Editorial comment by Cormac Burke, IFSA Chairman
As I sat in front of the television last night and watched the ‘Trawlerman’ programme broadcast on RTÉ 2 I confess that I couldn’t help but feel an anger rising within me.
Nothing to do with the content of this interesting show that highlighted a week on several UK fishing vessels - their successes & failures, bravery in the face of dangers, and passion for the careers they choose, many of them following in their fathers’ footsteps.
No, my ire was that RTÉ, our State-run national broadcaster, will happily show the lives of fishermen outside of Ireland but will, at all costs, refuse to mention, never mind highlight, the plight of the industry and fishermen here at home.
Fishermen are the generally the same everywhere - down-to-earth decent, hardworking folk who put their lives at risk at sea - - all with the aim of catching fish for human consumption whilst endeavouring to make a wage to bring home to the families who pray for their safe return every time a boat quietly slips out of the harbour.
I could launch into the tragic list of catastrophes that have befallen the Irish fishing industry over the past 20 years due to blatant mismanagement by successive Governments, marine ministers and, until their recent departure, senior civil servants in the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM) - but suffice to say that these ‘tragedies’ could have been avoided if common sense had prevailed.
The degree to which some people went over the past couple of decades to blacken and destroy the reputation of the Irish fishing industry is shocking.
This was done simply for control and power – and making irrelevant people seem relevant.
The majority of former marine ministers realise this but only after they had left this department.
But back to RTÉ, clearly under Government policy control and not in the least an ‘independent broadcaster’, avoid ever showing the Irish public the true face of the Irish seafood sector and how politicians Coveney and McConalogue contrived to bend over and get Ireland the worst possible deal for its fishing industry out of the BREXIT negotiations, and followed this with the meek submission of access to the vital Rockall grounds for Irish vessels.
Meanwhile our Marine Minister, a native of Donegal, has still not realised the full extent of what’s happening around him - - firstly, setting up a taskforce and ensuring it was populated with a select group of his choosing but with a minority of genuine industry representatives, so that no objections to proposals could get recognition; refusing to follow other EU fisheries ministers in granting any fuel subsidy to fishermen during the crisis (in fact he even told bare-faced lies to the Irish media that other nations weren’t giving this subsidy when clearly they were); and then refusing to use the EU BAR (BREXIT compensation money from the EU comprising of 600 million euros to Ireland) for any genuine financial compensation to fishermen as other EU nations have done.
Throughout all of this, a vital Irish wild salmon fishery was ceased; an Irish inland freshwater eel fishery was outlawed (while the rest of Europe still carry out this fishery); Ireland has a pelagic fleet and processing sector facing up to 40% cuts in quotas for this and following years; an Irish whitefish fleet that is currently being reduced by one third whilst losing access to Rockall and facing being kicked out of a large chunk of the Porcupine Bank area; and an Irish inshore sector that’s more or less been abandoned and written off.
For decades everyone has been led by the nose by our Ministers and marine civil servants who encouraged us to think that everything was the fault of the EU Fisheries Commission - - and yes, there’s no doubt that there are fishing powers within Europe with greater influence on the Commission than Ireland does. . .
But the truth is that this industry’s problems lie very much at home and while the people here are willing to settle into apathy and shoulder shrugging then why would anything ever change?
This year alone saw a BIM seafood report, largely unchallenged, attempting to mask the facts that this industry is collapsing due to political and civil servant mismanagement; a minister’s private police force in the SFPA who are out of control and think they are above the laws of God and man; and an industry often divided with every man (understandably) fighting his own corner (exactly as the old regime of the DAFM liked it to be).
Where is the passion? The anger? The refusal to continue to be the poorly feudal land tenant and doff our cap to the often absent landlord with a “yes Sur”?
The Irish fishing industry and the waters from which Irish fish are caught belong TO US, the citizens of this nation, - not Charlie McConalogue nor a coalition government, not the DAFM, and certainly not the SFPA… … and before we start crying about how unfair we’re being treated by the EU and other EU nations we need to recognise that our first line of defence should be at home and it is at home that we should be drawing a line in the sand and saying “no more”!
Firstly a new department approach is needed and we now have new people within the department surely, after a quarter of a century of the old regime, the time has come for a revival.
We, the people of this industry, are always talking about what we’ve lost - quotas, access to certain grounds, vast numbers of vessels due to round after round of decommissioning, an entire generation of young people who could see that a career at sea had become tainted with political mismanagement, red tape, micro management and a poorly veiled agenda against this traditional way of Irish life.
But the biggest thing this industry has lost is respect -
the respect politicians held for this industry and, who once upon a time, wouldn’t dare ignore the voices from the fishing communities - tough outspoken men such as Mick Orpen or Joey Murrin - because they’d soon pay for it next election when they went door to door looking for votes;
The respect the general public once had for fishermen as honest hardworking people - a reputation now tainted from a mixture of civil servant and SFPA subtle PR which indoctrinated people with the idea that (a) all fishermen are very wealthy and (b) that they got that way through illegal activities and criminal behaviour;
But worst of all, and most tragically, is this is an industry fast losing respect for itself - brow beaten and downtrodden from wave after wave of anti industry propaganda, largely unnecessary over-regulation, and a lack of transparency in policy and governance, and the huge gap between those in power who wish to genuinely manage this industry and those who wish to see it closed down for ever - - - unfortunately, those in the latter camp would appear to be winning the war….
Often the reaction to articles such as this one is to call for protests in a major port such as Dublin or Cork, but whilst well-intended, those calling for such protests are mostly not vessel owners and do not consider the major financial sacrifice for a boat to steam from its home port to the point of protest and of the lost revenue of missed days’ fishing.
Perhaps, even without boats making the journey, it is time to once again take to the streets of our capital - once again dump a lorry load of fish on the steps of Leinster House - and once and for all insist that the general public to be told the truth about the wilful political mismanagement of this industry by Government.
But there’s no reason a well-co-ordinated blockade of every harbour in the country could not be organised and, if nothing else, would get this industry in the local and national media.
Indeed, even without such protests, if the people themselves gathered in large groups at constituency offices and voiced dissatisfaction to their local elected TD and threaten to oust them at the next election then again, at the very least, this would draw some media attention.
I used the word “anger” in the first line of this article and I will finish by using the same tone….
‘Anger’ is what is lacking most at this time - - a united rage at the intentional mismanagement of an industry with so much potential, a disgust at how this, and previous governments, are openly winding down our fishing industry and replacing it with investment in offshore energy and marine tourism, and all of this done in a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ where even the term fishermen is being diluted to ‘fishers’ and ‘seafarers’ and where once called ‘coastal communities’ are gradually being renamed ‘rural regions’.
Albert Einstein said that a sign of madness is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome - and this industry is guilty of repeating the same ‘non action’ and expecting things to change.
It is time we stopped complaining about how unfair it all is and get angry and do something about it.