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IRELAND THE APRIL FOOLS


A strange headline one might think, but very relevant when it becomes clear that by Sunday March 31st the Irish Government will have to return any unused Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) money to the EU Commission.

 

And so as April Fools’ Day dawns it will certainly be no laughing matter for the Irish fishing industry when we discover how many millions of euros that was made freely available to Ireland in compensation for the huge losses as a result of Brexit, instead of being allocated in genuine compensation to fishermen and fish processors (as was done in other EU member states), will be handed back to the EU as being ‘not required’.

 

Ireland’s share of the overall EU’s BAR fund was some €1.08 billion, with priority to be given to fisheries as the Former Taoiseach Micheal Martin stated in early 2021 on the basis that fisheries was the hardest hit sector due to Brexit.

 

Instead of proactively addressing and compensating the fishing and processing ventures that would suffer major financial losses in reduced quotas for catching and reduced raw material for processing, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine Charlie McConalogue and his Department officials set about a series of projects that, on the face of it, appeared to be taking action but in reality brought little in any form of true compensation.

 

  • A ‘tie-up’ scheme funded fishermen to remain ashore and not go fishing for one or two months - but basically this simply paid the vessel an equivalent amount of money to the amount the vessel would have earned if it had been to sea - - in other words a replacement of one source of income for another and not in any way a ‘compensation’;

  • A vessel decommissioning scheme which was designed by DAFM and BIM officials in such a manner as to ensure that if any vessel owner who believed that his enterprise would no longer be sustainable under post Brexit quotas then a set of criteria was imposed upon him that ensured he would only receive enough money that he might ‘break even’ and clear his debts but again in no form would he be able to walk away with any fair amount of ‘compensation’ in return for giving up his vessel and his future livelihood;

  • The inshore sector, the actual backbone of the Irish fishing fleet, got paltry amounts and barely any genuine consideration when any compensation was being allocated and the feeling of Ireland’s rural coastal communities not being of any relevance to this Government was never as obvious as it was in this case;

  • A large portion of the BAR money intended by the EU to compensate the Irish fishing industry was spent in fixing up piers and harbours around the Irish coast - - with much PR fanfare from the Minister, but this raised two main points: a) why spend money on infrastructure for the same sector that is deliberately being starved of support by the same Government? And b) isn’t the repair of harbours and piers supposed to come out of the Government’s own National Structural Funds and not out of EU BAR money intended to compensate the fishing industry?

  • The pelagic sector, that has lost hundreds of millions of euros in reduced quotas as a result of Brexit, received a ‘compensation’ payment per vessel - - but there has been no Government mention of the fact that the amount paid is barely the equivalent of one year’s losses to this sector and that the losses for each of the years to come is just supposed to be accepted and written off by these companies;

  • Finally the processing sector…. With the shockwaves of Brexit beginning to hit all EU fishing member states in March 2021, France for example immediately set about calculating the losses to their fishermen and processors and didn’t even wait for the EU French allocation of BAR money to come through and began to pay out from State funds - - meanwhile in Ireland the same month, March 2021, Charlie McConalogue held his first sitting of his Seafood Task Force and it took some eight months before the first plan of action actually saw the light of day.

 

 

Taking the Irish processing sector as one example alone, it is over three years since McConalogue’s Seafood Task Force decided on the Fish Processing Transitioning Scheme (aka the ‘processing liquidity scheme’) - - a scheme in which a processing company who could show a loss per annum post Brexit of €1.5 million were entitled to claim back up to €300,000 from the BAR fund - - and pro rata being smaller loss amounts and smaller compensation amounts.

 

But here we are, just four working days away from the deadline of returning unused BAR money to the EU and not a single cent of this processor compensation money has been paid out.

 

 

An intentional bungling management of money?

 

It is hard to believe that in this day and age, when we live in a so-called democratic Republic, that the answer to the simple question of how much BAR money will Ireland be handing back unused to the EU is not forthcoming.

 

Admittedly there are a few ‘grey areas’ with regards the return of unused funds, such as a deadline of next September to reapply for money for projects/proposals that arise between now and the Government summer break, but in essence the bulk of the money not used by now will be going back at Easter.

 

Despite several parliamentary questions directed towards the Minister, his DAFM officials, and BIM who handled many of the DAFM’s BAR schemes, no one will give a simple answer but instead will offer an intentionally complicated and misleading reply such as, in the case of the Irish processing sector, that only €33 million was drawn down for these projects (and there remains a real risk of less than the €33m being used and therefore will these millions will be returned to the EU) - - when in reality the full figure drawn down for allocation to this sector was €45 million and therefore the amount that will be returned unused will in fact could  be more than  €15 million.

 

The question that should be asked to any Irish fisherman, vessel owner, processor or retailer is do they feel in any way ‘compensated’ for the losses suffered as a result of Brexit and do they feel the Irish allocation of BAR money has been spent in any positive way that will help the industry survive into the future - - - the answer will be a resounding NO.

 

As news hits this week of the Dutch pelagic sector about to take legal action against the Netherlands’ government for returning to the EU €66 million of the €97 million drawn down, what will the reaction of the Irish fishing industry be when it transpires that a possible €200 million unused by McConalogue and his officials of the €600 million meant for compensating the Irish industry is handed back as ‘not needed’?

 

Footnote:

At the time of publishing this article (Monday 25th March), Minister McConalogue gave a press statement from the informal EU Fisheries Ministers Meeting in Belgium and said that he hoped to address the issue of the “ongoing impact of Brexit on Ireland” - this ironically is in the same week that he’s going to sign off on a huge cheque to the EU of unused BAR compensation that he didn’t make use of….

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