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Time for a watchdog - with teeth!

Editorial comment

Cormac Burke, IFSA

As all sectors of the Irish fishing and seafood industry edges ever closer to the abyss, gently being pushed nearer to the edge by an undeclared, but nonetheless obvious, strategy of this coalition Government to sacrifice Irish fishing for other potential gains and powers, it is high time we saw the appointment of an independent regulator to ensure that the management of a vital Irish resource is being carried out primarily to the benefit of Irish citizens.

Such an appointment is not as far fetched as one might think and it has previously happened in other sectors of Irish politics and industry, most notably in 2015 when, as a result of the Mahon Tribunal, the Government bowed to public pressure and appointed an independent regulator charged with “overseeing the planning system and to prevent corruption, and examine decisions made by local authorities and An Bord Pleanala”.

The words “to prevent corruption” will surely jump out at everyone in the Irish fishing industry as it is a widely held belief that corruption of power over this industry in Ireland has been rife for decades.

As far as the Irish fishing and seafood industry is concerned it is clear that this Government is certainly not ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ and when it comes to rural coastal Ireland and the economies therein that rely on the catching & processing of seafood, it would appear that a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is well underway in these regions as the right to make a living from the sea in the traditional manner is gradually being removed through a series of multi pronged attacks on the industry which is driving people out of work and forcing the next generation to leave home instead of following in the footsteps of their fathers.

While the EU Commission clearly needs to be challenged on the ongoing imbalance of the quotas share between Irish and other EU vessels in Irish waters, the Irish Government’s favoured ‘get out’ card when called to task over its mismanagement of the rich Irish fishing resource is to heap blame on the EU Commission for EVERYTHING, but lets be clear, it was NOT the EU (nor the Irish fishing industry, despite what the minister told the press) who asked Ireland to decommission one-third of its whitefish fleet after Brexit; it was NOT the EU who closed Ireland’s inland eel fisheries, nor did the EU close the Irish bass or wild salmon fisheries; it is NOT the EU who continues to refuse the Irish fishing fleet the fuel subsidy that all other nations are receiving; and, as for the deals with Norway (and now possibly Iceland) to take vast amounts of fish from Irish waters, the Irish Government are not telling people that the EU Commission can only enter such negotiations without first receiving informal agreement from the country affected i.e. Ireland, meaning that the minister and DAFM are being less than truthful when claiming to “strongly resist” any attempts at such deals happening.

And it was certainly NOT the EU that spent Ireland’s share of the BREXIT BAR money in a range of measures that in no way compensated Ireland for its loss of vital quotas and revenue nor invested in development of the fleet to help it adapt to the new regime of fisheries post Brexit - - and then return hundreds of millions of euros of this BAR money back to the EU as it was deemed surplus to requirement.

With the smallest minority party in Government, the Green Party seems to have great influence on the ‘blue’ agenda as Government is happily participating in the ever increasing numbers of wind farms taking over the fishing grounds off the east coast, and now a national marine park that will surely, at some point down the road when environmentalist groups recognise the opportunity, see the inshore fishermen of large parts of Co. Kerry kicked out of their traditional areas of operation.

But lets be honest here, if the Green Party was sitting in opposition and not part of Government when Eamon Ryan wanted the banning of the sale of turf then he’d have been laughed out of the Dáil - - so its apparent that with a green, or ‘blue’, strategy for the Irish coastline at the cost of the Irish fishing industry then the two main parties in this government are clearly willing participants although, much like the recent failed referendum, they’ll be like rats in a barrel and blaming each other when it all goes tits-up and this coalition of calamity collapses at the next election.


An overview

An Independent Regulator with sole responsibility for the Irish fishing industry - perhaps answerable ONLY to the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Agriculture, Food & Marine - if provided with full discretionary powers above ministers, government departments, fisheries monitoring groups, and certain semi State groups (who these days seem to be little more than PR machines for the minister of the day), would provide a careful eye of observation on the political strategies that are at play and would ensure that all measures being employed are fair and just and, most importantly, are to the benefit of the Irish fishing industry and those who work in it.

It is sad to see that the Irish fishing industry, so lacking in support from its own Government, must send a schoolgirl over to Brussels to plead for justice in her fight for the right to continue her work in the small scale fishing sector - - Ireland’s own poster child in an almost Greta Thunberg style - - in the vague hope that someone in the EU Commission might take pity on the plight of the Irish inshore fishermen.

Such passion and bravery is to be greatly admired but shouldn’t the Irish politicians who don’t fight for their coastal communities, as those in other EU nations do, feel even the slightest bit of shame that their inaction and lack of support has led to people having to take such steps to highlight the injustices?

It is however more likely that the EU will look upon Ireland with little pity as all it sees is a nation with very rich waters and no defence or support offered by its government.

And yet this, and so many other tragic circumstances befalling all sectors of the Irish fishing industry in recent years, are met only with arrogance, and almost distain, from a minister for marine and the government on who’s instructions he follows, idiotically smiling while telling the same people who are watching their lives collapse that “everything is fine” and that he’s doing a great job.

An Independent Regulator given full independence in a form of Ombudsman role would not only provide the fishing industry with a direct link to the Oireachtas Joint Committee to highlight the lack of support this industry has, and is, receiving but would also challenge the various decisions being taken by ministers when such actions are clearly to the benefit of others and not the people of Ireland’s coastal regions.

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