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An industry laid bare

Cormac Burke, IFSA

Last night’s TG4 in-depth documentary on the drastic state of the Irish fishing industry was a breath of fresh air in terms of someone in the Irish media finally coming out and clearly delivering the alarming facts to the public regarding this Government’s strategic abandonment of the most important industry to rural coastal Ireland.

I applaud TG4 and the producers of this programme for their genuine reporting of what is essentially a national crisis whilst our ‘independent broadcaster’, RTÉ, and most of the Irish national newspapers show themselves to be under the thumb of the current Government by consistently refusing to highlight the plight of this industry to the general public as it will show up the disgraceful mismanagement of a wholly Irish-owned resource by ministers and politicians who apparently neither know nor care what becomes of Irish fishermen unable to make a living due to lack of quota whilst EU fishermen in Irish waters have so much quota that they cant even catch it all in any 12-month period.

I also applaud all of those who spoke on behalf of the industry for their concise, if not somewhat understandable depressing, portrayal of the state of affairs. There was no dramatic exaggerating of the facts by these contributors - - there was no need to, as speaker after speaker all voiced the same concerns of an industry that’s been totally abandoned and one suffering from zero political will to support and defend it either here at home or at the EU Commission level.

Everyone spoke well - everyone that is aside from marine minister Charlie McConalogue who once again showed himself up as the inept manager of an industry suffering the worst period in the history of the State whilst under his regime.

“We fought very hard against the Brexit deal”…. Everyone is so fed up hearing this worn out statement. Let’s face facts here - Michelle Barnier, representing the EU, went into a meeting with Boris Johnson and a deal was signed off - - what Ireland did or didn’t want wasn’t even on the agenda (and Barnier was in fact too busy getting the best deal for his French fishermen to give a toss what Ireland might lose) - so please don’t BS us with your self importance by pretending you had the slightest input, good or bad, into this deal.

The truth of the Brexit negotiations is that Ireland’s Government representatives were asleep at the wheel during these talks and didn’t know, or worse still, didn’t care, what losses the Irish fishing industry might face.

When the TV program highlighted the case of Rockall, it was definitely a case of the ‘Fr Ted’ episode of holding banners outside a cinema saying “down with this sort of thing” - with no more than an air of ‘tut tut’ from McConalogue and Coveney towards the UK for blocking Irish boats from fishing - - the fact is that in this case there is an unbelievably toothless Irish Government defence of the Irish fishing fleet’s rights, and five years on from when this Government promised to pursue the matter, still nothing has happened and indeed, according to last night’s programme, it is looking possible that if any positive move is to come on this issue for Irish fishermen then it will be from the Scottish Government and not the Irish one.

Also raised in this program was the question of the decommissioning of one third of the Irish whitefish fleet.

Once again McConalogue claimed in public that it was industry representatives participating in the Seafood Task ‘Farce’ that requested decommissioning (which these representatives deny but strangely enough this objection doesn’t seem to have been recorded in the minutes of that particular meeting….), McConalogue explained to the camera that with a reduced Irish quota post Brexit, removing one third of the fleet would mean that the remaining vessels would have enough quota to remain sustainable - - - so one third of the fleet was scrapped and yet all of the fishermen interviewed in the program last night stated that they currently only have two-thirds or less of the original quota that they used to have…… So we’ve lost a third of the fleet and STILL we’re losing one third of the quota, indicating that the minister had clearly not done his sums before going down that particular road and forcing that scheme upon the industry.

What was most apparent to viewers of this program is the general mishandling of this industry by McConalogue and by this government.

If Ireland’s fishing industry was a private company and McConalogue was its managing director and, for whatever reason, the company suddenly discovered that it was to lose more than 30% of the vital raw material it needed to survive but it had been given a huge chunk of capital to take measures to avoid a total collapse, then the steps taken by this MD are baffling to say the least.

  1. Set up an advisory task force group but appoint more than 60% of it with people not involved in the sharp end of the business our company is in;

  2. Ok, we’re going to lose a third of the fish we catch and we’re going to have 30% less boats and 30% fewer landings, so lets spend lots of money building new Irish piers and expanding existing ones  for this reduced number of vessels and reduced volume of fish being landed by Irish boats(?);

  3. Our competitors are utilising a free EU fuel subsidy which would help reduce our company’s overheads but let’s not apply for that;

  4. Let’s spend money getting annual reports done up to try to indicate to the shareholders (Irish citizens) that the company is doing better than ever before, even though quite clearly it’s in free fall;

  5. Let’s go on a nationwide campaign meeting our shareholders and tell them that everything is fine, that their dissatisfaction is imaginary, and if they dont like what they’re hearing, then they can ‘leave the room’…..

  6. And let’s not utilise all the capital given to us to develop our company’s fleet to diversify for the future and let’s hand over half of this money back…

And so on…..

In the aftermath of this program the widespread reaction from the public towards this Government has included words such as “criminal” and “treasonous” but the clearest message to come out of this expose is that the Irish fishing industry is a circus car and it’s being driven over a cliff with a clown at the wheel !

The TG4 program can be watched at this url (in Irish language but there’s an option at bottom right corner of screen for english subtitles)

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