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A political PR exercise while Ireland’s fishing industry is being pushed over the cliff

Editorial comment by Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA)

“I am determined to continue this tradition of fairness and equity for our farm and fishing families” - Minister Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, October 1st 2022

While many in the Irish fishing and seafood processing industry are complaining that last week’s speech from Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine Charlie McConalogue gave little mention to the fishing industry, other than to pretend how great everything is, I for one would have preferred if he had said nothing rather than spout bullsh*t about justice and “equity for fishing families”.

To hear a minister who has earned himself the well-deserved reputation of being the worst fishing minister in the history of this State, due to his ineffectiveness and his willingness to allow his DAFM civil servants rule the industry, talk about fishermen being the “bedrock of the industry” is an insult to the fishing families and communities of Ireland who have suffered so much in recent years under the regime of this Minister’s DAFM officials and the out-of-control SFPA, while Charlie McConalogue  himself has happily accepted the role of the monkey and not the organ grinder.

At one point when Mr McConalogue spoke of “forging a better future for young people and rural Ireland” I actually felt a bit of sick rising in my throat….

How can a Minister who is presiding over the decimation of the fishing industry, the core socio-economic lifeblood of all coastal communities, talk about forging a better future for young people when he himself is the driving force behind closing down fishing communities and forcing the next generation into emigration?

To say that in national marine management that the ‘tail has been wagging the dog’ for so long in Ireland’s fishing industry is a massive understatement - and, as everyone in this industry will attest to, a clear strategy of working against this industry, from political and civil service officials, has been blatantly obvious for so long and yet here we have a minister (and a Government) willing to turn a blind eye to the situation rather than to stand up to the bullies in the DAFM back rooms and meanwhile the catching and processing industries, and the communities who rely on these sectors, are on their knees begging for even the slightest bit of genuine support from those in charge of an island nation with the richest waters in Western Europe but who prefer to see this national resource as a liability rather than as one of the best natural assets in the world.


The Minister’s Ard Fheis speech in full:

Good afternoon, everyone.


Chairman Daly, Deputy Cahill and Senators Murphy and McGreehan as well as our very special guest Tara McCarthy plus everyone here today, it’s a real delight to be with you as your Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.


It’s great to be able to share each other’s company again and reflect on what has been a strong time for the Fianna Fáil party while planning an even stronger future.


As I was sitting down to write this, I got thinking about the work of Brian Friel.


Ballybeg. Baile Beag. The Small Town.


The fictional town in which the great Irish playwright and Donegal resident Brian Friel set many of his plays.


Baile Beg was reflective of the society in which Friel was living in; restrictive, insular and unimaginative. The strive by the youth like Gar Public to get out of Baile Beg and head for the lights of Philadelphia to fulfil their ambitions was a snapshot of Irish agriculture and rural life.


We were a sector of the country that was often an afterthought. When Friel wrote his 1964 masterpiece about ambitions of emigration, innovation in agriculture was limited, farming systems were subsistent and, indeed, emigration rates from rural Ireland were high.


Fast forward to 2022 and Fianna Fáil leading the agri-food sector, we have an industry that is built on talent, ingenuity and innovation. We are constantly moving forward, striving for access to new and premium markets.


From our farmers and fishers who are the bedrock of the industry, to innovative processors and marketers, we are globally facing food-producing nation held in the highest esteem by some of the discerning customers.


This is not rhetoric; this is fact backed up by real numbers.


Our agriculture, food and the marine sectors produce world class food which is exported to over 180 markets with a value of over €13bn.


And we have a plan, a vision and a roadmap to build on our performance thus far.


That plan is Food Vision 2030 which I launched with the Taoiseach last year. This roadmap will see us sustainably grow our exports from €13bn to €21bn by the end of the decade. It's a plan with sustainability at its core - economic, social and environmental sustainability. I am chairing the implementation of Food Vision 2023 and we are making strong progress.


Food Vision 2030 will be backed by the new €10bn Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which will be signed off at cabinet next week and start in January. The new CAP has the highest ever Government commitment with a 50% higher funded Pillar II than the outgoing CAP. I thank the Taoiseach and Minister McGrath for their unwavering support of farming.


Along with Bord Bia, I completed trade missions to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Japan and Singapore this year where, when in Dubai, Irish food and drink was being the world's highest building.


And what a perfect setting. Irish food and drink being served at the top of the world. That's something we can all be proud of.


That is the distance we have travelled in a short few years. And the starting point for this global success are the primary producers – the farmers who milk the cows, lamb the ewes, till the land or the fishers catch the fish.


However, while we are forging ahead with an exciting future for the industry, we are not forgetting our core beliefs. And behind each of the export figures is a family farm or coastal community that we are committed to supporting.


The Fianna Fáil ethos has always been focused on rewarding our farming families for their hard work regardless of where they are in the country or the size of their enterprise.


I am determined to continue this tradition of fairness and equity for our farm and fishing families. 


I can confirm today that I have commenced the recruitment process for the CEO of the new Office for Fairness and Transparency in the Agri-Food Supply Chain. The office will be up and running by the end of the year and will be an office with real teeth that will protect our farm families.


I want those who are breaking the Unfair Trading Practices to be afraid of the Office.


It will shine a light on the sector.


It will have real teeth.


It will protect our farm families.


I am also delighted to confirm that our former Tánaiste and Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan has agreed to chair a really crucial body of work on examining the options for encouraging more women into agriculture and recognising the key role women play in the family farm. I met with Mary this week on it and we are excited to see this commence in the coming weeks.


We have never faced a more exciting time in the history of our agriculture sector.


Recently, I heard Hilary Clinton's former advisor Jack A. Bobo say that over the next 40 years, we are going to need as much food as we have produced over the last 1,000 years. That's astonishing.


So, as we move towards a global population of 10bn by 2050, with a greater pressure on our natural resources, we can be confident that our agriculture sector, our young people and our rural and costal communities have a bright future.


No longer is it: “Philadelphia, Here I Come” but now with Fianna Fáil leading Agriculture and forging a better future for young people and Rural Ireland – it is “Ireland, Here I Stay and Flourish”.


Thank you and enjoy the Ard Fhéis.


Go raibh maith agaibh,

Charlie McConalogue

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