Tuesday, 8 March 2022
Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages
That should suffice, but just in case. I did not want it to be sprung on Senators. It is to adjourn at 6.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, but I have a suspicion that will not be a difficulty.
It is my great pleasure to welcome the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, to her own Chamber in her ministerial capacity. I welcome all colleagues and the iar-Chathaoirleach to the debate.
I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once per amendment on Report Stage except the proposer of the amendment, who may reply to the discussion on same. Each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
Amendment No. 1 has been deemed out of order, as it was previously rejected in a committee of the whole Seanad.
Amendment No. 3 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, 7 to 10, inclusive, and 14 to 16, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed. Does Deputy Boylan wish to move amendment No. 3?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.
On Committee Stage, we outlined Sinn Féin's objection to the Bill, in that it is unfair to fishing communities because they cannot expunge the points they are given if they go to court.All of those issues were debated on Committee Stage, and unfortunately the Minister would not take on board our concerns. The amendments we have submitted today on Report Stage that have made it onto the Order Paper all deal with the same issue, which is substituting the words "an Irish" for "a European". This again goes back to the idea of discrimination and why Irish fisher men and women would be treated differently to their European counterparts. We already know that they are competing with super trawlers, and that they come under their quotas, which are less than what they should be. The very minimum we can do is ensure that they are on an equal footing when it comes to this penalty points system, and that it would be the same system for all European fisher men and women, as opposed to just Irish fisher men and women.
Yes I will take those amendments as grouped. The effects of these amendments taken together appears to be to expand the scope of the points system for masters provided for under the Bill currently, to encompass masters who are citizens of another member state, as distinct from Irish citizens.
The amendments would require, in effect, that the Minister would have to set up a register to cover all masters from all EU member states and that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority would have to assign points to masters who are citizens of other member states.
In this regard, it should be noted that the Bill provides in sum, that points assigned to a master who is a national of another member state shall be notified to the competent authority of that member state. The notification to the competent authority shall include the following particulars as per section 15I(4):
(a) the identity of the sea-fishing boat to which the infringement concerned relates;
(b) the name and address of, and any other identifying details available relating to, the master of the sea-fishing boat;
(c) the particulars of the serious infringement concerned;
(d) the number of points applicable to that infringement.
Senators should also note that under the Bill, the same determination procedure applies regardless of whether the master concerned is an Irish citizen or a national of another member state. In each case, the independent determination panel and the independent appeals officer, where relevant, determine whether a serious infringement has occurred for which points should apply. In each case, the master concerned may apply to the High Court on a point of law regarding a decision of the appeals officer. It is only when this determination procedure has concluded that differing procedural requirements apply regarding the assignment of points, depending on whether the master concerned is an Irish citizen or a national of another member state.
I should also point out that a similar approach to that I have just outlined is taken in the context of the separate points system for licence holders, as provided for here under the European Union Common Fisheries Policy points systems regulations. That licence holder system has been operational in Ireland since January 2021. Senators will recall from the debate on Second Stage that more generally the scheme for masters' points now proposed in the Bill follows, insofar as possible, the provisions of the existing separate licence holder system, with regard to, inter alia, the list of serious infringements, the number of points assigned, and the suspension thresholds as provided for under the EU regulations, and in certain other respects too.
In my view, the relevant procedures in the Bill as I have just summarised, are the most appropriate means of ensuring the effectiveness of the masters' points system. Were these amendments acceded to I believe the result would be seen as contrary to the intent of the EU objective. Masters who are nationals of other member states could have points assigned to them by the Irish authorities, but then shortly thereafter could potentially have points assigned to them by the competent authorities of other member states. A master could conceivably accumulate points in multiple member states, each operating separately, without ever reaching the relevant threshold for suspension or disqualification. The EU points system for masters could not function in an effective, proportionate and dissuasive manner if multiple member states assigned points to respective masters who are nationals of other member states. This is the clear implication of these amendments, and such an outcome would, in my view, undermine the effectiveness of the system, both at national and EU levels.The Bill follows the approach set down in the EU control regulation in respect of licenceholders by providing for each member state to assign points in respect of its licenceholders and for masters who are its citizens. In this regard, the Bill requires the Minister of the day to establish and maintain a register of masters who are Irish citizens and provide for the necessary notification requirements to competent authorities of other member states, as I have already set out, where required. For all of the above reasons, I cannot accede to these amendments.
I am not going to labour the point because this Bill was debated at length in the Dáil. As I said, Sinn Féin has, from the outset, fundamentally disagreed with the approach that is being taken because it is deeply unfair on small Irish fishing fleets. We know the amendments will not be accepted but we will press them.
I thank the Acting Chairperson and Senators for their constructive contributions on the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021. I and the Government appreciate their constructive engagement. Implementation of the points system is very urgent given the long delay since 2012, the ongoing EU infringement proceedings and the suspension of funding by the European Union through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. Ireland is the only member state at this stage without a functioning master's points system, a situation that the Government cannot stand over.
This Bill is an important measure in supporting a level playing field on control while also supporting sustainable fishing in compliance with the rules in the waters around Ireland, on which our fishing fleet is strongly dependent. It will allow us to protect law-abiding operators, who make up the vast majority of those in the industry, and to preserve this precious and valuable resource for all Irish fishers and for future generations, as well as contributing to creating a level playing field in fisheries control across member states. I thank Members for their contributions and I look forward to the early operation of this important Bill.