Tuesday, 27 March 2007
Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006: Second Stage.
Molaim Bille Iascaigh an Fheabhail agus Chairlinn don Teach. I commend the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill to the House. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to present the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006 for consideration by the House.
Our debate this evening takes on a new significance in light of yesterday's unprecedented developments in Northern Ireland. The agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin to share power from 8 May next has allowed us to move closer to sustainable and genuine partnership government in Northern Ireland than we have ever been before. The Government is firmly committed to doing everything possible to encourage the parties along the path to government. We all stand ready to assist the incoming Ministers in the Executive in whatever way we can. I look forward very much to the opportunity to work with my new counterpart in the coming months. Through partnership and co-operation, we can move forward together on the practical issues that affect the people on this island, North and South.
The Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of six North-South bodies to take forward co-operation in specific areas, including aquaculture and fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, which I will refer to as the commission, is one of the North-South bodies envisaged in the Agreement and was established under the British-Irish Agreement Act of March 1999. The commission carries out its functions in respect of the Foyle and Carlingford Areas through the Loughs Agency. The commission replaced the Foyle Fisheries Commission, which was established in 1952 to manage the fisheries resources of the Foyle area. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the functions of the former Foyle Fisheries Commission in regard to the Foyle area were transferred to the Loughs Agency of the commission. These functions were also extended to the Carlingford area.
The Agreement also provided that the Loughs Agency would be given responsibility for aquaculture and fisheries related matters and should have powers for the promotion of development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough for commercial and recreational purposes.
The purpose of this Bill, which was initiated in the Dáil in December last year, is to give effect to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in so far as the Loughs Agency is concerned. Equivalent legislation is required in Northern Ireland. In the absence of an Assembly in Northern Ireland, the legislation for that jurisdiction was introduced by means of an order in council through the parliamentary process in Westminster.
For the convenience of the House a detailed explanatory memorandum has been published and this provides a synopsis of the Bill's provisions. The Bill, when enacted, will provide for a robust regime for the regulation of aquaculture in Lough Foyle for the first time, the introduction of an appeals system in respect of decisions on aquaculture matters, and generally for the modernisation of the fisheries provisions of the Foyle Fisheries Acts.
I stress that the Bill is the result of a long and detailed negotiation process across a range of Departments and agencies North and South. Given that the Northern Ireland Order in Council has progressed through the parliamentary process in the United Kingdom the scope for making changes to the Bill before the House is restricted to changes necessitated by local law requirements.
I will bring forward three minor technical amendments on Committee Stage to correct drafting errors in the text and to clarify the provisions in relation to the transitional arrangements for licences relating to the Carlingford area. Given the necessity for identical legislation North and South, however, I will be severely restricted in terms of accepting amendments which impact on the operational nature of the Bill.
I will now deal with the contents of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the commencement on specified days of different provisions of the Act. It also provides that the commencement of any provision of the Act may be limited to a particular geographical area. Part 2 inserts a new Part VI A, sections 53A to 53W, into the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. This Part provides for the introduction of an aquaculture licensing system in Lough Foyle to be overseen by the Loughs Agency. It also transfers the existing aquaculture licensing powers of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources within the Carlingford area to the agency.
One of the key provisions, section 53A, confers powers on the Loughs Agency to grant aquaculture licences, notwithstanding any public right to fish. It also creates two offences. The first is the carrying out of aquaculture operations without a licence and the second is failure to comply with the terms and conditions of an aquaculture licence. The section also provides that aquaculture licences granted in respect of part of the foreshore, the bed of the sea or of an estuary, which is owned or lawfully occupied by another person, or which is within the limits of a several or private fishery, can be granted only with the consent of the owner, or lawful occupier, of the area or fishery in question.
Section 53B empowers the Loughs Agency to prescribe matters of procedure for the licence application process and the type of information to be provided by applicants, including information relating to the potential impact of aquaculture on the environment. Section 53C covers the determination of licence applications. It provides for the consideration of written representations, including those relating to the impact of aquaculture on the environment, in respect of such applications, notification of the decision to the applicant and publication of the notice of decision.
In section 53D, it is provided that an aquaculture licence shall define the position and limits of the licensed area and shall be subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Loughs Agency. The section lists examples of the types of conditions that may be imposed. Under section 53E licences may be granted for a period of between ten and 20 years and may be renewed for a further period not exceeding 20 years. An aquaculture licence confers, on its holders, exclusive rights to conduct aquaculture but protects existing legal rights enjoyed, for example, by any person under a local or personal Act or under charter. Section 53F also provides that ownership of the stock cultivated under a licence vests in the licensee. It makes it an offence for another person to interfere with a licensee's operations. Section 53G allows the agency to vary an aquaculture licence in the public interest and to pay compensation to the licensee for loss or damage arising from such a variation. The Loughs Agency is enabled, under the new section 53I, to revoke a licence for reasons of non-operation or breach of conditions.
Sections 53H, J, K and L make provisions for the variation of licences, the surrender of licences, the death of a licence holder, bankruptcy of the licensee, the transfer of aquaculture licences and the procedures to apply in each of these cases. Section 53M provides for the establishment and maintenance of a register of licences and related provisions, including, where practical, making the register available to the public for inspection by electronic means. Section 53N enables the Loughs Agency to make regulations providing for the payment of fees in respect of applications for aquaculture licences. It also provides for the variation, transfer, surrender and subsistence of aquaculture licences. Regulations made under this part of the Bill must be approved by the North-South Ministerial Council.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of the Foyle and Carlingford Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board, and the appointment of members and a chairperson to the board by the North-South Ministerial Council. Any aggrieved persons may appeal to this board against licensing decisions, including decisions on revocations, transfer, variations and compensation. Both the agency and the appeals board are obliged to give reasons for their decisions under section 53Q. The Bill contains a number of provisions on aquaculture in Carlingford and provides that existing licence applications shall continue to have effect as if made under section 53A.
Part 3 of the Bill contains the proposed amendments to the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. "Fish", for the purpose of this Part, is defined in section 5 of the Bill. By virtue of the definition of "fish" in section 5, the agency will have responsibility for the regulation of the wild mussel and oyster fisheries, eels, all freshwater fish, salmon and other fish of a kind that migrates to and from the sea, in addition to sea bass and tope. The amendment was made to address concerns expressed about the definition of "fish" and particularly concerns that the agency should regulate the wild oyster and mussel fisheries.
Section 6 amends the functions of the agency, as laid out in section 11 of the 1952 Act. This is to take account of the additional functions conferred on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission by the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Section 7 amends the 1952 Act and confers additional regulation-making powers on the Loughs Agency. These relate to the prohibition of the sale of fish caught by rod and line, concessionary fees, exemption from payment of fees, the nature of documentation to accompany applications, conditions attaching to fishing licences, the transfer of fishing licences and the tagging of fish. It also makes provision in regard to the publication of such regulations.
Section 8 amends section 14 of the 1952 Act and enables the agency to restrict the number of licences for commercial netting within a particular prescribed area of the Foyle or Carlingford areas. This section also provides for how the allocation of licences by the agency is undertaken in instances where the number of applications exceeds the maximum number of licences prescribed. These new provisions, when enacted, will play an important role in the introduction of any new management regime for wild salmon in Lough Foyle that may be required to comply with the habitats directive.
A new section, section 14A, in the 1952 Act is inserted by section 9 of this Bill. It allows the Loughs Agency to acquire, by agreement, fishing rights in any waters for the purpose of developing and improving facilities for angling. It also provides for the development of these waters by the agency.
Section 11 amends section 28 of the 1952 Act so the agency may prescribe different times for the closure of the seasons for different species of fish. Section 12 inserts a new section, section 35A, in the 1952 Act to prohibit unlicensed fishing.
Section 15 inserts a new section in the 1952 Act, which section makes it an offence to cause or knowingly permit any deleterious matter to pollute a river. Provision is also made for the Loughs Agency to carry out necessary works for the reinstatement of the waters to restore the fish population after such an incident. This section also provides for the recovery of costs from the person convicted of discharging the pollution. Section 16 extends the prohibition on the use of certain devices to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish, including electrical or acoustical apparatus. It also prohibits the use of a gaff.
Section 21 updates the procedures for the appointment of river watchers. The two new sections added to section 56 of the 1952 Act oblige the agency to maintain a register of the names and addresses of those entitled to act as river watchers. It also imposes a five-year limit on the period for which a river watcher may be appointed and allows for the re-appointment of river watchers.
Section 22 amends section 59(1) to enable an authorised person to seize any equipment that has been or is being used to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish. This section also amends section 65 of the 1952 Act and allows the courts to order the forfeiture of equipment seized.
Section 23 also amends section 59 of the 1952 Act and allows authorised persons to cross any land on foot, and where there is a suitable roadway, lane or path, to use motor vehicles to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of offenders. The provision also requires authorised persons not to cause obstruction and to re-secure any land against trespass when exercising such powers.
Section 27 provides for the revision of penalties in respect of offences committed under the Act. The penalties are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. This section also provides for the recoupment by the Loughs Agency of the cost of prosecutions by the insertion of section 69A in the 1952 Act.
Section 28 amends section 70 of the 1952 Act to provide that work that might otherwise be prohibited under the 1952 Act may be carried out by the agency or any person to whom a permit is issued, provided that such work is for artificial propagation, scientific purposes or for the improvement of the fisheries. The amendment also details procedures on permits issued for this purpose.
Section 29 amends section 76 of the 1952 Act by amending the existing statutory forfeiture provisions to allow the courts to adjudicate on forfeiture. This section also repeals section 77 of the 1952 Act. Section 30 inserts a new section 73A in the 1952 Act. It provides that applications for judicial review of decisions of the Loughs Agency about aquaculture, or of the appeals board in appeals, may be made only in accordance with Order 84 of the Rules of the Superior Courts. Provision is also made in order that the High Court may not decline jurisdiction in a case by reason only that the decision was made in an area that is outside the State, or relates to a place that is outside the State. This is one of the provisions that is included in this Bill but not in the draft Northern Ireland Order in Council, the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007. This section is included on the advice of the Attorney General.
Section 32 confers powers on the agency to provide, subject to the payment of such fees as it may determine, services relating to fisheries and amends paragraph 2 of the Third Schedule to the 1952 Act. Section 34 provides that the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 shall not apply to the Louth area. To date, aquaculture operations in this area have been licensed under the 1997 Act. Section 35 amends the Foreshore Act 1933 so the Minister may grant a foreshore licence to the Loughs Agency. This will allow aquaculture licensees to conduct aquaculture operations on the foreshore.
Schedule 1 inserts new Schedules 3A and 3B in the 1952 Act. These make provision for the incorporation, membership and staffing of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board and set out the procedures for appeals. There are eight articles in Schedule 3A which I will briefly outline. Schedule 2 contains the details of the new penalties as provided in section 27. The penalties in the North and the South have been made as consistent as possible allowing for local law conditions so that offenders should be subject to similar penalties in either jurisdiction.
The Bill is an important measure in the delivery of service by a North-South body established under the Good Friday Agreement. It will equip the agency with the powers to regulate aquaculture and it modernises its powers over inland fisheries. In turn, this will enhance the commission's scope for conserving and managing these fisheries. I look forward to the assistance of Members of the House in progressing the Bill into law.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, and his officials to the debate on this important Bill. As he stated, this debate is symbolic in light of yesterday's events. On the Order of Business this morning I referred to the hard work that is required after yesterday's historic events and Senator O'Rourke replied the hard work starts now. We are undertaking a significant project and it will not be any less difficult because it is to do with salmon fishing. The Bill relates to traditional, established rights in different parts of the jurisdictions on both sides of the Border. This will not be an easy challenge but I welcome the fact we are discussing something as important and pertinent to the Border areas in Carlingford and Lough Foyle, especially in the aftermath of yesterday's events.
I have nothing negative to say about my dealings with the Loughs Agency because I have had no difficulties when seeking anecdotal or other information from it. I have experienced nothing untoward in terms of consultation, transparency or information. I organised a public meeting in Greencastle in January with my colleague, Deputy Perry. The meeting was both significant and interesting. The idea was to meet with fishermen from County Donegal dealing with aquaculture, salmon, angling, commercial, pelagic and other types of fishing.
What happened on the night was extremely significant and is pertinent to what we are discussing; many fishermen turned up from Strabane and County Derry. They were vexed because of the lack of information available to them. It was a tough public meeting because Deputy Perry and I were not in a position to give answers on behalf of the Loughs Agency. We did not have the authority to do so as there had not been any prior consultation. It emerged that there is a serious information deficit in terms of transparency in regard to the application dates for licences for draft nets or whether licences will be issued at all.
This time last year draft net licences were issued. I received anecdotal information from the Loughs Agency stating the licences would be issued shortly. Communication between the Department and the agency would be helpful. People seeking the licences must be made aware when they will be issued or whether they will be issued at all. The closing date I received anecdotally is 15 April and it is already close to the end of March.
Anecdotally, the information I received from the Loughs Agency regarding drift net fishing is that these licences would be given out inshore. Currently, approximately 112 drift net licences are in use on the Foyle, and it is intended to reduce that number to between 30 and 35. I welcome the fact the scheme is voluntary. As the Minister of State is aware, some concern and discontent was been created in Donegal by the involuntary nature of the approach taken by the Department to the same issue.
I welcome the inclusion of wild mussels and wild oysters into the Bill, as there is significant activity in this respect on the River Foyle. The Minister of State will be aware of the difficulties that exist and present significant challenges. I do not refer to the issue on a cross-Border basis, this is a local issue and must be addressed as such. Plans for coastal management systems look good on paper but the only way we can get something to work is to bring all sides together. There is a significant divide on the Foyle in terms of bad history between different sectors. If we are to incorporate the Loughs Agency as a watchdog for future development on the Foyle, we should take this matter into account. The Department should get in touch with all who are involved in the different sectors on Lough Foyle to address the serious difficulties that exist at present.
The Minister of State will be aware of the anomalies that exist in regard to seed mussels. I hope the new agency will put in place a level playing field in terms of the allocation of seed mussels. In Wales, for instance, anomalies remain in regard to seed mussels and we should not have to play second fiddle in this regard.
I also welcome the measures intended to combat poaching. Traditionally, this has been a difficult challenge for every administration. The acknowledgement that poaching is a problem is welcome. During the debate on drift net licences I made the point that poaching is a major issue. I have limited experience of the problem from Donegal to Mayo. From what I hear, the poaching of salmon from rivers is a serious problem and we have to give the Loughs Agency every assistance in terms of resources and advice.
The pollution element of the Bill is also welcome. It deals with individuals and groups. I do not wish to castigate my local authority. However, due to years of lack of investment, infrastructure such as sewerage schemes have fallen into disrepair and local authorities may be at risk of having heavy fines imposed once the Bill is enacted. There is evidence of raw sewage entering Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. We must take cognisance of that and live up to our responsibility to ensure proper investment is made in our local authorities in terms of dealing with the problem of pollution.
To return to what Senator O'Rourke said earlier about hard work, it will not be easy for us to embed co-operation and linkage on every level but the key element is bringing all stakeholders with us on this issue. Pardon the pun but many of them are left outside the loop, and I do not just mean the loop netters. Many fishermen believe they are in the dark on this issue and that was never more evident than last night when 100 fishermen attended a public meeting in the Highlands Hotel in Glenties. They did not get any answers and they believe they are being disenfranchised in terms of a representative voice.
We are going down the road of cross-Border co-operation, cross-Border institutions and so on but we must be very careful about the people we represent. Senator Maurice Hayes spoke earlier about the poignancy of yesterday's events. All Senators who spoke about that issue today, with the exception of Senator Maurice Hayes, started with the kidology by saying this or that politician brought us to where we are today. Let the historians deal with how we got here. Our job as politicians is not to sit back and say who did what, when they did it or how they did it. Our job, and this is the real task, is to try to bring two communities, and the different communities within the two communities North and South, together on the issues relevant to their lives, namely, economic issues and other issues that will make them and their families think about the type offuture they want. That is where our responsibility lies.
On both sides of the Border, the Tyrone, Derry and Donegal fishermen believe they do not have a voice. What message can we send to assure them that we will bring them with us on this issue? They do not trust the existing institutions and the new ones we will transpose on to them. We must be careful not to leave them out of the picture and bring them with us in this regard.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, to the House. I also welcome the introduction of the Bill and hope it has a speedy passage through the House. People in the area have waited a long time for these provisions and it is hoped, now that they are about to be enacted, that it will spell a new era for aquaculture in this area.
It is appropriate in the week in which there appears to be a final settlement of differences in Northern Ireland that we should debate and, hopefully, approve a measure that has something to offer to the people in the two jurisdictions. I digress briefly to mention the significant events that have taken place in Northern Ireland this week. There have been many moments during what we euphemistically call the Troubles which have been described as historic, and the phrase has seen a certain amount of overuse in the past few years. However, watching the breakthrough yesterday, when a date for entering Government has at last been set between the two most extreme parties in Northern Ireland, we might be forgiven for once again using the term "historic". There is a feeling of confidence and achievement this week which is wholly justified, and I congratulate all of the parties that have brought about this ground-breaking agreement. That underlines the necessity to work together to prove that not only the two communities in Northern Ireland but also the two jurisdictions can co-operate for everyone's benefit.
Under the terms of the Bill, the Loughs Agency will regulate the fisheries of the Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough areas. This is one more agency to come under the jurisdiction of the North-South co-operation bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement and, at the risk of repeating myself, shows the potential for co-operation between the two jurisdictions.
Prior to that, Lough Foyle did not have an aquaculture licensing system because of the key jurisdictional issues involved but this measure will allow for what should be a strong and lucrative industry to be given a formal standing. We must face up to the fact that fish stocks have either declined significantly, as one part of the industry claims, or, in the case of cod, are moving much further north because of an increase in sea temperatures. Whether either or both of these arguments is correct, we know there is a shortage of fish at market and that the price has risen enormously. That provides a genuine business opportunity for those who wish to get into this area of endeavour and any boost to the economic fortunes of the communities in the vicinity of both of those bodies of water would be very welcome.
There are genuine business opportunities available, partly because of our growing demand for fish but also because over 80% of the seafood Americans consume is imported and at least 40% of those imports are farmed seafood. The Americans are expanding their fish farming operations but there is no reason we cannot look for a share of what is a growing market.
In parts of my own constituency there is a thriving shellfish industry and we should not deprive the Foyle and Carlingford people of the same opportunity to make a living from this kind of shellfish farming. All species should and must be provided for. Naturally, as with any food producing endeavour, that will be subject to regulation and control and the Bill provides for an aquaculture licensing system in the area. The loughs agency will provide these licences to those who abide by the terms defined in the Bill.
I trust that in setting up this joint agency, sufficient cognisance is being taken of the fact that it covers two jurisdictions. In this case, any amending legislation or expansion of the area of operations, or in dealing with any potential new problems as would arise from any new area of endeavour, will need the approval of the two jurisdictions, which may slow down to some extent the taking of any necessary decision and subsequent action, but with co-operation that should not prove to be of major concern.
The agency will be representative of both jurisdictions but I am conscious that we must get this right first time to avoid any unnecessary pressure or difficulties on the agency and on the industry in due course. Aquaculture in this jurisdiction has proved to be contentious and can pose a health risk for the consumer and a source of pollution in the area of production. It is essential, therefore, that there be a reasonable measure of control and a licensing system appears to be the most reliable way to operate that.
The Bill makes it an offence to pollute a river. I am not sure whether pollution can travel upstream but it is probably wise to provide for that at this stage. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that an environmental impact statement be sought and provided before a licence can be issued and that those who operate outside of the system be subject to the substantial fines and imprisonment as provided for in the Bill.
I am pleased that licences are being granted for substantial periods of between ten and 20 years. It is only proper that those who will be expected to invest large sums of money should have a reasonable time in which to recoup their expenditure and take a profit from their investment.
I am also in agreement with the provision which stipulates that there should be a restriction on the number of licences issued for commercial netting within the two areas. It has long been accepted that there is a limit to the available fish and it would be pointless to have a free for all, with none of the investors gaining a reasonable return on their investment.
Aquaculture licences granted in an estuary owned by another person can only be granted with the consent of the owner. In my own constituency there is ongoing litigation in regard to ownership and fishing rights in the estuary of the River Blackwater, though I feel strongly that, regardless of what inherited rights might allow, the waters of estuaries and foreshores should be in public ownership.
We know from previous experience that tradition and established custom and practice should be taken into account and, in this regard, there should be local consultation with fishing interests to decide the best way forward and to ensure that we do not diminish anyone's established rights or ability to make a living. It is essential that we be sensitive in the introduction of this measure and take cognisance of the established and traditional fishermen in the two areas. It is equally necessary that if we are disturbing people's livelihood in any way, we compensate them appropriately. This would hardly amount to much in view of the relatively small number of established fishermen, or women, involved. The point has been made previously that this measure, or at least the proposed regulation of the industry in both loughs, was discussed with the fishermen of Northern Ireland and I am anxious that our fishermen be treated in the same fashion.
I can understand the reservations of fishermen, who have been plying these waters for generations, regarding the prospect of their being subject to penalties and I again urge the Minister to ensure that no one is seriously discommoded in making a living on the loughs. Current fishermen enjoy rights built up over generations and I am anxious that these are not unnecessarily or arbitrarily curtailed in any way.
I also ask the Minister to ensure that those aquafarmers who have already invested heavily in the area are not put at risk by cowboys coming in for a quick buck, who are not particularly concerned for the environment and would not take sufficient precautions in their method of fishing and farming. There are very real dangers, particularly in aquaculture, that disease is introduced to the area and that people who have invested many years and a great deal of money into their particular venture see their investment put at risk because of unscrupulous operators. The Bill provides for what we might, in ordinary circumstances, consider to be significant fines but sometimes the stakes can be very high and, in some cases, these fines and penalties might not be seen as a sufficient deterrent. Provision should be made for an increase in the relevant fines, with discretion in the courts to respond to what might be a minor breach of the regulations while punishing the cowboy operator with a significant maximum.
For a variety of reasons, fish farming in this country has received a bad press, sometimes with good cause. With good husbanding, however, far from being a negative influence on the seabed and other marine life, shellfish farming in particular can be a source of renewal on the seabed and create a habitat for a huge variety of other marine plants and animals. A recent study in the United States has shown that biodiversity may be significantly increased by the presence of deep-water oyster farms. Experts have confirmed that oyster farms provide a habitat for diverse groupings of invertebrates with high abundance and biomass. One oyster string can provide a habitat for up to 3,000 individuals from as many as 80 different species.
Many of the world's natural marine fisheries no longer yield the benefits they once did, due mainly to overfishing. Governments across the world are responding to the fisheries crisis by reducing fishing efforts and protecting fisheries habitats. We have overseen a programme of fleet reduction in this country to try to conserve stocks and there is an onus on this generation, worldwide, to try to expand stocks again and restore the productive possibilities of the world's oceans. This will not necessarily happen in the loughs of Foyle and Carlingford, but there may be scope, in time, for a net contribution to wild stocks and there may well be advances in science of which these areas can avail to help restore and restock the oceans. It can legitimately be asked whether the advances in aquaculture which now enable juveniles of many species to be produced en masse can be applied to speed up recovery of some stocks, or increase the production of others.
There is a strong future in aquaculture and advances in science and in methods of release of juvenile stocks into the wild are happening all the time, particularly in northern Europe. The first and second international symposia on stock enhancement and sea ranching, in Norway in 1997 and Japan in 2002, were instrumental in highlighting the technology and approaches needed to release hatchery-reared juveniles in a responsible way. A third such symposium is on the way and the future of fish farming looks bright. There are difficulties in the industry and there is resistance in some areas to the practice, but we must wake up and recognise that fishing as we know it in western Europe is changing and, in some instances, almost dead. This Foyle and Carlingford initiative shows a way forward and I support it wholeheartedly.
We must examine the whole question of the ownership of the seabed and work out with our British counterparts a final and acceptable settlement in this regard. The most important element of the project is the possibility of economic progress for the communities of the Foyle and Carlingford area and, for that reason alone, this Bill must be supported and placed on the Statute Book at an early date.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not pose as an expert on fishing but this is a most appropriate Bill in the circumstances of what happened yesterday. I remember the Northern Ireland (Foyle Fisheries) Act 1952 being passed, which was one of the first, if also one of the few, examples of cross-Border co-operation between the Unionist and Irish Governments. There was also an agreement on the Great Northern Railway and another on the drainage of Lough Erne.
The Foyle fisheries arrangement has stood the test of time and has proved itself in the management of this hugely valuable fishery and waterway over the years. It points the way in which North-South bodies can profitably work. The DUP has a suspicion of North-South bodies, especially if its members sense unification by stealth, but they are and will continue to be interested in practical measures to use and conserve resources and manage systems across the Border. The more such schemes can be progressed the better and this is an outstanding example. As the Order in Council has already been passed in the British Parliament it is clear we will have to accept the Bill as it stands but, in any case, I do not believe Members will rush to make amendments.
It is important to recognise the economic value of aquaculture and the Bill points the way forward in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Minister may want to leave himself more room in the definition of species of fish. Fish will change over years and if cod are migrating to colder water other fish, which find it too hot where they are, will come into our waters.
The Bill also opens up the possibility of developing aquaculture in both Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle. I agree with previous speakers that it is important to bear in mind the people of those areas and bring them along with whatever plans there are. The worst thing that could happen would be a North-South body being seen to enter an area with a big stick with which to beat people. That would not only be detrimental to fishing operations but to the very concept of North-South co-operation.
The world has moved on since 1952 and methods and regulations which were thought appropriate at that time are no longer considered acceptable. As Senator McHugh said, the way forward for policymakers nowadays is through discussion, consensus and by bringing people with them. I believe there is a great future for aquaculture in Ireland, partly to replace the stocks that are gone but also to build up a new and lucrative industry.
People involved in that might look at an area in south-west France which I know quite well. The people there live off oysters and mussels. Senator Kenneally might be interested to know that the founding father of the oyster industry there was a sailor from Waterford called Dalton, who was marooned on a rock off the French coast and discovered that it was better to grow these creatures on ropes than on the sea bed. The people in the area have co-operatised and developed the industry. They have tight controls.
Tight controls are required with regard to pollution because the industry can be destroyed by it. Pollution can be caused by other aquacultural activities, so they must be watched as well. These species are quite susceptible to viral attacks and attacks by predators so there must be regulation and a deep concern for the health of the operation. There must be control and thoughtful regulation.
This is a good Bill. It addresses a real need. It is important that we march side by side in legislative terms with the legislative provisions in Northern Ireland. It is also important and hugely symbolic that we take this opportunity to advance cross-Border activity in a way that is sensible economically and holds out the possibility of the development of profitable business for people on both sides of the Border. I commend the Bill.
Unfortunately, due to the accident on the M7-M9, I was not present for the Order of Business. I wish to make a few remarks about the general context into which this legislation falls, given that it deals with one of the bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. Notwithstanding the fact that it was long overdue, there must be great satisfaction at yesterday's agreement. At last, there is an inclusivity which means that all major elements in Northern Ireland will now work together.
It vindicates the long and difficult steps that took place previously. On the assumption that the Executive becomes operational on 8 May as promised, this will represent a successful conclusion of the peace process, although not, of course, the end of history. It does not wipe out the pain, grief and suffering of the past 30 years but, taken as a whole, it represents a balanced and comprehensive resolution of many of the principal difficulties. Practically nobody will wish to return to the way things were. It is an enormous tribute to the partnership and co-operation of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It appears that their historic ten year partnership, which is now drawing to a close, will be crowned with success, subject to what happens on 8 May. That is not to take away from the important advances that were also made in the era of Mr. Albert Reynolds and Mr. John Major.
What has been achieved has an international resonance. Many groups, such as in Sri Lanka, the Basque country and in the occupied territories, will look at it to see what lessons can be learnt from it. Of course, one should not assume that lessons are necessarily easily transferable from one situation to another, given that every situation has its own specifics which make a simplistic transfer difficult. Nonetheless, they will learn what they can from it. It will also be held up internationally as an example of how difficult and seemingly intractable situations can make progress, refuting the pessimism attributed to a former British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who is reputed to have said, apropos of Ireland, that to some problems there is simply no solution.
The Foyle Fisheries Commission was one of the earliest modest forms of North-South co-operation, re-established after a void of practically 30 years. That was not the original intention. In the early 1920s it was intended that substantial all-Ireland co-operation would continue. In fact, it did not, and there were no structures for it. It was not until the late 1940s and early 1950s that modest, almost minimalist, steps were put in place. This was an almost unique example and Senator Maurice Hayes mentioned the other two. However, it showed, even to the most sceptical, that it could be done.
During the 1970s and 1980s Carlingford Lough was the scene of small scale, gunboat diplomacy. There was a British gunboat almost permanently stationed on the northern side of the lough. Matters were not helped by the fact that the line of the Border was not quite agreed. I recall the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, sending an Irish naval vessel to Carlingford Lough in 1982 to keep our end up, as it were. Of course, there were sailors, thoroughly bona fide as far as I know, who complained that their vessels were being boarded by not very polite naval crews. However, in Carlingford Lough, as elsewhere, we are now sailing into calmer waters.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has a particular interest in Carlingford. I believe he has a home on Carlingford Lough, in addition to his home in Blackrock in Dundalk. For a long time he has held an ambition, which I thoroughly support, to have a bridge constructed across Carlingford Lough to join Carlingford and Rostrevor. The President, having lived in Rostrevor, would probably have an interest in that as well. This is obviously a matter on which there should be co-operation. I do not believe it will be particularly controversial except at a technical level. Fishermen always jibe at regulation and it does not take much for them to find the authorities oppressive in this manner. This is one of the bodies where there is co-operation and I have every hope that in due course the type of co-operation outlined in the Bill will be extended to other areas.
I extend a hearty céad míle fáilte to the Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries. I reflect on the historic nature of this day. I am sure it has not been lost on the Minister of State that he is representing the Republic of Ireland steering through legislation with a very strong North-Strong element to it in the aftermath of the events in the North yesterday. This debate has seen contributions from two esteemed Members of the House, Senators Maurice Hayes and Mansergh, both of whom, I am sure, have experienced great happiness and personal reward for their individual contributions to the peace process going back over 25 years. I am sure it is a source of great pride to be in this House today as we embark on a new era. This legislation reflects us embarking on a new phase of political co-operation on the island of Ireland, North and South.
I come from a maritime county, which sometimes surprises people. We do not have any mussels but I believe we have eels. As we have two and a half miles of Atlantic shoreline, I am sure I could have a dialogue with the Minister of State about the various forms of fishing species that are probably off the coast of Tullaghan. I even noticed that my remarks about Leitrim being a maritime county perked up the departmental officials who probably reckoned the Minister of State had not thought of that. We have always been proud of having the shortest shoreline in country because whenever issues regarding to fisheries arise I have received the jibe that I would not know about them coming from County Leitrim. Like many in our immediate vicinity, our county is renowned for our lake fisheries and our course fishing.
This legislation, coming as it does after developments of the past 24 hours, reflects a continuation of a history of co-operation particularly in Lough Foyle and to a lesser extent in the Carlingford Lough area, to which Senator Maurice Hayes referred, going back to the 1952 Act. I believe that following partition, that Act was probably the only manifestation of co-operation between the North and South authorities, primarily because of the geographical location of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. As Senator Mansergh stated, in these loughs the partition line could not be defined. Even in the worst period of relations between North and South there was recognition by both authorities of a need to regulate the Lough Foyle area. We are now in a new era of co-operation.
Senator Maurice Hayes spoke about the true feelings of many in the DUP. There was a mindset that was reluctant to embrace the concept of North-South bodies. In the ongoing discussions on the Good Friday Agreement, my enduring image is of some on the Unionist side wanting to restrict not only the number of bodies to be agreed to, but also the scope of those bodies. However, I do not believe anybody disagreed with the need to have this particular legislation introduced. We have reached this point following those momentous events at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
A DUP delegation attended the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body plenary session held in Killarney last year, at which both Senators Maurice Hayes and Mansergh were present. That event was historic in its own way. I remember asking Peter Robinson about the perception that the DUP was opposed to extending or enlarging the North-South bodies. If memory serves me right, his response was largely positive in that, as Senator Maurice Hayes put it, he was quite satisfied to encourage and support North-South bodies that would have a practical dimension and where there was a real need to regulate on an all-island basis, but he was not prepared to go beyond that. However, that is a debate for another day. At least there was a positive element to it. On that day many of us present at the event felt we were on the verge of a significant political breakthrough, which fortunately has now come about.
I wish to ask about section 5 and amendments on the regulation of stock. Several Members on both sides of the House have referred to the responsibility now imposed on the new agency for the regulation of wild mussels, oyster fisheries, eels, all freshwater fish, salmon and other fish of a kind that migrates to and from the see as well as sea bass and tope. Given the concerns expressed and increasingly by consumers at what seems to be a reduction and certainly a restriction in the species of traditional fish we have been used to, particularly cod, to which Senator Kenneally referred, what steps will be taken to ensure they are conserved? I presume this section is concerned with the pirating of these fish stocks apart from the element of developing the aquaculture.
Who will be responsible for enforcement? Senator Mansergh conjured up images of an Irish naval ship operating in Carlingford Lough glaring across at a British naval ship in the same bay. Who will be responsible? Will it be a joint British-Irish operation under an EU flag or how will the enforcement element operate? It is not a matter of great significance as I am sure that sort of enforcement happens already. I have a feeling in answering my own question that the onus might be on the Irish side.
While I know it is not specifically in the scope of the Bill, is the Minister of State confident that fish stocks can be conserved and preserved, particularly those fish to which we have traditionally been used? I would hate to see a day when we could no longer purchase cod which has been a staple of all those of us who enjoy fish. I am glad that the salmon stocks will be regulated, as salmon is one of my favourite fish dishes. I am sure the Minister of State will take the opportunity to encourage as many people as possible to consume more fish. Like my colleagues, I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. It was very interesting and enlightening. As I said at the outset we have little room for amendments or changes. I welcome that Senators have not tabled amendments because it is important that the Bill is passed as quickly as possible.
The penalties North and South have been made as consistent as possible, allowing for local conditions, so that offenders should be subject to similar penalties in either jurisdiction. A number of Senators mentioned consultation. The agency's consultation process operates under the oversight of the North-South Ministerial Council. It can be improved if any difficulties arise in its operation at that level. The implementation plan sets out how the agency proposes to regulate aquaculture activities and under this plan consideration will be given to the applicant's history, commitment and experience in the aquaculture sector, including previous financial investments. A number of Senators raised that point.
The rights of tenure of long-standing operators in Lough Foyle was raised. At present, existing operators do not have any legal rights to operate in any particular area in Lough Foyle. The Lough Foyle area is a public fishery and, consequently, individual persons cannot have exclusive rights. This situation will change when the legislation is enacted and the Loughs Agency licenses aquaculture activities in the area. Individual licence holders will then have the exclusive right in the licence area to cultivate that area and the ownership of any fish it farms will vest in the licensee.
In respect of the designation of Lough Foyle for oyster, mussel and aquaculture activity, it is envisaged that the agency will carry out a full environmental impact statement which will allow it to determine areas where wild shellfisheries, aquaculture and areas requiring to be designated under the EU environmental legislation are. This is the first step towards making decisions on the various designations and will be an open and transparent public process.
Through its statutory advisory forum, the Loughs Agency published its proposals to manage the wild salmon fishery in 2007. The response to these proposals will inform the licensing regime and adequate time will then be allowed for the processing of licence applications for the 2007 season.
Senator McHugh raised the issue of the seed mussel. An all-island system already oversees the allocation of mussel seed and the Loughs Agency participates in decisions regarding such allocations. It is important that this system operates on an all-Ireland basis as it ensures that all operators in need of access to mussel seed are treated fairly, regardless of their location on the island. It is planned to make the agency an authorised officer under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 to enforce mussel seed allocation regulations in the Foyle area.
In respect of draft net licences, there will be a new licensing regime for salmon in the Foyle area to take account of the habitats directive. The delay in issuing licences is due to the need to introduce new regulations and to allow for decisions on the management of fishing in the area. The EU sea fish species quota will continue to be regulated as at present. Fish for aquaculture purposes includes sea fish, freshwater fish and shellfish and will be regulated by the agency.
I again thank the Senators for their contribution. As I said at the outset, the Bill is the result of a long and detailed negotiation process across a range of Departments and agencies, North and South. I thank my officials, who with me, because they have spent a long time going to and from the North to meet officials there. There have been protracted and sometimes very difficult and tough negotiations, but I am pleased to say that all the difficulties were ironed out during the debate and dialogue that took place over a long period of time.
I hope the Bill will be enacted as quickly as possible. I thank the Acting Chairman and Senators for facilitating this debate and I look forward to moving on to the next Stage.