Thursday, 25 April 2013
Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP
On behalf of the Members of Seanad Éireann, I welcome Mr. Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, for the Ireland North-West constituency. Mr. Gallagher is a former Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for health promotion and food safety. He was also Minister of State in a number of former Government Departments, including the Department of the Marine and the Gaeltacht, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Transport. He addressed this House on many occasions and steered numerous Bills through the Seanad and is very au fait with the workings of Seanad Éireann. It is a great honour and pleasure to welcome Mr. Gallagher who will now address the House.
Mr. Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP:
Tá mé iontach sásta go bhfuair mé cuireadh teacht anseo inniu chun labhairt le Baill an tSeanaid mar gheall ar na cúraimí atá orm mar bhall de Pharlaimint na hEorpa. Mar a dúirt an Cathaoirleach, is iomaí uair a bhí mé istigh anseo thar thréimse 14 bliain nuair a bhí mé ag glacadh reachtaíocht thar ceann Ranna Stáit éagsúla - Roinn na mara, Roinn na Gaeltachta, an Roinn iompair, an Roinn comhshaoil agus an Roinn Sláinte - agus thar ceann an Rialtais. Ar ndóigh, bhí mé san Eoraip ón bhliain 1994 go dtí 2002, agus tá mé ann arís ón bhliain 2009. Níl a fhios againn cé chomh fada is a bheidh mé san Eoraip. Tá mé ansin go fóill. Tá mé ag plé le cúrsaí éagsúla, ach go háirithe le cúrsaí iascaireachta. Tá an-áthas orm go bhfuil mé anseo inniu chun labhairt faoi na cúrsaí tabhachtacha sin.
I was extremely pleased to receive an invitation from the Leader of the House to address the Seanad regarding the responsibilities that I have in the European Parliament. I major in fishery issues, which is understandable given that I come from Donegal and represent the Ireland North-West constituency but I also have responsibility for the rest of the country as I am the only full Irish member of the fisheries committee of the European Parliament. The substitute member is Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, who is also from my constituency. We work closely together and network with all of the other Irish Members of the European Parliament.
As I have already said, I was a frequent visitor to this House over a period of 14 years, from 1987 to 1994, and again from 2002 to 2009. I worked in various Departments, including those dealing with marine, Gaeltacht, agriculture, environment, transport and health. I have very fond memories of the exchanges I had in the House over that period.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I would like to take the opportunity, as a Donegal man, to pay tribute to a former Member of this House who passed away two weeks ago, the late Mr. Bernard McGlinchey. He was a member of the Seanad from 1961, when he was elected as a young man of 29, and at each subsequent election until 1977, when he was nominated by the Taoiseach at that time, Mr. Jack Lynch. He was again nominated after the February 1982 election by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey. I do not think there is anyone in the House today who served with Bernard McGlinchey but he was a great orator. Anyone who is interested should refer to the Oireachtas website and the debate in 1975 on the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Bill. He spoke on 30 April for three hours and the Cathaoirleach at the time hoped that was the end of it, until Bernard proposed the adjournment and commenced again the following morning and spoke for another five and a half hours. He spoke on the Bill for a total of eight and a half hours.
He was responsible for highlighting the word "filibuster". At that time, there was consternation within Government circles with this and the Government decided to do something about it. Mr. McGlinchey was, therefore, responsible for the time limits placed on the contributions of individuals. I assure the House that I will not be trying to emulate Mr. McGlinchey or to break his record. In fact, he broke his own record because on another occasion he had spoken for five hours and 20 minutes. It is a unique record, never to be equalled.
Bernard McGlinchey was an honest, generous and decent man who was always available to assist politicians, individuals, families and communities throughout the length and breadth of Donegal and further afield. Bernard will be remembered well and I pay tribute to all of those Members who attended his funeral in Letterkenny. May the green sod of Conwell lay gently on his breast.
To deal with the business which is the basis of my invitation to the House, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad in my capacity as a Member of the European Parliament for the North West constituency. I am a full member of the fisheries committee, which brings with it the position of co-ordinator of my group and shadow rapporteur on a very important dossier, namely, the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. The reform of the CFP is vitally important to the entire Irish seafood sector and not just to the coastal regions of the country. That sector employs over 11,000 people and contributes up to €700 million to national income. The fish processing and aquaculture sectors create jobs in rural, peripheral coastal regions and on the small islands, where there is often no other source of employment.
I reiterate my long-held belief that the Irish fishing sector is the one sector that paid too great a price for our membership of the European Union. I am not saying this as a criticism of any of those who negotiated on our behalf in the run-up to 1973. I believe that none of those negotiators foresaw the developments that would happen in the Irish fishing sector. At the time, we had a predominantly in-shore fleet and the quotas looked adequate. Of course, however, we are fishermen and fisherwomen and those in the processing sector were very ambitious people. They began to invest heavily in the sector when they saw opportunities developing in the 1980s. Consequently, we now have a fleet that could do with a substantial increase in quotas.
Since my election to the European Parliament, first in 1994 and again in 2009, as a member of the fisheries committee I have made every effort to get a better and fairer deal for Ireland under the CFP and will continue to do so. Members will appreciate that it is not easy, especially when one is dealing with 26 other countries. I read with interest the recent report on the reform of the CFP by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and pay tribute to all of those who were involved in compiling it. I welcome the support outlined in the submission by the Joint Committee for a very important amendment, known as the Hague preferences, dating back to 1976, which would make available to Ireland additional quantities of quota of key stocks, albeit only small amounts. That was a recognition of the underdeveloped state of the Irish fishing sector at the time of our accession in 1973.
Successive Irish Governments have been forced to use up political capital in efforts to get other member states to recognise the Hague Preferences when total allowable catches and quotas are established each December. When I had responsibility for the marine, I remember having to travel to many other countries for bilateral meetings with fisheries Ministers in advance of the TAC and quotas Council meeting to try to convince them to support us. This was done on an ad hocbasis each year.
My amendment was passed with an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament some months ago. Its aim is to ensure the Hague Preferences will be permanent and apply automatically in future. Some countries believe it should simply be left in the recitals and not written into the basic regulation because they do not benefit from it. However, they benefit in other ways. Many of countries opposed to it benefit because the Common Fisheries Policy entitles them to fish in the most prolific fishing grounds in the European Union, which are off the coast of Ireland. I believe that is a small price to pay. We had an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament and I hope that will be reflected when a final decision is taken.
Yesterday evening we had a trialogue with the Commission and the Council. The rapporteur on my behalf and on behalf of the entire committee made it very clear to the Commission and the Presidency, headed by Ireland at the moment, that this is a critical issue as far as Ireland is concerned. We will have to wait and see.
In reply to a parliamentary question tabled by a former Minister of State with responsibility for the marine, Deputy Browne, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, noted that France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium were strong opponents of the Hague Preferences. Therefore, the agreement of the Council will not be unanimous, but I know the Minister and the Presidency will make every effort citing the support in the European Parliament across all parties from right to left. Even though all these countries signed up to the resolution on the Hague Preferences in 1976, there is a significant new factor at play. The quest to recognise the Hague Preferences on a permanent basis is no longer a quest from a minority of states - from Ireland and the UK, which also benefits - but has the strong backing of many member states. We have a unique opportunity which will not arise for another ten years and we should grasp it now.
I am also involved in a trialogue, fighting to have the Irish Box recognised in a similar way to other biologically sensitive area. The Irish Box was established in 1986 and redrawn in 2003. Its purpose was to protect important nursery and juvenile areas, as without restrictions this area would be heavily targeted. If we are to have a sustainable and an environmentally-sustainable fishery, we much protect such boxes.
We hear reference to discards from time to time, mostly from those who do not understand the practicalities of fishing. The problem of discards is central to the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The issue of discarding of undersize fish or out-of-quota fish is complex and multifaceted. The simplistic solution as proposed by the European Commission and supported by many who do not understand the practicalities - in particular celebrity chefs in London - is to land everything that is caught. It is flawed and unworkable. The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have both agreed to similar timetables to gradually phase out the practice of discarding. Anyone betting his or her political future on zero discards would have no future because there will never be zero discards.
The final timetable will be agreed in the context of the ongoing trialogue negotiations. During the discussions in the European Parliament, I urged adopting a particular approach, which is primarily to avoid discards if possible and, if not possible, to minimise them. Incentives should be provided to the sector to, if necessary, adapt nets, use new types of nets or change the panels and mesh size to allow the fish to swim through. Fish that are caught and discarded are merely used as food for other fish because the mortality is in excess of 95%. The focus of the debate should be on avoidance of unwanted by-catch and the overall minimisation of discards through the use of more selective gear and temporary or spatial closures.
While the European Parliament was debating the reform proposed by the fisheries committee, I was successful in securing agreement for a new article to be written into the proposal to deal specifically with avoidance and minimisation. It is much more popular to say we are totally opposed to discards. Politicians cannot just be popular but must also be pragmatic, realistic and practical in this regard.
In the trialogues of recent weeks, which should be completed in coming weeks, the Council has indicated it is willing to accept this new article. I have included a provision for each member state to produce a discard atlas, similar to the discard atlas that came about as a result of the joint initiative of the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, two State agencies for which I have the greatest respect. Bord Iascaigh Mhara, established in the 1950s, has made a major contribution to developing and marketing our industry. The Marine Institute is recognised across Europe as being the leading institution on marine issues here. Bord Bia now has responsibility for marketing and was represented at the seafood exhibition in Brussels near the King Baudouin Stadium, which is a key exhibition for all those involved in the sector.
The atlas indicates the complex nature of discarding and provides a range of workable and stock-specific solutions. A menu of options including viable incentives will be required to deal effectively with the problem. I believe this must include a realistic de minimisprovision for quota with year-to-year flexibility.
The other buzzwords are maximum sustainable yield, MSY, which I fully support. All with an interest in and understanding of the industry realise that those working in the sector at the moment - processors, producers and those up or downstream - are only the custodians. We must ensure we protect our stocks for future generations. Of course, we can exploit them but must do so in a sustainable manner. Some say we should be at MSY and others say we should be above MSY. Being above could mean being only a tiny percentage over and we will not split on that. We will find a form of words to incorporate "at or above" MSY.
Another key aspect of sustainable management is the implementation of the long-term management plans.
These are vitally important in terms of protecting resources and ensuring the livelihoods of communities which depend on fisheries.
In any business, one must plan ahead and one cannot do that on a yearly basis. It is extremely important, therefore, that we get the Council to agree that there should be long-term management plans. When I initially became an MEP and served on the Committee on Fisheries, we were of the view that we could resolve all of the problems that exist in the first few years. We were responsible for producing many worthy reports but we then realised that what we were recommending was not being implemented by means of Commission proposals. At that time, the co-decision procedure was not in place. There has been a major change in the attitude of the Council and the Commission since the introduction of that procedure because they realise that they must work closely with the Parliament. I could provide a number of examples of the benefits to which this has given rise.
Inter-institutional wrangling is taking place at present. I could say that the Parliament is right and the Council is wrong but I would then be obliged to take account of Articles 43.2 and 43.3 of the Lisbon treaty. The first of these articles grants delegated powers to the Commission and the second deals clearly with the co-decision procedure. We must put the industry ahead of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council in respect of achieving that to which I refer. On two occasions I received the support of 99% of the Members of the European Parliament in the context of delaying a report I compiled - I will refer to it later - in order that we might highlight the necessity of achieving consensus. The inter-institutional wrangling between the Parliament and Council in respect of the interpretation of Articles 43.2 and 43.3 has prevented the implementation of these important plans for the past four years. This situation is untenable and deeply frustrating.
At the beginning of the Irish Presidency we had a closed political discussion with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in Strasbourg. The Minister made a strong commitment to the Parliament that while other states had indicated at the commencement of their Presidencies that they would focus on this matter and do their utmost to resolve it - of course, nothing was done - he would make every effort to ensure that it will be resolved. I do not believe he could have done more than that. I urge the Minister to continue his efforts to seek a solution during the latter part of Ireland's Presidency.
I wish now to comment on regionalisation. If one looks at a map of Europe and takes account of the position from Scotland down to Greece and from eastern Europe across to the Canary Islands, one will come to see that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. It is necessary, therefore, to have a degree of regionalisation. I have advocated that we should take a fresh approach to the management of fisheries within the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, through regionalisation and more localised decision-making. In other words, a bottom-up approach. The Commission proposal on regionalisation was limited and lacked ambition. When we first met the relevant Commissioner in order to discuss the issue of regionalisation, she was extremely keen about and very much in favour of it. When she spoke to our legal advisers, however, she discovered that there is a limit to what we can do. This is because we must operate within the framework of the Lisbon treaty. The Parliament and the Council have developed new models to strengthen the regionalisation chapter within the CFP and the focus is on technical and conservation measures. I understand that these models will be legally acceptable within the framework of the Lisbon treaty.
I wish to offer a few practical examples of how I envisage regionalisation under the CFP. In February a report on technical conservation measures, which I was responsible for compiling, was adopted through the co-decision procedure by an overwhelming majority of MEPs. This was despite the fact that it relates, in the main, to the area from just north of Donegal Bay all the way across to the north of Scotland, namely, ICES Division VIa. In my report, I recommended the removal of outdated and unnecessary fishing restrictions that had been in place since the introduction of the cod recovery plan in 2009. The stocks of cod in the area to which I refer have been decimated. However, that is not the position with regard to the stocks of whiting and haddock but those fisheries are closed as well. We had to find a formula whereby fishermen would be allowed to fish for whiting and haddock with a small by-catch of cod and we succeeded in doing so. The cod recovery plan utilised a broad-brush approach and applied the same rules to those who use small fishing vessels of approximately 10 m in length - I refer, in particular, to fishermen who live on the islands off the coast - as it did to vessels of 150 m in length. As a result, the operators of 10 m vessels were obliged, if it was possible to do so, to sail out 50 miles from shore in order to make their livelihoods. This was not practical because of the health and safety issues involved in fishing in the dangerous Atlantic waters off the west coast.
I succeeded in convincing my colleagues in the Committee on Fisheries and the European Parliament that the restrictions should be lifted and that the vessels to which I refer should be allowed to fish for haddock and whiting in the area in question. Another species for which they are allowed to fish, and with which Senators may not be familiar, is that of the lesser spotted dogfish. This species is not edible but it can be used as bait when catching lobsters and crab. We had a tough time of it when we negotiated this matter with the Cypriot Presidency and we were pleased to secure an agreement which allows people to fish for these species with gill nets. There would have been no advantage if the use of gill nets had been prohibited. This issue should have been resolved some years ago. However, many of those involved took the advice of the Commission and this was at the expense of small fishermen. I refer to this matter in the context of regionalisation because it should have been dealt with by the UK and Irish Governments and, perhaps, the French Government, if its vessels were fishing in the general area, through the use of technical measures. This is typically the way regionalisation works. We hope that regionalisation, if it is adopted, will be used to deal with issues of this nature.
The framework of the CFP has never contained a recognition of small islands and small coastal fleets. I am confident, however, as a result of a decision taken by the Committee on Fisheries, that the inshore and small islands sector will receive special recognition. A tangible benefit of such recognition must be the provision of support and funding under the new CFP. There are many communities of the type to which I refer on the north and west coasts of Ireland and they are characterised by their dependence on small vessels at the mercy of the adverse weather conditions to which the Atlantic Ocean gives rise. This is a unique, dramatic and harsh aspect of our common European heritage which we lose at our peril.
Under the current CFP, control mechanisms and sanctions differ between member states. This is a source of great grievance. People may ask why I did not do something when I had responsibility in this area. I made every effort to take action but I was informed at every turn that because of legislation which obtains in this country, it could not be adapted. However, action may finally be possible if we can encourage the European institutions to agree on common controls and sanctions.
We all know from our experience on the coast that a minor offence might be committed, but that minor offence would become a criminal offence and those fishermen who committed the minor offence would then have on their record the criminal offence and that does not make sense. I believe that minor offences should be dealt with by way of administrative sanctions. That is the situation in other countries and I hope we could achieve that. However, the European Parliament position includes several amendments which I tabled while calling for common control and sanctions.
There has been considerable debate about transferable fishing concessions, TFCs. There was a clear proposal from the European Commission to introduce mandatory rather than voluntary TFCs. It was a serious threat to the fishing sector in this country because if it was implemented as proposed it could have meant that larger countries and bigger companies could have come in here to buy up all of the vessels here, fish in our waters and possibly bring the fish back to their mother countries and process them there. I am totally opposed to it. Many countries favoured it but thankfully the Parliament has removed in the entirety all references to TFCs. The principle of subsidiarity must continue to apply in terms of allowing member states to decide the most appropriate method of quota allocations.
I will give the Seanad an update on the trialogue negotiations. These meetings involve negotiations between the three institutions. I attend on behalf of the ALDE group and participate in the negotiations, which are now entering a crucial stage during the Irish EU Council Presidency. The meeting last night went on until 9.30 p.m. I am more confident now that we are making progress and that we will see a conclusion during the Irish Presidency. All those involved are keen that it concludes under the Irish Presidency because we have a good deal of experience. We will be followed by Lithuania, which will have many files to deal with in the second half of the year, especially with regard to total allowable catch, TAC, and quotas. I am keen to complete it but it will depend on the progress we have made. There is only a limited opportunity to secure a deal during our Presidency, bearing in mind that Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are dealing with the agriculture sector. While it is no more important in the eyes of some, both are equally important and we are keen to run them concurrently.
I believe the Common Agricultural Policy will be dealt with during the June Council and three or four days have been set aside for it. The May Council, which is only a matter of weeks away, may deal with the Common Fisheries Policy. This does not give us much time. As an Irish representative, I am particularly keen that this should be dealt with during the Irish Presidency. The last trialogue meeting will be on 28 May, which gives us little time. Anyway, we made a good deal of progress yesterday.
I met the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, earlier this week in Brussels. We discussed the progress and what we could do and how we could help each other to progress the issues. I am satisfied that everything that can be done is being done in the knowledge that we want to achieve the goal of reform. I am somewhat concerned that if we do not achieve it under the Irish Presidency, we may not achieve in under the Lithuanian Presidency and then we will be into 2014. There will be European elections that year and I believe at that stage reform might not happen. A roll-over would not be good for Ireland. It would be better if we could conclude a deal sooner.
I wish to share with the Seanad my views in respect of an urgent and immediate matter of concern to the sector. It relates to the unsustainable overfishing of mackerel in the north-east Atlantic, especially by Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Those countries increased their quota and set it bilaterally at over 150,000 tonnes each some years ago. At one stage it was as low as 6,000 tonnes in Iceland and approximately 25,000 tonnes in the Faroe Islands. In short, the scientists recommend a total allowable catch of 650,000 tonnes but in total almost 1 million tonnes is being caught now. That does not auger well for the future and it is a serious problem. I had a fisheries committee delegation in Ireland earlier this year. They have seen first-hand the serious consequences of this overfishing, both from a stock point of view and because of the effects of overfishing on the price of fish. In short, this is having a devastating effect not only in the north west, where most of the pelagic boats are based, but in the west and south west as well.
I was appointed by the EU Parliament to deal with sanctions against countries fishing unsustainably. To be honest, what was presented to me was rather weak. With the support of my colleagues in the European Parliament we strengthened the legislation and the changes were carried by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament. The basis of the legislation is that in the case of countries that are fishing unsustainably, the Commission can introduce trade sanctions. We gave Commissioner Damanaki much stronger tools than were initially proposed. Regrettably, six months later she has not used them. I raised this issue again in the Parliament last week by way of an oral question. I have made it clear that she must deal with this immediately and without delay. She must respect the views of the vast majority of those in the Parliament who supported the changes and introduce sanctions but not only as a matter of tokenism. There should be effective trade sanctions which make it clear to Iceland and the Faroe Islands that they cannot continue to do this in an unsustainable way. The threat of the WTO is hanging over us. We should worry about that if it is pursued through the WTO but we should initiate these as soon as possible.
I thank the Leader and other Members for their kind invitation to address the House on the issue of fisheries. I am delighted that I have been given this opportunity and that so many Members are here with a particular interest in this area. From time to time the interest in the fisheries area at national level does not compare to the interest in other sectors but the fact is that there are many people working in the sector and it is worth €700 million to the economy. Mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim buíochas don Teacht as ucht cuireadh a thabhairt dom teacht isteach anseo. Éistfidh mé go fonnmhar leis an méid atá á rá ag na Seanadóirí agus beidh mé sásta cibé ceisteanna atá acu a fhreagairt.
Thank you, Mr. Gallagher, for your very comprehensive contribution to the Seanad this afternoon and thank you for your comments in respect of the late former Senator, Bernard McGlinchey. He was indeed an honourable, decent and generous man. Colleagues will have an opportunity before the summer to pay tribute to him formally.
The group spokespersons will have five minutes each to make a contribution and ask questions. Then all other Members will have two minutes to ask a question. We will start with the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, another Donegal man.
Tá lúcháir orm go bhfuil an t-Uasal Ó Gallchóir anseo inniu. Tá sé tábhachtach dúinn éisteacht leis de bharr an obair atá ar siúl aige san Eoraip i dtaca leis an cheist fíor thábhachtach seo - cúrsaí iascaireachta - chan amháin don tír seo ach don Eoraip go ginearálta. Tá lúcháir orm go bhfuil sé anseo ar maidin.
Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil sé gnóthach agus go raibh air teacht ón Eoraip le bheith anseo, ach tá lúcháir orainn go bhfuil sé anseo chun plé a dhéanamh ar an ábhar seo.
I welcome Mr. Gallagher, MEP. We are discussing an important topic. I agree with him that it is often left to one side at a national level even though it is worth so much to our economy, given the 12,000 people working in the seafood sector and the considerable amount of money involved. This morning, Dr. Alyne Delaney from a university in Denmark made a presentation to the Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries. Dr. Stephen Hynes of NUI Galway also made a presentation on our ocean wealth capacity. Dr. Delaney discussed many of the subjects that Mr. Gallagher touched on, particularly that of the need to provide opportunities for small coastal areas in terms of regionalisation by showing flexibility in policies. Regardless of whether policies stem from member states' Departments or the EU, they tend not to involve appraisals of socioeconomic activity in a sector. A decision can be taken and will have a number of knock-on effects economically, for example, on employment. The review of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, is important and a great deal of work has been done.
We are in a new phase and the European Parliament's weight is equal to that of the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. Some of the European Parliament's proposals are beneficial. The trilogue benefits the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and CFP proposals. Mr. Gallagher is leading this work on behalf of Ireland.
I am glad that Mr. Gallagher raised the issue of mackerel. He has often discussed and championed it. The Commission must deal with the matter. When the Commission appeared before our committee approximately 12 months ago, this was one of the issues raised. The significant exploitation of mackerel fisheries in the north Atlantic is not being dealt with adequately. Should we ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to raise this matter with the Commissioner? Mr. Gallagher is doing everything in his capacity at European Parliament level. Perhaps we should press further.
Mr. Gallagher worked in the fisheries sector before he entered politics and has more expertise in it than I do. We come from the same area of the Gaeltacht in west County Donegal. This topic is important to the sector's future. The decisions taken now will impact on livelihoods in the years ahead.
Mr. Gallagher mentioned the transferable fishing concessions, TFCs. Had it not been for the input of the European Parliament, we would have had a disaster on our hands. The Commission proposed mandatory TFCs, under which multinational corporations could take over fishing opportunities in various member states. The Council proposed voluntary TFCs, which would not have worked. Thankfully, the European Parliament has guaranteed that the proposal going before the Council in May or June - I hope that it will be done before the end of the Irish Presidency - will result in the removal of TFCs. This is welcome. In the documentation prepared by the Oireachtas agriculture committee, of which Senator Comiskey and I are members, although I do not know whether other members are present, we acknowledged the work of the European Parliament in this regard.
Mr. Gallagher touched on the contentious issue of discards. He was right, in that there will never be zero discards. One is referring to the landing of dead fish. We want to move towards a minimal level of discards. From the European Parliament's point of view, Mr. Gallagher might outline where this process will end. Will a phased approach be taken and are the Commission and the Council considering the issue pragmatically?
On the issue of the maximum sustainable yield, the sustainability of fishing yields is always a contentious issue. In Ireland, certain fishing opportunities were closed down based on scientific advice. Scientists' advice will feed into whatever decision is made, but how will this provision be delivered on the ground and will it be phased in over a period? Mention has been made of its introduction in 2015. Is that likely?
Mr. Gallagher has done a great deal of work in terms of regionalisation. The Council and the European Parliament have made alternative proposals - the latter has proposed that member states be regionalised, following which a decision would be made. Will vessels of different member states fishing in the same waters and governed by different government policies create a conflict? Does the European Parliament believe that this could work effectively?
In Ireland, 80% of the fishing fleet is composed of boats smaller than 15 m. Often, they are based in island communities or small coastal areas. What measures could be introduced to protect such areas? Mr. Gallagher mentioned mixed stock fishing within a 12-mile zone and the reopening of area 6A. What flexibility can be provided to small vessels or can regulatory mechanisms be put in place under the CFP to distinguish between vessels on the basis of size?
It is apt that various Members of the European Parliament have been appearing before the Seanad. Today's discussion is important, as it allows Senators to raise questions that Mr. Gallagher can pass on to a higher level in Europe in the important upcoming eight to ten weeks. The two main reforms with which the Irish Presidency is dealing relate to the CAP and the CFP. If both can be put to bed by the end of June, it will be a significant achievement for the Irish Presidency. That our Minister chairs the Council of Ministers means that we have more control over the final outcome. The Minister is on record as being hopeful that the deal on the CFP will be completed by the end of June. Mr. Gallagher has signalled that it will be completed at the Council meeting in May, which would be welcome.
I am unsure as to whether I wish to raise anything else. We are restricted in terms of time, but I congratulate Mr. Gallagher on his work in Strasbourg regarding the CFP. He represents the interests of Irish fishermen, not just in the north west but also in the south. Different regions face different issues. My colleague, Senator O'Donovan, would have liked to have been present. Unfortunately, he cannot be. We often argue over the herring distribution quota, in which respect the boats in the south might have been better looked after than the boats in the north. I remember arguing this point with the Minister and Senator O'Donovan would probably have raised it today. The Senator sends his apologies.
I thank Mr. Gallagher for attending. I tried to telephone him earlier but it shows how busy he is that his telephone was turned off and his mail box was full.
That gives an indication of how busy is Mr. Gallagher, MEP, and the amount of travelling he is doing. I know he was under pressure to get over here today as the European Parliament was meeting late last night. Céad míle fáilte aige and we look forward to working with him. If there is anything we can do in the agriculture committee to supplement the work to be done in Europe on the issue, we would be only be too delighted to do it. Deputy Andrew Doyle from Wicklow is the excellent Chairman of the committee, and he is most accommodating, which was reflected this morning when he sat through two hours of discussions based predominantly on small island communities; we all know there are no islands off the Wicklow coast and there is very little fishing activity. The Chairman is a farmer by trade but sat through the two-hour meeting. If we can supplement the European work, it should be made known to us today.
I welcome Mr. Gallagher, MEP, and we are delighted to have him here. It is good to listen to him and he is an inspiration to all of us, as we are all learning. I come from County Leitrim and we have a very short coast, so we are not known for our fishing activities. We are learning as we go along.
The Irish fishing industry is an important economic activity, contributing €700 million in national income annually while providing 12,000 local jobs. Ireland has 7,500 km of clean coastline, providing an exceptional national resource for the fishing sector and one of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe. The demand for quality seafood products has led to an increasing market, with 2011 exports up 12% on the previous year. The Common Fisheries Policy has provided a structure and sustainable management of fishing to member states, together with access to the most valuable seafood markets in the world. Some 75% of Irish exports go to EU countries. The EU fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world, providing over 6 million tonnes of fish per year and jobs for more than 350,000 people. There are many interested parties and negotiations on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is a priority for many of the EU states.
Principally, the aim of reforming the Common Fisheries Policy is to create a sustainable eco-centred fishing industry for the future. Currently, many vessels are catching more fish than can be reproduced, posing a major threat to the sea's ecosystem. Some 80% of Mediterranean fish stocks and 47% of Atlantic stocks are under threat, as Mr. Gallagher mentioned in his statement. We are regularly lobbied by smaller fishermen on the west coast who may have a problem with larger fishing vessels taking fish from them.
I know the Minister is consistent on the matter of reforms, which should be balanced with a need to protect and enhance rural and coastal communities that have contributed so much to the sector for generations. The negotiations have been ongoing for some time and in December, following pressure from the European Commission to reduce the quota of fishing stocks associated with the Irish fleet, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, negotiated a reversal of the demands to cut for some stocks, particularly the prawn quota. Initially, a 12% reduction was demanded and a 6% decrease was agreed. The approach taken by the Minister in resisting these cuts was based on scientific evidence, which is a benefit to all the fishing sector in the long term.
In February, the European Parliament backed the reform of the policy on discards. Discarding occurs when fishermen throw back fish because they have exceeded a quota of fish species caught. It is estimated that recently, 25% to 50% in some areas of fish caught by EU boats are thrown back to the sea, which is a great pity. I know it cannot be ruled out completely but some of this fish should be used. It is a big problem when there is no quota but it makes no sense to throw fish back into the sea. There was a growing political will to halt the incentive system of waste and the Minister must be congratulated for his part in bringing all the parties to a point of agreeing a phased introduction of the ban on discards from January 2014. The backing of 26 from 27 member states was achieved for the approach.
Nevertheless, there remains under discussion a number of important issues on the future of the fishing industry. There is work still to be done in respect of the Hague Preferences, as noted, and I support calls for additional quota for Ireland in return for access to Irish seas to be enshrined as a principle of the reform policies, avoiding the need to justify the basis for this quota on a yearly basis. There has also been criticism in respect of the sizes of the European fishing fleet, which stands at more than 83,000 vessels. The Commission has proposed a system of transferable fishing concessions to address over-capacity by allowing vessel owners to plan fishing activities over a longer term and offer financial compensation to those who wish to leave the fishing industry.
Since 1994, €2.74 billion has been spent on scrapping vessels but capacity has continued to increase 3% year on year. The European Court of Auditors has questioned the way taxpayer money has facilitate this. Ireland has just over 2,000 fishing vessels, representing 2.6% of the total European fishing fleet, and a system of transferable quotas may lead to a buy-out of our small and family-owned fleet by large, international fishing companies with no links to our coastal communities, which would be a great pity. I know the Minister is very aware of these matters and is working with colleagues in Europe to resist the introduction of mandatory concessions.
The Minister, in negotiating these reforms, has advocated the introduction of regional structures in decision making. I agree with the Minister's approach, which would allow practical and efficient conservation measures to be developed at regional level and be put in place in a timely and non-bureaucratic manner. The outstanding concept of maximum sustainability yield is difficult and perhaps it is even more difficult to achieve but there exists a need to find a workable mechanism to sustain fish stocks while allowing the growth of the fishing industry. There are elements to be taken into consideration. Fishermen need a resource to pursue, and appropriate fishing levels must be set per species. The population of no one species can be so detrimentally affected by overfishing that it would cause collapse. The latest scientific evidence must be used to give proper assessment of fish stocks.
The value of a sustainable fishing industry is important to member states, and I know the Minister is keen to conclude the fishing reform programme during the Irish Presidency. He is working with colleagues in Europe in requiring compromises in some matters while seeking the fairest outcome for the Irish fishing sector overall. Is it possible to give some of the smaller boats referred to earlier on the west coast more quotas? These would be small vessels of 30 ft or 40 ft. I thank Mr. Gallagher for coming to the Seanad today.
I welcome Mr. Gallagher, MEP, as a fellow Donegal man. I join with others in paying my respects and offer sympathy to the family of Mr. Bernard McGlinchey on his recent passing. I served on Letterkenny Town Council with him. He was a tough but fair opponent and he was always available for advice, which we could be sure was sound. We did not always agree politically but he was a Letterkenny man first and a Fianna Fáil man second, and people recognised that anything he did was for the benefit of the town and surrounding area. There will be another day when we can pay respects but I know he was a good friend of our guest. He will be missed by the Fianna Fáil Party in Donegal and his family and friends.
Mr. Gallagher, MEP, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fishing industry.
As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, that is his background but he has worked tirelessly on behalf of the fishing industry nationally and locally in Donegal where it is as important an employer locally as it is in other parts of the country. Last year, I was on holiday in southern France and I visited a local hypermarket where I noticed lobster from Donegal. It was nice to see Atlanfish products on the shelves. There is a massive opportunity for the industry to extend further into Europe and beyond to the Far East.
Sustainability is at the heart of the CFP and we must adhere to the maximum sustainable yield. Science is paving the way for us rather than politics in Europe and it is important that nationalism does not come into this. Iceland and the Faroe Islands have decided their own rules for mackerel fisheries. People say we should follow the economic policy implemented by Iceland but they have had to break the law to keep their economy going. This is not fair on the fishermen of Donegal, Galway, Kerry and throughout the EU who are sticking to the rules. The people who say the Icelandic model should be followed because their economy is picking up again must look beyond that and recognise our fishing industry could be affected. Iceland should be sanctioned and I am sure Mr. Gallagher can fill us in on what he knows about this. None of us wants a country to be targeted but when its blatant rule breaches affect us, we should be concerned. Many jobs in Ireland and in Donegal, in particular, depend on fishing and the industry will expand with the increasing demand for fish worldwide.
How worried should we be about the so-called super vessels such as the Dutch vessel,which, at 142 m long, is the second largest on the planet? Does this indicate that the industry is in the hands of large operators who have contributed to overfishing of the seas and to the decline in the numbers of small, independent fishermen? Will the signal to end overfishing help to change this trend?
Small fishermen feel the new discard regime is being brought in too soon. It will be introduced in January 2014 rather than 2015 and they are protesting about the cost of new equipment they will need and the risk that fishermen with older boats may be forced out of the industry. How does Mr. Gallagher feel about that?
Does he think our fishing industry will progress? Will there be general agreement throughout Europe? Will countries such as Spain and the Netherlands, which have large fishing fleets, stick to the rules or will they muscle their way past Ireland? One of the flaws of our accession to the EEC in 1973 was that our fishing industry was compromised and we have been catching up ever since. However, I agree with Mr. Gallagher that the officials who have been in negotiations since that time, including him, have done a fantastic job. He has been one of the key players in Europe in protecting the industry and I congratulate him on his work. Will large operators and member states with large fleets adhere to the rules? Will Ireland get a fair deal at the end of the day? I thank Mr. Gallagher MEP.
Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an bhFeisire agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis as ucht an méid a bhí le rá aige. Is mór an pribhléid é éisteacht leis, ní amháin maidir lena chuid eolais ach lena chuid saineolais. Labhair sé faoi na cnámha spáirne is mó atá ann. Is cinnte go bhfuil go leor cnámh spáirne i gceist agus muid ag caint faoi chúrsaí iascaireachta.
Will Mr. Gallagher expand on his comments that I found interesting? I also have a question that may not be relevant to his role as an MEP but on which he might have a view. With regard to the issue of overfishing, he referred to Ireland and the Faroe Islands. When the islands were mentioned, I thought they were part of Denmark and different rules would apply. According to Wikipedia, although I might be on the wrong track, the Faroes are under the Danish crown and are subject to Danish governance, including on military and police matters. Is their fishing industry not subject to the EU's purview? I presume the countries being discussed in this context of overfishing are not subject to oversight at EU level. Is that the source of the problem, in particular, as it affects Ireland? Mr. Gallagher mentioned the difficulties of getting to grips with the issue, in particular at the world trade talks. How will that play out? What are the limiting factors in the World Trade Organisation talks on dealing with this issue fully and effectively?
Mr. Gallagher commented on the Hague preferences and mentioned in passing that while all the countries signed up to them, we have to expend political capital to secure consideration for our needs as a small country whose fishing fleet was underdeveloped when we entered the large European partnership at considerable cost to our potential to fish our waters the way a country with our coastline might have expected. He said France, Germany and Belgium strongly oppose the extension of the preferences to Ireland on an ongoing basis and he would like them entrenched on a long-term footing. He also said significant new factors were at play. Can he elaborate on them? I acknowledge he has comprehensively covered the issue.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has commented on the discards issue a number of times in the past few months. It is one of those issues in Irish life where the people close to the issue have one perspective and those who are not, such as those who are concerned about environmental protection and who have a natural and justified abhorrence of waste and not just celebrity chefs, feel uneasy about discards. Mr. Gallagher rightly approaches the issue with great practicality and emphasis on the importance of people's needs and jobs and protecting our communities and livelihoods. What can be done to square the circle to bring those two points of view together? I grew up with values such as live simply so that others may simply live. The notion that there can be such waste within a process leaves many decent people feeling uncomfortable but I fully acknowledge that those whose livelihoods depend on an in-depth knowledge of the issues take a different view. What can be done in the area of education to promote greater public understanding of the issue and the need to take a gradualist approach to solving the problem? Mr. Gallagher referred to the subsidisation of fleets and equipment in order that the problem can be minimised.
I was very taken by what the Mr. Gallagher had to say about his own initiative around the 6A area and how it is an example of way we can move away from outdated fishing restrictions that do not do justice. He mentioned that small vessels were having to go further out to sea with implications for health and safety. Am I correct in saying that about 90% of the fleet is skipper-owner family-run single boats? He mentioned that this is the type of matter that should be dealt with, if not at member state level then at a more localised level, and he mentioned Ireland, the United Kingdom and France in this regard. To play the devil's advocate, is such regionalisation something that can always work or is there a danger from the point of view of the wider community good that member states that may have a particular vested interest may not take the decisions that have regard to all the issues, whether environmental protection or protection of stocks or whatever? Mr. Gallagher mentioned that administrative sanctions were a more appropriate way of dealing with minor offences rather than criminalising certain issues. Is he speaking about fines?
I am not sure if my next question is within Mr. Gallagher's remit but I will mention it. It relates to the issue of inshore matters. Bord Iascaigh Mhara has issued statements around the potential damage of sea lice and say that it is of more than a little significance. I wonder whether sufficient analysis is being done on the possible effects on inland fisheries. Inland Fisheries Ireland has raised concerns about the environmental impact statements, suggesting they are inadequate or flawed. I am conscious that new jobs as outlined in Bord Iascaigh Mhara reports are vital and can never be underestimated but I ask whether sufficient analysis has been carried out on the potential damage to fish stock and subsequent loss of revenue to the fresh water industry. Does this matter have any relevance at European Union level? Is there any way in which this impacts on Mr. Gallagher's role and can he shed light on the issue or does the European Union have a competence in this area that might influence this ongoing controversy?
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an tUasal Ó Gallchóir. Ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal a ghabháil nach raibh mé anseo don ócáid ar fad, ach bhí ócáid eile ar siúl taobh amuigh den Teach. Ní leor dhá nóiméad leis an méid atá le rá agam a rá, ach b'fhéidir go bhfaighfidh mé nóiméad leis ina dhiaidh seo. I commend Mr. Gallagher for his work alongside the Sinn Féin MEP, Ms Martina Anderson and the success he has had in the European Parliament in having the Common Fisheries Policy amended to ensure special recognition for Irish fishing communities and their quotas which was to include the 1976 Hague preferences. We must be conscious that this can yet change in terms of the negotiations on the treaty. Formalising this assurance in the Common Fisheries Policy would safeguard the needs of our fishery dependent communities and their continued development. In practice this would mean that Ireland will get a top up on its quota in return for sharing the Irish fishing grounds with other member states.
I welcome also the emphasis on regionalism as blanket approaches on these policies can be counterproductive and a more regionalised approach would suit our fishing communities. The most significant outcome on the ongoing reform process was the recent decision to ban discarding of dead fish. On the issue of discards, the focus needs to be on yields rather than quotas. We are happy to see a ban on discards. This practice is wasteful, unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly, as Mr. Gallagher has indicated. However, many fishing representatives have claimed that the ban to be introduced from the beginning of 2014 is badly thought out and will not address the issue. They claim that the problem needs to be tackled through preventing the catching of younger fish which can be addressed through the design and regulation of nets and the closure of seasonal spawning grounds.
Aside from that, the parameters of the reforms are quite narrow, certainly in comparison with the much more radical reform of farm payments under the Common Agricultural Policy. None of the reforms will address the inbuilt imbalances which have impacted negatively on Irish fishermen in the past 40 years. The harm done by the Common Fisheries Policy to Ireland's fisheries is generally recognised. In 2002, the review group which reported to the forum on Europe referred to the inequalities and injustices inherent in the CFP. Perhaps it best summed up the situation when it declared that Ireland has only a small piece of its own cake.
Defenders of the Common Fisheries Policy would claim that quota allocation reflects the historical situation as it pertains to catch, but it has proven not only to have limited the ability of the Irish fleet to expand to the detriment of coastal communities but also to have impacted negatively on fish stocks into Irish territorial waters or, perhaps more accurately, what used to be Irish territorial waters.
It has long been the contention of Sinn Féin and others that Irish negotiators made a massive error in agreeing to the initial allocation of quota under the Common Fisheries Policy. That was ameliorated to some degree by the Hague preferences but nowhere near the extent that would be demanded by any genuine recognition of the contribution of the seas around our coast to the overall EU catch and the plight of the Irish fishing industry attempting to survive on a tiny share of that catch.
Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, agreed with my colleague, Deputy Martin Ferris, a number of years ago regarding the inequitable distribution of quota, but no Irish Government has demanded the sort of radical reform of CFP that would be needed to redress the imbalance. Unless and until that is done, the Irish fishing sector will operate under inbuilt disadvantages. Not only are they restricted to a small share of the catch in Irish waters, they are also subject, more than any other EU fleet, to restrictions imposed in order to preserve fish stocks. It is our contention and that of others who have studied the situation that a reform of the CFP could ensure better stock conservation by reducing the overall take while at the same time increasing the amount of fish caught by Irish boats. Even though we have 11% of European Union fishing waters, we have only around 4% of the quota, but even that fails to illustrate adequately that we have been badly done as the Irish fishery is the most lucrative in the European Union, with 40% of edible fish consumed in the EU caught in Irish waters.
Had our fisheries been properly managed and developed under domestic control, it might have become a more valuable resource that could have played a valuable role in the economic development of the country. However, that is past. What is essential is that we use the plentiful resources which exist off our coast to try to assist in the economic recovery of the State and of the communities which rely on this industry.
I would like to hear Mr. Gallagher's opinion on the fish firm developmentatá beartaithe amach ó Inis Oirr. Táimid ag breathnú air agus sílim go bhfuil an ceart ag an Seanadóir Mullen go bhfuil ceist ann don Eoraip maidir le seo mar go bhfuil dhá rannóg Stáit in adharca a chéile. Tá an IFI ag rá nach leor an EIS atá déanta agus tá BIM ag brú an togra chun cinn. De réir mar a thuigim, tá precedent ag leibhéal na hEorpa go bhféadfadh lucht na slat iascaireachta cás a thógáil agus go mb'fhéidir go mbeadh muid ag críochnú suas sa Chúirt Eorpach ar an gceist seo seachas a bheith ag cur togra chun cinn a chuirfeadh fostaíocht buan ar bun. Sílim gur é an pointe mór eile atá le déanamh - seans gur luadh é seo - ná cén chaoi an bhfuilimid chun daoine óga a mhealladh isteach sa tionscal iascaireachta.
Táim an-buíoch as an tUasal Ó Gallchóir as teacht isteach agus buíoch as an deis a thug an Cathaoirleach dom labhairt anseo.
I welcome Mr. Gallagher to the House and pay tribute to the work he has done in the fisheries area. As one who served as a substitute member on the fisheries committee, I know full well the amount of work involved. I owe him an apology as it was agreed that the fisheries committee would visit Ireland in 2008 or early 2009. His colleague, Mr. Seán Ó Neachtáin, was also a member of the fisheries committee which was to visit Galway. Seán wanted the committee to visit Donegal and I wanted it to visit Cork. There was a stand-off for a week or two before a final compromise was reached and, unfortunately, Donegal lost out in the final argument.
The fisheries industry is making a huge contribution to the Irish economy. When the negotiations took place, it was unfortunate that its importance had not been identified and, therefore, we have been the net losers. Given the way in which the issue had been dealt with since the formation of the State up to the time we became a member of the European Union, we were a member for a few years before we realised its importance. Much progress has been made by people such as Mr. Gallagher and the Department to try protect and further develop the whole area. He raised one or two issues in which I was interested and which were on the agenda in 2008 and 2009. One of them was discards, and Mr. Gallagher has dealt with that adequately. The other issue he dealt with was the criminal offence, and that is an issue over which we have control.
Former Deputy Jim O'Keeffe tabled the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction (Fixed Penalty Notice) (Amendment) Bill 2009 and perhaps it is a matter at which we should look again as regards decriminalising what is an administrative offence. I agree with Mr. Gallagher MEP on that. It is unfortunate that the matter has not been dealt with. In fairness, I do not think anyone is out there deliberately trying to break the law. Some of these offences are very much administrative and they should be recognised as such. It is something that I intend revisiting. The sooner it is done, the better.
I want to raise with Mr. Gallagher MEP one or two issues related to my own experience of working in the European Parliament. I have a concern about briefings by Departments of Members of the European Parliament, particularly given its new role and involvement much more than ever before in the decision-making process, and whether there is a need for Departments to be in greater contact with the Irish MEPs to ensure that we all are singing from the one hymn sheet. I note the permanent representatives in Brussels are extremely good at briefing and they always respond to an MEP within 24 hours of asking them a question, but I wonder whether we are doing enough from the home base on that issue. There was one unfortunate incident where I was abroad on a reasonably risky trip to Chad and the Sudanese border area where the Irish officials were instructed not to meet me. I found the decision surprising. They met me unofficially but were instructed formally by the Department not to meet me while I was there. It is important that we all singing from the one hymn sheet. I wonder what is Mr. Gallagher's view on whether more could be done about Departments briefing MEPs.
The second matter is the issue of whether, in the case of proposed European directives and regulations, more should be done about analysis here. I suggested that the Seanad would set aside two days a month to go through regulations and directives much more comprehensively than is being done. There was a recent example in the Joint Committee on Health and Children where the committee was advised to rubber-stamp a proposal on medical devices and I raised an issue as regards whether the medical devices sector had been consulted here in Ireland. After I raised it, the committee took a decision to write to the association dealing with medical device companies to find that there was not a considerable amount of consultation and they had issues with the directive that was going through.
Those are the two questions I want to ask. I wish to know, in view of Mr. Gallagher's involvement here, both in government and in dealing with the Seanad, whether the Seanad could play a more active role in working with MEPs and in looking at EU directives and regulation.
I welcome Mr. Gallagher. He is a man for whom I have great respect. This morning, he confirmed my view that he is highly knowledgeable and has been active for many years fighting the good cause for the fishermen of Ireland.
On the ban on discards, for the ordinary man in the street it seems terribly wrong at a time when families are under pressure and there are many hungry people in the world that good fish would be thrown back into the sea, particularly as 95% of them, the figure mentioned by the MEP, would die or be useless as a result of being discarded. I understand how the issue of small fish can be dealt with by the use of more selective equipment and gear. I wonder how the issue of the larger fish that are out of quota can be dealt with and if there is still something wrong with perfectly good large fish being thrown back in. Given that from 2014 there will be a ban on discards, will the fishermen be provided with an incentive or will there be any assistance for them in modernising their equipment to ensure that the small fish will no longer be caught in the conventional way?
On control measures and sanctions, Mr. Gallagher stated that they differ greatly across member states. Why is that still the case and what actions are being taken to harmonise sanctions across member states? He stated that minor offences should be dealt with by administrative sanctions. How does he define minor offences? If those minor offences continue to be repeat offences, would he consider a different method of dealing with them?
Mr. Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP:
I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate, including Senators Ó Domhnaill, Comiskey, Harte and Rónán Mullen, and latterly Senator Ó Clochartaigh, former Member of the European Parliament and substitute member on the fisheries committee, Senator Colm Burke, and Senator Michael Mullins. I am delighted at the level of interest across the parties and Independents contributing to this important debate.
There is a view nationally that there is little focus on the fishing sector but if one visits the peripheral coastal parts of the country, it is extremely important in those areas. From Donegal right down the west coast, around the south west, the south and the east, it is extremely important where, as I stated in my contribution, there are few other opportunities to create employment, whether full-time or part-time. Part-time employment in the fishing sector is extremely important. There are many who are working on small farms who make themselves available to work on processing in the fish factories during the winter period.
A number of Senators referred to discards, transferable quotas, maximum sustainable yield, MSY, the coastal regions and the small boats. I will try to deal with them as quickly as possible, bearing in mind that the House is possibly under time constraints. Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to mackerel and the serious situation in the north-east Atlantic and asked what can be done. The European Parliament has gone as far as it can go. I had the privilege of being the rapporteur on that report. It was fortunate that I had that because I fully understand as an Irish MEP the serious implications of the over fishing of mackerel in the north-east Atlantic. The scientists tell us that the total allowable catch in that region should be 650,000 tonnes. Last year and the previous year, as a result of Iceland and the Faroe Islands not agreeing on an overall quota per country and then acting unilaterally, we are now fishing approximately 1 million tonnes. That cannot be sustained. I would prefer if we did not have to introduce the trade sanctions, which I brought to the European Parliament and which received almost its unanimous support. I would much prefer if those countries returned to the negotiation table and we could work out a pragmatic, realistic and practical solution to this. They know this legislation is hanging over them and I would hope that it would motivate them to sit down and talk to the Commission by way of the coastal states, which are the European Union, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. It is important to them as well because, as I state religiously, we can now talk about sustaining the mackerel but if we continue like this, in three years' time there will be no necessity for meetings because there will be no fish there.
As an example of what happened, a number of years ago there was total overfishing of blue whiting by some of these coastal states and now blue whiting is in jeopardy. The quota of blue whiting, which is an important pelagic fish, is vastly reduced. This could happen to mackerel. The legislation was not introduced for the European Union only; it applies to any country fishing unsustainably. We should be able to impose sanctions against member states which exceed their quotas. Transferable concessions would have been an absolute disaster for this country. When the proposal came before us it was very clear the Commission had the view it was a way to reduce the capacity of the fleet. It may have been in theory, but it would have decimated the catching sector in the country. Large consortia from other countries would have come to Ireland very quickly and bought these concessions. The fish would then be transported back to their countries in mainland Europe and we would not have benefited one iota. If other countries want to do this on a voluntary capacity that is their business, but I am very pleased it will not be mandatory and that it is off the agenda.
Maximum sustainable yields are absolutely necessary. It is a formula which can be used to ensure we can exploit the fishery in a sustainable way. Scientists can advise each year on the amounts of fish by way of total catch which can be fished without affecting stocks. We are well below maximum sustainable yields at present and we must get back up to them if we are to respect the responsibilities we have as politicians as the custodians of the sector.
Regionalisation is not nationalisation and I gave examples in my initial contribution. When an issue pertains to a number of countries in any one basin, whether the Baltic, north-east Atlantic or Mediterranean, the countries involved should try to achieve consensus. If they do so their recommendation should go to the Commission for approval. If they cannot agree then a decision cannot be taken at regional level and must go back. This is what was being debated at 9 p.m. last night. If consensus cannot be reached, who will decide? It is my view it should be decided by co-decision between the Parliament and the Council. Even though we succeeded in achieving a type of regionalisation outcome from my report on area 6A, it could have been done much more quickly and in a more expedient way but those regulations are not in place. However, we did achieve it and I am very pleased.
With regard to the size of vessels, 80% are small. All vessels under 10 m can go out immediately and fish haddock with a by-catch of cod using the traditional method of gill netting. Those vessels over 15 m will be invited very soon to express an interest to the Department. An issue arises with regard to effort but I am quite confident the Department and the industry will succeed in ensuring enough effort is provided for vessels between 10 m and 15 m. While all vessels are entitled to express an interest, we should try to ensure those vessels are accommodated for haddock and lesser spotted dogfish, which will not be sold at market but is a replacement for the expensive bait required for pots for crabs, lobster and crayfish.
Senator Comiskey referred to the ecosystem and it is extremely important that we have a healthy ecosystem. Even if discards are being dumped, the value is not minimum. I do not know how one quantifies the value, but it is food for the other fish. I would like to think we would avoid and minimise discards. It will be a matter for the Commission to work out a system to deal with edible fish which are being dumped. Some take the view they should be made available for worthy and charitable causes. Others state they should go on the market. This detail can be worked out. The Common Fisheries Policy will deal with principles rather than the detail.
A number of Senators referred to the Hague Preferences. The amendment I tabled in the Parliament received overwhelming support. I canvassed all of the groups and practically all of them, from the extreme right to the extreme left, were very supportive. While many major countries may not favour this, our Minister has a grave responsibility to ensure negotiations at the Council of Ministers include a small payback for the benefits the other countries have in fishing what were once the most prolific fishing grounds in Europe. Yesterday evening, when we discussed the Hague preferences, the Presidency made it clear that Ireland wants to support it but many countries are against it. There are good justifiable reasons for exerting maximum pressure on other countries to support this. As far as Parliament is concerned it is a red letter. There is room for further negotiation. If the Common Fisheries Policy were to fail on the Hague preference it will not fail.
With regard to when we may secure this it is a question of everyone being committed. We all want to complete the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy during the course of the Irish Presidency. We are not absolutely certain yet, but the Commission, the Council and the Parliament are anxious to do this although not at any price. Good sense is prevailing. The more we see the end line and the more we see efforts to achieve the objective, attitudes will change. I hope we can expedite these discussions.
A question was asked on what can be done for small boats. It is a reasonable question. Is it possible to ring-fence the quota? It is not the case that a substantial percentage of the overall quota is required to assist these small vessels. It is a matter for the member states. The European Union decides on the total allowable catch, the Council of Ministers decides on the quotas for each country and then it is a matter for national governments. When we met the industry in Killybegs and Galway in February, MEPs indicated their support for this but it is not within the competence of the European Union, it is a matter for member states.
Reference was made to the view of the European Court of Auditors with regard to the fact that €2.74 billion has been expended on scrapping. We can make wide sweeping statements that this has not worked. From 2005 to 2006 I was responsible, and anyone from the south east will remember when the vessels fishing scallop were under extreme pressure. Not all of them could survive. I initiated a targeted decommissioning or scrapping scheme which culminated in an agreement to reduce the capacity by 50% while quotas were retained.
The other 50% went on to fish twice as much as previously yet survived. The other vessels, as a result of the contribution of the member state of Ireland and Europe, received what they considered to be reasonable decommission but I think that it was fair. The only mistake that was made at the time, and I often think about it, that a future decommissioning scheme should not just be for the owners of vessels. It should include crew members.
Senator Harte referred to super vessels. Yesterday, I visited the major European Seafood exhibition near the Heysel Stadium. It would take days to see it all. I visited all of the Irish stands and a few stands that belonged to other member states. I made it clear to one member state that I cannot accept aspects of super trawlers or factory ships. We cannot prevent them from fishing but from hereon we can try to ensure that their catch is the same fish that they land. High grade selection machines on board retain larger fish and release smaller fish under the ship but this cannot continue. Last night I made that point very clear when we spoke of catch composition and landing. I believe that all fish caught must be landed. It is obvious what is happening if the larger Irish vessels fish mackerel four or five per kilo yet super boats only fish one to two per kilo in the same waters. The matter must be dealt with because it contributes greatly to the large percentage of discards in Europe. Fishermen want to end discards and it is in their interest to do so.
In practical terms, the cessation of discards cannot happen immediately. When fishing vessels cast their nets they cannot email the fish to tell them they are on the menu. It does not work that way. In clean fisheries, such as pelagic fish, the discard atlas starts much earlier. It is much more difficult to do the same for a mixed fishery. I am in favour of ending discards but I firmly believe that we will never have zero discards. However, we must try to reduce it to a minimum. If we leave live fish in the sea then they can develop, grow and provide fishing in the future.
With regard to the question on the Faroe Islands, they act independently now and receive financial support from Denmark. The islands act independently when it comes to fisheries. Recently we saw evidence of that when they decided to step back from the negotiating table when discussing Anglo-Scandia herring, a straddling fish stock based in the north-east Atlantic and north Atlantic.
There was a question about the BIM proposals to provide licences for fish farms on the west coast of Ireland. I have always been a great supporter of fish farms. When I was appointed Minister of State at the Department of the Marine in 1987 I wanted to familiarise myself with fish farms so I travelled to the Marine Harvest in Fanad, County Donegal. I remember one photograph that was in its office of 100 people attending its Christmas party. That meant that Marine Harvest employed 100 people. The company taught us a lot of what we know about fish farming.
It is up to the Department to make a decision on fish farm licences and procedures are in place. It is in the interest of fish farm investors that they maintain the highest environmental standards. If they do not then everybody will lose, the environment and investors. The licence process is in the pipeline but it is not a competence of the European Union. The European Union will launch guidelines in the next number of weeks and we anxiously await them. I shall share them with the Chamber at that time. Yesterday evening we decided not to discuss aquaculture until such time as the guidelines are released.
People often ask me what can be done about fish farms. The process is too long and cumbersome if someone wants to establish a small or large fish farm in any part of the country. Too many agencies are involved and it is time we had a one-stop-shop to deal with the sector. At present one must approach the Departments of the environment and the Marine. The process should be swifter. There should be a goal set to make decisions, whether to grant or reject a licence, in a period of 12 calendar months. Yesterday when I walked through the exhibition I was envious when I saw large specimens of farmed salmon from other parts of the world, including Ireland. We can do a lot more for the sector such as import substitutions. This country and the European Union imports too much fish and the solution is import substitution.
The granting of fish farm licences is a matter for the authorities, various Government agencies and ultimately the Minister. Compliance with the highest environmental standards is essential. I think my response dealt with the question on inshore fishing raised by Senator Rónán Mullen. The matter very much relates to the competence of the member state.
A decision was taken a number of years ago and eel fishermen from the midlands realised the implications that it had for the eel fishery. On numerous occasion we were told that eels would return in 99 years. That is the type of flippant remarks that were made at the time. Recently I have been told that it could take 20 years.
That concludes my general remarks. I hope that I have deal with everything but if I have not it was not meant as an insult. I am delighted to be part of the negotiating team that is acting on behalf of the Parliament in regard to this. Trilogues, TLOS, can be difficult. For one Minister to be responsible then he or she must don a European hat, as our Minister has done at present. By the same token when it comes to issues for Ireland we, as MEPs, North and South, leave our national politics behind and work closely in the best interests of Ireland.
That leads me to my last point which has nothing to do with fish. I wish to comment on the membership of the European Parliament. I am not trying to protect my seat. As Senators will know, there are 12 Members but there is a proposal to reduce the figure to 11. Due to a cap stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty we must cap the membership at 751. Croatia will become a member in July and, therefore, Ireland must lose a seat at the next election. We cannot accept the proposal. As Senator Colm Burke will know from the time he spent in the European Parliament, it can be a difficult job for 11 or 12 members to cover all of the various committees. When I was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 there were 15 members. It is simply not possible with 12 Members. A Member can be a full member of one committee but a substitute for another so it is not possible to do all of the work with just 12 Members. I voted against the proposal but it was carried. The final arbitrators will be the European Council.
If one country uses the veto, then we will have to go back to the drawing board. Let us hope that will not happen, however, and that good sense will prevail. Europe should examine the template here in Ireland where the constituency boundary commission operates from time to time. Something like that at European level could decide on this matter objectively. It looks like being 11, but that number makes it very cumbersome. How then can one divide constituencies in Ireland into three or four-seater ones? Do we ring-fence parts of Dublin or greater Dublin?
I think it should be left as it is and I would hope that the Presidency, which we are currently chairing, could use its influence to send this issue back to the negotiating team. It could be left until 2019 to try to find a more realistic and practical solution. That would be in the interests of anyone who has ambitions for Europe. Some may ask what does it matter whether it is 11 or 12 seats, but it does. It matters more so since the Lisbon II treaty. I have experienced that from my previous mandates and the current one, because Lisbon is giving us co-decision. We can thus be much more effective and play a more important role in representing our country.
Go raibh míle maith agat arís, a Chathaoirligh, as ucht an deis labhartha seo a thabhairt dom. Tá an t-athamharc ar pholasaithe iascaireachta an Aontais Eorpaigh atá á dhéanamh againn tábhachtach don tír agus níos tábhachtaí do na háiteanna thart ar an gcósta agus na n-oileáin beaga ina bhfuil an oiread sin daoine ag brath ar an tionscal seo.
I apologise for missing part of the contributions, which was due to the tree-planting ceremony that took place on Leinster Lawn. One million trees will be planted, North and South, over the next couple of days. The tree that was planted on Leinster Lawn is being dedicated by the Ceann Comhairle to the late Shane McEntee who, as a Minister of State, was very involved in forestry in recent years.
I wish to be associated with the expression of sympathy by Mr. Gallagher, MEP, to the late Bernard McGlinchey who was a long-time Member of this House. As the Acting Chairman, Senator Wilson said, we will have messages of sympathy for him here before the summer recess.
I wish to thank Mr. Gallagher for taking the time to attend Seanad Éireann to give us the benefit of all his knowledge, particularly concerning fishing. He has always spoken a lot of common sense and he has done so today. We thank him for that.
The Leader has arranged, with the permission of the House, that we will invite all the Irish MEPs to adddress us during the Irish EU Presidency. Mr. Gallagher has been invited here on that basis and we wish to thank him for coming. We wish him well in the next 12 to 15 months and good luck in his endeavours.
When is it proposed to sit again?