Tuesday, 6 April 1976
Dáil Eireann Debate
The need for this short Bill arises out of a recent High Court judgment  related to convictions obtained against two fishermen in the District Court in Newtowncunningham, County Donegal, in respect of fishery offences committed within the area of jurisdiction of the Foyle Fisheries Commission—some in County Donegal and some in County Derry. The offences in question were in breach of regulations made by the commission in 1966 with the approval of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in Dublin and the Ministry of Agriculture in Belfast.
The Foyle Fisheries Act of 1952 under which the commission were established states that for the purposes of the Act the Minister means the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry means the Ministry of Commerce. On 1st April, 1963, the functions in relation to Foyle matters were transferred from the Ministry of Commerce in Belfast to the Ministry of Agriculture under the Ministries (Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 1963. The High Court ruled, however, that this order did not render the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture sufficient to validate regulations of the Foyle Fisheries Commission and that an Act of the Oireachtas would be necessary to effect a statutory transfer of the power of approval of commission regulations from the Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Agriculture. Accordingly, the High Court ruled that the regulations of 1966 were not validly made.
The present Bill proposes to give statutory recognition to the transfer of functions in relation to Foyle matters from the Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Agriculture and to any subsequent changes that might arise on the Northern Ireland side in this regard. So as to enable the commission to carry out their functions in regard to the management, conservation and protection of the Foyle fisheries the enactment of this Bill is a matter of extreme urgency and, as its sole purpose is merely to rectify a legal flaw in our earlier legislation, I would ask the co-operation of the House in having all Stages of the Bill taken today.
Mr. Gallagher: We accept the necessity of this Bill realising that the Foyle  Commission were initially established for the purpose of conservation. I accept the reasons the Parliamentary Secretary has given for wanting the Bill passed quickly. Recently I read statements to the effect that catches of salmon in this area were declining and that is another reason for this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary has stated that the Bill will cover the period from 1962 and I should like to know what will be the position of those who were charged during that period when the Bill is passed. What will the position be of those who had their gear confiscated prior to its introduction?
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. M.P. Murphy): I am grateful to Deputy Gallagher for the manner he has dealt with the Bill which is being introduced to rectify a legal flaw that was not discovered until the Newtown-cunningham fishermen brought a case before the High Court. When the change was made from the Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland in 1962 the Northern authorities made the necessary transfer in accordance with the statutory requirements by enacting the necessary legislation. It was an oversight on our part that we did not take similar action. This Bill will put the matter in order. It caters for future changes that may arise in Northern Ireland legislation. At present the Ministry of Agriculture are responsible for the Foyle Fisheries Commission but we do not know how long that will continue. It is possible that the Foyle Fisheries Commission will be controlled by some British authority but this Bill covers such eventuality.
Mr. Gallagher: My questions related to prosecutions from 1962 onwards. In some of these cases people lost gear. The High Court order changed the position and I should like to know what the position of these people will be now. Will they be compensated for any loss they suffered as a result of the flaw? What is the position of those who have already suffered?
Mr. M.P. Murphy: There is nothing in the Bill which provides for compensation for any alleged offenders who were prosecuted since 1962. I do not think any further comment is necessary at this stage.
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