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A RIGHT TO REPLY

None so blind as he who will not see...

Minister Charlie McConalogue recently hosted a series of ‘Virtual Town Hall Meetings’ but, after getting a roasting during a two-way debate at one of these events earlier in the week from some very frustrated fishermen, he altered the format of the final session (Donegal) to one where the questioner’s microphone was muted once he had asked his question and he could therefore not respond to the (often watery) answers that the Minister gave.

Given that some good questions on the topics of the BREXIT outcome, the Dept. of Marine and the SFPA had already been asked, I, on behalf of the IFSA, put two questions to the Minister:

1. If the Minister’s Task Force was going to recommend a (largely unwanted) decommissioning scheme, what percentage of the fleet would be targeted, and would monies offered just be the ‘price’ of the boat or take into consideration real value of the business in a ten-year period of loss of earnings of the vessel;

2. Given that the IFSA now has more member vessels (72) than any individual PO in the country, and that the Minister has previously (in the Dail) refused to recognise this organisation as an industry representative body, will he now accept that with this large membership and thousands of individuals supporting the IFSA, he will now recognise this body as a voice for the industry and for the concerned people of Ireland’s coastal regions?

The Minister gave a straightforward reply on the decommissioning issue, saying that there were no definitive plans for such a scheme at this time.

However, in a withering response on the status of the IFSA, Mr McConalogue was less than diplomatic in a bad-tempered reply which included statements such as:

“The IFSA is not a bona fide organisation”.

“You can’t just form an industry organisation body from an online petition”

“Nobody in the industry knows who you (Cormac Burke) or the IFSA is and this organisation has no substance nor has any engagement with other industry representative bodies. I’ve never been told about the IFSA by any of the POs. No one has ever informed me what this organisation does”

“I see the articles that are emailed to me but I am ONLY copied or CC’d (said with some disgust) amongst other people in such emails”

“There is no engagement between the IFSA and other industry organisations”

“Reading the articles on Facebook, I see that the IFSA seems to spend much time criticising me and also appear to be anti-Government in general”

While being muted and therefore blocked from making a response to the Minister’s statements at the ‘Webinar’ (Donegal session), I hereby publish the following Open Letter to the Minister, representing both myself and the IFSA, as a Right to Reply (Posted on the IFSA website, IFSA Facebook group, and emailed to the Minister on this day Monday 17th May 2021).

WEBINAR (Donegal Session) — RIGHT TO REPLY

Dear Sir,

Following your very poor and largely unprofessional response to the question on the status of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA) and the fact that my microphone was muted and I was therefore refused the basic right to respond, I wish to put on record that firstly, the Donegal session of the ‘Virtual Town Hall’ was nothing of the sort — you muting people while you rambled on, often avoiding the real and critical issues as were put forward by Sean O’Donoghue, KFO and Brendan Byrne, IFPEA, was NOT a freedom of speech debate but more akin to a dictatorship preaching to the masses.

But, nonetheless, I’d like to address your comments on the IFSA in the order in which you made them:

1. You state that the IFSA is not a bona fide organisation, and yet it has larger support base than any other fishing industry group in this country — not just fishing vessels but vast numbers of processors, ancillary companies, individual fishermen and residents of coastal communities;

1. You say the IFSA has ‘just sprung up as a side event of an online petition’ - this is incorrect. The IFSA was formed long before any petition was begun (at the request of IFSA supporters).

2. Sadly, in your next comment that no one in this industry knows who I am or who the IFSA is, this is indicative of your clear ignorance of this industry both past and present.

I apologise in advance to readers if the following section appears an ego trip on my part but I think it’s important to educate the Minister who seems to think that I just came into this industry off the street last February.

Formerly a fisherman, I am the only person to have been editor of three different fishing industry newspapers (one Irish, one UK and one international) and later operated as a fishing industry consultant for fishing and aquaculture industry companies in fifteen different countries worldwide.

I have also been commissioned as the exclusive producer of extensive Irish fishing industry reports for several major Irish institutions, including the Bank of Ireland.

If you want to know who I am then I suggest you ask 12 previous Irish fisheries ministers, or ask anyone in senior management of BIM or the Marine institute of the past 40 years, or the ex EU Commissioners Fischler, Borg and Damanaki, and the one time EU chief of the fisheries department DG Mare, one Mr Penas who, after meeting me at formal interview in Brussels, mistakenly later copied me in on an internal email when he described me to the EU Commission as “the most dangerous journalist in the fishing industry” (a description I’m quite proud of ).

I would further suggest that if you don’t know who I am then you could also ask your current senior members in the Department of Marine as, in 1998, they tried to interfere to stop me from publishing an article in a fishing industry newspaper “Irish fleet soft targets” in which my research showed that 82% of vessels boarded and inspected in Irish waters were Irish whilst French and Spanish vessels were ignored.

As for the SFPA, I’m sure there is a 20-year-old dart board somewhere in their office with my face on it.

You could also cross reference facts about me with several ex U.K. fisheries ministers, Mr Nigel Farage, senior staff at Seafish, CEFAS, and the MMO - or, to name a few, the ex-fisheries ministers in Canada, Newfoundland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Vietnam, South Africa, Russia and Peru, all of whom I have been on first name terms with in the past.

In summary Minister, and in response to your attempted dismissal of me personally, I believe that it is clear that a lot more people in this industry, both in Ireland and internationally, know who I am much more than they do you...

Indeed, I think it’s plain to see which one of us is less qualified to discuss matters of critical importance to Ireland’s fishing industry.

3. As to “no one in this industry knows who the IFSA is” - well I’m not even going to dignify that stupid remark with a response other than to say that almost EVERYONE in the Irish fishing and seafood industry knows who the IFSA is and your recent attempts to belittle and shut up this voice has only served to make sure that anyone who didn’t already know what the IFSA was, surely do by now.

4. “No one has ever told me what the IFSA does, nor have any of the POs mentioned this organisation to me” — Sir, in each of the 30 plus articles I have emailed to you (there are over 50 articles in total), there is a website link at the bottom of every single email - perhaps you need someone to explain to you how to click a link for a website and go and read the information on that site?

And, as for the POs, I’m sure that they would agree with me that it is not their job to go running to you to keep you informed of other organisations - you’re supposed to have your finger on the pulse of the industry and know what’s happening in your own brief rather than expect the POs to do your job for you.


And, whilst on that subject, I’d like to add, what difference would the opinions of the POs matter in this case? - they (the POs) have for months been telling you of the crisis in the industry with regards the BREXIT outcome, the corrupt structure of the Department of Marine, and the out-of-control SFPA and you continue to completely ignore and reject the advice of these highly respected representatives of Ireland’s fishing industry, many who have decades of experience - so why would their opinion of the IFSA matter to you one way or the other?

5. “I see the IFSA articles sent by email to my office but I am only copied or CC’d...” you said with some disgust in your voice.

I do apologise if I have bruised your ego by not sending an article especially for you.

For the record, when I complete an IFSA article, I send it out in three batches - one group email to media contacts, one group email to POs and co-ops and one group email to members of Dáil Éireann - but it seems that being put in the same bed as other ordinary TDs somehow offends you - however I will make sure that this will no longer happen as I will from now on, send such articles to both of these email addresses: minister@agriculture.gov.ie and to your private secretary aiden.kelly@agriculture.gov.ie — and I am openly publishing these addresses so that plenty of IFSA supporters can now regularly email you all of their comments directly and you won’t feel so left out in the future.

6. “The IFSA does not engage with any other industry organisations” - again Minister you are totally incorrect.

Just because no one told you that there has been ongoing engagement between the IFSA and other groups doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening.

Indeed, I should mention at this point that I had several phone calls from some of these organisations following the Donegal ‘Virtual Town Hall’ meeting to apologise (on your behalf) for your “outrageous, disgraceful and embarrassing” treatment of the IFSA, its members and of me personally”.

Perhaps if you engaged a bit more with the industry you would be more up to date in what’s going on?

7. “The IFSA articles on Facebook seem to be anti Minister and anti this Government” — Sir, to be clear, given the current state of affairs in Ireland’s fishing and seafood sector, I would have thought it is quite obvious to you that the people in the marine industries (and probably in all walks of Irish life) are on the verge of a revolution with this Government’s general lack of support and unbelievable neglect of defending Ireland’s resources against EU super powers, particularly in the fishing industry.

Therefore, and once again for your education, I would ask that you give unbiased recognition that neither the IFSA, nor any other marine organisation, is ‘anti-government’ but are indeed against ANY government who refuses to support its fishing sector and coastal populations.

In conclusion Minister, I personally took no offence at your comments as I’ve dealt with far tougher and more powerful men than you down my years - but during that virtual meeting, as all of us watched you on screen squirming with difficulty as you seemed to be trying to convince yourself as much as the rest of us that “all is well’ with your Department and with the SFPA, it is blatantly obvious to everyone in this industry that you are out of your depth and, instead of giving the air of a professional politician who is in control of the situation that you think you are, you appeared more like a small frightened boy as you await your next instruction from the civil servant administrative controllers of the fishing industry.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that perhaps it would serve you better to commit to the meaningful and purposeful actions that the industry is screaming out for rather than to repeat the dismissive rhetoric, and stock responses prepared for you, in an attempt to deflect from the facts that I and others are articulating in a coherent and respectful way.

The time for lip service has long passed!

If you require any further information regarding the IFSA or any of its substance, membership or support, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Cormac Burke,

Chairman,

Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance

Tel 087 3913117

Email ifsacormac@gmail.com

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