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Has the Irish fishing industry become the poisoned chalice of politics?


Editorial Comment

Cormac Burke, Chairman, Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance



The tragedies of Ireland’s fishing industry have been well documented in recent years and yet, despite many attempts in vain by everyone to desperately seek support from the Government, marine minister, DAFM civil servants, the fish monitoring body and the fisheries development board, we continue to witness an apparent contrived downward spiral of a once booming industry that has been so vital to the economies of rural Ireland.


From inshore to demersal and from pelagic to processing, every area of the Irish seafood industry is in free fall - - and while the public are told this is because of the EU Commission and/or Brexit, it is in reality more to do with a long standing anti industry strategy by this, and previous, Irish Governments to shut down this sector whilst doing deals with the EU Commission and other non EU nations to give away the fish resources in Irish waters at the same time as strangling its own fishing industry.


While the people of the Irish fishing industry see the fishermen of other nations benefitting we can only be jealous of Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Scotland, Norway and Iceland but we also recognise that the one thing these nations have in common is strong government backing while Ireland has nothing - not so much as a whimper - as rule after rule and deal after deal is done all to the advantage of some other nation and never to Ireland’s benefit, even when the waters and quotas in question are Irish.


In fact wouldn’t it make interesting reading if someone complied a comparison report on the status of EU fishing industry nations of the last 10 years - prior, during and post Brexit and up to the present day - it wouldn’t take a genius to guess that Ireland will come out bottom of this table by a long, long way.


For the first time in living memory the people of the Irish fishing industry feel totally and absolutely isolated - - cut off from even the slightest hope of an upturn in fortunes as, without any genuine protection from attack, the EU Commission, with the assistance of the Irish Government, have successfully mounted a multi strategy campaign against Ireland with fleet decommissioning, unsustainable levels of quotas for the remaining Irish fleet, allowing increasing numbers of nations into Irish waters, promoting ‘environmentally protected zones’ in the same areas where fishermen operate (isn’t it strange that we never see a proposal for an environmentally protected zone in an area not utilised by fishermen?), and planning offshore renewable energy installations in other areas that Irish fishermen depend on for a living.


The latest most alarming sounds we’re hearing is from our own Government who’s marine representative McConalogue is throwing up soundbites such as the marine sector ‘transitioning’ and ‘evolving’ and “government investment in harbour infrastructure to compliment these developments” ….. all of which translates into sacrificing the fishing industry of an island nation with rich waters to instead become a nation of renewable energy producers and exporters.



Politics

Far from being any kind of a political analyst I can only offer my own opinion as to what the future political landscape might look like, but the truth is who would even want to take on political responsibility for this industry at this time when so much damage has already been done?


Not being a card-carrying member of any particular political party and, like most people I lack any insight into back room strategies of Government, I’m loathe to get into a debate on politics but for the purpose of this particular article, it’s impossible to avoid.


The following is a list of Irish Governments since 1987:

1987 - FF / 1989 FF & PD / 1992 FF-Lab / 1997 FF-Lab / 2002 FF-PD / 2007 FF-GR-PD-Ind / 2011 FG-Lab / 2016 FG-Ind / 2020 to present FF-FG-GR.


With the exception of the period 2011 to 2020 the above information shows that: 1) Fianna Fáil were in control for three of the past four decades that the fishing industry has suffered its biggest decline, and 2) that Fianna Fáil will literally ‘get into bed’ with anyone so that they can stay in power in a form of prostitution that sees morals or party policies sacrificed just to stay on the gravy train.


Fine Gael cannot entirely claim innocence either and there have been plenty of instances where FG-led Governments did not help Irish fishermen when they needed them most - - notably Simon Coveney as marine minister (2011-2016) made few friends in the industry, and was also foreign affairs minister (2017-2022) during the Brexit debacle and subsequently Ireland’s loss of rights to Rockall.


But in the scenario of the current coalition government FG have probably by now realised that they have done nothing more than tainted and damaged their own reputation through their association with FF and lessons will have been learned for the future.


And so as a general election draws ever nearer, enter Sinn Féin - - supposedly the great white hope for fishermen and farmers throughout Ireland but two things that this party needs to openly promise the rural coastal communities in their election campaign are: a) that getting into a coalition with Fianna Fáil and the infamous anti fishing industry figure of Michael Martin must not be an option, and b) to challenge the system in Ireland of the ‘permanent government’ i.e. the civil servants, and in particular those in the marine sector, that obstruct anyone (even a minister) who tries to push for positive progress for the Irish fishing industry.


Perhaps a bigger challenge for Sinn Féin will be trying to marry their ideals of the long struggle against British rule of Ireland to now having to govern a nation that has to work under EU rule that virtually has control over all national pillars in political, commercial and legislative statutes.


While a sweep to victory for Sinn Fein is predicted, there are concerns that even with the support of some independent TDs, a coalition with Fianna Fáil may be the only option to get into power but, as far as the Irish fishing industry is concerned, this will just be the same old song but with a different dance partner and such rumours have already begun earning Sinn Fein the perhaps unfair nickname of ‘Fianna Fail lite’….


But many people have been angered in the past when elections come and they throw their hat in the ring with one party only to wake up next day to discover they’re now in bed with someone else.


A ‘Minister for State with responsibility for Fisheries’ is an exciting and well-intentioned promise by Sinn Féin but it will mean little if FF’s Michael Martin and the marine civil servants have that junior minister’s hands tied in what they can or can’t do.


While a virtual wipeout of Green Party seats is expected in the next election, the newly formed ‘Independent Ireland’ party with its members made up of existing rural Ireland independent TDs, with a strong commitment to Irish fishermen and farmers, will surely have a say in the next election and, with additional candidates, will certainly threaten the traditionally held rural seats of other parties but it remains to be seen if perhaps this next election is coming too soon for the fledgling party but without doubt this will become a movement with the potential to be a force in Irish politics in years to come.



Karma

The atrocities against the fishing industry committed over the past four years by Fianna Fáil DAFM minister Charlie McConalogue, often in complete contrast to the advice offered by industry representatives (and even sometimes in bare-faced defiance of FG Taoiseach Leo Varadkar) can never be forgiven nor forgotten and considering his lost seat in Donegal is surely a foregone conclusion without any electoral support from the mica, farming and fishing communities, there MUST BE accountability for his actions during his term in office and, much as in the overthrowing of any tin-pot tyrant, any incoming political party with ambitions to lead this nation, and particularly show support for the fishing and farming sectors, must declare their intentions to investigate and attempt to reverse many of the decisions taken against rural coastal Ireland in recent times.


McConalogue was elected (although not reaching the required number of votes, he just about got in on the ‘last man standing’ rule) by the people of rural Donegal to represent their best interests - - he was then appointed Ireland’s (Government’s third choice) agriculture & marine minister to represent the best interests of the people in these sectors….. He has failed miserably on both counts and indeed he is in beach of contract in his promise to support and work FOR these sectors when it in fact it would seem that his priorities lie elsewhere.


So the question that needs to be asked is will any new government make a difference? And will any new marine ministerial regime be able to improve things if, as it seems at the moment, the current government will have sold out all the resources and signed off on so many ‘deals’ by the time a new government gets into power?


A first step for any newly-elected political party in gaining the trust of the electorate in rural Ireland would be to vehemently and publically oppose the proposed appointment of McConalogue to a cushy EU Commissioner’s job in Brussels as a reward after his performance as an Irish agriculture and fisheries minister - the worst on record.


So to all politicians of all political persuasions, please note that when the election comes and while you’re all jostling for positions and power, bear in mind that the Irish fishing industry, and the thousands of families that rely on it, is being forced into liquidation by the current political regime and our Irish-owned marine resources are being sold off in grubby little back-room deals to the EU Commission and other non EU nations, that we demand justice and that this industry is long overdue a Government that will stand by its fishing industry and coastal communities and represent Ireland to the EU and not the other way around.


It is no longer good enough for a political candidate to stand on your doorstep and say “my party and I care for the coastal communities” - we’ve all been hearing that at every election for the past 50 years, only to soon realise that quite the opposite was true.


If the candidates of the next election hope to be successful they must publicly make hard promises and solid commitments to instigate change to the system and, as a number one priority must, as well as halting the deals for non EU nations access to Irish waters, vow to fight the EU Commission on the basis of zonal attachment so that Ireland, the owners of the richest waters in Europe, have a fairer share of the quota in its own waters (compared to the paltry 15% currently allocated).

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