that is against the marine, that fails people in the way that it has, then we will stand up and challenge the Government. We will repeat the language that we hear in our communities. It is our job to listen to what is happening out there and to hold Government to account and to ask it to do what is right.

The final issue that I want to touch on is that of fuel. The Government failed to provide financial support to the fishing industry that was severely impacted by the fuel crisis. The Minister said that the industry had the tie up scheme. That was totally wrong, because the scheme was about providing support for the loss of quota as a result of Brexit, a totally separate issue. The industry was getting supports for the loss of quota. The inshore fleet had no tie up scheme. It got no financial supports whatsoever throughout this period of huge challenge. As we outlined in our alternative budget, I support the provision of a financial allocation, particularly from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, EMFAF. That is European money that is available. I understand that as we speak, there is €5 million sitting there to be allocated. I appeal to the Minister again to support the proposition, as outlined, for the allocation of €12 million from a range of different sources, including European funding, directly to the industry. The inshore industry in particular got no supports, but the overall industry needs supports too.

The Minister started off his speech by talking about what surrounds him and the piers and how they have influenced him. I am asking him, in his final period in government, to continue with some of the welcome measures announced in recent days, to stand up for inshore fishermen and all fishermen, and to get what is fair for our country in the EU.

10:47 am

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this important motion. That is not surprising, seeing as I come from County Mayo, where we have many coastal communities. Those communities are in places such as Erris, Achill, Clare Island, Ballycastle, Porturlin and right along the coast. One of the major concerns they have had for years is that they have had to stand and watch as massive trawlers raid their fish. Those trawlers show complete disregard for their own workers. I have just come from a presentation in the audiovisual room at which the workers on those boats described the slave-like conditions in which they have to work. These trawlers also show absolute disregard for the marine ecosystems. The fishermen and their forefathers have watched out for the ecosystem and for generations have protected those ecosystems. Their hands are now tied while they watch their fish being given away. There is now high unemployment in fishing communities. They are experiencing real difficulties. Those fishermen are watching their natural resources being given away. It is no wonder these communities feel they have been neglected by consecutive governments. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement that came out of Brexit merely served as the most recent example of the Government selling out the Irish fishing communities. The Irish Government failed to put up any real fight to secure a fair share of the opportunities with other EU member states as part of that agreement. We need increased access to fish in our waters to enable us to sustain and grow rural coastal communities.

Inshore fishing happens within six nautical miles of the coast and yet it makes up over 90% of the entire fishing fleet of registered Irish vessels and comprises the large majority of those directly employed in the sector. The importance of inshore fisheries in sustaining coastal communities cannot be overstated. It is estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 jobs, livelihoods and families are supported in that sector. These are important jobs for the communities in the areas I come from. Those communities can never hope for large multinational corporations to come to their areas. They depend on inshore fishing. They have been hit by Brexit, Covid-19, increased fuel costs, reduced markets and ongoing unequal access to fishing opportunities. The Minister needs to listen to the inshore fishing sector and put right what has been wrong for years.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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The situation facing the Irish fishing sector has been well and truly set out by all of the previous speakers. I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. I thank an Teachta Michael Collins and his colleagues for the work they have done. I also commend my colleague, an Teachta Mac Lochlainn, the Sinn Féin spokesperson in this area, for his efforts in engaging with the Irish fishing community in recent years. He visited Waterford last year and we met with fishermen in Helvick, Ardmore, Dungarvan and Dunmore East. We listened carefully to what those fishermen and fisherwomen had to say.

I will home in on a few issues in my constituency of Waterford. I have raised all of these issues with the Minister previously but they have not been resolved. The first issue is that the landing rights for British and northern registered vehicles in Dunmore were removed in December 2020 following the Brexit trade and co-operation deal. I have raised the issue with the Minister, as have an Teachta Mac Lochlainn and some of my constituency colleagues, and there has still been no progress. Why has there been no progress? The most recent response I received from a parliamentary question on the issue suggested that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, is still examining the matter. In God's name, how long does it take to examine the matter? We are talking about people's livelihoods and the opportunity to invest in a harbour and a coastal fishing community. These landings provide a significant economic boost to the village of Dunmore. I ask the Minister to look again at that issue.

I have also raised with the Minister the issue of vacant apartment buildings in Dunmore East. Some of those buildings have gone through tendering processes but they are still not being used. What is being done about that? It makes no sense whatsoever. When I visit villages such as Dunmore, Passage East, Cheekpoint, Dungarvan and Helvick, and talk to fishermen in those areas, they ask me why they cannot fish.

We held a successful public meeting in Waterford last year that was attended by approximately 400 people. One of those who attended was a well-known Dunmore fisherman named Jimmy Byrnes. He passionately addressed the meeting and set out the importance of fishing and the pride he and his fellow fishermen have in their communities and those traditions. He was standing up for his heritage and that of many others. If the people in the Department had half as much passion as Mr. Byrnes and many others, we would have a far better fishing industry and better coastal communities than we currently have.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I support the motion that has been brought forward by Deputy Michael Collins and his colleagues. I commend the work that is going on and the work of our spokesperson, Deputy Mac Lochlainn. It does not require intimate knowledge of the fishing industry to understand the injustice that has long been foisted on fishing communities across the State and the missed opportunities that exist, particularly in the context of the much greater popularity of seafood. There is no doubt that issue must be addressed. There is an incredibly long tradition and history in fisheries. The industry is of vital importance to communities.

I wish to address a somewhat niche issue with the Minister, but opportunities to address it are rare. The issue relates to fishermen and fisherwomen who are involved in inland fisheries. I am thinking in particular of Cork Harbour. The issue falls under the responsibility of a number of Departments, primarily the Department of Social Protection, which is something of an anomaly. Unfortunately, the issue of inland fisheries is seen by the Department of Social Protection in the context of tourism, angling and so on. Those are valuable things which bring value to local communities. There is, however, a tradition in large harbours, such as Cork Harbour, and in villages such as Passage West, where families involved in the industry include the Murphys and Howards, including Mr. Jack Howard. People in those areas have been fishing for many generations. The same is true of the Coholan family in Blackrock and others like them. These are communities in which fishing was once a very large industry, but because of the development of Cork Harbour and other things, it has diminished. These are primarily draft net fisherman who are very low as a priority. The say they have with the Inland Fisheries Board is very limited because the focus is on angling. Some of these fishing crews would go from inland to inshore. I urge the Minister to use whatever scope he has to raise the matter with his colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, and try to give a greater voice to these communities. Culturally and historically, they are similar to the inshore fishermen. They are trying to make a living but it is difficult because the quotas are so low and there are issues involved. They understand the science and want to be a part of the solution. They want to work with Inland Fisheries Ireland. This is a tradition with long roots and it would be a shame to see it eliminated entirely. Few of these fishermen and fisherwomen are left. Cork Harbour is one place where they remain. There are also a few other small places on the lakes and at inshore areas on the coastline. It is important the two Departments work with these inland fishers and draft net fishermen to support their ongoing businesses.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I also thank Deputy Michael Collins and the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this vital motion. It is absolutely necessary that we have these conversations. I have no doubt that many others have had the same conversations I have had with fishers in respect of ensuring the sustainability of their industry. I know the Minister has also had engagement. He knows the issues. No more than when we talk about farming and the family farm, the main thing is to ensure the sustainability of the industry and wider fishing communities. I am thinking about the likes of Clogherhead and Carlingford and those who are involved in fishing around my home town of Dundalk.

In recent times, we have all heard the anger that exists at what has happened post Brexit.

We all know many wrongs were committed under the Common Fisheries Policy over many years in relation to the access Irish fishermen did not have to waters that were rightfully theirs and to quotas that, at least in part, were rightfully theirs. This has had a long-term impact on the industry. Many fishermen have spoken of the necessity for supports to keep the industry going rather than trying to decommission or end it. These are the things we need to do.

The Rural Independent Group put it fairly straight. This is straightforward. There is a need to put in €12 million. We are talking about European support funds and the EMFAF and about ensuring it gets into the hands of those involved in the industry. There are huge qualms concerning money lost through administration. I accept the need for administration but we need to look at this. There are major issues here. We all accept that those involved in the fishing industry have been drawn the short straw over many years. We need to rectify that. We need fairness. They cannot take up all the slack. In the Brexit negotiations, once again it was their back on which many deals were done. We need to equalise the playing field and there is a requirement for the Minister to do that.

10:57 am

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I thank the Rural Independents for this motion, which we will support. I come from a land-locked county but it does not take much analysis to know fishermen in our country have been let down. I have met people from west Cork and south Kerry, where I have many connections, as well as west Clare and further up the west coast. We are seeing negative change and you would feel for them.

The inshore fleet comprises around 91% of our fishing vessels, employing close to 3,000 people in rural communities. What gets to me when I talk to these groups, as I have over a number of years going back to when I was an MEP, is the involvement of many intergenerational families. I accept the Minister’s interest in the area, but I see that involvement dwindling all the time. That is hugely unfortunate. The Irish seafood sector has been under enormous pressure with Brexit and strain from other issues, including what is going on with Ukraine.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement has also had a disproportionate impact on our seafood. Our fleet loss is 15% of its annual quota. Exports of ingredients and supplies to the UK have been hugely disrupted and the UK land bridge, which would be the fastest route to market in continental Europe, is less viable, to say the least. The impact can be seen, in particular, on the shrimp market, which has effectively collapsed, with one group of around 600 small inshore fishers losing an estimated €5 million in the build-up to Christmas last year.

Packages valued at more than €100 million have been provided to help the larger offshore sector to deal with the ongoing negative impacts of Brexit; unfortunately, the inshore sector has only received around €3.7 million, despite accounting for 91% of the fishing fleet. As recommended by the seafood task force set up by the Minister, one payment of €2,700 for owners of vessels under 8 m and €4,000 for owners of large vessels were made but it is not enough.

EMFAF implements the EU Common Fisheries Policy and aims to boost the resilience of the seafood sector, accelerate its green transition and support coastal communities. The total finance allocation is €258.4 million. A slight issue with the motion, which I think is a typo, is the figure “€285.4 million”, which should be “€258.4 million”, comprising an EU contribution of €142.4 million and €116 million from the State. Some 50% of this funding allocation is to be dedicated to building resilience to current challenges in the fisheries sector and improving sustainability, which we all know is necessary. Despite a 114% increase in fuel prices between 2020 and mid-2022, Government has repeatedly refused to draw down on EU fuel aid. Data from BIM shows Irish fisheries require between €20 million and €25 million in fuel aid to effectively compete in Europe. Fleets from countries whose governments have distributed existing fuel aid or are offering other fuel aid supports are being given a competitive advantage over the Irish fleet.

The European Commission has allowed for derogation of fuel subsidies, which has been capitalised on by France and Spain, for example, but the Minister has so far refused to grant such relief to our fishermen. I would appreciate if he would deal with this matter in his reply. I was taken with his statement that €50 million was given out to a range of areas across the country, a massive increase on previous years, which I accept. A number of locations did not apply, as the Minister pointed out. Is that still open or will it be reopened? In many cases, those who did not apply need to do so, as the Minister stressed. Will he answer that in his reply?

Ireland’s fishing fleet has an excellent reputation but the viability of the vast majority of the fleet is now in question. We have heard from numerous organisations, such as the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, and NIFA, as well as individual fisheries, that whether or not the sector survives depends on direct and targeted support. I have no doubt there are avenues, nationally and particularly through the EU, that need more focus and we in the Labour Party will concentrate on that. It is important to keep in mind this concerns the livelihoods of those working from small inlets, piers and harbours around our coasts and they face a really difficult period if there is not direct help given soon.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has recently formally recognised NIFA as an EU producer organisation. This is a welcome move. I think we all support it but it is tokenistic if greater support is not given and we do not get to the heart of the issue. Our inshore fishing fleet needs immediate targeted financial aid, both current and capital. If a plan is not put in place soon for this group, which does not get as much attention in this Chamber as it should, it faces a difficult future. Please act.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Rural Independents and welcome this rare opportunity to talk about inshore fishing. Despite being the largest segment of our fishing sector and providing the most employment, it is too often overlooked.

This is a timely discussion as the National Inshore Fishermen's Association has finally, thanks to its members’ tireless efforts, achieved producer organisation status. I was delighted to be able to assist them in this process, and acknowledgement is also due to the Minister for his support. However, despite this good news, overall inshore fishing has been neglected by this and previous governments. In terms of vessels, people employed, distribution, and cultural heritage, it is the most significant part of the fishing industry. Despite this, Government policy and, crucially, quota distribution vastly favours larger vessels and the bigger players.

As I have continuously raised, this is a highly unequal system designed and enforced by the Minister and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Last week we discussed the new office of food regulation and the vulnerability of primary producers to exploitation. Unfortunately, in the case of inshore fishing it is the Government which is imposing unfair trading practices by limiting the capacity of the sector.

The clearest example of this appalling disparity is the mackerel quota. Currently, only 2% of this quota is assigned to vessels under 15 m, while 98% is given to a small number of larger boats. To be clear, more than 2,000 boats get only 2%, while fewer than 100 larger boats get 98% of that share. In June 2021, this meagre quota was reached for that year, meaning fishers who were just getting by, were not permitted to catch even a few dozen mackerel for sale at the likes of a farmers’ market or to local restaurants. I raised this issue on behalf of the inshore fishers at the time, but almost two years later nothing has changed. Even more worrying is that the Minister does not even acknowledge this is an issue. When I raised it with the Minister last April, he stated:

At the moment, that sector, which is extremely sustainable, viable and important, gets 400 tonnes per year. A few years ago, it did not get any.

I do not know any inshore fishers who would agree with that assessment.

This sector is screaming out for a fairer allocation of quotas and targeted supports. The Government could assign them ten times their current mackerel quota and it still would not be fair. I strongly support this motion’s call for “a greater quota allocation with diversification to other species”. A more equitable and realistic distribution of our quotas is required, especially as some of them are impacted by Brexit. For too long, a small number of big players have dominated the sector. Allocations must be taken from them and given to the majority of fishers who are practising a more sustainable type of fishing.

Inshore fishers are being hit by the same skyrocketing costs as other food producers, yet they are not getting the same attention. Fuel costs, insurance and bait prices are combining to make a tough situation even harder. Reflecting the structural barriers faced by this sector, many of the Government support schemes for the fishing industry in recent years have outright or de facto excluded inshore vessels. For example, the Brexit inshore fisheries business model adjustment scheme, which was designed to help inshore fishers adjust to the post-Brexit context, was based on a threshold of activity during the first six months of 2021. However, this disregarded the majority of vessels that are under 8 m in west Cork and other areas that are involved in seasonal fisheries.

With the challenges faced by many fishers, seasonal work is common. Lobster, velvet crab, scallops and brown crab are fished from July and August, outside the period which counted under the Brexit scheme. This exclusion is even more clear for inshore shrimp fishery, which by law can only begin on 1 August. The Minister has to appreciate the frustration in the industry when faced with barriers such as this. Schemes are announced with much fanfare, but when fishers actually get to read the terms and conditions, they quickly realise they are barred from the funding.

Well-maintained marine infrastructure is vital for inshore fishers. They depend on small piers and slipways dotted around the coast and on offshore islands. However, many of these in west Cork and elsewhere are falling into disrepair and lack the most basic amenities. The seafood task force recommended an investment of €80 million over five years into public marine infrastructure. While I welcome the €35 million from the Brexit adjustment reserve for this purpose, this is a once-off investment. There was and is a glaring need for greater multi-annual funding. The seafood task force has provided a clear standard of another €45 million. Regrettably, when I asked a parliamentary question about the budget for 2023, the Minister informed me he was not providing any funding and instead directed me to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. As the Minister knows, it can take years to get a foreshore licence. Anything in respect of which funding is applied for and which also needs a foreshore licence will not get it because it has to be shovel ready. We desperately need to look at the licensing system there, because other countries started from six miles out or one mile out, rather than from the coastline. It is counterintuitive in terms of trying to create more environmental practices. Every time I raise this issue, I am referred from one Department to another and back again. All the time, the need for investment is not being provided.

I have welcomed the news that the National Inshore Fisheries Forum has been recognised as a producer organisation, PO. With this status, it will receive support for its operating costs and the preparation of reports and plans. From the experience of other inshore fishers, there is a clear need for set-up costs also to be funded. There is a steep learning curve and a need for increased capacity on becoming a producer organisation. Will the Minister look into the provision of specific once-off investment for new POs to help them become established? Perhaps it has changed since I last was at a meeting with the islands PO that became a PO months before this one. It was saying it still had not received any kind of funding. Maybe I am wrong and it has since, but it seems like there is a big delay in it being able to carry out its duties as a PO once it gets that status.

There is the ongoing issue of trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone. It is having a very negative impact on inshore fishers’ livelihoods, not to mention the knock-on effects on marine activities and the environmental toll that takes. This matter remains with the courts. I have asked the Minister to start the process again to establish another policy directive, which at this stage would have taken less time than the legal route. It is unbelievable that it was only overturned on a technicality, but it is still in place and these harmful practices are still being carried out. The outcome of the judicial review outlines the issues with the original process. Rectify them by establishing a new directive and solve this matter once and for all. I encourage the Minister, and I raised this issue with the Tánaiste last week, to look at existing by-laws because there was pair trawling going on in west Cork last week. It seems there is a by-law, for example, in Bantry Bay, that prevents that practice.

This motion has provided much-needed Dáil time to focus on the inshore sector. In any discussions of our food systems, this is one of the most neglected areas. Unfortunately, this reflects the importance assigned to the sector by the Government. There are thousands of inshore fishers in coastal and island communities across Ireland. In west Cork, they are deeply valued as part of our local economy, providing jobs and fresh seafood for hotels, restaurants and takeaways. They are also part of our marine heritage. This sector is essential to the viability of offshore islands and coastal towns, villages and communities. The Government needs to live up to its commitment to support this sector, quotas need to be distributed proportionately, targeted supports suited to the inshore conditions must be provided, and we need sustained investment in public marine infrastructure. Inshore fishers are continuing to face mounting challenges. There is a glaring need for fairer policies and proper supports. The Government must act.

11:07 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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On a point of order, I would like the Minister to apologise to Cork County Council for the comments he made earlier that the council never applied for funding for the pier at Union Hall. It did so under the Minister’s guidance. When he came down to Union Hall and was having nice meals, or whatever he said, he advised the council to apply for scoping and feasibility funding, which it did, and the Department refused it. The Minister needs to correct the record. The council will be writing to the Minister about this matter, because he made a very serious allegation, and against my brother, but we are thick-skinned and we will not be worried about that. The Minister needs to correct the record of the Dáil and say that is the case. Other funding has also been applied for in the area and the Department has refused that.

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That has been noted and we will ask the Minister to respond in his closing remarks.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this important motion, which we are happy to support. Many of those who are speaking are from the west and the south, where coastal communities and people working in fishing are being severely impacted by rising energy costs, the cost-of-living crisis, the impact of Brexit and so on. However, it may surprise people to know, because it is not talked about as much, that on the east coast there are also many people whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on inshore fishing.

I was talking this morning to the fishermen who work out of Dún Laoghaire. They have done a survey recently and are estimating that, between the border on the east coast and Kilmore Quay, approximately 800 people are employed directly or indirectly in the fishing industry. Not to put too fine a point on it, they see themselves as fighting for their survival. They believe on a number of fronts that, because of the failure of the Government to support them, their future is very much in jeopardy and indeed that they might be completely wiped out as an industry. That is their view for a number of reasons.

The motion, and the appeal of inshore fishermen, relate to the immediate issues of the cost-of-living crisis, the hike in energy prices and the collapse of the shrimp market. On those fronts, the fishermen I talked to detailed how severe the various impacts are. Marine diesel, which used to cost about 30 cent a litre, increased in price to about 65 cent per litre and now costs about 110 cent per litre. The cost of a lobster pot, which was about €45, has increased to about €70, while the cost of shrimp pots has risen by about 50%. In overall costs, they say the cost just of going out to fish for the day has increased by between 75% and 100%. They say it used to cost them about €100 per day just to go out to work, but that that cost has now increased to between €150 and €200. They are being hammered. They need the aid package they are requesting and there should be no procrastination by the Government. They also say they are not interested in this tie-up scheme and, in fact, they think it is part of an agenda to wipe them out. They do not want to be tied up or to be paid to do so. They want to fish and they want assistance to sustain their livelihoods.

The other pressure these fishermen are under, which is a little bit off the topic of the motion but which they asked me to raise, relates to the impact of the so-called relevant projects or industrial wind schemes for the Kish and Codling banks, their key fishing grounds. They are very much in favour of developing offshore wind and renewable energy and they understand their importance, but they say the developer-led model, which is leading to these so-called legacy projects being dictated by the developers to put on the Kish and Codling banks, will wipe them out. They say it will destroy them completely. They tell me these companies are riding roughshod over them and that it is severely impacting on them. If these industrial wind farms are built on those locations, which should have been marine protected areas and which contain very sensitive sandbanks that are key to their livelihoods, their industry, jobs and livelihoods will be wiped out. That is contrary to all sorts of EU directives that prohibit displacement as a result of the development of these much-needed wind farms for the renewable energy we need. I emphasise they are severely needed, but they are not supposed to displace existing livelihoods, which is exactly what is happening because developers are dictating.

What is going on is absolutely outrageous. The Government is facilitating the sort of developer-led madness that led to the Celtic tiger crash, and now we are seeing the same model of development being repeated in our marine area, with the fishermen paying the price. Moreover, they say the consequence of that will be disastrous for biodiversity and point out that those banks protect the east coast. The damage to our coastal environment will be devastating if hundreds of wind turbines are put on these sensitive banks, which protect the east coast and provide a livelihood for our fishermen. They say we do need offshore wind but not on areas that should be protected from the points of view of biodiversity, marine biology and the protection of the livelihoods of fishers and those who work downstream in the industry and depend on those fishers.

I will support the motion. I ask the Minister to respond positively to the request of inshore fishermen and to listen to what they are saying about the potential devastation that will be inflicted on fishers on the east coast and in all the other areas throughout the country that have been spoken about.

11:17 am

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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As someone who comes from a part of County Wexford located 1 mile from Duncannon, where fishing is a way of life for many, I am deeply concerned for the community. I thank the Rural Independent Group and will support its motion. It reads "all fishers, including the inshore fishermen, have been hit extremely hard by record high fuel cost increases, while bait prices have also ‘soared’ (mainly due to almost all bait now being imported) as larger whitefish vessels have taken advantage of tie-up schemes". We all know that the rising fuel costs have burdened many sectors in our society, but those in the fishing fleet are wholly reliant on going out to fish to make ends meet.

The alternative to this is to cease operating, which, unfortunately, many are choosing to do. Those who rely on going out to fish cannot avoid the fuel crisis by working from home, switching to public transport or buying a new electric vessel. The choices that might be available to onshore workers to avoid the additional costs are simply not there for the fishing communities. This is why tax breaks or supports to a slightly larger degree than those for other sectors would be appropriate.

The motion also highlights the fact small fishermen are facing annihilation, a problem that was exacerbated by the Government, which has decided that the simplest solution to deal with the loss of the Irish fishing quota is to decommission the whitefish fleet. This scenario sums up the Government's approach to the fishing sector, as well as that of previous governments. The political will just is not there to stick up for the interests of Irish fishers when it comes to negotiations. The fallback solution appears to be the notion that we can pay off the fishermen. I am pleased the motion highlights the reality of many of the deals the Government has agreed to at EU level, and there is no doubt our membership of the EU brings many benefits to sectors of the Irish economy, but it seems that at least one exception to this is the fishing community.

The motion highlights some of the reality when it states "Irish boat owners are forced to sit in the harbour and watch as their EU neighbours from France and Spain land fish from Irish waters in Irish harbours, while benefiting from a fuel subsidy implemented by their governments on the back of a derogation given by the European Commission". Imagine how soul-destroying this must be for Irish boat owners and fishers, struggling on the margins or toeing the line between staying afloat and going out of business, to see this type of thing happening and being allowed to continue to happen.

With all that in mind, the motion calls for increased Government supports for the inshore fishing sector and for such a support scheme to be processed speedily and conveniently to increase quotas. I agree with the proposers of the motion in their calls for action and I hope the Minister is listening such that the Government will put a plan in place to support those in the inshore fishing community. I received an email earlier this month that relates to some of the commentary the Minister made in his opening remarks. I stood on the pier in Kilmore Quay with him and his visit was very much appreciated, but he might recall that the anger in the community, which depends entirely on fishing, was palpable. It has a processing plant and all the restaurants and hotels in Kilmore have a reputation for having fresh fish caught by their own local fishermen.

I received that email on 9 January from a fisherman in Kilmore. He stated that, because the decommissioning scheme had been in the news lately, he wanted to outline the views of fishermen. He explained that a figure for compensation is calculated based on the tonnage of the boat, the quantity of fish caught and the age of the boat.

This presumably is to compensate fishermen for the loss of their income and way of life forever. This should not be confused with the temporary tie-up scheme which has run for the last two years as compensation for our reduced quotas due to Brexit. The decommissioning and temporary tie-up schemes are separate and the tie-up money should not be deducted from the decommissioning money. The decommissioning scheme is a disaster for costal communities. It is a cop-out by the Government which has failed miserably to get a fair share for our fishers, even in our own waters. Since 1983, we have 2.9% of that quota for sole in area F and G. In brackets, he says that the south coast of Ireland to Lands' End is what that area covers. Belgium has 63% which is a disparity of over 60% to the advantage of Belgium. Ireland has 7% of the monkfish while France has 57% and Belgium again are up on Ireland at 8%. If we had a fair share of the quotas, there would be no need for a decommissioning scheme and the State would save some €60 million. If there is a big take-up, the industry will get very small and will not be able to sustain many of the back-up industries such as processing, engineering and transport. I think we can add tourism and serious tourism particularly in costal areas to that. The value of restaurants having fresh fish every day is particularly what enhances people's experience and brings them into the community.

He continues to state in his email that a much better scheme would be to continue the contemporary tie-up for one month every year. In line with what we have been discussing, and again it is the Minister's Department albeit a different junior Minister, is the issue of Coillte and decommissioning. We are selling off the family silver or at least that is what it looks like in rural Ireland and I know the Minister is from a costal community. Why would Coillte be selling our lands? Something that was brought to my attention this morning is very relevant because this is about rural Ireland and it is also about rural communities. The Minister has the power to change the forest premium because it has not been sanctioned by the EU. Some €100 million in forest premiums would be leaving the country annually and I am told the Minister can reduce this to the investors with which Coillte seems to have a done deal. What is being suggested, and I very much back the suggestion, is that he would reduce the premium to the investors and increase it to the farmers which would incentivise farm forestry and at the very least we would retain ownership of our lands. Decommissioning is the same thing. We are selling the family silver. When our Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, appointed a third Minister in a Dublin Central constituency, it was a rejection of rural Ireland and the calls we put on the floor like this.

11:27 am

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I remind Deputies that this motion is on inshore fisheries and not on forestry. We will proceed to Deputy Catherine Connolly.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter. I thank Deputy Collins and his colleagues for raising this and I fully support it. They have highlighted the crisis the industry is in and the urgent need. They have identified a figure which is very different in the scheme of money given out by the Government often unaccounted for and without transparency and accountability coming back. The Minister's comments to the effect that it is the first time a group has brought a Private Members' Bill is not helpful because small groups can only bring Private Members' Bills on an irregular, let us say, very intermittent basis. If I use myself as an example, I have brought Bills or motions on seaweed and on a policy for the islands. Nothing has happened and they are all interlinked, of course. We have had one on wool which is interlinked again with local industry and the viability of costal communities and also on seaweed, fishing and a policy for the islands. None of them has materialised, not one, and we are waiting.

I welcome the positives first before I go on to analyse where I see the difficulties with the Government. I welcome the announcement that there is a National Inshore Fishermen's Association which is recognised as a producer organisation. The value of that will depend on its total independence from the Department and its total independence in relation to resourcing. I hope that producer organisation does not have the distinction of standing over the death of fishing in our costal areas. I hope that is not the outcome. The motion is particularly well laid out. It sets out the matter in detail and I thank Deputy Collins for that. I want to focus on the very good policy by the Government back in 2018 to ban trawlers over 18 m from the inshore; a wonderful policy. It has already been referred to by Deputy Cairns but the update has not been given at all. Very quickly, the Government brought in a very good policy. A transition period was given for the bigger trawlers regarding sprat which were given a two or three-year window to get out of the inshore waters and unfortunately a case is taken to the High Court by a number of big boat owners. They win on a technicality being that the communication process was not as it should be. Fast forward to this year, the Court of Appeal's judgment held completely with the Government. I have the Court of Appeal judgment with me and I have taken the trouble to read it in detail. On 19 July 2022, the judgment held with the Government's policy utterly and completely. Can the Minister tell me today what has happened since 18 July? The only little obstacle at the bottom of that judgment was that the court asked for submissions in relation to a Northern Ireland aspect and vehicles. Otherwise, it was a complete victory for the Government. Its policy was upheld. More particularly, the Court of Appeal judgment stated that the policy directive to exclude the big trawlers from taking sprat, on the basis that it is simply not viable, was a measure of the conservation for fish stocks within the relevant regulation. The failure to notify - and that relates to the consultation process - had no effect on the validity. It was a win-win for the Government. The judgment goes on to say that the policy was not discriminatory. It was intra vires; in other words, the Government had the power to do what it did. It was not irrational. It was rational. It was legally adequate and a reasonable leader construing the consultation paper would not have concluded that the applicants who took the case enjoyed any right to a second consultation. Therefore, there is no need for a second consultation, the Government's policy has been upheld and simply seven months later we have no clarification from the Government on so important a matter which is the unsustainable removal of sprat from our inshore waters that is making it impossible for smaller fishermen to continue. If we look at the policy and what was behind it, there was a six-fold justification for it of which I will read but which included to provide wider ecosystem benefits including for nursing areas and juvenile stocks. It goes on to outline all of them stating that excluding vessels over 18 m from trawling inside the 6 nautical mile zone would present a significant economic opportunity to smaller inshore vessels. The increase in availability of sprat, and possibly of herring, to smaller vessels would represent a significant diversification opportunity for these smaller vessels. There were potential knock-on benefits for other economic sectors if the restrictions were introduced which is what the Government was doing back in December 2018. Finally, the restrictions ultimately reflected that the policy directive would go some way to addressing the issue of gear conflict and the loss of the static fishing gear used by smaller vessels as a consequence of net trawling by larger boats.

The background and the evidence given, which was not challenged by the Government, was that the number of vessels in the 12 m to 18 m fleet in Ireland is very low and continues to decline reflecting the very difficult environment in which these small boats operate, which is the whole substance of this motion before us. There is a compelling case for excluding trawling activity by large vessels in coastal waters inside the 6 nautical miles. There are sufficient opportunities for these vessels outside of the 6 nautical miles.

On and on it goes and it talks about the importance of small fishermen earning a living that is sustainable in small vessels in a sustainable way. That is what this motion is about. What really worries me is the kind of quick retort and I can see why the Minister might retort to some of the language used but that is neither here nor there. The duty is on the Government to come forward to tell us what it is doing in policy and in an action plan so that we have sustainable coastal communities based upon seaweed, which is the most fantastic product that we are ignoring, until we gave it to the big boys, or to be fair, to the big girls.

Wool is a completely wonderful commodity. What did we do? It was said that somebody should set up a wool council. We set a report up with fantastic recommendations, which highlights the diversity of how wool can be used and then we ignore it.

What do we do then with small vessels? We make it completely impossible for them. When we bring in a policy directive, we let it trundle on long for four years through the courts without making a damning or strong case to the court asking it to please hear this case quickly. When the court did hear it in July, it gave the Government a win. The Government is making the win into a loss because it is still allowing the big trawlers into the 6-mile area to fish unsustainably for sprat, which will feed other unsustainable fish farming activities. I have no hesitation in supporting this motion here today. I thank the Rural Independent Group again for bringing it forward.

The comments that we should bring these motions in our Private Members' time is simply not helpful. The duty is on the Government to tell us what the policy is.

11:37 am

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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In the first instance I welcome the Rural Independent Group motion. In doing so I note some of the accusations being levelled at the Minister that he has done nothing for the inshore sector, of ignoring the sector, of neglect and this constant mudslinging which we are seeing from the Opposition representatives towards him. It is completely ridiculous because-----

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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This mudslinging is called-----

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I can outline that he has given to piers in west Cork-----

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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What about people of west Cork? It is the smaller fishermen who are lying in ruins. There is the larger fleet and the small fishermen.

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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Let the Deputy talk.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Collins can sling mud at me all he wants, as I am well used to it.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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If he provokes people, he will get a response.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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There are accusations of ignoring the sector but the Minister outlined some of the investment which has been made for piers and harbours right from Kinsale down to Castletownbere. He has invested in the fisherman’s pontoon in Kinsale and in a pontoon in Courtmacsherry - there have been dredging works at Courtmacsherry - that is a pontoon that is used by the inshore sector. He has invested in the lower Aghada pier, which is used by the inshore sector, and in Cunnamore pier. There was an application in from Cork County Council for works at Union Hall for a barrier, which would have cut off for pier users down in Union Hall and I am glad that that application was rejected because it would have cut off access to what we call the leisure pier at Union Hall. I am happy that was rejected by the Minister.

The Minister introduced a Brexit scheme for the inshore sector, something which is not acknowledged. That original scheme was only for a six-month period and when the inshore sector approached to the Minister and asked for an extension of the scheme for the entire year, he did that and accepted it, but he will not give any acknowledgement from the Opposition on that. When I talk about the works that he had done on the piers and harbours across west Cork, he will get mud slung at him from the Opposition but they will be the first people to stand down on those piers and to put up social media posts welcoming the funding that they secured for each and every one of those piers, with absolutely no acknowledgement given to the Minister. People will, however, see through that, as will the inshore sector.

The Minister opened up the spurdog fishery.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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Let the Deputy finish.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opening up of the spurdog fishery and hope that the small processors across Ireland can open up a processing industry in that regard.

The Minister met NIFA at my request before Christmas in response to the collapse in the shrimp market, which he did at the drop of a hat, which I welcome. They had two asks. One was that the association would secure producer organisation, PO, status and we found out this week that this has been secured. The second ask was on the shrimp market and its collapse and we asked that he would provide a support package in that regard. That is the crux of what I want to speak about here today. We need a package to support that inshore sector, which has been severely and negatively impacted by the fact that the shrimp market has collapsed, mainly in Spain where much of our shrimp goes, and where the demand and the market for that species has collapsed.

The association has produced a graph that I have to hand. I am unsure if Members can see it from here but put simply, it shows the price they were receiving for shrimp in 2021 and then in 2022. One can see there has been a severe and dramatic collapse in the market for shrimp. That is my main ask of the Minister here today. He has responded before when we have come to him looking for extensions of schemes and when we looked for investment in our piers and harbours and I am confident that he will respond when we look for a package here also.

I will conclude on the subject of fuel costs, which have increased dramatically from 2018 up to 2022. My second ask of the Minister here today is that we look for a fuel subsidy for the inshore sector and, indeed, across the entire fishing industry, both inshore and offshore.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has recognised the value and importance of the inshore fishing sector and has pledged his ongoing commitment to supporting it during his frequent engagement with sector representatives. He has ensured support for the National Inshore Fisheries Forum in the developing and implementing of its own industry-led strategy to raise the profile of the inshore sector, to facilitate its engagement in policy initiatives and to enhance their understanding of management and planning for inshore fisheries.

Furthermore, he has facilitated constructive discussions around industry priorities in exploring new opportunities for diversification. The inshore sector has a role in making recommendations on the allocation of Ireland’s fishing quotas and emerging policies and initiatives through representation on a number of fisheries consultative structures, including the quota management advisory committee. State bodies also provide a range of services to the inshore fleet, including advisory services and stock conservation supports.

During the lifetime of this Government, two producer organisations have been guided to achieving official recognition, which will assist in the development of the sector and market opportunities through production and marketing plans, and will also provide additional representation for inshore fishers to give them a stronger voice.

Aside from the ongoing work on protecting and expanding the fishing opportunities for the inshore sector, the Minister has also consistently provided developmental and financial supports. Under the EMFAF's seafood development programme, there has been significant investment in areas such as capital investment on vessels, grants to fishers to engage in conservation initiatives and public interest projects aimed at ensuring sustainable fishing opportunities now and in future.

The recommendations of the seafood task force, which were shaped by the valuable contributions of representatives from the inshore sector, are being implemented and the Minister has included those directed at inshore fishers among the prioritised schemes. This includes the introduction of the inshore fisheries business model adjustment scheme, for which the Minister has secured €3.7 million in funding and which has resulted in direct payments to ensure fishers of between €2,700 and €4,000.

In addition, the Minister’s introduction of a €1 million inshore marketing scheme will create new and better avenues for the sale of inshore species and achieve higher prices for our fishers.

Meanwhile, the roll-out of a full suite of measures based on task force recommendations will provide new and diverse opportunities for those working in the inshore sector. These supports will be closely followed by the implementation of the EMFAF seafood development programme, which has included a specific and prominent focus on small-scale coastal fisheries.

As a member state of the European Union, there are necessary processes which we must engage with and regulations which we must adhere to in order to develop specific schemes and supports so that we do not interfere with the integrity of the Single Market. While the Minister has already committed to providing funding for the inshore sector through his Department’s EMFAF seafood development programme, the precise nature of these supports will need to be formulated in accordance with these rules, to include processes which have been established, and in accordance with relevant regulations for the management of EMFAF funding.

It would not serve the inshore fishers to propose funding without regard for these processes and the regulations that underpin them. The best way to deliver focused and necessary funding to the sector is to work through the programme that has been adopted by the European Commission and that is exactly what the Minister has been doing. The Minister will continue to engage and will work with representatives of the inshore sector directly to identify precise needs, to develop supports that are both appropriate to the sector and in compliance with the EU regulations and guidelines and to allocate funding on a prioritised basis.

11:47 am

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the National Inshore Fishermen's Association, Michael Desmond and the inshore fishermen in County Kerry who I have consulted with about this matter over the past number of months. I thank our group, under Deputy Mattie McGrath. I was glad to propose this as our motion for today because of its importance. Hundreds of inshore fishermen have no income today.

I am very interested in the speech the Minister made earlier. He blamed those of us in opposition for not raising the issue of inshore fishermen enough. We are raising it today. We are giving the Minister an opportunity to do what we are looking for. Our motion aims to force the Government to finally act by allocating at least €12 million in funds to inshore shrimp and velvet crab fishermen from the €258 million available for the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. We are asking the Minister to give the fishermen money today. Backbenchers support the Minister and said he is great. Is he going to give the fishermen money? Will he announce today that he will give them money? That is what we need.

I found the Minister's speech puzzling. He spoke about piers and harbours and said he had given money to piers. I would warmly welcome any money he would give to piers. In the 1990s and 2000s, I brought many deputations here to the late Jackie Healy-Rae, including fishermen from places in Kilmakilloge, Sneem, Blackwater and Cromane. He met Ministers who gave money for piers. We need to remember that a pier is no good if fishermen cannot fish from it because they do not have a thing called a quota.

That brings us onto quotas. What did Minister do about quotas? He is funding piers and said he gave €20 million to Donegal. I refer to the €43 million of the annual quota we lost during the Brexit negotiations. What has the Minister been doing to renegotiate that? What is he doing when it comes to fighting for more for our fishermen? A pier is no good if Irish fishermen cannot fish off it.

There are beautiful piers in Donegal and the Spanish are parked there. Spanish fishermen have the quota to go in and out of there. Our own lads are idle and have no income. I ask the Minister to address that and knock out the confusion. We are bringing forward the motion today. The Minister has welcomed it. When will he welcome it by saying he agrees with it and, not only that, he will put his money where his mouth is?

The Minister has said the issue is not raised enough. It is being raised today. I will tell the Minister who I am speaking on behalf of because I thank them for meeting me over the past number of weeks. I will start in the heartland of Deputy Michael Collins, Castletownbere. I thank those in Lauragh, Kilmakilloge, Tuosist, the Kenmare River, Castlecove, Caherdaniel, Blackwater, Sneem, Cahersiveen, the Ring of Kerry, Killorglin, Cromane and Dingle. All of these inshore fishermen have no money at the moment. I am standing here today on their behalf. I have met and consulted them. I spoke to them this morning and last night. They asked me to ask the Minister, in an earnest, but hard and firm way, whether he will give them the money because they need it.

They do not have any income. They cannot get any type of social welfare. They are not part of any scheme that is there for bigger fishermen. I do not begrudge the bigger fishermen anything. I cannot remember who it was, but perhaps it was a Sinn Féin Deputy who said earlier that there should be no such thing as trying to divide large and small fishermen. We are not doing that.

We are standing up today specifically for small inshore fishermen who might have a part-time or full-time income from fishing. At the moment, they have no income from fishing. I ask the Minister to please address that. I am on my knees today asking him to address that. The whole thrust of this motion is that we are looking for money.

When fisherpeople do not have an income, that has massive knock-on effect on local rural communities. All we want is a thing called fair play. There has been a sell-out over the years. Pair trawling in places like the Kenmare river, which others called Kenmare Bay, hoovers up everything that is there. It is morally wrong to do that and it is debarring other people from having stock to fish. I have raised this issue for many years. This practice resulted in a court case, which did not go right at the time. The issue needs to be sorted out to ensure the practice stops forever.

What are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers going to do? Are they going to sell out the fisherpeople in the same way that they sold out the farmers? I have no pride in saying on the record of the Dáil that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have lost rural Ireland. Do not mind the Green Party because it never had it to lose it. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have lost their hold over good people. I will not criticise people in those communities who supported Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael because they were sound and good workers and people. They are gone forever from them. I do not know where they are going to go, but I know they will not stand with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael because they did not stand with them. They sold them out and let them down. We are here today scraping and begging to see whether the Minister will give them €12 million. The Minister made a great speech earlier but never said he would give them the money. It is absolutely crazy.

I want a bit of clarification about Union Hall because it was stated that an application was made for a barrier. That is factually incorrect.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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It was a feasibility study.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It was a feasibility study that the money was sought for and the Minister did not give it.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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It was a feasibility study. The Deputy should clarify that.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I would give time to the Minister to answer that specific case because it will not take long. I will stop in time to allow the Minister to come in and answer that charge. Did his Department receive an application? If it did, why did it not provide the €300,000 required?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister is going to answer that.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to do it.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Give me one more minute. I promise I will give the Minister the time.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Deputy not going to give me the time now?

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I will give the Minister the time. I promise I will stop in time.

The Minister boasted about the money he gave for piers in Donegal. There have been applications from County Kerry. A very small amount of money for our piers would help our fishermen to keep going. Kerry County Council put forward excellent proposal after proposal, but we have not received funding. I ask the Minister to support them.

The main thrust of the argument today is to ask the Minister to not let us down and put us in a situation whereby we have to go back to people and tell them we brought forward the motion, did our best and were supported strongly by Sinn Féin and other Independents, for which we thank them and, despite that, the Minister's backbenchers stood up, praised him and clapped him on the back while at the same time giving us nothing. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow my time to be transferred to the Minister so that we can hear whether he will give us a couple of straight answers. I ask the Minister not to sit down without saying, "Yes" or "No" to giving us money for the inshore fishing sector.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Healy-Rae for the opportunity to come in and clarify that. I want to be very clear to Deputy Michael Collins. I was not accusing Cork County Council of being asleep at the wheel. Rather, I was accusing Deputy Collins of being asleep at the wheel because he was up here railing and ranting about an application that did not get funding, but which was not submitted. There is no proposal from Cork County Council regarding the development of Union Hall. No proposal is ready which meets the criteria in regard to a development grant for Union Hall because Cork County Council still needs to do the preparatory and scoping work, which is not covered by the Department and is not covered by the Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR, scheme, in order to get to that stage. The Deputy is asleep at the wheel because his brother was chairman of Cork County Council. If the two of them had been tick-tacking and more focused on doing the work rather than giving out, they might have been aware of that before the Deputy got up on the floor of the Dáil today to give out again.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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There was an application involving €300,000 from the Minister's Department for a feasibility study on Union Hall.

His Department has refused to give that money to the people of west Cork and to Union Hall pier. The Minister himself went down to Union Hall after the Brexit disaster that he played a massive part in and did nothing for them.

11:57 am

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Collins, resume your seat.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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He told them to apply for this funding and they did, but he refused to give it to them afterwards. Shame on the Minister and shame on Fianna Fáil. That is what they have done.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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There was an application for a barrier which we all wanted to be rejected.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are out of time now.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Ceann Comhairle, the-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up now.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Minister never answered the question. Is he going to give the money or not? Is it "Yes" or "No"?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We do not have time-----

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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He had the time. All we want is a "Yes" or "No"-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We want clarification.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the motion agreed to?

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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-----but all we get is silence.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The motion is agreed.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are not accepting that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are not accepting that the motion is agreed to?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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No.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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But it is your own motion.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Do not tell me they are voting against their own motion.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is only a con job.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Wait now. Sit down.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I have heard it all now.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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This is the trick they have. They are not going to give the money. They agree to the motion but------

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy McGrath, resume your seat.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are not asleep at all.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Resume your seat.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is only a con job.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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A con job.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Hold on, let us be clear. Are you saying you are refusing to accept the fact that your own motion has been accepted?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes, because they will not give us the money-----

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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They are Independents. They want to have it every way. They are even opposing their own motion now.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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-----because he is playing a three-card trick.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are not saying-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are because he is playing a three-card trick. We put down the motion in good faith.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Resume your seat.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We expect an answer or we expect the Government to oppose it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Resume your seat please.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Is the motion not agreed then?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Well, I am bewildered.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It seems to be not agreed.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are bewildered by the Minister every day.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let us see. Na Teachtaí atá ar thaobh na tairisceana, abraidís “Tá”. Nobody is in favour. Did I hear the Government say tá?

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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No.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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No.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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This is a farce.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Na Teachtaí atá ina coinne, abraidís “Níl”.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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A monumental farce.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will have to get advice on this. There is nobody either in favour or against the motion.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Ceann Comhairle, can I speak please? I will give clarity on the matter. It is our motion. We are obviously supporting our own motion and we are putting it before the Dáil-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Why did you not say that earlier?

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am sorry but I was trying to intervene and you would not let me. I asked the Minister to give us a straight answer as to whether he was going to give the money or not and he would not say "Yes" or "No", so we will take that as a "No". We are supporting our motion.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Okay, I will ask the question again. Na Teachtaí atá ar thaobh na tairisceana, abraidís “Tá”. Na Teachtaí atá ina coinne, abraidís “Níl”. The question is carried.

Question put and agreed to.