Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food
The Programme for Government committed to replacing the criminal sanctions system for minor fisheries offences with administrative sanction system to bring Ireland into line with other European jurisdictions.
I sought the advice of the Attorney General on the matter. The Attorney General has responded with a detailed advice on the issue which I am currently examining. The advice highlights the difficulties in relation to the Constitution and in relation to the laws of the European Community relevant to the question of implementing a system of administrative sanctions for fisheries.
There are many significant differences between the legal systems in Ireland and that of other EU Member States. Ireland's constitutional and legal position provides certain basic rights which must be respected within our system of justice. Furthermore, European Union legislation requires that penalties for fisheries offences must be "effective, proportionate and dissuasive ". That is, they must act as a deterrent and they must also ensure that there is no benefit gained by infringing the rules.
Given the nature of the penalties involved, there is a general requirement under the Constitution that alleged breaches of fisheries control regulations must be tried in a court of law. I am continuing to actively examine the issue in the context of the Attorney General's advice in relation to the Programme for Government commitment.
At EU level, a new fisheries control framework was introduced in 2009 which came into force at the beginning of 2010, following fisheries control failures identified by the EU Court of Auditors across the EU. This new framework including the application of electronic reporting of catches by all large and medium sized vessels, a new penalty points system, a payback system for overfished quotas and provisions to allow for the suspension of Community assistance in the event of non-compliance by Member States with the agreed control provisions. The new control system is designed to promote a level playing field. I am fully supportive of all measures that promote effective controls across the EU and that promote a culture of compliance within the Irish and EU Fishing industry. The future of our industry is totally dependant on healthy fish stocks and fishing must be carried out on a sustainable basis in accordance with the rules in place across the EU.