Notice of “rolling 24-hour stoppages” by Ireland’s inspectors from the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) was suspended last night as a dispute between staff and management was referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Reported in Times.ie earlier today, trade union Fórsa confirmed that it has accepted an invitation to participate in a WRC hearing on Friday, and will suspend “proposed action as a result”.
SFPA staff voted “overwhelmingly” last month for industrial action in a disagreement over consultation on management changes to the State body and the first in a series of 24-hour stoppages at the State’s sea fisheries harbours was due to take place from midnight next Monday, March 8th.
If this action proceeds by the SFPA who have a State budge of €24.5 million for 2021, it would affect inspections of fish landings at Killybegs, Ros-a-Mhíl, Dingle, Castletownbere, Dunmore East and Howth.
The union’s marine branch represents approximately 110 members at the SFPA, which has its headquarters in Clonakilty, Co Cork and Fórsa confirmed that notice of action was served last week, and said that the dispute “involves the findings of an independent review of the SFPA”.
A Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) review of the SFPA finalised last year found that the authority was “not working effectively” and required “urgent attention”.
It highlighted a “disconnect between the port offices and SFPA headquarters” in part due to “ineffective management control”.
The report also referred to a European Commission audit of 2018 in Killybegs, which has led to a recent demand from the EU for “payback” of Ireland’s mackerel quota due to issues with weighing and under-reporting of catches.
The EU audit, published in 2019, claims that Ireland had overfished its quota of mackerel by 28,600 tonnes, its horse mackerel quota by 8,100 tonnes and its blue whiting quota by 5,600 tonnes between 2012 and 2016.
However, as reported by the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA) in its article ‘The Crying Game’ published last month ( www.irishfishingseafoodalliance.org ), which raised questions in the Dail, the so-called ‘formal administrative EU inquiry’ comes from a 2018 EU audit of Ireland’s pelagic fisheries (i.e., controls in weighing & recording as well as general monitoring and inspection) – “a report which was largely based on feedback and opinion from disgruntled staff of the dysfunctional SFPA – a group which has become so beyond accountability that they are at this stage neither answerable to the fisheries minister or the Department of Marine,” the IFSA said.
However, despite the lack of evidence in this case of ‘overfishing’ by Ireland, Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue is currently engaging with the EU on the ‘payback’ that is being sought.
But it is understood that SFPA staff believe that they are being blamed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine for the under-reporting.
Fórsa says that SFPA management had agreed to a joint approach with staff on implementing 47 recommendations made by the PWC report in relation to changes in the organisation.