SFPA - between a rock and a hard place
Ireland’s so-called ‘competent authority’ now the laughing stock of the EU If anyone ever wondered why the terms ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ are so regularly aimed at Ireland’s monitoring & control body SFPA then the events of the past 48 hours should have these descriptions in huge neon signs. Everyone will by now be aware of the EU 2018 audit report and how the SFPA said they would no longer witness or record the weighing of fish at factories – leading the EU with no option other than to then insist on weighing at point of landing i.e., on piers and quaysides and without chilled water or ice. As a result, and because of the uproar from the entire industry that the quality of fish would suffer under such a system, the SFPA had a rethink and decided, 49 days after announcing that the weighing at piers would go ahead, to go to the EU Commission with a ‘control plan’ that basically would allow for a re-establishment of the derogation to allow for weighing of whitefish and shellfish at factories but to plough ahead with plans to force the pelagic industry to ‘dry weigh’ fish at point of landing. But so poor was their research, Ireland’s ‘competent authority’ didn’t realise that the EU Commission allows for only ONE control plan per Member State and basically, with the SFPA trying to submit one Ireland plan for demersal & shellfish landings and one Ireland plan for pelagics, the Commission has rejected this and, it would appear, from this minute in time, the derogation for whitefish and shellfish in back in place once again. And, with a deadline date for a resolution between the EU Commission and the SFPA set for June 22nd (ironically the day before the planned fleet protest in Dublin) by which time the SFPA will have to have proposed a workable solution for both the industry and the control authority. Bad day gets worse As if this news wasn’t bad enough for the SFPA, only two hours after the EU Commission told them that they couldn’t have two control plans for Ireland, news from the High Court filtered through that the fishing industry has won its battle against the SFPA’s refusal to use a pelagic state-of-the-art ‘flow scales’ system because it was designed, paid for and owned by the industry and not the SFPA. High Court Judge, Justice Garrett Simons said that the SFPA had acted ‘ultra vires’ by continuing to withhold approval for the pier-side weighing facility at Killybegs Port by reference to the ‘ownership’ concerns raised by the European Commission. “There is no legal basis for these concerns,” he said. The judicial review was taken jointly by the KFO and Pelagic Weighing Services Ltd (PWS) in response to the SFPA’s refusal to consider and determine the application for approval of the ‘Flow scales’ built on the pier in Killybegs at a cost of €409,000 to the local industry. Commenting on the outcome, KFO Chief Executive, Seán O’Donoghue said: “We stated that the SFPA had acted outside of its powers, the relevant regulations as well as Irish & European law in determining on December 4th last that these scales must be owned, operated and used by a public body and in refusing the PWS request for approval for the Flow scales.” “We also correctly claimed that the SFPA acted in breach of fair procedures, arbitrarily, unreasonably and irrationally in refusing that approval. “We had put on record on numerous occasions, that we were outraged that an SFPA diktat to unilaterally impose a new policy of unpacking and weighing fish on the pier before repacking and ultimately spoiling the fish could have been considered without any advance notice. “Moreover, we had been and are still being, explicitly denied access to any reports or correspondence between the Commission, DAFM and the SFPA on this issue,” Mr O’Donoghue said. Brendan Byrne, CEO of the Irish Fish Processors & Exporters Association (IFPEA), added that this was a simple case of “justice being served’. “This industry should not have to resort to having to take such action to the Irish courts but, if nothing else, this unfortunate case serves as the first step in the process of the ‘recalibration’ of the understanding between the control & monitoring authority and the industry itself,” he said.