Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to present the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 to the House. On 27 October 2016, the Supreme Court issued a judgment in a case taken by a number of mussel seed fishermen in which it determined that fishing by Northern Irish vessels within the 0-6 nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of this State was not permitted by law. It is important to note that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's finding that the voisinage arrangements were not invalid, but that there was insufficient provision in domestic law for them. The Government has authorised me to present this Bill to Seanad Éireann in order to address the Supreme Court's findings and restore the arrangements, which have long been in existence, to provide access for fishing.

Ireland and Northern Ireland have had reciprocal fishing access arrangements for more than 50 years. These arrangements have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in coastal waters in Ireland. They have also allowed, and continue to allow, Irish-registered fishing boats access to fish in coastal waters in Northern Ireland. The 1964 London Fisheries Convention allowed that each coastal state could assert exclusive fishing rights within 6 nautical miles of its baselines under Article 2. It also provided for contracting parties to allow those fishermen from another coastal state who had habitually fished within the belt to continue to do so by reason of voisinage arrangements under Article 9. On this basis, pre-existing reciprocal arrangements were re-affirmed at the time by means of an exchange of letters in the 1960s between the UK and Ireland that allowed for vessels from Northern Ireland to fish within Ireland's 6 nautical mile zone and vice versa.

In light of the Supreme Court's judgment, fishing by Northern Irish vessels in Irish territorial waters is not currently provided for in domestic law. The application of the judgment is to all fishing by Northern Irish fishing vessels in the 0-6 nautical mile zone relying on the voisinage arrangements. The arrangements, as noted by the courts, apply to all species of fish and are subject to such conditions as may apply at the time of fishing.

Following receipt of advice from the Attorney General's office on the application of the judgment, I notified the matter to the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Ms Michelle McIlveen, MLA. I have been keeping her apprised of developments as appropriate. My Department is remaining in close contact with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland on the issue and a number of meetings have been held to reaffirm the mutual understanding of the voisinagearrangements.The court’s ruling has complicated an important area of North-South co-operation. The access of Northern Ireland sea-fishing boats to coastal waters of the State, and vice versa, under the voisinagearrangements has been one aspect of ongoing co-operation between the two jurisdictions in the area of fisheries. This co-operation has supported broader efforts to promote greater North-South co-operation under the 1998 British-Irish Agreement. The North-South Ministerial Council was set up under the Agreement specifically to develop better consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland. The North-South Ministerial Council focuses on areas of co-operation of interest to both jurisdictions, including aquaculture and marine issues. I have had regular and positive engagement within the framework of the North-South Ministerial Council with my Northern Ireland equivalent, Michelle Mcllveen. This kind of North-South co-operation across a range of policy areas is in the interests of the people of this island. The Supreme Court noted in its judgment that the voisinagearrangements are a sensible recognition at official level of practice and tradition, where fishing boats traditionally fished neighbouring waters. I remain committed to continuing this co-operation on agriculture and sea-fisheries issues with our counterparts in Northern Ireland.

The Government has approved the preparation of a legislative amendment, namely, this Bill, to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court judgment as expediently as possible. It is important to note that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court finding that the voisinagearrangements are not invalid but that, as it stands, there is insufficient provision for them in domestic law. The Bill sets out a proposed legislative amendment to address the immediate issue of providing sufficient legal provision for Northern Ireland boats to resume reciprocal fishing access under the voisinagearrangements. The Bill proposes to do this by amending section 10 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006.

The proposed new section 10 continues to assert Ireland’s exclusive right to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the State by maintaining previous provisions. It also explicitly provides for access to fish by sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland within zero to six nautical miles of the baseline of the State’s exclusive fishery limits. The Bill also contains a commencement provision which provides for an order to be made to commence the Bill if enacted. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority was set up by the Oireachtas under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 as the independent authority for,inter alia, the implementation of sea-fisheries legislation. I do not have a role in regard to the performance of its functions. The authority will be responsible for the application of the Bill if enacted and commenced.

While the Bill proposes to restore access to Northern Ireland boats to fish, under the terms of the voisinagearrangements, this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. The Bill itself does not apply the specific conditions. Therefore, other parallel associated measures will be required to ensure that conditions in place for Irish sea-fishing boats are appropriately applied to Northern Ireland boats fishing under the voisinagearrangements. The process of identifying which conditions may need to be legislated for is under way. The conditions will include such restrictions as currently apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. When the necessary measures have been identified, the most appropriate mechanisms for applying them to Northern Ireland boats will be determined. The objective will be for these measures to come into effect at the same time as commencement order for the Bill. Together, the Bill and the associated measures will re-establish the status quofor fishing access that existed under the voisinagearrangements before the Supreme Court's judgment on 27 October. The only difference will be that the voisinagearrangements will be provided for within a legislative framework. The access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change as a result of this Bill, Northern Ireland boats will simply regain fishing access they have had for decades under the voisinagearrangements in the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will also continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats.

Article 5(2) of the Common Fisheries Policy Regulation No. 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council specifically authorises member states to restrict access for fishing with certain limitations. One such limitation is where there are existing neighbourhood arrangements between member states, such as the voisinagearrangements. Another limitation is the access arrangements for member states, based on traditional fishing, set out in the annex to the regulation. In keeping with this Article, the Bill will continue to exclude the sea-fishing boats of other member states from fishing within Ireland’s zero to six nautical mile zone. Fishing activities which have a legal basis, reliant on access arrangements to Ireland’s six to 12 nautical mile zone in the EU Regulation 1380/2013, will not be affected by this Bill.

The specific access arrangements in regard to each member state are set out in annex 1 of the regulation. These arrangements are based on traditional fishing patterns by the various member states’ sea-fishing boats. Under the EU regulation, sea-fishing boats registered in the UK are allowed access to fish in the coastal waters of Ireland as follows: in the six to 12 nautical mile zone, from Mine Head to Hook Point, they can fish for demersal species, herring and mackerel; and in the six to 12 nautical mile zone, from Hook Point to Carlingford Lough, they can fish for demersal species, herring and mackerel, as well as nephrops and scallops. The EU Regulation also gives Irish registered fishing boats access to areas of the UK’s six to 12 nautical mile zone to fish for demersal stocks and nephrops.

The House will be mindful of the proposed departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, or Brexit. It has been suggested that continuing the long-standing voisinagearrangements through this Bill may weaken Ireland’s position in any future negotiations arising from Brexit. I cannot accept this point. The UK has not yet invoked Article 50. Until the UK invokes Article 50, it remains a member state of the European Union. We can only operate on that basis for the moment and honour the commitments we have made to our neighbours through the voisinagearrangements. Ireland, as a member state, will continue to come under the Common Fisheries Policy, and I am already engaged in an active way with the European Commission and other member sates to highlight Ireland’s particular access arrangements and interests as part of the European Union’s negotiations. Should the necessity arise, it will be for the Government of the day to address issues arising from that process and to assess the application of the voisinagearrangements in light of developments at that time. In the current situation, however, we must amend our legislation so that Ireland meets its obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy and so that we continue to co-operate with our neighbours on this island. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. All principal speakers will have eight minutes and seconders will have eight.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister. Fianna Fáil supports the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Bill puts the voisinageagreement, concluded by the Governments of Ireland and the UK under the London Fisheries Convention 1964, into primary legislation. Under the voisinageagreement, Northern Ireland-registered fishing vessels are allowed to fish within Ireland's exclusive fisheries limits within zero to 6 nautical miles of the coast, as the Minister has highlighted, provided that Irish-registered vessels have similar reciprocal rights to fish within the exclusive fisheries limits of UK waters surrounding Northern Ireland.

The agreement has operated successfully for the past 50 years and has facilitated a number of Irish-owned vessels registered outside the jurisdiction which have territorially fished in exclusive state fishing waters. The 1964 arrangements also symbolised the harmonious relationship between the North and South on the issue and were the culmination of the visit by the iar-Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, when he met Captain Terence O'Neill, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The voisinageagreement was formalised in an exchange of letters between the Governments of the UK and the North and South during the 1960s.

Fianna Fáil fully supports putting the voisinageagreement on a statutory footing following a Supreme Court judgment last October. The court ruled there was insufficient provision for these arrangements in domestic law. It found that fishing by Northern Ireland vessels within the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State which was catered for under the voisinagearrangements was not legally permissible. Under this Bill, a person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fisheries limit of the State unless he or she is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between zero and six nautical miles.

Ireland's fisheries sector is an essential part of the Irish economy. The Irish fisheries sector employs some 11,000 persons in full-time and part-time jobs in coastal communities right around the country. In 2016 seafood exports alone were valued at €557 million and domestic sales of seafood €239 million. However, a hard Brexit presents a clear and present danger to the Irish fishing and seafood industry. Currently, there are strong trade links between both countries. Seafood imports from the UK in 2015 represented 65% of total imports worth €148 million into the country while Irish seafood exports to the UK represented 13% of total exports or €71 million.Irish seafood exports to the United Kingdom constituted 13% of total exports and were valued at €71 million.

The Government must make fisheries a top priority in future negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom. It is imperative that we safeguard Irish interests relating to access to fishing grounds and quota share, including the Hague preferences, while avoiding the erection of trade barriers. The voisinageagreement must also form part of future Brexit negotiations. It has been highlighted that the intention of the voisinagearrangement, at all times, was that vessels would be under 75 ft. or 22 m. If vessel size were an open-ended matter, large vessels registered in Northern Ireland could fish in the six nautical mile zone in which vessels registered in the Republic of Ireland cannot fish. In such circumstances, these larger vessels would be exploiting the position. It is important, therefore, that vessel lengths are taken into consideration.

The inshore fishing fleet sustains fishing communities nationwide and the sector comprises more than 80% of the total fishing fleet, consisting of boats of less than 12 m. in length. In addition, inshore fishing is principally active within six nautical miles of the shore. For this reason, the Fianna Fáil Party will table an amendment to safeguard inshore fisheries by tightening the current restriction on sea fishing boats to not more than 15 m. or 50 ft. in length. The purpose is to prevent potentially super-size vessels from accessing Irish fishing waters and over-fishing at an unsustainable level in the six nautical mile zone. We recognise, however, that for this change to take effect, full consultation with the UK authorities will be required to operationalise this condition in both jurisdictions. We are also aware that the legislation, once passed, will come under the spotlight again during the Brexit negotiations.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, for sharing with me his extensive local knowledge of this matter.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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Will the Fianna Fáil Party press its amendment?

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The amendment will not be tabled today as we are debating Second Stage of the Bill.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I understand we are taking all Stages today.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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That was the originally intention but the Leader changed the Business to take only Second Stage today.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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That is very helpful and I welcome the decision to take only Second Stage today. From the perspective of most parties, the idea of providing access to all of the waters off the Irish coast for all fishermen on this island is a welcome one. I am sure Senators and the Minister will have seen the map I am holding, which shows UK territorial waters coloured in red. One of the serious concerns presented by the fishing industry, representing all sizes of vessels, is that one disastrous implication of Brexit is that it will deny Irish fishermen access to these waters, as shown in the map presented to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Minister will be fully aware of this issue and I ask him to address these concerns at the conclusion of the debate. We need to be informed of the Government's strategy towards the British Government on this issue.

One of the major issues trumpeted by Tory supporters of Brexit was that they would take control of British waters. It is clear from the map of British waters that Irish fishing communities are justifiably fearful because they will continue to be subject to quotas and controversy will persist over trawlers from other jurisdictions fishing in Irish waters. I was surprised, therefore, that the Minister decided to introduce this Bill in advance of the commencement of negotiations on Brexit. This legislation is premature.

The fishermen who took the legal case that ended up in the Supreme Court have genuine concerns. Rather than addressing their concerns, however, the Department has a history of using taxpayers' money and the strength that this affords it to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. The underdogs in this case had to raise significant sums and face serious financial exposure to fund their case. Their vindication in the Supreme Court was a slap in the face for the Department, whose approach was found not to be embedded in law.

Sinn Féin and other parties, including Fianna Fáil, want reassurance that this legislation will not result in multinational companies or others using a loophole of residency in the North to plunder the natural resources off the coast, including off County Donegal from where I come. Incidentally, those who took the case adjudicated in the Supreme Court secured a second victory when it was established that our fisheries are natural resources. I acknowledge the Minister wishes to protect the livelihood of fishing communities around the Irish coast. I and other Senators would like an all-Ireland approach to be taken to this issue. I have no difficulty with small vessels based in County Derry, County Down or elsewhere in the North sharing the waters around the Irish coast and vice versa. However, I will not tolerate major operations taking advantage of this new legislative opportunity to plunder our natural resources and destroy the livelihoods of fishermen.

I am pleased we are only discussing Second Stage as it allows the Minister to reflect on some of the issues before Committee Stage. Sinn Féin fully supports the Fianna Fáil Party amendment. I hope it will protect and address the concern I have articulated. I ask the Minister to explain the reason he has moved so swiftly with this legislation, which appears to be premature, particularly given the threat Brexit poses to our fishing communities and the statement by the British Government that it will take control of UK waters. I would like to understand what is the Government's strategy on this issue.

The idea of all fishing communities in the Thirty-two Counties making collective use of the waters around this island is laudable. However, if it is the case that the playing pitch is not even and fishermen in the North will have access, post-Brexit, to all UK waters, fishing communities in the Twenty-six Counties will be squeezed. I would like assurances from the British Government on how it proposes to protect historical fishing rights. The Minister stated he wishes to place the voisinageagreement on a legislative footing and continue with the status quo,which appears to be a laudable objective. However, the difficulty has been that multinational companies and major operators in the fishing industry started to fish mussel beds in Irish waters and the impact on the fishermen's livelihoods here was such that they were willing to take a case all the way to the Supreme Court. This must have required a horrendous financial outlay.

How will the Minister ensure the legislation does not contain loopholes? Will it provide that only small craft will be able to move back and forth, a premise to which no one will object? The Government is offering a generous arrangement to fishermen and, arguably, to the UK Government. What is the reciprocal agreement? What is the British Government offering? Has it given an undertaking to address our concerns regarding the red area on the map to which I referred?

A great deal of clarification is needed and much more work must be done before the Minister will be able to secure the support of both Houses. The sooner this is done, the better.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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There is no big mystery here. The legislation takes an all-Ireland approach, dealing specifically with Northern Ireland without referring to Britain.It recognises the voisinagearrangement which has been the status quosince the 1960s and the reciprocal arrangement is that fishermen from the Republic will be able to exercise the same rights. The legislation in itself will not set out the conditions, and additional measures will be required to flesh that out to ensure fishing is done in a proper and appropriate way by anybody in a Northern Irish vessel coming within the 6 km zone in Irish waters. I agree completely that fishing should be carried on in a responsible and sustainable way. What we are seeing here is legislation that reflects a status quoin circumstances where there was a gap in the law. It addresses the long-standing tradition of co-operation between North and South in respect of fishing. That is not to diminish any concerns about over-fishing or industrial boats doing what they should not. That cannot be condoned.

While I welcome the regularisation of the position, we do not want any side issues. The big issue here is Brexit. A previous speaker showed us the map in that regard. This is a very scary prospect for fishermen because we know, most of us being on the agriculture committee, that fishermen differ somewhat from farmers in that they are not so dependent on Britain for an export market. They actually depend on British territorial waters to catch fish in the first place. Approximately 32% of the catch by the Irish fleet comes from British territorial waters. If a particular scenario saw the British withdraw completely from the Common Fisheries Policy, it would be an appalling vista for our fishermen who would not be able to get in and make a catch. Coupled with that would be challenges to fisheries management and sustainability. We already know that fisheries and our fishing stock are under challenge from climate change. That is both our sea and inland fisheries. The nature of fish is that they do not care too much about boundaries and territorial waters. They swim where they will. As such, we need international co-operation, in particular from our nearest neighbours or else the UK and Northern Irish fishermen might herald Brexit as a bonanza. If they fail to respect environmental considerations and quotas, any bonus they get will be short lived. There will be no fish there and we will have an even bigger problem.

There are many realities that must bite here and be taken into account. I am sure the Minister will give consideration to the deliberations of the joint committee and to the evidence and testimony provided by the fishing industry and fisheries organisations. They have serious concerns and face serious problems in respect of the industry's capacity to survive a worst-case scenario. They should be given the assurance that the very best is being done to safeguard their interests. A particular proposal from the joint committee related to concerns about the Hague preferences. The committee said that if we had a proper system of quota allocation in the first place, we would not have to apply the Hague preferences. This is something that might be addressed by the Minister in terms of how we go forward. The Minister might speak to some of the issues around Brexit which are really serious and on which we should be concentrating to help our fishermen.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Labour)
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I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Kevin Humphreys. The Labour Party has some concerns about the proposed legislation. From the perspective of greater clarity and public scrutiny, I am pleased we will have a Committee Stage at a later point. The legislation could benefit from that process. I look forward to some of our concerns being addressed or assuaged in some way during that process.

The Minister has given the House a potted history of where we have come from and where we are going now. A gentlemen's agreement with no foundation, input or oversight from the Oireachtas was formulated in the 1950s and 1960s and is now to be given full legislative effect. However, I have some words of warning for the Minister. That this "nod and a wink" arrangement drafted many years ago suited the climate in the 1950s and 1960s does not mean it should be codified in law now. We cannot really appreciate why this exchange of letters took place almost 60 years ago without understanding the political context of the time. It was a classic Irish solution to an Irish problem at that moment in time. It suited official Ireland at that time to allow Northern Irish fishing vessels to fish with impunity in Irish inshore waters. We must remember that the State at that time maintained a constitutional claim over the Six Counties. That claim is gone having been removed from the Constitution by popular vote almost 20 years ago. Ireland is a very different place now and the fishing industry is very different. The rules are different and the business is very different indeed.

The fishing industry is under considerable pressure from many angles, including the effects of substantial fishing in Irish waters by Northern Irish vessels. In recent years, there has been very aggressive dredging of mussel beds to plunder mussel seed from Irish territorial waters. This cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged. It is not co-operation as characterised by some speakers, and communities are living with the consequences. I make no apologies for saying that we should protect our natural resources in the Republic because we are answerable to the people and communities here in terms of how we do our business. That is the Minister's job and it is my job. It is the job of everyone in the House.

Even if we are minded to support the Bill at some point, its text appears weaker even that the terms used in the voisinageagreement. The term "Northern Ireland owned and operated" is imprecise and there is a view at large that in its interpretation it could be exploited and abused. It is said to be even weaker than the previous term which referred to vessels owned and operated by fishermen permanently resident in the Six Counties. Much of the dredging done by Northern Irish vessels in the waters of the Irish Republic is carried out by vessels owned in many cases by foreign-owned firms. Surely, codifying this arrangement in law should not be about enriching foreign investors. Since November 2016 and arising from the Barlow judgment of the Supreme Court, it continues to be unlawful for Northern Irish vessels to fish for mussel seed in inshore waters of the Irish Republic. I have no difficulty with that continuing to be the case.

We should move very cautiously on this. I am glad we will have Committee Stage and that it will not be taken today because of our intervention. There has been no pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, which concerns me. It is a process we introduced in the previous term and legislation always benefits from a high level of scrutiny before it is introduced in either House. Why we are codifying the voisinageagreement in Irish law in advance of the commencement of Brexit negotiations and, as it were, showing our hand beats me for all of the reasons pointed out by Senator Mac Lochlainn. If the Irish fishing industry is in difficulty now, it could very well be in even more difficulty in the future, notwithstanding the very strong work the Minister will do to defend the interests of the Irish fishing industry.

I am concerned to have heard from the IFPO that it has been formally consulted on this only in recent days. From my experience as a Minister of State for a period of time, I know there are certain entities which might be described as "statutory partners" who should always be consulted in detail on important legislation like this before it emerges from the relevant Department.From what I have been told, it appears to be the case that the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, has not been consulted up to now on this impactful legislation that could ultimately end up negatively affecting coastal communities and the fishing industry which is currently under pressure.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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I ask the Minister to be open-minded on this matter. Fishermen would not have gone to the Supreme Court lightly and exposed themselves to such huge costs if they were not sincerely concerned about this matter. Unfortunately, we have a history of throwing fishermen under the bus and destroying their livelihoods. That is not a criticism of any single party, it is just historically correct. Fishermen did badly when Ireland joined the EEC and since then every Minister for agriculture has been trying to pull back from that and give them a livelihood.

I come from Ringsend which was known locally as "Raytown" because ray was so plentiful and was sold for little or nothing in the village. Ringsend College was original established as a marine school to teach local young people the skills to fish on trawlers. That industry has been totally wiped out there now, although there are still fishermen in north and south County Dublin. We must try to correct the situation and ensure that inshore fishermen have a livelihood.

I am glad that because of our intervention we will get to discuss the Bill on Committee Stage, but I would have preferred to have pre-legislative scrutiny of the measure. In that way we could have invited witnesses in to test the legislation. The least fishermen deserve is to be heard at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in order to ensure that we are doing the best for them. Life is tough now for fishermen who are struggling hard to survive. They were brave to go to the Supreme Court and challenge this.

Many fishermen to whom I have spoken do not think this is a good neighbour agreement, they just see themselves losing out badly as a result of it. My party would support the Minister if he could take this Bill back for pre-legislative scrutiny. Let us make sure that we are doing right by the fishermen all around our coasts.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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Fisheries are a huge part of our natural resources. Given the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, I feel that this legislation is premature. As Senator Humphreys said, proper scrutiny of the Bill needs to take place. I am afraid that the Bill is a bit shoddy. I have heard from fishermen who feel they were not consulted. We live on an island that has 7,500 km of coastline with a great ocean wealth around us, but in recent decades Irish fishermen have had a really bad deal. I know that from fishermen in Dunmore East where I am from, and in the south-east region generally. They have suffered and are still suffering hardship, and feel they are losing out.

Every emphasis should be on ensuring that there are no loopholes in this legislation which could cost the livelihoods of families and communities involved in the fishing industry. We are at the early stages of this Bill but I will be putting massive energy into this debate. Fishermen need support and respect. The Government has supported the agricultural sector but possibly at some cost to the fisheries sector.

The Bill is premature and I wish the Minister would hold off until the Brexit negotiations commence. I am representing the Civil Engagement group which feels strongly about this issue. Members of the group have asked me to express their opposition to the Bill. The new legislation means that millions of euro worth of Irish shellfish would be taken out of Irish waters by British companies. There has been little or no consultation with Irish fishermen on this Bill. There is strong anger and opposition to allowing other vessels fish in our waters.

In the Supreme Court, Irish fishermen successfully challenged the Minister's practice of permitting some British vessels to fish inside a sea area specially designated for Irish fishing boats. This activity was undermining Irish sovereignty and putting Irish vessels out of business. A policy of setting aside the law and not prosecuting these British vessels was found to be an unlawful practice by a panel of six Supreme Court judges. This new Bill once again provides for a British vessel to fish up to the shore all around our coast, and not be liable to prosecution for doing so. There is no clarity on what vessels will avail of this new provision and no impact assessment of how this unqualified fishing will impact on the smaller national fleet that relies so heavily on the inner six-mile zone.

Irish fishermen do not want this arrangement at all, as evidenced by presentations to that effect which have been made by various organisations to the Minister. They opposed the arrangement when it was first put in place as an agreement not to prosecute in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently as evidenced by the 2016 case. They see no benefit to the taxpayer or to fishermen from this. In fact, it will result in job losses and millions of euro in lost revenue for Ireland.

They also say that it will be abused by large international companies that can claim a tenuous link to Northern Ireland and that will act ruthlessly in exploiting other countries' resources. Fishermen feel they are being mistreated by our own Government for some unclear political objective. They fully support maintaining good relations with their neighbours, but argue that this should not be at the cost of a small group of citizens who have complied with the law. They have invested heavily, while their businesses have been ruined and their livelihoods taken away. They have been given no explanation why the Government insists on proceeding on this basis.

The Minister should engage with the fishermen, as Senators will do in the coming weeks, with regard to this legislation. We will engage far more with them and hopefully we will have a more meaningful debate on Committee Stage. However, I am not too happy with this legislation as it stands.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I was listening to some of the debate in my office and I agree with a lot of what has been said. I agree with my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, from Donegal on his concerns about the Bill. I remember tabling an amendment to sea-fisheries legislation in the last Seanad concerning the penalty points system and bringing in a new regime for a carding system. In that way, deciphering could be done between Irish and foreign vessels. The former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, indicated favourably that he would examine the possibility of introducing such legislation. I thought this Bill would address some of the concerns but unfortunately it has not. In fact, it raises concerns rather than addressing them.

Fishermen in Donegal and elsewhere have contacted me about this Bill to express their concerns. They went out on a limb to protect their own interests by taking a case to the Supreme Court. A ruling was given, which prompted this Bill.The origin of the Bill is clearly the need to address this outstanding issue.

Irish territorial waters were defined in an agreement reached in London in 1964 and in the Common Fisheries Policy of 1973 when distances of six and 12 nautical miles were set. This Bill relates to Irish coastal waters within six nautical miles of the coast. It will have a particular impact on County Donegal because British vessels may, for beneficial purposes, register in the North and utilise or exploit a resource, which, under our Constitution, should be available to Irish vessels only. I echo some of the questions that have been asked on this issue.

Brexit is a complicating factor which was also raised by previous speakers. Analysis carried out by the British Government in the aftermath of the referendum on Brexit found that the vast majority of fishermen in small fishing communities in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. When asked to explain their reasons for doing so, they cited a desire to regain ownership of British waters. This issue is a complicating factor for us, as it will affect fishermen in Killybegs and other ports. I am not sure if the complexity of Brexit has been brought to bear in the Bill but I have expressed the concerns people have on this matter.

I support the amendment that will be proposed on Committee Stage. A distinction must always be made between vessels of less than 15 m. in length and larger vessels because 80% of the Irish fleet are below 15 m. in length. These vessels should be recognised and protected through special provisions.

I share the view of previous speakers that the Bill is premature. What level of consultation took place with the fishing industry, including small fishermen? Will the Bill have economic implications for the small inshore fleet? Has a regulatory impact assessment been carried out and, if not, why not? What will be the economic impact on the small inshore fleet of implementing this legislation?

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I thank all Senators who spoke for their contributions to the debate on this important legislation. Irish sea fishing boats still enjoy access to the coastal waters of Northern Ireland under the voisinage arrangements. However, in light of a Supreme Court judgment, fishing by Northern Ireland vessels in the territorial waters of this State is not currently permitted by law. There is an urgent need to address this matter in order to provide for reciprocity. This is one of the critical driving forces behind the Bill because, as matters stand, boats from the Republic of Ireland can fish in Northern Irish waters, while boats from Northern Ireland cannot fish in our waters. This is one of the reasons for the urgency in addressing this matter.

The Bill proposes to address the findings of the Supreme Court by providing a legal framework for the voisinagearrangements. This would restore the arrangements which have provided reciprocal fishing access for fishermen in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland for more than 50 years. Together with the associated measures to which I referred, the Bill will re-establish the status quofor fishing access that existed under the arrangements in place before the Supreme Court judgment of 27 October 2016. It will also restore an important area of North-South co-operation.

I will address a number of the issues Senators raised. Brexit was a common thread running through all the contributions. If I have seen the map Senator Mac Lochlainn presented to the House once, I have seen it a thousand times. Every picture speaks a thousand words and the map is the most graphic manifestation of the challenge Brexit presents. One could ask what the connection is between Brexit and this debate. The critical connection is that we catch 38% by volume of our entire fishing endeavour in the red zone which marks United Kingdom territorial waters. In terms of value, however, particularly in the context of pelagic fisheries based in County Donegal, the figure is much higher than 38%. In excess of 40% of scallops, for example, which are the second most valuable fishing resource we have, are caught by Irish vessels in UK territorial waters.

A hard Brexit involving the UK pulling up the drawbridge and taking all its territorial waters would deal a severe blow to the Irish fishing industry. This is, therefore, a strategic matter. Legislation can be revisited after it has passed. It would be strategically foolish, however, to gratuitously offend by not providing for the reciprocity associated with the voisinage arrangements, while, on the other hand, trying to negotiate the best possible outcome for our fishing industry in the context of Brexit. I have met various parties at this stage to discuss Brexit. For example, we had highly informative sectoral dialogue with the industry and I have engaged in consultations with producer organisations, both individually and collectively, as has the Taoiseach. I have met representatives of the fishing industry in all its manifestations, including processors. Only this week, I met the Scottish Minister with responsibility for fisheries, which was an interesting engagement. It struck me that the Scottish National Party would in some respects like to remain in the European Union, albeit outside of the Common Fisheries Policy, which is an interesting position.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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That is a position that could also secure support on this side of the water.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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As part of our strategy, we are trying to forge an alliance of member states with shared interests in the fishing industry. Vessels from many countries fish in the red zone marked on Senator Mac Lochlainn's map. While we may regularly disagree at December Council meetings about what is strategically the best approach for individual industries, we have a significant common platform on Brexit and we are trying to negotiate that.

It is also strategic to recognise the connection here. Reciprocity is the fundamental basis of the voisinageagreement, under which Irish fishermen can go North and Northern fishermen can come South. Currently, however, we can go North and fish within six nautical miles of the coast, whereas fishermen from the North are legally prevented from fishing in our waters. Prior to 27 October 2016, a reciprocal arrangement applied and we should not lightly dismiss the principle of reciprocity.

We should also be conscious of the linkage in place in the context of the deal we are trying to negotiate at EU level on Brexit. The right thing to do is to pass legislation to provide for the voisinagearrangements. It is an example of a partitionist mentality to describe boats owned by Irish fishermen in Northern Ireland as British boats. In many cases, these boats have been registered by people living in the Republic for a variety of reasons. We must see the big picture because there are many different manifestations of registration. We must bear in mind the fundamental principle of reciprocity which allows our fishermen to go North under the same terms as Northern fishermen could come South until 27 October last. However, Northern fishermen no longer have a legal basis for coming South, whereas Southern fishermen can still fish off the Northern coast under the arrangements in place under the London convention agreed in the 1960s. That is the critical issue. The amendment in Senator Paul Daly's name will be debated on Committee Stage.

Other speakers raised issues of sustainability, mussel seed, etc. The Marine Stewardship Council, MSC, issues a sustainability badge which retailers, in particular, seek when selling produce on the supermarket shelves. This MSC label is sought after because it is the badge of sustainability and one which is not easy to obtain. A significant number of players in the mussel industry have achieved authenticity in terms of sustainability. The mussel fishery is jointly managed by the authorities in the Republic and Northern Ireland and closed and open seasons apply.

Snippet Ref No: SS00100 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Procedural Text] [Instruction - No] There are assessment agencies, for example, the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM. Pillage of the resource is not allowed and is in no one's interests. There is a management process. Obviously, we are discussing more than just the mussel industry, but I appreciate that it is a significant player, given the stakes involved. Neither we nor the authorities in Northern Ireland have an interest in having a feast and a famine. We must manage the fishery which is an integral part of what happens in the open season, the closed season, stock assessments, etc., which is as it should be. BIM, the Marine Institute, my Department, Northern departmental officials and forum consultations with the industry form part of that management process. Senator Grace O'Sullivan made a point with which I disagree on agriculture being promoted at the expense of fisheries. Over its lifetime the rural development programme will have European funding of €220 million for the fishing industry. It is a remarkable vote of confidence that, in the teeth of a challenge for it that is as significant as Brexit, the industry is stepping forward and investing in new product development, processing facilities and a range of initiatives that the programme is funding at a record level. It is backed by the European Union and the Exchequer on a scale that has never been envisaged before and in conjunction with capital investment. For example, there has been significant capital investment in difficult times in the six State-owned harbours from Killybegs to Castletownbere and all points in between. That is as it should be, as these harbours are a critical part of our infrastructure. Senator Kevin Humphreys stated the industry had been short-changed when we joined the European Union in 1972. I have heard that point being made repeatedly. Interestingly, the industry is multiple times larger than it was at the time in terms of the tonnage landed, the added value delivered and the jobs it supports in marginalised communities where there are not many other employment opportunities. It is not, however, an industry without difficulties, but it has significant potential if given the proper legal and economic frameworks. Critical to achieving that potential is quota access. Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn raised this matter in the context of the threats posed by Brexit: access to UK territorial waters, its quota share and displacement. Even in the teeth of these issues, the industry is still putting up its hand, for which I salute it, and stating it has confidence in its ongoing development of products, processing facilities, etc. Securing the best possible outcome is a challenge. If people believe the European Union and the CAP are complicated, the Common Fisheries Policy is the most miasmic tapestry one could ever imagine. Trying to unravel it by picking out the United Kingdom poses a considerable challenge. The United Kingdom has a strong hand, but if we negotiate Brexit collectively and in the broadest context of the EU trade environment, we can deliver the best possible outcome for the industry. I have listened to the detail of Senators' points, but I ask Members to bear in mind the simple point of reciprocity. We are only giving what we have received from the other side. The Supreme Court's judgment is interesting. Among a number of the justices who commented, Mr. Justice O'Donnell called the cross-Border approach to fisheries "an important area of cooperation between the jurisdictions." He also stated there was "much to applaud" and that such co-operation was "arguably an implementation of the constitutional provisions which have been in place since 1999, which expressly contemplate cross-border cooperation in a number of areas." The Good Friday Agreement specifically mentions aquaculture and fisheries as sectors in which there is potential for co-operation. This is about bridge building and co-operation. We have come through the sectarian head count of the election in Northern Ireland. It is when we step outside the straitjacket and discuss issues of collective, cross-Border concern that equally are cross-community issues, for example, economic issues or concerns about an industry, that we can make progress. At the heart of the legislation is the question of reciprocity. The fundamental point is that are not changing anything that did not exist before 27 October. We can debate the detail of the matter. I take Senator Gerald Nash's point about pre-legislative scrutiny and have consulted the industry via correspondence. We did not undertake the formal pre-legislative scrutiny process because the Bill does not change anything fundamentally that did not exist before 27 October. We are not breaking new ground or introducing something that is substantially different. Granted, the Bill creates a legislative framework, but it is only legislating for that which existed on a non-legislative basis. I appreciate the Senator's wry smile, but I am open to engaging in that dialogue on Committee Stage. At its heart, the Bill is about reciprocity. I hope I have not missed any Senator's points, but I commend the legislation to the House. We will have a detailed conversation on Committee Stage.Snippet Ref No: SS00200 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Speaker] Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response.Snippet Ref No: SS00300 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Procedural Text] [Instruction - Yes] Question put and agreed to.Snippet Ref No: SS00400 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Speaker] Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?Snippet Ref No: SS00500 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Speaker] Senator Michelle Mulherin: Next Tuesday.Snippet Ref No: SS00600 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Procedural Text] [Instruction - Yes] Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 14 March 2017.Snippet Ref No: SS00700 ... Edit Snippet | Insert Snippet | Delete Snippet | Insert Heading | Quick Edit [Procedural Text] [Instruction - Yes] The Seanad adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 March 2017.End of Take