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The Emperor has no clothes



Editorial Comment


Cormac Burke, IFSA


They say that in politics “delusion makes the world go around” but its clear from the latest Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis that this political party’s greatest liability is their Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine, Charlie McConalogue, who leaves people wondering if the man needs help or some sort of ‘intervention’ such is the level of his claims that Ireland’s fishing industry is doing so well under his stewardship when in fact the four years since his appointment has seen the worst management and track record of this industry in the history of this State.


For those unaware of the litany of endless critical blows and lack of support for this industry in recent times all they have to do is read any of the industry newspapers or the many articles on the IFSA website - - but for a minister to stand up in public (at meetings in fishing ports and then at the Ard Fheis) and tell people the sun is shining when in fact the reality is that the rain is lashing upon us all is beyond delusional, it is either supreme self confidence and arrogance in not caring what people actually think, or else a supreme inability to tell the truth.


In an Ard Fheis in which Fianna Fáil aimed to show the public that they are ‘taking back control as a majority’ the address by McConalogue painted a picture of a Fianna Fáil party committed to rural Ireland, coastal communities and to ensuring that the fishing industry will prosper in the future -- all of which makes nice sound bytes but when you follow this up with a combination of statements that the people in these sectors know to be untrue then surely this is damaging to the party’s ambitions with an election looming ever closer.


I could list the items of PR spin McConalogue put out during his address but most of you have heard them all before: a task force from which recommendations were “swiftly implemented” and that he continues to “demonstrate a commitment to maximising opportunities for the industry” - -


—--  that’s the spin but here’s the reality:


The Irish pelagic sector has lost in excess of 35% of its quotas; the Irish processing sector has lost up to 40% of its revenue; the Irish demersal sector, even after the decommissioning of one third of the fleet, is barely surviving whilst the rest of the EU fleet are taking 85% of the fish in Irish waters; the Irish inshore fleet, the biggest employer in the Irish fishing industry, is on its knees and begging for support and getting occasional crumbs thrown at them in a bid to dress this up as ‘support’; and Ireland’s traditional inland fisheries sector has all but been strangled to death.


Naturally the Minister’s response to all of the above would be to blame Brexit, which is indeed a major factor but however not the overriding factor that explains the current dismal state of an industry totally abandoned by government - - but nonetheless ok, let’s look at Brexit and the ‘compensation’ money and how the Minister utilised it:


€1.1 billion came the way of Ireland from the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund - - €380m of this earmarked for the fishing industry, along with a further €300m from the European Marine Fisheries & Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) - - therefore a total of €680m was available for what the EU europa website describes as: “Member states that depend significantly on fisheries will have to direct a specific percentage of their national allocation to small-scale coastal fisheries and local and regional communities dependent on fishing activities”.


While all other EU nations set about clear financial compensation to their fishing industry McConalogue proceeded to spend some Ireland’s share of the money on a tie-up scheme that replaced income from catching their entitlement quota with a equal amount in payout (not a compensation), a fleet decommissioning scheme (not a compensation); a nominal payout to pelagic vessels and processors to cover their losses of one year but nothing for all the years of reduced income that will follow; projects to repair piers and harbours all around the country (the cost of which should have come out of the National Structural Fund and not the EU / Ireland BAR compensation money); grant aid for new equipment for the processing industry (which, as a Member State, Ireland was entitled to anyway under the annual EMFAF funds).


The upshot of all of this is that the Minister has recently responded to questions on expenditure by stating that €178m of the €380m BAR money has been spent on the fishing and seafood sector but neglecting to mention that by September 2024 the remaining €200m of this money will have to be returned to the EU  if unused.


And this figure of €178m spent in the fishing industry means that out of a total of €1.1bn BAR money that came to Ireland, the fishing sector got less than 20%, despite Fianna Fáil leader, and acting Marine Minister at the time, Michael Martin saying that the fishing industry was the hardest hit of any sector in Ireland and he gave a commitment that priority and ‘lion’s share’ of this €1.1bn would be going towards “compensating and helping the fishing industry adapt to a post Brexit situation”.


Therefore, while the sun is apparently shining brightly in the Minister McConalogue’s world, the rain continues to pour down the backs of the fishing industry - - an industry that is in such a downward trajectory that many fear there is no coming back.


Meanwhile the industry must also endure so many frustrating anomalies under the current management regime and, with foreign vessels fishing and landing in Ireland with such frequency, one of the many questions raised is why is it that Irish vessels are forced to only land in ‘designated ports’ while, for example, the Belgian beamer fleet into Ireland can land at any port that suits them, even undesignated ports such as Dun Laoghaire, Cork City etc.


While the Fianna Fáil DAFM Minister has plenty to say, the people who will be voting at the next election are actually taking more notice of what he’s not saying and what he’s not telling his own party members and the Irish general public.



*Note

I’m showing my age when I say I learned Latin at school in the early 1970s and, although very little of it has been retained, I’ve always remembered the interesting origins of the word ‘sincere’.


When sculptors made those beautiful marble statues that we still see today there was sometimes an odd slip of a chisel or the formation of a crack which would of course ruin a masterpiece and in such cases candle wax was used as a filler and then polished over - - and so when a sculptor was selling a piece that he proudly completed without any filling involved it was advertised as being ‘sin’ (without) ‘cere’ (wax) and in other words the genuine article - - hence the modern day word of ‘sincere’ denoting something that is genuine and honest.


According to Thesaurus. com the adjective ‘sin·cer·er’, ‘sin·cer·est’ means “free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness”.


It’s clear that our fisheries minister is very much with ‘cere’….

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