Answer the question Minister
In the Dail this week Sinn Fein’s Spokesperson for Fisheries, Padraig MacLochlainn TD raised the recently posed question by the IFSA as to why could Fisheries Minister Charlie McConalogue and his civil servants at the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM) not facilitate a fleet in crisis due to rising fuel costs by making the ‘tie-up’ scheme more widely available at this time.
It would seem a perfectly logical step if, as we’re told, fuel cost assistance or compensation is ‘not allowed’ but that the temporary tie-up schemes are legally permissible under the rules of the BAR funds as there is no stipulation on exactly when these schemes are held – therefore why not extend the tie-ups to at least allow fishermen to have their catch revenue substituted via the BAR fund rather than have to stay ashore as the cost of fuel threatens to make fishing trips less than viable.
This request from many in the industry seems perfectly reasonable and, as was put clearly by TD MacLochlainn, asks for consideration of this idea at the very least:
“To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food & the Marine if an extension to the already introduced tie-up scheme for fishing vessels will be considered as a supporting measure for vessels that are experiencing hardship at present due to the continually rising fuel costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
But as always, the Minister has once again avoided giving a direct answer and seemed to just use his response to talk about the past rather than the present or the future:
“I launched a Brexit Temporary Fleet Tie-up Scheme in September 2021 on foot of the recommendation for such a scheme in the Report of the Seafood Sector Task Force - Navigating Change (October 2021).
“The Scheme was established as a transitional measure for certain segments of the fishing fleet to mitigate the loss of income in 2021 arising from the significant quota reductions under the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement, pending more permanent restructuring arrangements.
“The scheme had very strong take up, with a total of 177 vessels being aided to tie-up at a total cost of €10 million.
“The Task Force report also recommended the extension of the scheme into 2022, in recognition of the fact that there will be larger reductions in quotas in 2022 arising from the TCA and that the anticipated benefits of the recommended fleet decommissioning scheme will not be realised until the fourth quarter of 2022. The report noted that this will require a new State Aid Notification.
“Work on examining this stakeholder recommendation is very well advanced and I anticipate making an announcement in the coming weeks.”
A ‘non’ answer
So, lets examine the Minister’s reply.
1. Temporary tie-up scheme started September 2021 – yes, we all knew that;
2. The scheme had a strong take up, (177 vessels paid to tie-up at a cost of €10m – yes, we all knew that;
3. Tie-up Scheme extended into 2022 – yes, we all knew that;
4. A decommissioning scheme to come later this year and ongoing work with ‘stakeholder involvement’ and announcement to come in the near future – and yes, we all knew that too.
So Minister, after all the waffle, any chance you’d just answer the question you were asked by Deputy MacLochlainn? Will you consider increased operating of the tie-up scheme at this time so as to ease the burden of the fuel-price crisis on the Irish fishing fleet?
This ‘dodging of the question’ by the Minister is the second time in less than a week and follows his response to the question on his proposal to extend Ireland’s 6 & 12nm zones when he was simply asked if he would confirm that any such extensions would be to the benefit of Irish-flagged vessels exclusively – another question where he gave all sorts of answers except the one he was asked for...