Before I start I’d like to comment that less than six months ago I was told that we would never see unity in the Irish fishing industry —- well I hope those people are watching here this morning – boats from every sector and from every port in the country and people from every coastal community gathered here for this protest.
Although my communication skills are better suited to a keyboard and I may not be as eloquent a speaker as my learned colleagues here today, I feel it is my duty as Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance to make a few points at this very important demonstration in our nation’s capital.
Shakespeare wrote: “now is the winter of our discontent” but if this government thinks that we have gathered here for some kind of funeral for Ireland’s fishing and seafood industries, then they are in for a rude awakening.
I’d rather think of this as a celebration of the rebirth of a new and wholly united industry – all fighting side by side against a mounting crisis that sees our fishermen and coastal communities virtually under attack from the combined forces of the EU Commission, our own Government, our own Department of Marine and the out-of-control Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.
Other speakers here today will cover important topics such as the outcome of BREXIT, where our Government sat back and allowed other EU nations to help themselves to quotas in Irish waters while our fishermen were left with just 15% of IRISH fish in IRISH waters – and the completely unjust penalty point system that Fianna Fail led the fight against when they were in Opposition but then signed off on it as soon as they got into power – and of course the unworkable proposal by the SFPA to enforce weighing at point of landing – a ridiculous notion that not only serves to again hamper fishermen but will cause a reduction in the value of Irish seafood worth millions of euros.
However, today I would like to focus on the damage to the industry and the coastal communities that the government’s bean counters have thus far avoided talking about.
Its six months since our fisheries minister announced that the outcome of Brexit would cost this industry around 48 million euros in lost quotas – a figure which we have by now calculated to be more in the region of 250 million euros when everything is taken into consideration – and indeed, working out the value of the quota that is lost today but over the coming decade, equates to more than 800 million euros.
In an industry that is worth two billion per annum – then losing 800 million is a lot more serious than our Taoiseach and marine minister is telling the public.
And that evaluation of this industry is purely in terms of quotas and seafood values – but when you add in all the investment in all of the vessels in Ireland’s fishing fleet, all of the seafood processing companies and all of the engineering and net making companies that service this industry, then that evaluation can be more than doubled.
There have been many sins committed in the past few years by a government that refuses to defend its fishing tradition to the same level that other EU nations do – but the biggest crime of all is the apparent strategic neglect and decimation of Ireland’s seafaring communities.
The populations of Ireland’s coastal regions - for so long the lifeblood of this island nation – are experiencing first-hand the attitude of shocking apathy by this government towards the fact that the socio-economic impact as a knock-on effect of a fishing industry in crisis will mean the loss of thousands of jobs – local businesses will close down, schools left with dwindling numbers of children and ultimately the death of many villages and towns.
Our pelagic industry is taking repeated hits in loss of BREXIT and coastal states’ mackerel quotas – our demersal fleet is left with only 15 acres to work with while the other 85 acres it owns is being harvested by foreign companies, our seasonal inshore mackerel line fishery has been closed down due to the EU making no provision for a small separate quota for this fishery – a fishery which is the perfect example of the “sustainable, community-based artisanal fishery” that the EU Commission prides itself on in ALL OTHER EU maritime nations.
– and meanwhile our crab fishermen and processors are facing bankruptcy as the SFPA will not sign off on the required health certificates for crab exports out of Ireland, even though these same crabs are meeting EU standards that are accepted in ALL OTHER EU member states …
And our government’s response? – “oh well lads, it’s tough – here’s some EU money to scrap your boats so we can reduce the size of the Irish fleet to match the last 15% of quotas we have left in Irish waters because we, without consulting anyone, gave the other 85% of a NATIONAL RESOURCE WHICH IS OWNED BY THE CITIZENS OF IRELAND to the rest of the EU fishing fleet”.
Taking IRISH quota in IRISH waters and then offering the people of Ireland money for a vessel reduction scheme isn’t ‘decommissioning’ – its acquisition of OUR marine resources.
The EU are literally buying up fishing rights in Irish waters and this government is standing idly by and paying no regard to the fact that WE the people of Ireland, not the government, own these resources.
Shrugging shoulders and paying lip service to the industry with task forces and other forms of posturing to look at ways to ‘restructure’ what we have left of an industry is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE – this industry demands that, as our elected leaders, our government returns to the EU Fisheries Commission with a strong and clear message – THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND SAY NO TO THE STEALING OF OUR RESOURCES AND THE DESTRUCTION OF IRELAND’S FISHING AND SEAFOOD INDUSTRY WHILE THE REST OF THE EU FISHING NATIONS BENEFIT FROM OUR RICH WATERS.
Are the inhabitants of our rural coastal regions to become the ‘forgotten people’ of Ireland?
And does this government even care that they will go down in history as the government who ended Ireland’s entire marine heritage of the coastal communities?
One clear message today to Taoiseach Michael Martin, Fisheries Minister Charlie McConalogue, the Department of Marine and the SFPA:
If you aren’t part of the solution then YOU ARE part of the problem !
The people of rural Ireland are fed up living in a world where the people must work for the government -- while in every other country the government works FOR the people !