Thursday, 20 June 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
8. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Marine if he will outline his response to the views expressed at the recent international conference on the mid-term review of the Common Fisheries Policy that EC policy was hindering the Irish fishing industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I am well aware of the proceedings of the international conference on the mid-term review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which was organised by Sherkin Island Marine Station and held in Cork on 11 and 12 May 1991. This conference was supported by my Department and BIM and a major paper was delivered by the Minister at the conference.
Many themes were raised at the conference and the benefits, costs, strengths and weaknesses of the Common Fisheries Policy as an instrument of management, both generally and from an Irish perspective, were discussed.
As regards the impact of the Common Fisheries Policy on the Irish fishing industry, while the benefits were noted, two important recurring views for Irish speakers were to the effect that existing policy was hindering the take-up of unused Irish quotas and that the basic allocations available to Ireland are inequitable.
These are issues which I am already pursuing with the Community in the context of the review and otherwise. In this regard, I look forward with interest to receiving the views of the top level advisory group, under the chairmanship of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, which I have established to advise me on the matter of the review generally. The report of this group is expected within the next month or so and I would not like to pre-empt their findings by making a more detailed statement at this point.
Mr. Gilmore: I am surprised at the Minister's reply, since the conclusion reached at the conference and subscribed to by senior officials in his Department, by senior executives of BIM and of the fishing industry, was that there is in effect no Common Fisheries Policy but that there is an arbitrary carve-up of fishing opportunities and that this country has  been robbed? The EC are putting in annually about £16 million into the Irish fishing industry, whereas catches to the value of £250 million are being taken out of Irish waters. This country has been systematically robbed of our fishing opportunities by the so-called Common Fisheries Policy and daily, Irish fishermen are being denied an opportunity to engage in the fishing industry. Has the Minister any proposals to put to his colleagues in the Council of Ministers to redress this inequitable situation and to give Irish fishermen a fair opportunity to fish in their own waters?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I hope to have the report of the committee chaired by Dr. Whitaker within the next six to eight weeks. The committee have been asked to come up with a solution to the problems which the Deputy has outlined and the Government are determined to use all the means available to secure a sustainable economic and social basis for maintaining and developing our peripheral regions. We see development of the fisheries sector as playing a key role in our economic development on the basis of the level of fishing opportunities adequate for our purposes. In the context of the mid-term review of the Common Fisheries Policy we are pressing strongly for our needs. We are seeking further tangible recognition of the special position of the Irish fishing industry so as to allow it continue to develop from the uniquely underdeveloped state in which it was in the seventies. The Whitaker committee have a very important role to play in advising on the formulation of policy. This will be a forum for the industry to express their views. The problem is being tackled to ensure that there will be a just return for our fishermen and for the industry.
Mrs. Barnes: Is the Minister not aware, without having to wait for a report, that the fishing industry is in crisis and that we cannot talk about its job creation potential. Licensing is a running sore in the industry as it is preventing qualified skippers from working because there are  not any vessels available for them. Is the Minister not also aware that there are not any licences available for vessels, for which fishery people have gone into hock, to exploit fish quotas that are still available to Irish people? The industry is in crisis and we do not need a report to know that. Up to now the quota system has been operated to the detriment of Irish fishermen.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I am fully aware of the situation. The matter is being tackled. A committee was set up and we are in constant touch with officials, and the Commission in Brussels to ensure that our point of view is promoted and that we get a just return for our fishermen from the interim review of the Common Fisheries Policy. We are doing everything to ensure a just return.
Mr. Gilmore: Is it any wonder that the fishing industry is in crisis when the Minister says there is not a crisis and when he needs to establish a committee to assess the extent of the crisis and what needs to be done? Can the Minister imagine his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food setting up a committee to decide what has to be done in relation to the European Community, rather than going out and doing his job,  which is to represent Irish interests and get a fair deal for the Irish fishing industry, something we have not got from the European Community for 20 years?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): The Deputy should have listened to what I said. The review group are only part of our programme. The Minister, the officials and I are in constant touch with the Commission in Brussels to ensure that we get a just return for our fishermen. It is incorrect for the Deputy to say that nothing is being done.
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