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Government fiddles while the fishing industry burns

An editorial comment by Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance (IFSA)

There are so many issues of discontent in the Irish fishing industry at this time that it would be depressing, if not alarming, if one were to list them all out in one article.

But, foremost amongst these has to be the core elements of an uncaring government, fisheries minister and marine department – all tasked with the job of helping Ireland’s marine industries but instead show nothing but distain for these sectors and the thousands of Irish citizens therein.

Following a recent visit to Spain by the EU Fisheries Commissioner, the Spanish fishing industry made clear, and indeed issued a very public statement afterwards, that they held a large degree of “mistrust” in the EU’s fisheries policies.

But when the Commissioner visited Killybegs, the event was arranged in a most secretive manner in case the fishermen and factories would show their anger in a public protest and only selected industry representative groups were invited to attend.

I believe that the subsequent radio silence from these groups in the aftermath of the meeting with the Commissioner speaks volumes of their disgust at not seeing even the slightest effort of gumption from Ireland’s fisheries minister and his department in demanding some consideration from the EU towards fairer levels of burden sharing which, as an outcome of the BREXIT fiasco, has seen Irish fishermen lose a minimum of 30% of their quota in their own waters.

Not content with showing zero support for the industry for which they work, the Department of Marine’s senior civil servants, aided and abetted by individuals who are paid to defend this industry, spent their time coming up with a fiction-ridden document to dispel the truth that Irish fishermen have now only 15% of the quota in its own waters and that they (DAFM) can show, though much manipulation of old data, that the figure is more like 41%...

This 41% claim by DAFM is telling our government to assume that AIS tracking information equates to catching fish (a fundamental misunderstanding)... they are attempting to confirm that we have too many vessels catching too little fish and that we are trying to gather up the crumbs we are left with while the bigger and more modern vessels from our EU counterparts catch a multiple of our fish volumes in a fraction of the time... Paddy chasing his tail like a busy fool while Pierre, Johan, Manuel & co chuckle as they sail past in their big boats fully loaded with Irish fish!

The first question here is why are civil servants in the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine whose salaries are paid by the people of this State, putting efforts into fighting against this industry instead of, as in all other EU Member nations, fighting FOR it?

And more to the point, why isn’t the man supposedly in charge of this department, Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue, not demanding a change of attitude towards this industry from his own officials?

If nothing else, there was one telling comment from the Commissioner during his visit to Ireland – while he dismisses any notion of a rebalancing of the quotas until the review of the CFP is undertaken, “the EU are not insisting that Ireland imposes a fleet decommissioning scheme – it is completely in the hands of the Irish Government how it utilises Ireland’s share of the EU compensation fund”.

Despite the minister telling the IFSA several months ago that “there are no plans for a decommissioning scheme” it is clear that from the outset and the establishment of the Task Force that such a scheme was always going to be the end game.

While very few people last year would have wanted a decommissioning scheme, in recent months the Minister is trying to justify the scheme by saying that “there seems to be some appetite for it now”.

Of course, there is and who could blame them? Through sheer incompetence by this government and this marine minister guilty of not fighting Ireland’s cause last December, Irish fishing vessel owners have lost 30% of their revenue going forward – therefore the owner who would have been happy to continue fishing if he was asked twelve months ago will now jump at the chance to opt for the scheme as this is a case of putting a financial gun to a man’s head and then offering him the only way out.

Not content with decimating the fishing industry, this same government, minister and department are leaving a legacy of destruction in many previously profitable sectors:

· Ireland’s pelagic fish processing factories have to top up their requirements to meet market demands by importing mackerel from Scotland and other nations whilst Irish waters are teeming with mackerel but Irish boats are only allowed catch a pittance;

· Ireland is winding down its own electricity producing plants and buying, at a higher price, power from plants (mostly in Ireland) sold by this Government to other nations such as Norway, Wales and France;

· Resources such as oil, gas and Rockall, all sold and/or given away by this Government, without a fight, to other nations instead of utilising them to make a profit for the State;

· Sometimes in the name of care for the environment, this government has closed down Ireland’s turf harvesting plants and put many people out of work in rural areas where jobs are vital, to now importing peat from Latvia at 4,000 tonnes per shipload. And, to make doubly sure that no Irish companies attempt to adjust or diversify to milling their own peat for agriculture and horticultural purposes, an Irish four-year EPA licencing system has been introduced.

Let’s face it, Ireland has at this stage become the laughing stock of Europe.

This is almost a Thatcherite strategy of it being cheaper to put people and industries out of action as its more economical for the State to just pay them unemployment benefit than to subsidise these industries.

Sadly, the era of the downtrodden paddy seems alive and well as we saw during the Commissioner’s visit when our own minister appeared in total awe of this man who seemed to him to be some kind of god who had come down from on high.

Between them these two men – one the highest power in the EU fishing industry, the other a powerless puppet for the Irish fisheries department – together wouldn’t have enough fishing knowledge to own half shares in a small punt but yet the people Ireland’s fishing industry are expected to bow and doff caps to them…

The rot must stop – the grubby little meetings between DAFM and people supposedly working ‘for’ the industry ---- the backroom schemes for the next attack on the industry –--- and worst of all, a government who has made it extremely clear on many occasions that it couldn’t give a damn for the population of Ireland’s coastal and inland rural communities.

Even if there has to be a certain level of apathy and sad acceptance towards losing revenue and income, then surely there should be at the very least some national pride taken in defending Irish fishing and agriculture traditions and heritage and that we, as Irish citizens, should not be guilty of standing idly by and be witness to a government more concerned about kissing the EU ass than it is about the welfare of its own people and the generations of Irish people to come.

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