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Same old song

Minister responds to questions but sings the same old “it could have been worse” song… This impact (of BREXIT) could have been far worse for Ireland in a no-deal scenario” – “proposals to adjust shares of quotas within the EU will always be challenging” – “I again made Council aware of Ireland's concerns regarding the matter of inequitable burden sharing” – “I am pursuing every opportunity at EU level to increase the available quotas for our fishing fleet”…. These are all statements the Minister has repeatedly made over the past five months and, to the frustration of Ireland’s fishing industry, it is beginning to feel like just the same old lines being churned out, regardless of the question. While such comments are being offered in a ministerial-stye ‘sympathy for the industry’, the fact remains that there has been NO REAL PROGRESS in addressing the huge issue of unfair quota loss for Ireland. PQs Last week Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD, continued with his recent line of questions to Minister McConalogue regarding the fishing industry and the ongoing crisis. Mr Mac Lochlainn firstly queried the status of the negotiations with his EU counterparts to secure a fair burden sharing of the fish quota loss that has arisen from the EU- UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, and also enquired about what estimated level of State and EU funding will be available to the fishing industry to implement the recommendations that will come from the Seafood Taskforce. Response 1. Replying to Mr Mac Lochlainn the Minister yet again repeated his previous statements that the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) will, unfortunately, have an impact on our fishing industry. “However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier Task Force agreed to UK demands, or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone,” he said, adding that this Government intends to continue to keep the focus on the disproportionate quota reductions for Ireland and to use any opportunity available to seek constructive solutions that would help to alleviate this unacceptable position. On 20th January, I met with EU Fisheries Commissioner and Michel Barnier and the Ministers of the Fisheries Group on fisheries related matters post-Brexit. I raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing directly at this meeting. “I also raised this matter at EU Fisheries Council in both January and February and, at the February meeting, I put forward a practical proposal to seek an exchange from the UK of mackerel for North Sea whitefish on the basis of a proposal from the Irish industry. “However, this was not accepted by all relevant Member States as it involved loss of shares of whitefish for them in the North Sea. “This emphasises that proposals to adjust shares of quotas within the EU will always be challenging and are only likely to work when they offer advantage to other Member States as well as Ireland. “The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has been engaged in consultations with the UK on setting fishing opportunities for shared stocks for 2021 since early February.

“While progress is being made in these consultations, an agreement with the UK has not to date been reached. In March, I attended the EU Fisheries Council, where provisional TACs and quotas were set for seven months will provide certainty and continuity for the fishing industry for the coming period. I again made Council aware of Ireland's concerns regarding the matter of inequitable burden sharing within the TCA both formally at Council. “At a VC meeting earlier this week with Commissioner Sinkevicius and Ministers of most impacted Member States regarding the issues arising in the EU-UK Fisheries Consultations, I made clear that Ireland, both at sectoral and Government level, is dissatisfied with the inequitable and disproportionate burden imposed on Ireland in terms of our contribution to the quota transfers to the UK. “I am pursuing every opportunity at EU level to increase the available quotas for our fishing fleet. I am pleased with the outcome of the consultations with Norway in respect of Blue Whiting has increased the available quota for the EU and Irish fleet. The ICES advice is for a 20% cut in this stock and this advice is being followed. This cut has been significantly mitigated because we negotiated successfully to reduce the customary transfer of this stock to Norway,” the Minister said, and offered assurances that he will continue to raise the matter of inequitable burden sharing at EU level and in bilateral exchanges with other EU Member States, whenever suitable opportunities arise. 2. In response to the question on available funding for the industry the Minister said that he has asked the Seafood Sector Taskforce to examine the implications arising from the Trade and Co-operation Agreement between the European Union and the UK for the Irish fishing industry and coastal communities dependent upon it and to recommend initiatives that could be taken to provide supports for development and restructuring so as to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing fleet and to identify opportunities for jobs and economic activity in coastal communities dependent on fishing. “In this context, I have asked the Taskforce to consider how all available funding streams could be used to address, to the extent possible, the initiatives identified and the State agencies to support those initiatives. “While the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) and the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund will be very important elements in the implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce, they should not be considered the only sources of funding and it is a matter for the Taskforce to consider appropriate funding sources for recommendations they may make.” The Commission's proposals for a regulation on a Brexit Adjustment Reserve were published in December 2020 and, at this time, the Council has agreed its position on the text. Trilateral discussions between the Council, Parliament and Commission will, in due course, give us a final text. The text of the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund Regulation for the 2021-27 period was agreed in December 2020 but will not be enacted until June or July this year. IFSA comment Whilst the many statements in the Minister’s reply to Padraig MacLochlainn talk about hard work, negotiations, and relentlessly pursuing Ireland’s case in the burden sharing fiasco, I’m afraid nothing points to actual compensation for the unfair cuts that have been doled out to Irish fishermen. The Irish fishing industry DOES NOT want recompense in the form of money to reduce the fleet size because the EU shafted this country in the form of fiddling the books in the BREXIT deal that saw Ireland lose over 20% of quotas while other Member States only suffered a loss of 6% or less. This Government throwing money at a possible fleet decommissioning scheme is nothing more than an EU acquisition of our industry – firstly taking one fifth of our national fish quota and then removing a matching proportion of our fishing fleet and our fishermen are then supposed to be grateful for the pay-out! What Ireland wants is not money – it is a reinstatement of a large percentage of the quota which has been wrongly, indeed criminally, taken from a country which already held an unjustly poor share of the EU overall quota in relation to the area of waters owned by Ireland. Minister McConalogue seems to be missing the point – a point that has been made to him dozens of times by dozens of people – the industry is not interested in platitudes and pre-prepared civil servant statements --- meaningful action is required urgently or else the industry will have to begin to arrange its own action to highlight to the general public the continuing disregard that this Government has for the fishing industry and for Irish coastal communities.

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