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So many questions, so few answers…

In the wake of the BREXIT fiasco and the subsequent Trade & Co-Operation Agreement (TCA), it is obvious how badly the Irish fishing and processing sectors have suffered — but the industry must demand answers as to why additional suffering is being imposed by our own civil servants?

While the EU Commission has clarified that revisiting the issue of EU member states ‘burden sharing’ of the loss of quota back to the UK as a result of BREXIT (despite the Irish fisheries minister sadly being the only person in Europe who thinks this is still a “work in progress”), it is becoming tragically and painfully clear that “this is our lot” and that the Irish fishing industry has more or less been cut adrift by the EU Fisheries Commission who are happy to work under the pretense of fair play and a level playing field but who in fact actually employ a system that is anything but fair or just and serves only the heavyweights in the international industry with interests in Ireland’s rich waters.

Amidst the huge criticism of Fisheries Minister Charlie McConalogue, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and their civil servants, to allow negotiations in the EU/BREXIT deal to proceed without any objection by Ireland in that Irish fish in Ireland’s waters could almost be taken by anyone other than Irish vessels, there still remains some glaring questions that continue unanswered to this very day.

Chief amongst these is how an apparently uncontrolled Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine is allowed to continue in its blatant strategy of working against the Irish fishing industry instead of for it?

If asked, every single person involved in the Irish fishing and processing sector over the past twenty years or more could give examples of the anti industry attitude of the DAFM civil servants but the clearest one is occurring right now and seems to be slipping by almost unnoticed and without question.

The Sting

As part of the TCA deal, the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund (BAR) was established - a vast pot of money consisting of hundreds of millions of euros for every EU Member State effected by the loss of quota (and therefore raw material and revenue) - with each nation told to proceed to compensate their fishing industry as they saw fit.

Looking at France as one example: Immediately following the announcement of the BAR fund, the French Government established a system that would take the form of genuine compensation for its industry in that any vessel owner or seafood processor who could show a track record of catches (or in the case of a factory, its volume of purchased fish) then the difference between that record and the new reduced amounts as a result of Brexit could be considered a ‘loss’ - and 50% of this loss could be legally claimed back and awarded, up to a maximum compensation package of 300,000 euros per business.

There were no “ifs” or “buts’, no conditions or criteria (other than proof of a track record) and certainly no mention of vessels having to tie-up or having to face decommissioning if they wanted some of this money - it was exactly as intended, straightforward compensation for loss of fish.

To ensure their fishermen weren’t left suffering in the short term, France didn’t even wait for the EU BAR funds to arrive in their government accounts and began paying out their fishermen and processors immediately and later recouped this money from the EU fund.

France is a much bigger country than Ireland but if their 10% loss is compared pro rata to Ireland’s 15% loss, then Ireland has in fact lost four and a half times what the French industry has lost — but Ireland’s “compensation” to the industry, according to DAFM officials, is: nothing for processors and a tie-up scheme only for certain sectors of the fleet - and even such a tie-up scheme is not compensation but merely a payment in lieu of being allowed catch fish i.e purely a substitute revenue and not a compensation.

Not only have the people of the Irish fishing industry been embarrassed since last December that our Ministers made Ireland look like the village idiot in the eyes of our EU neighbours but once again we are to be the laughing stock of Europe’s fishing industry as our fish has been taken and our government isn’t even going to properly compensate the industry with the money they have been given from the EU’s BAR fund.

A bitter joke

This week the report from the Minister’s Task Force will get its final reading at Government — a task ‘force’ that spent hours and days holding no fewer than 14 meetings and came up with 17 strategies and not one of them put a single euro of real compensation in a fisherman or processor’s pocket.

And after ten months of officialdom fudging around as only Irish administrators can do, Irish fishermen are still awaiting clear information as to what’s going to happen.

The EU Commission very clearly instructed its Member States to use the BAR fund to “compensate their fishing industry” but, unlike pro industry governments in France and other EU nations who said “ok you’ve lost quota so here’s compensation money”, Ireland, run by civil servants, said “you’ve lost a lot of quota so if you stop fishing for a month we’ll substitute your income” and “if you’re not happy with the reduced quotas we’ll use the EU compensation money to pay you the bare minimum to get out and never work in this industry again”.

Compensation?? This is not compensation.

It is giving with one hand whilst taking away with the other.

It is sticking a knife in the back of an already dying man.

The EU BAR fund is intended to give some small reward or recompense to fishermen who have lost something valuable to them and every other nation is treating it as such —- but oh no, not Ireland — here it comes with conditions in that to receive this EU legally established money somehow Irish fishermen must “pay’ something back in return, either in the form of stopping fishing for a month or to sell up and retire permanently.

To back this argument, during the Task Force meetings the industry asked why Ireland is not compensating its fishermen by giving them actual compensation payments without strings attached and the DAFM civil servants’ reply was that “under EU and State Aid law employing such a system was not allowed” — until the industry produced the documents proving how France were doing it and then the response was “oh, didn’t know that, we’ll look into it…”

And, as in every other case when the DAFM are caught with their pants down, they are still “looking into it” and nothing has changed nor is it likely to unless we see intervention.

At the heart of the problem of compensation for Irish fishermen is that Ireland’s DAFM civil servants are the ONLY ones in the EU who refuse to recognize that the BREXIT / TCA deal is ‘a loss’ in terms of fish quotas and, presumably, this gives them the get-out clause of not having to make genuine compensation payments to the industry.

Even leading politicians in the current government believe this to be unfair but, in doing so, are failing to see that they are admitting that, not just this industry but the country as a whole, seems entirely under the control of civil servants who unsurprisingly are often described as “the permanent government”.

Once again this industry is calling for a full root and branch review of the Department of Marine and the operations of its senior staff over the past twenty years - only this will get to the core of the anti industry cancer that continues to inflict the Irish fishing and processing sectors.

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