There is genuine anger in the Irish fishing industry this Monday morning(January 9th) following the Irish Examiner’s weekend Q&A interview with Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine Charlie McConalogue who, instead of facing up to the serious failures of his term in office and of his DAFM department, instead tried to pull the wool over the general public in painting a picture of hard work and support for this beleaguered sector by himself and his civil servants.
Editorial Comment by Cormac Burke, Chairman of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA)
Aside from continuing to use the Americanism ‘fishers’ instead of ‘fishermen’ which he knows well is a great source of annoyance to fishermen and fisherwomen nationwide, the most irritating of all was his effort to claim that many of his actions were in response to requests from fishing industry representatives.
One such glaring example of this is the planned decommissioning of one third of the Irish whitefish fleet (64 vessels) - - a move that will decimate the local economies of many coastal communities across the nation, and in particular Castletownbere, Rossaveal, Greencastle to name just a few.
In political ‘spin’ speak, it appeared that the Minister was conceding that this is a result of a botched effort by Ireland during the BREXIT negotiations when he said “they (fishermen) say they don't have enough quota because Ireland didn't play a strong enough hand in the Brexit-related talks” — but notice that HE doesn’t say that Ireland botched the negotiations but that “fishermen say……”
Trying to sound proud of his efforts the Minister went on to say that Ireland was the first in the EU to actually come forward and propose a decommissioning scheme “because the fishing industry representatives asked me for one. They asked me for the decommissioning scheme coming out of the sea fisheries taskforce report”.
This is entirely incorrect. In the very same week that the Minister set up the Sea Fisheries Taskforce review, he publically stated that the probable outcome of this taskforce report would be the recommendation of fleet decommissioning and tie-up schemes - this said before he had even met with industry representatives.
Less than one month later, during the ‘virtual town hall’ online open meetings, when the question of decommissioning was put to him by the IFSA, he changed his story and said that the task force review was “unlikely’ to propose decommissioning — therefore in doing so, told a bare-faced lie as he had already at that time instructed the task force to look at a decommissioning scheme.
Despite the industry speaking out at the task force meetings about how reducing the power base and the number of vessels in the Irish fleet would weaken future negotiations with the EU, the Minister’s appointed ‘board’ of the task force placed more focus on meeting the expectations of the Minister than it did on meeting the expectations of the industry representatives and before too long, lo and behold, the outcome was, coincidentally just as the Minister had predicted, tie-up and decommissioning schemes…
And to this the industry representatives stated that IF any such fleet decommissioning was to go ahead then those choosing to exit the industry MUST BE well financially compensated for sacrificing their vessels and their future right to make a living - a request that, on advice from the now outgoing senior DAFM civil servant, the Minister chose to ignore.
But it now transpires, that the ongoing reduced quota post-BREXIT has left many skippers facing with resignation the fact that their businesses will no longer be viable, and therefore there has been many applications for decommissioning but even in that they are being given a parting kick in the teeth with the news that anyone who received tie-up scheme money is to have it deducted from any final vessel decommissioning payment - with no mention of the fact that any tie-up money received was in lieu of not catching that vessel’s quota for a particular period and has nothing to do with the long term and permanent withdrawal of a vessel from the fleet.
But, to go back to the main point here - the industry DID NOT request a decommissioning scheme as the Minister suggests.
SALT IN THE WOUND
One outrageous statement to come from McConalogue in this interview was “my only objective as minister has been to work to support fishers [fishermen] in every way possible. Whether that's in EU negotiations in, for example, the blue whiting quotas, but also the absolute forthright approach we took in relation to trying to protect the sector from the massive damage and danger that Brexit posed”.
This is nothing short of a combination of lies, ignorance and apathy as far as the fishing industry is concerned.
One would expect a politician who, less than one month ago, only survived holding his post as Marine Minister in the Government cabinet reshuffle by the grace of incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to at least make a slight effort to start to concede that he could have done a lot better in the past rather than attempt bullish (and bullshit) statements that he has “supported” the industry and that he “continues to engage at Government level”.
And, given the widespread anger at this latest slap in the face to the thousands of voters in the fishing & seafood sector, one can be sure that the Taoiseach will be seriously reconsidering his decision to leave Charlie at the helm of the sinking ship in a situation of the Minister’s own doing.
In more political ‘spin’ the Minister said that his sole objective was putting this sector on a strong, sustainable footing.
Let’s look at that word ‘objective’ - according to the dictionary it is ‘a goal or thing aimed to achieve’. And therefore by Charlie McConalogue saying that his objective was to support the industry he is in fact saying that his aim was to support the industry but not that he, at any point, actually achieved that objective.
If he had indeed been of any benefit to this sector during in term in office then he would have been entitled to say that he had actually succeeded in achieving his objective but as he, and we, know all too well, this has not been the case.
For example, I can say it is my objective to win the lottery but that doesn’t mean that I have, or ever will, achieve that objective, and therefore McConalogue’s statement is nothing more than the usual powder puff that everyone in this industry has become accustomed to.
Perhaps the biggest talking point to come out of the Minister’s interview was the blatant untruth he proclaimed that the DAFM civil servants are dedicated ‘fighters’ for the Irish fishing industry.
In response to the question that there is a perception in the industry that the marine department civil servants are inherently anti-fishing and just want to destroy the industry. And if they don't, they have little or no interest in its survival, McConalogue denied the opinion of every man, woman and child in the Irish fishing sector with his reply:
“The civil servants in the department (DAFM) are exceptional fighters on behalf of the sector at every turn, and provide a tremendous service to me to facilitate me in fighting for the sector. The staff and my department are exceptional in relation to fighting on behalf of our fishers [fishermen] at a European level.”
This statement is so far wide of the truth that I’m not even going to delve into the catalogue of cases of how fishermen have been treated with disrespect, treated as corrupt and undesirables, and generally abused by DAFM civil servants over the past two decades — but its suffice to say that I’m convinced that if the Irish Examiner followed up this interview by searching for ONE person at any level of the fishing sector, from deckhands all the way up to EU Commission negotiators, that they would not find a single voice that would back up McConalogue’s outlandish statement.
In winding up his farcical piece of media spin the Minister said that he will be “totally guided by fisher’s [fishermen’s] representatives in how we do things” - well I can only describe that as just the cherry on top of a very poisonous cake…
It has been clear that from the day he took up office, this minister has been ‘totally guided’ solely by the senior civil servants in the DAFM and in general, he has taken very little notice of the common sense advice from those with the industry’s best interests at heart such as Aodh O’Donnell, Brendan Byrne and Patrick Murphy.
If the people of Ireland’s fishing industry had previously held any sympathy for Charlie McConalogue due to his situation of perhaps being a minister who’s hands were tied by his own department’s out of control civil servants then this latest interview will surely see the end of any such sympathy, and respect, for a politician who seems more than willing to continue to sit back and allow the DAFM and the SFPA bring this industry to its knees during his watch.