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Irish fishermen demand EU equal rights in fuel subsidy row

Are we not EU citizens too? Are we not entitled to equal rights and to be treated the same as all other EU fishermen?” - Irish vessel owner

Through a series of recent email interactions between an Irish demersal vessel owner and member of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA) with the EU Fisheries Commission, the question of Irish fishermen not being treated equally as EU citizens has arisen.

And, based on the responses from the Commissioner’s office and from the head of DG Mare, it would appear that the EU has some sympathy for Irish fishermen as Ireland’s marine minister continues to refuse to avail of EU funds for a fuel subsidy when other Member States are utilising the scheme for their fishing fleets during these hard times that began with the fallout from BREXIT and carried over through the Covid pandemic and then into a fuel crisis as a result of the Russian/Ukraine conflict.

Explaining the situation the Co. Cork skipper/owner clarified that a fill of diesel that was costing he and his crew €4,000 two years ago is now over €10,000 and therefore the knock-on effect means that for this vessel’s finances, and many others in the Irish fleet, sometimes going to sea can be purely a ‘break even’ scenario and indeed many trips can result in a loss.

“The EU understands this hardship and that is why EMAFF funds for a fuel assistance scheme have been made available for EU fishermen but the Irish Government and our marine minister refuses to pass this subsidy on to Irish fishermen,” he said, adding:

“Are we not EU citizens too? Are we not entitled to equal rights and to be treated the same as all other EU fishermen?”

“As a minority industry in Ireland, we are being overlooked – indeed intentionally neglected - by our own Government but it is in the constitution of the EU that all its citizens are entitled to be treated equally but we are being denied that right to equality.”

In a lengthy reply, on behalf of EU Fisheries Commissioner Sinkivicius, to the Irishman’s first email, Charlina Vitcheva, Head of the EU’s DG Mare explained that different types of support (i.e. decommissioning, tie-up schemes etc.) may be provided in different EU Member States from the same EU fund.

“Regarding fuel prices, following Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Commission amended the EMFF Regulation 2014-2020 to introduce specific measures to provide financial compensation to operators in the fishing and aquaculture sectors for the income foregone, and for additional costs incurred.

“As the Ukraine crisis support falls under shared management of both EMFF and EMFAF, it is the prerogative of each Member State to mobilise the EU funds for such types of support but we were informed that the Irish authorities decided not to implement these support measures under the EMFF and EMFAF programmes,” Madam Vitcheva said.

In a subsequent response DG Mare’s Unit Head, Alenka Kampl further commented that the type of support made available to the fishing sector is ultimately a decision of each Member State and not within the competence of the European Commission.

“Therefore, we can only repeat our encouragement to raise this issue with your national authorities,” Kampl concluded.

McConalogue and DAFM anti industry stance

So there we have it - - from the horse’s mouth so to speak - - the EU Commission and DG Mare both declaring that there has been and continues to be several forms of EU funds available for fuel subsidies for the fishing industry and confirming that other EU Member States are availing of such funds for their fishermen and yet the Irish marine minister Charlie McConalogue is refusing to help Irish fishermen whilst also telling blatent lies to the national media that other countries are not giving fishermen a fuel subsidy.

But, understandably, the EU Commission can only ‘open the door’ with regards making such funds available and they have no control over any individual Member State’s decision whether or not to avail of the funds.

In today’s Irish newspapers (5/10/23) Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has given a commitment that this government will “get its house in order” in relation to several scandals and public outrages on various issues of national importance – - one would suggest then that the unexplained decision of one of his ministers to continue to deny assistance to a crippled fishing industry when the EU money is clearly available for that very purpose should be included in that agenda to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

More to the point, where are our TD’s and MEPs when the Irish fishing industry is crying out for justice in this matter?

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