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An industry abandoned by Government

The Irish Government recently announced its annual budget and, amidst the usual areas to get ‘hit’ and the odd social welfare item to get miserly increases, one of the most important industries to the economies of Ireland’s coastal rural communities barely made a blip on the radar.

The government’s priority for this industry was evident with the word 'fisheries' getting a fleeting mention on one single occasion throughout the entire Budget announcement by one of the two 'Finance Ministers' presenting the Budget -- and that reference was in the context of EU Brexit supports and not in direct Irish government support to fishing of which there was no mention in the Budget speeches.

And while agriculture and farming were directly mentioned several times by both Ministers, it is clear to those employed in those sectors that in general there will be no great effort to resolve the crisis in that industry either.

But if questioned in the public domain on lack of support for the Irish fishing industry, the Government has a ‘get out’ clause to use for public consumption in that they are currently undertaking compensation payment schemes to the fishing industry worth hundreds of millions of euros, without actually clarifying to that same public that this is basically EU money that is being described by the industry as nothing more than ‘blood money’ in a poorly-veiled transition of fish quota in Irish waters from the hands of Irish fishermen to vessels from other EU nations.

What Government will not be telling the public is that, as a result of a botched defence of the Irish fishing industry by this government during the BREXIT negotiations and as a result of other events since January of this year, the Irish fishing and processing industry has lost nearly 30% of its quota in its own waters and the current ‘tie-up’ and ‘decommissioning’ schemes are nothing more than papering over the cracks of an industry about to collapse due to a history of incompetence and negligence by this and previous governments.

And while the level of compensation for decommissioning of vessels does not go far enough i.e. after losing 30% of his revenue going forward, if a vessel owner opts to take decommissioning and get out of the industry, in some cases the level of payment will not cover the total of the existing boat loan / mortgage and so, after taking a lump sum and transferring it to his lender, he is now left with no income but still with a sizeable debt to manage – in effect this is a Hobson’s Choice scenario of his business spiralling into further debt due to 30% of his annual income being given to other EU nation vessels, or sell out his business but still be left with large debts and now with no income to be able to service these repayments.

A pointless exercise

“I know!” exclaimed Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue six months ago – “lets set up a Task Force, have as few actual fishermen as possible on it, and set them, in advance, the recommendations to come up with such as a fleet tie-up and decommissioning scheme but if anyone such as the IFSA asks questions in public (during the Virtual Town Hall meetings) we’ll tell them that there are “no plans” for a decommissioning scheme …. “

And so, it came to pass – the final outcome of the pointless Task Force, a supposed ‘think tank’ where any progressive suggestions that came from the very small element of industry representations were largely dismissed by the civil servants sitting on and, to a large extent, controlling, the progress and shape of this project.

Are we surprised at the result? Lo and behold the recommendations of the Task Force are…. a tie-up and decommissioning scheme…

If ever there was a futile exercise in paying lip service to an industry in crisis, then surely this was it.

And, to rub salt into an already gaping wound, fishermen are expected to be grateful and to see this compensation money as some kind of generous government hand-out when in fact it is basically a portion of the money that the EU Commission has given Ireland in return for a blatant seizure of Irish quota in Irish waters which has now been grabbed and shared out amongst other EU fishing super powers.

Rather than trying to pretend that this is progress for the industry and that the Minister and his civil servants are actually working FOR the people in this industry, Mr McConalogue and his minions at DAFM should be called to task for their shameful and inept management of Ireland’s marine resources and that a genuine task force, consisting ONLY of fishing and processing industry representatives, should be appointed and come up with an agenda that the civil servants at the DAFM would be forced to act upon.

For too long this industry is being told what they must do by Irish civil servants who, instead of doing what they are paid to do i.e. representing this industry to government, are instead representing the EU to this industry.

The time of change at many levels of the Irish marine sector is coming – and, for everyone in all sectors of the Irish fishing industry, it can’t come soon enough…

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