Thursday, 14 March 2019
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)
We are on Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill as well, by the way. We have not got past Committee Stage after 90 hours. God almighty. As the Minister knows, the amendments we are debating relate to length of the vessels. Some have proposed 15 m and others have proposed 12 m. As a gesture of goodwill, I am not going to press any votes on these amendments today. I am just going to make the case for them. We have asked the Minister to engage with the fishing representative organisations that presented to the Oireachtas committee. They are all on the system. They are much better qualified than anybody in this Chamber to give an expert opinion on how to make this legislation work for everybody and on how to ensure a level playing pitch for everybody.
It is critical that we protect our precious inland fisheries. We have vulnerable fishermen all around our coast and we need to protect this precious resource. In fairness, the European Union has given us the ability to do so. It is important that we do. I again point to the disaster in respect of mussel seed fisheries. One can look at the number of tonnes harvested. The records are there. A dramatic reduction has taken place. There has been a lack of management of that precious natural resource and fishery. It is an absolute sin. The outcome of the case in the Supreme Court has given the Minister an opportunity to protect that fishery at last and to make sure that it is managed.
One of the big elements missing from all of our fisheries across this island is a managed sustainable approach. Also missing is - God forbid - a defence of the interests of our Irish fishermen and fishing communities around our coast and their access to what is our own natural resource to create some prosperity and to allow people in those communities to have a decent livelihood. The Minister must know that these communities feel they have historically not been listened to and that they have been sacrificed for other interests at European level. That is how people feel right across the board, from the three men going out on a crabbing boat in Inishowen to those on large vessels leaving various ports around our coast, particularly the smaller operators.
It is critical that the introduction of this legislation is seen as an opportunity to remedy wrongs. Nobody in this Chamber believes that we should keep trawlers from the Six Counties out or that we should prevent Irish fishermen from accessing Irish waters. This is an opportunity for the Minister to get it right and to remedy the wrongs that have happened. I appeal to the Minister. This has been a missed opportunity for two years. As I have said in the joint committee, in this Chamber, and in other chambers, I believe the Minister is a decent and honourable man. Our objectives are the same. I am not into that game at all but I believe this is not being handled properly. I urge the Minister to take the opportunity to have round-table meaningful dialogue over the coming weeks to try to address the fishermen's concerns and to see that we are all on the one page.
We are all, as we should be, trying to protect the interests of all - I use the word "all" deliberately - of our fishermen around the coast. We need a level playing pitch. I have seen some of the draft amendments from the fishing representative organisations. They are grounded in common sense. They are not about greed or about keeping others out so that they can keep what they have. They are about sustainable fisheries, a level playing pitch, fairness, and defending Irish interests. There has been a huge mistake here. Let us start as we mean to go on from today. As I have said, I am not going to press the amendments. I know the Minister has gone some way towards addressing these particular issues, but there are other issues to be addressed.