Over a week has now passed since the IFSA, in a direct letter to Marine Minister McConalogue, posed a series of questions in relation to concerns over the lack of clarity in his earlier announcement that he would be seeking an extension of the existing Irish territorial waters’ zone from 0-6 miles out to 12 miles and the existing 12-mile zone out to 20 miles - and as yet there has been no response forthcoming from the Minister.
Naturally, and particularly in the post-BREXIT era, any strengthening of Ireland’s zones is to be welcomed BUT ONLY if this move is intended to be of benefit of Irish fishermen and not some kind of new loophole that will be of advantage to vessels from other EU or third country fleets.
And so it was on this basis that the IFSA put the question to the Minister that he should:
(a) if the zone extensions are authorised at EU level, that he [the Minister] confirms to the industry that any resulting changes from the new arrangement would effect ONLY vessels not flagged in Republic of Ireland;
(b) also to clarify where and by whom did this suggested policy proposal arise from?
While the general opinion by those ‘in the know’ suggests that realistically this proposal will never get EU backing (mainly because of its direct impact on non-Irish EU sole fishing vessels in Irish waters in the south and south-east), the very threat of Ireland pushing for this may make it a viable bargaining chip for some other future negotiation.
But this aside, it is perhaps alarming that the Minister has declined to respond to the questions put to him by the IFSA on the matter – raising suspicion that something other than a benefit to Irish fishermen in on the Government agenda.
While its likely that the Minister has not replied as he continues in his vain attempt to refuse to recognise the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance - despite it being one of the largest independent industry organisations in the country - the fact remains that the questions on zonal extensions that were put to him are reasonable and of concern to Irish fishermen and therefore deserve clarification.
That said, many members of the IFSA will lose little sleep over Mr McConalogue refusing to recognise their organisation as an official body as in general the IFSA members do not recognise Mr McConalogue as a genuine marine minister as compared with his predecessors but merely a figurehead of a civil servant-run fishing industry administration.
Perhaps one of the three T.D.s who were CC’d in the original IFSA letter to the minister (Michael Collins, Padraig MacLoughlin & Michael Healey-Rae) will now seek an official response to these questions.