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After the Gold Rush

Editorial Comment

Cormac Burke, IFSA

Those of us of a certain age will remember a 1970s world best selling album by Canadian rocker Neil Young called ‘After the Gold Rush’ and it occurs to me that the wealthy resources within Irish waters has very much become the ‘gold’ that everyone wants a piece of.

For decades the people of the Irish fishing & seafood sectors were led to believe, by our own politicians and marine civil servants, that all the misfortunes that fell upon us were the fault of the EU Fisheries Commission and that the gradual ‘death by a thousand cuts’ of this industry was a carefully designed strategy by the EU to rob Ireland of her marine resources - - but what we weren’t being told is that while our politicians were failing to fight Ireland’s cause in Europe as other nations do, and while our marine civil servants were working against the Irish fishing industry instead of for it, other EU fishing powers were observing with interest this wealthy but weak and unprotected animal amongst their pack of hungry wolves.

Yes of course the EU Commission’s control of Irish fisheries has a lot to answer for but it is no exaggeration to say that the frightening decline of the Irish fishing industry in recent history has much more to do with a political strategy and attitude towards the industry within Ireland than it has to do with EU control - - there are many examples of the numerous cases of people of authority here at home who forced through changes that were detrimental to Irish fishermen and then they disappeared off the scene with zero accountability, leaving those in the coastal communities to try to cope with the aftermath.

One only has to look at State investment and support for the industry versus State investment and support for policing the industry over the past decade alone to see not just a political negligence towards development of the seafood sector but a dedicated strategy of bringing this industry down permanently.

A few examples of those who inflicted damage and then disappeared include:

  • the people who forced through the inclusion of fishermen in the Revised Criminal Justice Bill - - sadly ironic in that this was one of the greatest injustices ever to befall the people of Ireland’s fishing industry;

  • Minister Noel Dempsey who established the SFPA in his own arrogant image and encouraged the ‘Black & Tans’ mentality against vessel owners, fishermen and processors that still exists in that organisation to this day;

  • those in political authority that allowed the closure of the traditional wild salmon, bass and eel fisheries without a care in the world for the many Irish small fishing operators they put to ruination by doing so;

  • Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin who led the fight against the Penalty Point system for fishermen when he was in Opposition but as soon as he had the votes he needed and was back in power a mere three weeks, he signed off on it and then almost immediately vacated the seat of Marine Minister, perhaps hoping that we would forget who did the dirty deed;

  • the 25-year regime of Irish marine civil servants who loathed the fishing industry so much that they gained the reputation of the ‘Department Against the Marine’;

  • the political coalition negotiators who disgracefully sold out the Irish fishing industry in the Brexit deal and subsequently gave up Ireland’s long historic claim to Rockall;

  • And to the present day when Ireland must suffer a marine minister who: 1) asked the EU to authorise a vessel decommissioning scheme against the will and advice of the industry representatives but he then told the public that these representatives had asked for this scheme; 2) who refuses to avail of EU fleet fuel subsidies as other EU Member States are doing; 3) who is NOT consulting with the mainstream industry representatives and indeed is acting in direct opposition to the industry’s wishes as he negotiates for Norway and Iceland to be allowed catch fish in Irish waters in deals that will be of very little benefit to Irish fishermen but that will see huge benefits for other EU fishing powers such as the Netherlands. - - -  And despite his arrogance in refusing to listen to the industry this minister is yet another who will have inflicted serious damage to Ireland’s fishing sector but will then be allowed walk off into the sunset without his actions ever being called into question.

There are many other guilty parties that could be included in the above list but there are two common denominators - a) the people in the Irish fishing industry have been the victim every single time, and b) there has been, and continues to be, zero accountability for those who have committed these ‘crimes against the State’ in deliberately mismanaging marine resources over a 40-year period - - resources that belong to the citizens of this Republic.

And so we’re back to the ‘gold rush’ scenario - - when everyone in authority is smirking as they finish doing their grubby little deals to help other nations finally exhaust the wealthy fish resource from Irish waters, and the Irish government (whoever that will be next time, and we’d be fools to expect that politically anything will actually change for the good for Irish fishing) are finished inflicting the last death blows to the fishing industry in favour of prostituting our waters to other fishing nations, selling out to big wind farm companies, sacrificing fishing for marine tourism or using the pretence of needing more environmentally protected sea areas to tick all the ‘green politics’ boxes, what will be left of the once proud industry of this island that was at one time the envy of so many other nations?

In a not dissimilar similar fashion to the derelict homesteads that became the headstones of the gold rush era, Ireland’s once bustling harbours of activity that previously provided employment to so many coastal communities will soon be left looking postcard perfect (ironically many of them paid for with EU grant aid to transform Irish fishing towns into tourism spots) with little marinas and stalls for visitors in the summer while winter time will see tumbleweed down the main street of the villages that no longer have a native population as they’ll have long since died off or moved away while their houses are bought up by urban investors as a holiday home for the annual family break.

Between an infiltrated EU Fisheries Commission, non Irish fishing powers and aided by a corrupt Irish political system, Irish fishermen are being used as pawns… poor men in a rich man’s war - - lives and livelihoods considered worth nothing more than collateral damage in the struggle between non Irish fishing nations for wealth and power over Irish waters.

All of Ireland’s political parties, either by their actions or by standing idly by without a fight and permitting these atrocities against the coastal communities, have the blood of this industry on their hands.

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