Thursday, 14 March 2019
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I thank Senator Nash. Senator Norris has proposed an amendment that would seek to remove section 10(1)(a) from the Bill. The effect of this proposed amendment would be to remove the principle of access for sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland to fish in our zero to six nautical mile zone. Quite frankly, I am perplexed at this position from a self-described southern unionist, particularly considering that the authorities in Northern Ireland are continuing to allow access to Irish sea-fishing boats to fish in their equivalent zone. Let us remember that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court finding that the voisinagearrangements are not invalid but, as it stands, there is insufficient provision for them in domestic law.
This Bill seeks to address what the Supreme Court identified was required, which is to give the arrangements a legal footing and cement our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. Consequently, I cannot support the Senator's proposed amendment. Thevoisinage, or neighbourhood, arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided reciprocal fishing access for more than 50 years. These arrangements have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in coastal waters in Ireland. The arrangements have also allowed, and continue to allow, Irish registered boats access to fish in coastal waters in Northern Ireland.
The Government approved the preparation of a legislative amendment, which is this Bill, to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court judgment. The Bill was published in February 2017 with a view to restoring, as expediently as possible, the arrangements which have long been in existence to provide access for fishing. We are here again today to see if this Bill can make better progress this time.This Bill sets out a proposed legislative amendment to address the issue of providing sufficient legal provision for Northern Ireland boats to resume reciprocal fishing access under the voisinagearrangements. Section 1 of the Bill proposes to do this by amending section 10 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. The proposed new section 10 continues to assert Ireland's exclusive right to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the State by maintaining previous provisions. It also explicitly provides for access to fish by sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland within the zero to six nautical miles of the baseline of the State's exclusive fishery limits.
While the Bill proposes to restore access to Northern Ireland boats to fish under the terms of the voisinagearrangements, this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. It is therefore my intention to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to specify this conditionality of access to give further assurance to the House that there is no question of preferential treatment for Northern Ireland vessels while fishing in our zero to six-mile zone.
In December 2018, I announced the introduction of restrictions on vessels over 18 m in length trawling inside six nautical miles to come into effect from 1 January 2020. Northern Irish vessels will also be subject to these restrictions. This is in keeping with the basis on which the voisinagearrangements were formalised in the 1960s, continuing access subject to the usual regulations which applied to our own vessels. This is consistent with the Supreme Court judgment that has brought us all here. While there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change from what they were previously. Northern Ireland boats will simply regain fishing access that they have had for decades under the voisinagearrangements in the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will also continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats.