Thursday, 14 March 2019
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, line 15, after “boat” to insert the following:“, not exceeding 12 metres in length and the presence of which has been notified in the prescribed manner, that is”.
In response to the Minister's opening remarks, all of us have looked in close detail at the Supreme Court judgment at issue over the past two and a half years. The legislation before us here today was first introduced to this House in March 2017 and was precipitated by that Supreme Court judgment, which found that the previous voisinagearrangement was fundamentally flawed in that there was no primary legislative footing to give it any foundation. However, the Supreme Court did not say there was an obligation on the Oireachtas to legislate. We are dealing with a political decision to give effect to an arrangement that was in place since the 1960s and was found to be flawed on the basis that there was no legislative underpinning for it.
These are political decisions that we have to make here today. The Supreme Court, of course, cannot insist that the Oireachtas legislate, it can only advise us that we may want to legislate because it is a constitutionally separate arm of the State. That is an important point. This is about political will and because it was the right thing to do in the context of the Ireland of the 1960s does not mean that this is the right thing to do today.I do not believe this is the right thing to do by fishermen in the Republic of Ireland. As a sovereign Parliament, it is our responsibility to represent and work in the interests of our constituents. I have no difficulty with being mindful of the circumstances in which fishermen in the North find themselves. However, there is a long history here and it is not as positive as some might like to suggest. We can talk about the theory and practice and the legislative realities all we like but for Republic of Ireland fishermen, the reality is that there is very little fishing going on in the North for a variety of reasons. If we are taking the view that we should in primary law extend a right to those from outside this jurisdiction to fish on the Irish inshore, we have no guarantee that the UK Parliament is going to give a reciprocal right to us. My understanding is that there is no primary legislation in place governing the voisinagearrangement that would provide for the rights of Republic of Ireland fishermen - they are men by and large to the best of my knowledge - to fish lawfully in the UK.
I have difficulty coming to terms with this idea. How do we restrict permission to fish on the Republic of Ireland inshore to Northern Ireland owned, managed and operated vessels only? It is impossible. There is no definition of what constitutes a Northern Ireland owned and operated vessel. There are UK vessels. It therefore follows that vessels owned and operated in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, and vessels owned by larger corporations operating out of Northern Ireland, would have a right to fish with impunity on the Irish inshore. As Senator Mac Lochlainn said, we have seen the damage that has been done to the mussel seedbeds on the south-east coast of Ireland. I am aware of the damage that has been done in respect of brown crab off Clogher Head and razor clam fisheries in north County Dublin and elsewhere. We need to be mindful of that. Even though the legislation itself does not necessarily relate to fish stock management, we cannot be blind to that reality. We need to be very clear on how we are going to manage our stock.
I thought this was a bad idea two years ago and nothing I have heard to date has convinced or persuaded me otherwise. I have a genuine issue with this legislation. I understand and appreciate the political bind that the Minister finds himself in. I understand that we are in a heated set of circumstances at present, given what happened in Dundalk Bay a few weeks ago. However, this is not the first time there has been an arrest or detention of vessels that have been fishing unlawfully in the Irish inshore. It just happens that we were alerted to it on the national news in an alarmist fashion, I hasten to add, given the context of Brexit and so on. This is a politically expedient move. Like Senator Mac Lochlainn and others, I am concerned that fishing industry representatives and trawler owners, who are on the front line of this issue, have not been consulted in any meaningful way.
I am also concerned that it has taken two years for this issue to return to the House after it was removed from the agenda in May 2017. The Minister could not then find a majority or consensus in the House to move the issue on. I do not think it is acceptable to anybody in the House that we merely return to it two years later because there is a contrived political panic about the issue. We need more time to reflect. I have serious issues with it for many reasons, of which the Minister and Members are aware. It was through gritted teeth and in the spirit of compromise that the House decided to debate the Bill on Committee Stage and it will progress no further until such time as we have more satisfaction as to how our fishing communities can be supported and how loopholes and other issues in the legislation can be addressed. I make no apologies for representing the interests of Republic of Ireland fishermen, as their interests are paramount for me.