Thursday, 14 March 2019
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)
It could well do. It is two years since the Bill was introduced on Second Stage. Committee Stage was pulled because the House did not support the Government in proceeding at the time. Now it has been brought before us at a time when there is a vacuum within political, economic and territorial relationships on these islands. Many interested sectors within the economy do not know what the future holds. Our fishermen represent one of those sectors. I am not just referring to the fishermen who will be impacted on by this legislation. All fishermen find themselves not knowing what the future holds, with concerns about quotas, the Common Fisheries Policy and the United Kingdom trying to take back its fishing rights. There are many questions. It is a time of transition and the Bill only adds to the confusion. The timing could not be worse. Therefore, the decision taken by this House today to kick to touch Report Stage of the Bill until meaningful consultations take place with all of the key stakeholders is a sensible one. I have spoken to my colleague from County Donegal, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, about the Bill. He is acutely concerned about its implications and he is a man with key expertise in the fishing sector. Many concerned individuals, some of whom are here to represent their interests, have not been consulted, while key issues have not been addressed.
The Supreme Court has ruled and I have read some of its judgment. It has accepted that mussel seed is a natural resource under Article 10 of the Constitution and that that natural resource must be protected by law. The Bill is in stark contrast to that decision. I understand what the Government is trying to do. It is trying to change the legislation, but we do not know what it will mean. We know from reading the objectives of the Bill that it will effectively allow vessels owned and operated in Northern Ireland to fish within the six-mile limit. That provision is very wide. Providing for Northern Irish-owned vessels is one thing, but providing for vessels operated in Northern Ireland is completely different. There are many concerns. I have concerns about the way the legislation was brought forward in the first place. For instance, there was no pre-legislative scrutiny. There was no regulatory impact analysis attached to it outlining the implications it could have, not only for the fishing industry but also our natural resources. No environmental impact assessment was carried out. If the Supreme Court recognises that this voisinage agreement will have an impact on our natural resources, surely under European law an environmental impact assessment, EIA, is required to be carried out. Applications for planning permission within the confines of a special area of conservation, SAC, require an EIA to be carried out. This legislation will affect our natural resources within the six-mile limit, but no plan for how, if implemented, it will be managed is attached or can be seen.
The issue of concern for many of the fishermen to whom I have spoken in the Republic, whose interests we represent in this House, is that fishing resources in the waters of the Six Counties have been exploited extensively to date. This legislation will allow those who have exploited those resources to come south and exploit the resources of the Republic also. That is the contention of the fishing sector. I am not qualified to say whether it is factual, but the fact remains that the Department should have consulted the individuals involved to teased out some of these issues. As has been said, meaningful consultation must take place. That does not mean making a telephone call but holding meetings and engaging in consultation around the table. That has to happen before Report Stage. Many questions remain unanswered. Political expediency or trying to serve the Taoiseach's objectives is not a good enough reason to-----