Private Members' Business. - Common Fisheries Policy: Motion.

Tuesday, 22 June 1982

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 336 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 290 Next Page Last Page

Mr. D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  I move:

That Dáil Éireann rejects any agreement on a common fisheries policy [1165] which allows non-national boats to fish up to six miles from the Irish coast, within waters that should be available exclusively to the Irish fishing fleet.

As a party we find it necessary to move this motion in view of the proposals now being considered by the EEC Fishery Ministers. If these proposals are accepted they will have a long-term serious effect on our fishing industry. Fishing is one of our basic natural resources and there is great potential for expansion of it not only at sea but in processing the product. We must preserve at all costs any natural resources we have. If the proposals of the Fishery Ministers are accepted they will halt any expansion in the industry and, in the long-term, will seriously damage the livelihood of those engaged in the fishing industry.

It is only right that we should recall the background that led to this situation.

The announcement by the then Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on 22 February 1978, that he was abandoning the country's claim for a coastal zone for our fishermen marked the culmination of what must rank as the most inept performance by any political negotiator in the 56 years of national independence. In the Hague Agreement of October 1976, Deputy Garret FitzGerald, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, won the following four concessions: that Ireland would be treated as a special case as far as fisheries were concerned, requiring privileged treatment by comparison with other countries, including Britain; we were to be allowed double our catch between 1976 and 1979 and to continue to increase it rapidly thereafter; we were given the right to take unilateral conservation measures in the interest of perserving stock until such time as a common fisheries policy was agreed and we were to get massive aid for our fishery protection fleet and for back-up services such as aircraft and any equipment needed. The latter was the only part of the agreement that was carried out to the full. We did get finance for protection vessels and the one aircraft we have in operation.

[1166] Deputy FitzGerald was negotiating for a coastal band up to 50 miles in all the discussions he had. He never deviated from this principle of a coastal band of up to 50 miles. By last June the need for such a band, at first rejected outright, was beginning to be recognised and accepted and then we had a change of Government. By February 1978, within six months, Deputy Lenihan had reversed our favourable negotiating position vis-à-vis Britain while that country actually continued to hold out for a coastal band. He threw away our most powerful bargaining card, the right of veto over agreements between the Community and third countries for fishing rights which other member states badly needed and for which they would have been prepared to make concessions to us. Finally, he sold out on the coastal band abandoning our claim and accepting a fishing plan based on the kind of quotas which Fianna Fáil had unremittingly denounced while in Opposition as being ineffective. They proved to be so in the course of time.

The Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, during the course of a debate on the Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Bill, 1976 on 14 December 1976, as reported at column 630 of the Official Report said:

This Bill should be seen as a second attempt on our part to protect the Irish fishing industry and to secure its future. On Wednesday, 8 December 1976, this House authorised the Government to make an order extending Irish fishing limits to 200 miles. On that occasion we sought to persuade the Government at the same time as they were making that order to make another order reserving the first 50 miles of the 200 miles exclusively for Irish fishermen. That seemed to us to be necessary.

We were very much aware that the making of an order extending our fishing limits to 200 miles as and from 1 January 1977, was a very important step from the point of view of our fishing industry. It was something that in normal circumstances everyone in [1167] this House would welcome. Fishermen, all those engaged in the fishing industry and members of the general public interested in the subject, would give a warm welcome to the decision of the Government to extend our fishing limits to 200 miles. However, because the Government refused to make the order we asked them to make concurrently with the principal order, this extension of our fishing limits to 200 miles is illusory and is not guaranteed to confer any benefits whatever on Irish fishermen or on the fishing industry. Indeed, it is likely to be detrimental to the Irish fishing industry as things are developing.

I should like to put on record what other members of Fianna Fáil said about the same Bill. The late Deputy Joe Brennan, then Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil, said that we have the right to declare a 50 mile limit without reference to anybody. Deputy Bobby Molloy said that Fianna Fáil, if given the opportunity before too much damage was done, would take that stand, would protect our fishing industry and our fishing community and ensure the creation of an exclusive 50 mile limit. The spokesman on Fisheries for Fianna Fáil at the time, Deputy Denis Gallagher, said Fianna Fáil would continue to fight for a 50 mile coastal band, adding that they could not move one inch from that position.

The Treaty of Accession provides, in Articles 100 to 103, that there would be a ten year derogation which expires at the end of 1982. It provides that before the expiry date the Commission will carry out a survey to determine (1) the condition of stocks and (2) to determine the social and economic circumstances of any decisions taken as a result of any changes made. As far as the stocks are concerned it is my belief that a limited survey was carried out and the second survey was carried out but was completely inadequate. The Minister should have sufficient argument to persuade the Commission not to interfere with the limits that exist. That argument must be used not [1168] only in the interest of our fishermen but in the interest of our economy. The Minister must use The Hague Agreement which was negotiated by Deputy FitzGerald. Unfortunately, Deputy Lenihan, the previous Fianna Fáil Minister responsible for Fisheries, permitted a weakening and watering down of our position as far as such arguments are concerned.

Some of our colleagues in the EEC are waiting patiently for our coastal zones to be opened up. With regard to herring fishing in the Celtic Sea and the 12-mile limit, the French have spent approximately £290 million to modernise their fleet, and 40 of their 45 trawlers are to be built for Brittany in the north-west of France. A large percentage of these trawlers will work on our white fish and prawn stocks around our coasts. Although most of these trawlers are replacing older ones, no doubt there will be an increase in the number of boats, because a number of French skippers are already having trawlers built to fish prawns off the Porcupine Bank which has only been worked for the past two years. Not one boat of the Irish fleet has worked in this area. It is being worked exclusively by French trawlers. There is a freezer fleet, ships with freezer equipment, operating there for the past two years and I have evidence that four more of these ships are on order and will be in operation by 1983. These ships are 78 metres long, have 4,000 horse power engines and can freeze 150 tonnes of fish per day. On our west coast these ships were taking 1,200 tonnes in eight days during last year's mackerel fishing season. They also fished for mackerel off the south coast during the summer and 15 to 20 ships of the older freezer type worked on that coast for mackerel and herring. This is an indication of how well prepared the French fleet will be in 1983 and the Minister must take this into consideration when making any decision on our behalf.

It is pointless for the Minister to produce figures that prove good catches because the bulk of these catches, especially in the last few years, were mackerel caught off the north-west coast. This catch is limited to a couple of dozen trawlers [1169] and is of very little benefit to 90 per cent of our fishermen. These figures may distort the overall picture. If the Minister wants evidence of what the economic situation is he need look no further than the boatyards around the country. I have clear evidence that approximately 28 of these boatyards closed down in the last three or four years. Those that remain are in a very serious financial position. They have had redundancies and that is a clear indication that the fishermen are not maintaining their boats and that the money and margins of profit are not being made by fishermen generally.

I should like to mention fish that comes from Iceland, Norway and the third countries. There have been unlimited quantities of imports, particularly of herring, into Germany. This is depressing the market considerably and conditions are being abused left, right and centre. This abuse is known to the Commission and nothing has been done about it for the past two years. The Minister should bring this to the attention of the Commission and make it clear to them what our attitude is.

Our trawlermen are on their knees at present as a result of wholesale importation into EEC countries for the past couple of years. The entire price structure has collapsed and when we look at prices in other countries, especially in France and Germany, there is no comparison whatsoever. I should like to point out differences in prices. In Ireland, haddock is £297 per tonne; in Belgium, it is £458 per tonne — a difference of £167. In Ireland, whiting is £167 per tonne; in France, it is £411 per tonne — a difference of £244. In Ireland, mackerel is £83 per tonne; in France, it is £200 per tonne — a difference of £117. In Ireland other white fish is £297 per tonne; in Holland, it is £542 per tonne — a difference of £245. If we accept this agreement these are the kind of prices we will have to compete against when our waters are opened to foreign trawlers. In the case of cod, Denmark and Germany had lower prices than ours, but France were £333 per tonne higher and the situation was more or less similar as far as the price of herrings was concerned. These figures [1170] clearly show that the Irish fleet are losing out on earning capacity, a position which is further distorted by the extensive State aid to foreign fleets.

On the other hand, our import costs are the highest in the EEC, and this must be changed. Our fishermen will be expected to have the equipment to compete with these people in 1983 if this agreement goes through. The Minister must take this into consideration when making any decisions on our behalf.

Something will have to be done to help the boat building industry. A good modern boat building industry is very important for the fishing fleet. Other countries provide subsidies in this area, but our boat building industry does not get any subsidies. I know of an Irish boat owner who wanted to buy a 65-foot boat, the Irish price was £650,000 and the French price was £350,000. That gives some indication of the differential as far as costs are concerned. There is no doubt in my mind that the difference is being made up by subsidies. Our boatyards are falling very far behind in regard to modernisation and their equipment is obsolete. We cannot compete, not only with regard to fishing but in repairing or building new boats. Another fisherman complained to me that while it took two years to build a boat here the same boat could be built in France in approximately 11 months. The Minister cannot look at any one area of fishing in isolation; he must take the overall picture into consideration.

In the final agreement it is essential that the marketing regulations must provide for minimum prices and for protection from third countries. This has damaged our marketing of fish for the past three to four years. We must not be allowed to go below a certain price level and if necessary we must have intervention prices for our fish. I think the Minister would agree that there must be an end to the dumping of fish back into the sea. It is an awful sight as we so often see it on television while at the same time half the world is starving. Surely we must have some fishery policy under which these fish can be supplied to other countries. It is peculiar that we are dumping fish while at the same time we have regulations [1171] which allow importation of fish from third countries into the EEC and the EEC are paying for the dumped fish. Surely this is not logical policy and must be examined closely.

There will be pressure from the Germans in particular for the importation of fish from third countries, but it is essential that we stay steadfast on the price structure regulations before any agreement is concluded. Whether that price structure be a quota price for the amount of fish caught or marketing regulations, we must get a minimum price to ensure that our fishermen can get some margin of profit in order to carry on business.

Like agriculture, the fishing industry has got very little assistance in the past ten or 15 years. One could describe it as minimal. At the same time our EEC partners have poured money into fishing. I think they have poured hidden money into that industry, money of which we know nothing. There is a glaring example when France — quite an expensive country — can build a ship for half the price of building it in Ireland. That is a clear indication to the Minister of what is happening. The French are very clever in their moves and they will be our greatest enemy in this situation.

Fishing is important to the nation, just like agriculture. Margins of profit are important to the fishermen. They cannot continue in business unless they have a reasonable profit. The Minister must take this into consideration. Whatever is agreed in the final package must include price structures for Irish fishermen. The differential between one country and another must be made up. I am sure the Minister will agree that this is important. I appeal to him that no agreement be signed until the prices are also fixed. This is as vital in fisheries as in agriculture.

As we now move to the conclusion of the common fishery policy, which is being pushed upon us by this ten year agreement which must end in 1982, it is a very important matter for Ireland. As the debate moves closer to a conclusion we must consider what is in the whole package and be very careful of our country's interests. There will be many arguments [1172] in the EEC and one of those will involve the total allowable catch. I understand that scientific research on our seas would estimate what the total allowable catch may be. Quotas may be arranged in accordance with the total allowable catch. I believe we must be very careful in this area because we were given an undertaking that from 1975 to 1979 we would be allowed to double our catch and, more, important, allowed to expand thereafter. We must bear that in mind.

The Hague agreement gave a clear commitment to recognising that we were a disadvantaged region in the Community and that is the basis of matters as regards our fisheries. We must keep these things in mind at this time. Other countries will try to persuade our Minister that they are doing a great job for us. The Minister will try to persuade the House that he is doing a great job. I do not say he is not, but it is our duty in Opposition to bring to his notice the areas where he can put forward arguments on behalf of the fishing industry. I claim that the terms of The Hague agreement drawn up by Deputy Dr. FitzGerald must be adhered to. I would be very much aware of the condition of the Community before we joined, because once we join it is stated that all Community waters belong to the Community and that every country shall be allowed to fish right up to the other country's coastline. We must remember that this does not apply to ourselves. We have the traditional rights situation and this is the basis on which countries are bringing forward arguments to be allowed to fish in our waters. We must look at the condition in the agreement itself in regard to traditional rights. If these are adhered to they are dangerous for us.

I looked at the agreements which are now before the Minister in regard to these traditional rights. No doubt the Minister has closely studied this particular document. It is rather extraordinary that the only traditional rights the Irish fisherman seems to have are very small rights on the British coast, but practically every country in the EEC has traditional rights right around our coastline. I have reason to believe that in preparation for [1173] the ending of the ten year period certain countries encouraged and subsidised their fishing fleets to create these traditional fishing rights over the ten year period. This could be very serious for us because we have neither the fleets nor the money to encourage our fishermen to establish any traditional fishing rights outside our own country with the exception of a couple of areas in Britain.

When we examine the coastal waters of Ireland and the traditional rights established by France in particular, we find they have a very widely established right to fish in our waters. One could almost say they have a right to fish in all waters of this nation. That is very serious. From Cork South, to Carnsore Point South in my own county they have unlimited rights to fish all species of fish. If the Minister agrees with them they will be first in there — they have it written here in the conditions — for prawns, shellfish, mackerel, and white fish. For practically anything you look at, they can go right up the west coast to fish in our waters. They have established that; they will stick to it. They have the Minister across a barrel on that. The Minister is up against it and must hold out very strongly. There can be no weakening in that regard. Even the British do not have anything like the same rights as the French. They have an amount of rights in regard to fishing in our waters. They have unlimited fishing for three species from Mizen Head South to Stags South. That is a very large area. From Carnsore Point South to Haulbowline South East, with the exception of shellfish they have unlimited rights for fishing for all fish. The same applies to most other countries in the EEC. They have established their rights. Germany and the Netherlands have the same coastal rights.

In the document itself we find that the coastal rights in the UK form a completely different picture. The UK coastline is fixed at 12 miles. While some other countries have herring fishing rights there, the UK have protected their coastline far better than we have protected ours. As far as these rights are concerned we are over a barrel in these negotiations. Once it is on a quota basis it cannot be [1174] policed. It has been the policy of the Governments of other countries for the past ten years to build up in this area and they have done so, but it seems that we have done the direct opposite and our fishermen have been under very severe pressure, particularly for the past two years. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara were compelled to defer payments over a two-year period. In France they received grants to help them make their payments; we did not get grants. The fishermen were told that OK, they were granted deferment on their payments and I understand there was no extra interest charged and the fishermen should be thankful for that.

Nevertheless as far as this agreement is concerned we must look at the position vis-à-vis other countries. We must be able to weigh up our competitive position and how we are to compete against them if agreement is reached on the suggestion in this document. I feel very strongly about the establishment of these traditional rights and that has been the policy of these countries for the last ten years. It was not our policy, and that is a serious matter.

The effect of any serious cutback on fishermen can be very detrimental for many fishing villages all over the country. We are a coastal country and as we look at the map we realise that fishing provides a great supplement to the normal income of many families. We have approximately 6,000 full-time fishermen, about 6,000 part-time fishermen, 3,000 on-shore fishermen, all directly involved in fishing at the moment. I have stated that, like agriculture, this is an area with tremendous potential. If this agreement which is now before the Council of Fishery Ministers in the EEC comes about it will mean that our fishermen will be competing in very serious conditions against the fishermen of the other countries. Unless any Government here, either the present or an incoming Government, are prepared to take drastic action in the matter of an investment of large sums of money in our fishing fleet on the one hand and into the processing area on the other hand, we cannot compete against the fishermen of the other EEC countries. In the agreement with Germany in particular we must [1175] insist on certain conditions for our own fishermen before we allow those countries to impose their conditions, particularly for herring.

For the past two or three years we have preserved the fish in the Celtic Sea, especially herrings. We must ask ourselves now for whom we preserved the herrings. Was it for our own fishermen or those of the EEC countries? If this agreement is reached as laid down in the conditions here, we have preserved our herrings in the Celtic Sea for the other EEC countries, not for our own fishermen. These other countries have the equipment, the boats and the facilities to fish these seas and our fishermen have not got the equipment. The Minister must accept that, and I appeal to him that, whatever conclusions he may reach, he will bear in mind on the one hand the potential the fishing industry has for our country, not just in the sea but on the land, for processing. As with agriculture, very little, if any, effort and money have been put into fish processing. The processing of fish should be carried out near to the port where the fish is landed. This would reduce overheads considerably. As with agriculture, the potential for exporting the processed product is tremendous and it could help to reduce our balance of payments.

We have put forward this motion not just to come in here to talk about fishermen and make a nuisance of ourselves. Like the Minister, I come from a maritime county where people are very interested in fish and fishing. Many villages in my county, as in the Minister's county, make their livelihood from fishing. In the past seven or eight years the people there have made very serious commitments, yet today they are receiving the same price for their fish as they got five years ago while their overheads have gone up five times. I understand that the greatest problem they have is that the largest percentage of their overheads is concerned with oil, the price of which has trebled in the last five years. That is a clear indication of the need for a reasonable agreement on behalf of our fishermen.

Fishing is a source of wealth with great [1176] potential for expansion and fish is one of our few natural assets. Raw material is important to any country and is the basis of job creation. Any material that can be provided at home should be harnessed and the best possible use made of it. It should be processed and translated into jobs and where possible it should be exported. Our greatest problem as a nation is limited national resources, and our coastal waters provide all that is needed to give a good living to those directly engaged in fishing and working at the processing end. Above all, there is great potential for expansion. We call on the Minister to take this natural resource and fight our case at EEC level. My opinion is that the minimum the Minister brings back to our fishermen must be a 12 mile limit. This should be obtainable in view of the arguments he has at his disposal to fight our case.

Minister for Fisheries and Forestry (Mr. Daly): Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I move:

To delete all the words after “That” and substitute:

“Dáil Éireann conscious of the need to protect the vital interests of Irish fishermen fully supports the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry in his efforts to negotiate satisfactory arrangements in the current discussions on the EEC Common Fisheries Policy.”

At the outset I wish Deputy D'Arcy well in his new position as spokesman on Fisheries. I would have allowed for his lack of experience in the fisheries area in the putting down of this motion but for the fact that it is signed by every member of the Fine Gael Party. It seems to me that we could not have a more inopportune time for a discussion on this issue, which Members of the House, particularly members of Fine Gael, know is being discussed at present in Brussels by a high-level working party set up as a result of the meeting which I attended recently. They are going into great detail. These are very difficult and protracted negotiations. If there is anything which would damage our prospects in reaching settlement [1177] there, it is an irresponsible motion such as this one. I condemn in the strongest possible way the irresponsibility of Fine Gael in putting down this motion at this time at the height of these negotiations which are being conducted at Council level. They will commence again in a week's time.

We are engaged in negotiations in difficult circumstances. The Fine Gael motion is unnecessary, damaging and puts us in a very difficult situation. It is likely to prejudice the discussions taking place. I condemn Fine Gael's behaviour in putting down this motion at this juncture. What they are attempting to do is not help fishermen but make a political football out of the issue and fool the fishermen. I assure them they will not fool the fishermen as they are fully aware of our position and have been fully involved in the discussions taking place in Brussels. They have acted in an advisory capacity with me. They have been most helpful to me since I took up office and have given advice and assistance. At this critical stage in the negotiations the Fine Gael motion is damaging. It puts me in an awkward position. They want me to disclose my negotiating position but I will not do that. The movers of the motion realise this and that is why I believe the motion was moved. It was an effort to gain cheap political capital. That is why we reject the motion.

Deputy D'Arcy spoke at length about the contribution made by the leader of Fine Gael and by the Coalition. If he studied what the Coalition attempted to do in 1977 he would have seen that they pressed at Council level for a 50-mile limit. They introduced a unilateral conservation measure in the face of strong EEC opposition. They proposed to exclude all vessels over 33 metres in length from a large box around Ireland, almost 50 miles. As Deputy D'Arcy knows, this was challenged by the Dutch fishermen. The Government were taken to the European Court by the Commission. Their ruling came late in 1977. It was that the measure concerned was illegal and could not be continued. It is strange that Fine Gael are now becoming [1178] concerned about the negotiations for a common fisheries policy and that they should be so active not knowing the history of their own involvement in bringing about such a policy. It is strange that Deputy Fitzpatrick, who is familiar with the discussions taking place as he was involved in them when Minister in the last Government, left here a few minutes ago. He recognises the difficult situation we are in at present and I am not sure whether he is fully a party to the motion before us.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  He signed it like all the rest of us.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  It is sufficient to point out that Deputy Fitzpatrick was not required to insist on a 12-mile exclusive limit by his own Government. I put that on the record in case there are any doubts in anyone's mind. This was not required of him in the negotiations which he was conducting in his time as Minister just before I came to office. That should be realised by people outside the House who might be fooled by Fine Gael's attitude at present.

Perhaps I should give a brief background to fishery limits. Until the adoption of the London Fisheries Convention in 1964 the maritime nations operated a three-mile exclusive fishery limit.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  May we have a copy of the Minister's speech.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  It just shows how irresponsible Fine Gael are. They should know that the officials in my Department are involved in a working party set up in Brussels. They have all the papers relating to these matters and to a wide variety of issues, only a few of which have been touched on.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  The Minister is reading.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I have notes scattered on pieces of paper.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Deputy Deasy is observant enough to notice that the Minister has been referring to notes.

[1179]Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Up to now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  The Chair has no responsibility over what a Minister does in respect of anything he may say.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  If the Minister is reading from his script surely we are entitled to it.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I have not got a script. I have notes, some of which are written and some of which are typed. It is not a prepared script. The convention I was speaking about was the London Fisheries Convention of 1964. It authorised participants to increase these limits to 12 miles subject to the condition that historical or traditional rights of other countries would continue to be enjoyed by them in the six-to 12-mile limit. As a result, countries such as France and Britain, Belgium, Netherlands and Spain continue to enjoy fishery rights for various species in specified areas of our exclusive fishery limits betwen the six- and 12-mile belt. This was the position when we joined the EEC ten years ago and those historic rights became enshrined in EEC law as a result of the Treaty of Accession. That is understood by Deputies opposite. They will recall that prior to our entry to the Community the existing member states adopted a common fisheries policy. That policy became known as the right of equal access to fishing waters of other member states. In effect, it meant that fishing vessels of all member states could fish up to each other's beaches. However, the Treaty of Accession provided for a ten-year derogation from the right of equal access. This derogation expires at the end of 1982. It permitted all member states to operate a six-mile exclusive zone for their fishermen but also provided for limited access by other member states in the six- to 12-mile zone. The overall effect as far as we are concerned is that the historic rights guaranteed under the London Convention continue to apply and some additional rights have been conceded along the south and east coasts.

When the derogation period expires at the end of this year, the policy of equal access will automatically apply unless [1180] agreement is reached on a revised policy in the interim period. This, of course, makes it vitally important that we have an agreement, because, if we do not have an agreement by the end of 1982, member states will be able to fish right up to our shores without any control. That would be an intolerable situation for us. Therefore it is important that a satisfactory agreement be reached and we are fighting to the limits of our capacities to ensure that that will happen. But, if agreement is not reached, at the end of this year the legal position will be that boats of the Community can fish right up to our shores. This is something not generally understood by many people and it is important that they should.

Suggestions have been made to me that, if a situation such as that arises, we should exercise our right of veto in an effort to secure our maximum demands. At this stage the exercise of a veto would have the opposite result to what we seek in as much as it would merely block agreement on a revised fisheries policy, permitting fishing vessels to fish right up to our shores. Therefore to adopt such suggestions that we exercise our veto or utilise every power at our disposal would mean that an alarming situation would develop ensuring that the fishing boats of member states could fish right up to our shores by the end of this year.

Countries that might favour equal access have the law on their side; it is in their interests that there be no agreement reached on a revised policy. Most member states now realise that fishing right up to beaches is not a practical proposition and, for that reason, they are prepared to make some concessions to coastal fishermen. However, the problem is that the concessions they are prepared to make fall far short of what we would find acceptable and indeed of what the United Kingdom Government would find acceptable. That is why the negotiations have been so protracted. Most Deputies know that these discussions have been protracted mainly because of lack of agreement among member states on a common fisheries policy.

There is now a certain movement within the Community, which in my opinion [1181] was brought about by the recognition of many member states and others that at the end of this year there will be a free-for-all and that that must be avoided. In the short time I have been in office there seems to have been a genuine will on the part of many Ministers to reach an agreement that will come into effect before the present derogation expires at the end of this year. As is probably known, intensive bilateral negotiations have been taking place in recent months involving the member states mainly concerned and the Commission itself. As a result of these discussions the Commission have tabled a revised proposal for consideration by the Council of Ministers which provides for a further derogation of 10 years, with the possibility thereafter of a further ten years. Therefore in the current discussions it is expected that if agreement can be reached there will be a ten-year derogation commencing at the end of this year with the possibility of a further derogation of ten years thereafter, giving 20 years in all. It is vital that the industry know exactly where they stand in relation to this issue in the long-term. From the point of view of our fishing industry it is important that we restore their confidence so shaken and undermined by the state of the industry in the past couple of years. A main confidence restorer would be the possibility of saying to the industry: this is where we stand for the next ten or 20 years in relation to fisheries policy; this is a common policy of all member states of the European Community, with the full backing of the Community. We would be in a position then to say to our fishermen: plan your future development and expansion in the knowledge that you will know precisely where you stand in relation to all these issues for the next 20 years. From that point of view it would be worth while that we have a long-term agreement for the next ten or 20 years.

The revised proposals which have emerged from the discussions which have taken place in the Commission should be examined because they allow for the freezing and non-use of certain rights in areas where traditional rights exist [1182] already. It is important that that be examined because there are at present certain traditional rights that stand up in law, and will in the future. While we have succeeded, through bilateral discussions with some of our partners in the Community in reaching agreement with them, in some cases, to cease fishing and, in other cases, to freeze their rights, in the revised proposals submitted by the Commission, we would have an exclusive 12-mile zone in the area between Lough Foyle in Donegal and Erris Head in County Mayo. In the revised proposals now the subject of discussion of the working party set up — and which will come up for discussion and finalisation at the Council meeting next week — we shall have an exclusive 12-mile zone between Lough Foyle and Erris Head and, similarly, between Sybil Head in County Kerry and Mizen Head in County Cork. The French have now had their rights frozen around the Erris Head area and their rights extinguished in the Donegal Bay area, giving us an exclusive 12-mile zone in this very important fishing region on the north-east coast, the area immediately off Killybegs. We have had major success in eliminating the French from this area and indeed getting the British and others with rights out of that area also, which was very important in that north-west region. We have also an exclusive zone in the south-west area, which is important to the fishermen of that region, especially in the area around Castletownbere, one of our major fisheries harbours. These proposals also entail the reduction of the rights to be enjoyed in the future by the United Kingdom on our west and south coasts, by Belgium on the west, south and east coasts and by Germany and the Netherlands on the south and east coasts.

However, I stress that these are proposals only. There remain a lot of difficult negotiations at present under way which must be finalised. Some member states have continued to support the concept of equal access and some Ministers voiced strong opposition to the freezing of their rights during the recent Council meeting. I make those points to illustrate the advantages of the Commission's proposicanisatio [1183] als for us. However, I should say that they will not be agreed without a struggle on the part of some member states. It is by no means certain that we will be given these exclusive areas. But I can assure our fishermen and everybody involved in the industry that I shall be fighting not only to retain the benefits obtaining under the Commission's proposals — constituting an improvement on the situation when I assumed office — but to secure other benefits in other areas.

I have said already that we have had fairly detailed and at times tough discussions with the member states. The situation is very much improved under the Commission proposals. We will endeavour to get further developments from the final discussions, but it will not be easy. It will be difficult to maintain what we have got already even in the Commission proposals. We are not completely happy that we cannot have an exclusive 12-mile limit, which is what our fishermen have recently campaigned for. I made no secret of my displeasure at the Council meeting that we did not have an exclusive 12-mile band. The fishermen and the Government aimed at it. The previous Government also aimed at it, even though they are on record as being prepared to accept a lot less than that and a lot less that we have on the table at the moment.

In addition to the question of the limits and the excess proposals on the TACs, the total allowable catches, the quotas, the FEOGA advances for fishing boats and mariculture are also under discussion and arrangements in relation to them will form part of the overall common fishery package. These proposals are also of considerable interest to us because exclusive zones alone cannot fully meet our requirements and they cannot be fully exploited unless adequate quotas are also secured. I made it quite clear at the Council meeting that the Government and I as Minister, were not satisfied with the quotas that had been prepared for us and that we would be campaigning and endeavouring to secure better quota [1184] arrangements than those which at present apply.

The result of the forthcoming negotiations will be of very great importance for the future development of the Irish fishing industry. I assure the House that as far as I am concerned no effort will be spared to press the case to the fullest and to get the best possible overall agreement, bearing in mind as well that unless we can get agreement now and the derogation runs out at the end of this year we will find ourselves in a situation where the whole future of our fishing industry is put in jeopardy by the end of this year. We have got to press ahead with the greatest urgency to ensure that we get the best possible agreement. Only the best possible agreement will satisfy us.

Questions were raised about other important issues which I have spoken about on other occasions. The question of the dumping of fish at sea was raised. Nobody can be happy when fish, a very valuable food commodity rich in protein, and very useful from food and protein value is dumped at sea. I said during the debate on the Sea Fisheries Bill that the amount of fish dumped at sea is very limited in relation to the overall complex of the value of fish landings over the last few years and that it is very difficult to deal with the situation where you have oversupply on one particular day and shortages on the next. The traditional and historical way which fishermen have disposed of their surplus catches was by dumping them at sea. At the same time it is an unsatisfactory situation when any fish has to be dumped. I made it quite clear on the Fisheries Bill that I feel it is within the capabilities of the people involved in the industry and others involved in social and other activities to find a mechanism whereby we can ensure that in the future no further dumping of fish at sea takes place and that this traditional and historical practice is stopped.

The Hague Agreement was referred to as well as the doubling of the catches between 1975 and 1979. The amount of fish landed in 1975 was 75,000 tonnes and in 1980 it was 180,000 tonnes well over a doubling of the catches in that period. The quotas proposed by the EEC for [1185] 1982 meet The Hague target on a stock by stock basis in most cases. Despite this, we have made it clear that we are not satisfied with the quotas and we will ensure as far as possible that we get a larger quota. I would like to have more time to go into the whole area of the fisheries development here and where I see the usefulness of a clear and decisive fisheries common policy for the Community and the benefit that would have but time does not permit me to do that. I am sure we will get another opportunity to discuss this.

I condemn the attitude of Fine Gael in raising this issue at this particular time when our negotiations are taking place and when I am engaged in daily and hourly negotiations and communications between our partners and our officials, some of whom are in Brussels at the moment. I do not believe there is anything more damaging to the fishery industry than this irresponsible political gimmickery by Fine Gael at this time.

Mr. Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  The Labour Party are supporting the motion. While I fully appreciate the Minister's very serious responsibilities in the discussions which have been going on for some considerable time, I fail to see why he should have reacted to the motion in the way he did. The motion is actually re-echoing the acknowledged well-defined and stated minimum requirements which he as Minister, his Government or any Government should demand from any international conference in regard to our fishermen's interests and our fishery protection laws. I support the motion because I feel that discussion in this Parliament will substantially strengthen the Minister and his negotiators in Brussels in ensuring that they will bring back something which the fishermen will find acceptable. I believe the fishermen's organisations, as well as fishermen in general, will never be satisfied with less than a coastal band zone of 12 miles.

There is very good reason why this should be so. The fishermen, because of their tradition and because of their disadvantaged position in relation to capitalisation, expertise, the size and mechanism [1186] of the boats, are at a very serious disadvantage to be put in open competition with the fishermen of Holland, Germany or England. This is why the Minister should have welcomed the re-echoing tonight and tomorrow night of the modification of the demand for a 50-mile limit, which was so much talked about some years ago, as necessary for the livelihood and preservation of an Irish fishing fleet.

I assure the Minister of our wholehearted support and good wishes in the continuation of these discussions and the protecting and safeguarding of the interests of our fishermen along the traditional lines. Any diversion from them would have very serious repercussions, not only for our fishermen but for our economy as a whole. We are all aware of the dismal outlook of this sector of our community. The high loan charges on boats, very high fuel costs, uncertainty of fish catches and, above all, uncertainty of a reasonable market price have left many fishermen disillusioned. A number of boats are at present tied up because of the pressures for payment from banks and so forth. A reaffirmation, for a period of ten years — or, as the Minister has said, 20 years — of a proper fishery zone around the Irish coast would greatly improve investment prospects and bring badly needed confidence and enthusiasm into this industry.

The fishery industry has had a haphazard history and a number of factors have contributed to this. There was gross under-capitalisation. The level of grants provided for the modernisation of boats left too large an amount of capital repayment, with subsequent interest rates causing havoc in many cases and the discontinuation of some expert fishermen in this industry. I am particularly concerned about the dumping of fish. A few weeks ago, I asked the Minister if he would consider setting up a fish processing plant at Cahirciveen or Dingle. These are very extensive fishing areas. His reply was that this was a matter for private enterprise. The State must become involved in this major industry and ensure that when the fishermen purchase boats, man them and catch fish from them, they should at least [1187] have a market every time and that when the market is not good, there should be a State processing plant to ensure a guaranteed price for the full fish landings. I am sure that the Minister is aware that many of the catches landed on our coast are purchased, taken overseas for processing, and then returned to be sold to Irish consumers. This is a very undesirable development which the Minister should ensure will not occur.

There is a need for reassessment of our harbour facilities. In many cases they are a serious deterrent to all fishermen. Many harbours are not deep enough for unloading of fish at certain times of the tide. Over the next few years, many areas will be demanding intensive investment in the interests of our fishing industry.

Deputy D'Arcy, in opening, pinpointed a variety of differences between prices paid to Irish fishermen and those paid to their competitors from other countries. There is a very wide gap which is augmented by the disadvantaged position of the Irish fisherman, given the handicaps under which they compete. The Labour Party fully support this motion, in the best interests of the Minister and clearly re-echoing what we feel our fishermen deserve within the concept of a European agreement, an agreement under the Treaty of Rome which aims at helping the most disadvantaged, amongst whom stand our fishermen in relation to under-capitalisation, lack of equipment and so forth. There is a strong case to be made, which I have no doubt the Minister is making. Any agreement obtained for our fishermen which does not include a major improvement in the 12-mile zone will be disappointing and disadvantageous to this section of our industry.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I fully support the sentiments of this motion. It is grossly unfair for the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry to accuse the Fine Gael Party of attempting to undermine and weaken his hand in the negotiations in Brussels next week. In actual fact, the Minister should be thankful that he is getting some ideas as to how to deal with our EEC partners. Over the years, Fianna Fáil Ministers [1188] involved in these fisheries negotiations have shown themselves bereft of ideas and worse, bereft of any willpower in dealing with the European Community where Irish fishery limits are concerned. One would think that they were absolutely sterile and did not have a viewpoint of any kind.

The Minister, in the lameness of his series of excuses, blamed the Treaty of Accession back in the early seventies for all our troubles with regard to the nonexistent fishery limits by the end of 1982. What he forgot to mention was that it was a Fianna Fáil Government and a Fianna Fáil Foreign Minister, who is now President, of this country who negotiated that Treaty of Accession which gives EEC fellow members the right to fish up to our shores at the end of 1982, if no common fisheries policy has been agreed upon by that date, a Fianna Fáil Minister and a Fianna Fáil Government who did not give a damn about the future of the Irish fishing industry. It ill behoves a Fianna Fáil Minister for Fisheries to moan and groan about lack of support from the Fine Gael benches, when they themselves are the authors of the present situation. They wrote it in black and white; they agreed when there should have been no such agreement. As evidence of their weakness on that occasion, the Norwegian Minister of the day complained bitterly about the lack of support when he tried to negotiate a fisheries limit with the then six members of the EEC. The result of that lack of support led to Norway's pulling out of the negotiations and refusing to be a member of the EEC at that or an intervening juncture. How dare any Fianna Fáil politician blame this side of the House for pointing out the realities of the situation? Next week, unless the negotiations are finalised, there will be a similar sell-out by a Fianna Fáil Government resulting in a six-mile limit around the country for all EEC fishermen. That is worse than what we have had for many years.

We had a 12-mile limit for many species of fish for most EEC countries, but as Deputy D'Arcy pointed out, in 1976 we had the greatest sham of all times. A motion on maritime jurisdiction was [1189] brought in and one Fianna Fáil Deputy after another got up and wanted a 50-mile limit and not an inch less. It is there in the Official Report for all Deputies to read. It became one of the platform issues for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election. They blamed Deputy FitzGerald and the Coalition for not having secured a 50-mile limit. Between 1973 and 1977, Deputy FitzGerald, as our Foreign Minister, negotiated what has been accepted by everybody — including Fianna Fáil at all levels, including the leader of the IFO and other fishery organisations, including senior civil servants and high officials in the EEC Commission — as a tremendously strong position for Ireland at The Hague. We were given preferential treatment in fishery matters. We were to be allowed to double our catches between 1976 and 1979 and we were allowed considerable development of our fishery resources and our fleet after 1979. We were also given the right to make a unilateral declaration of conservation to preserve our fishery stocks.

Those conditions were never invoked by Fianna Fáil from 1977 to 1981 or since they took office recently. All we have seen in the meantime has been a Fianna Fáil climb down, although we heard them, from the present Taoiseach and from the then deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, the late Joe Brennan, crying for a 200-mile limit. The senior members of Fianna Fáil would have been satisfied with a 50-mile limit, but the junior members wanted the 200 miles.

What have we got today? The Minister came in to accuse us of undermining his stand in Brussels next week where he will be looking for a six-mile limit. God help him. I would expect a little more from him than gripes and excuses. The Minister said that we were damaging his position by raising the point about the 1976 agreement, the unilateral declaration of conservation. In 1976, the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Donegan, made that declaration to keep the Dutch out. Ask any Irish trawlerman and he will tell you that while that declaration existed Irish fishermen prospered as never before. They did not then see the Dutch [1190] coming into Dunmore or elsewhere, as far as they could come without getting stranded, and sweeping the bottom. They were unable to come in to trap the herring shoals, whether the herring were spawning or not. For six or eight months we had peace in the Irish fishery scene. The foreigners were eliminated from our grounds and Irish fishermen were enabled to make a decent living.

In 1977 Fianna Fáil instituted a villainous and vicious campaign against the Government for not having got a 50-mile limit, but the minute they got back to power the Minister for Foreign Affairs made one of his frequent sallies into Europe, injurious to the Irish nation and to Irish fishermen, and in Deputy Lenihan's inimitable style declared that the measures brought in by the National Coalition were illegal. I forget his exact words, but he said it was an illusion to think that we could have a unilateral declaration of conservation — he said it was illegal.

Is it any wonder the European Court threw out our case after Dutch protests? Our own Minister for Foreign Affairs said our action was illegal. Of course we did not have a foot to stand on, and ever since we have been on the run. What can one expect if our own Minister in Europe undermines our case by that type of treachery — perhaps that is too strong a word — that type of statement? So we went on the defensive. We could not sustain a case for a 50-mile limit, and the next thing we heard was that England were fighting for 50 miles: the English took over our position and we were relegated to silence because our own Minister has taken the bottom from our case. We have had a sad history since that infamous occasion. Here we are, with our officials and our Minister going over to Europe. Today the Minister told us he could not prepare a statement because the documents and the officials had gone.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  It is the Deputy who complained. I did not complain.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  The Minister said: “I have not got a speech, my officials have gone and I could not have one prepared.”

[1191]Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  The Deputy wants something to help him to make his case.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I do not want any help. I have not got notes. I could speak for ten hours on fisheries without a note.

Debate adjourned.

Last Updated: 14/09/2010 10:46:56 First Page Previous Page Page of 290 Next Page Last Page