What the Minister didn’t say…
The fishing industry last week witnessed the ‘state of the nation’ address on the current situation in the industry and, as one fishermen commented, he felt a little vomit rising in his throat throughout the entire speech, such was the level of misleading statements by the Minister.
Not since Donald Trump set the officially recorded 34 lies or ‘mis-directions during a political debate has anyone heard such a monologue of ‘avoidance of truth’ as this – delivered to the nation’s politicians who, with the majority having no real knowledge of the industry, were left with the impression that these are challenging times for the industry but the Minister and his department civil servants seem to have it all under control.
There was no mention of the large industry protests held in Cork and Dublin, no mention of the continuing complaints of dissatisfaction with DAFM or SFPA from the industry, and no mention of the growing demand for a vote of No Confidence in this marine minister.
Here we look at just some of the inaccuracies presented to the Dail in this address:
“A no-deal Brexit scenario would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and displaced into Ireland’s fishing zone” – there are NO circumstances that could have resulted in Ireland getting a worse outcome than it actually finished up with; “The BREXIT agreement reached was less severe than it would have been had the Barnier Task Force agreed to the UK negotiating demands” – it is unimaginable that any outcome could have been more severe than Ireland losing 30% of its quota; “The aggregate final quota transfer by Ireland to UK is valued at a €43 million loss to Ireland’s fishing sector by 2026, amounting to a 15% reduction” – the Minister (or whoever at the DAFM wrote this speech for him) continues with false belief that Irish fishermen have ‘only’ lost 15% when the industry has shown that real the loss is more than double that; “The loss for 2021 is sizeable at 60% of the total, or a loss of €26 million at the quayside” – the fishing industry has already proven that the loss, even just for 2021, is more like three times this amount. “I have raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing at EU level and in exchanges with the Commissioner and EU Member States” – the EU Commissioner has made clear that there will be no ‘re-visiting’ of the burden sharing problem; “The important element of the CFP must be included by the Commission as part of the full review ” – during his visit to Ireland the EU Commissioner stated that the review of the CFP was not going to be a ‘review’ at all and would simply be a compiling of a report and that “nothing is likely to change”; “Together with the initiatives on burden sharing, I was determined that our fisheries and the coastal communities should be assisted with the impacts of the TCA” – I think having seen the minister’s effort to fight against the EU ‘tooth and nail’ earlier this year its safe to take this particular comment with a pinch of salt; “I established a Seafood Task Force whose terms of reference were to examine impacts of TCA on the fisheries sector and to identify initiatives to provide supports for development and restructuring to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing fleet, and to identify opportunities for jobs and economic activity in coastal communities dependent on fishing” – a Task Force heavily aligned with DAFM strategy and, after 14 meetings and 17 points set, not a single one was of positive benefit for fishermen but focused on cutbacks, and coping with enforced shrinking of the industry; “I asked the Task Force to consider how funding streams could be used to address the initiatives identified such as the EU BAR fund ” – whilst other fishing nations are compensating their fishermen, Ireland is substituting a month’s catching revenue with a tie-up payment and a decommissioning scheme that doesn’t come near to a fair payment to walk away from his life’s work; “With the lower quotas post Brexit, which will continue to decline on a phased basis to 2026, the entire whitefish fleet will suffer diminishing economic returns. This is not sustainable economically and risks being a catalyst for breaches of fishing regulations” – oh, so the concern here isn’t for the fishermen’s loss but for the possibility that they might break rules. The old ‘guilty till proved innocent’ way of thinking is alive and well with the Minister and DAFM! “The Task Force recommended a Decommissioning Scheme - a severe blow to the whitefish fleet and to communities dependent on fishing, but I note that the Task Force was unanimous in recommending this initiative” – clearly the Minister is trying to ‘run with the hare and chase with the hound’ here. After earlier praising the work of the Task Force at this point he is practically saying that decommissioning is terrible but “it wasn’t my idea”, blame the Task Force; “The Task Force believed that this was essential to incentivise sufficient vessel owners to apply under the scheme” – industry representatives who were on the Task Force have consistently stated that the money on offer for decommissioning is not good enough – another point which the Minister avoids as he ‘cherry picks’ statements from his own Task Force; “The Task Force recommends that a voluntary permanent cessation scheme targeted at inshore vessels should be developed” – interesting that the Minister calls this a ‘voluntary permanent cessation scheme’ for inshore vessels and not what it actually means: an inshore fleet decommissioning scheme which, up to this point, there was no previous reference to; “This issue of off-register capacity was identified as a serious risk to the success of a decommissioning scheme in a cost benefit analysis conducted on behalf of BIM by Grant Thornton in 2016” – don’t you love the way the Minister is happy to use information from certain sources when it suits him but totally ignores the very serious reports from three different highly respected bodies on the lawless SFPA? “Should such a scheme proceed and achieve its targets, we could see 400 crew members lose their jobs. But there is an abundance of fish caught off our coast by other Member State vessels. Clearly there is potential to attract an increasing amount of the fish caught by other fleets into Ireland to drive development of processing and other support industries. We can create a more attractive market proposition to encourage more EU, UK and Norwegian vessels to sell their catch to Irish processors” – so let’s get this straight – the Minister’s ‘solution’ is to proceed to (a) accept unfair quota cuts from the EU/BREXIT deal; (b) decommission Irish vessels because of this loss of quota; (c) then offer the 400 fishermen who lost their jobs to work at processing fish caught in Irish waters by the vessels of other nations… ? “In order to assist the inshore sector to overcome the serious challenges posed by Brexit, the Task Force considers that a dedicated marketing scheme for inshore stocks is warranted” – surely this is a contradiction given that the Minister’s own department hampers every effort by inshore fishermen to seasonally diversify away from crab fisheries to give that stock a rest.