Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
19. Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the strategy group established by his Department on the future of the fisheries sector is sufficiently representative of those involved in the sector. [26947/06]
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Browne): The new seafood strategy group that I announced in Killybegs last week will develop a comprehensive, integrated, market-led vision for the future of the Irish seafood sector. It is based on a strategy that is centred on innovation, product development and value maximisation for our coastal communities and sustainable management of our marine resources and ecosystems. This strategy will also feed into the new national development plan being drawn up for the 2007 to 2013 period so that the sector has access to the necessary development funding in coming years.
Given the importance of this review, I, along with the industry, wanted the seafood strategy group to be chaired by an independent, eminent and committed person, with wide experience in the Irish and global food industry. I was pleased when Mr. Noel Cawley, the former chief executive of the Irish Dairy Board, agreed to become chairman of the group. The other two group members are an tUas. Ruan Ó Bric, chief executive of Udarás na Gaeltachta for 25 years, and Mr. Joey Murrin, chairman of the National Salmon Commission. Between them, the group members have a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience at the highest level, and I am satisfied that they are eminently suited to carrying out this important task.
The strategy group will begin an in-depth consultation with all stakeholders immediately. Regional meetings are planned for July in Wexford, Kerry, Galway and Donegal, and all stakeholders, including the fisheries sector, will be invited to these meetings. Individuals and organisations will also be invited to make written submissions to the group. Accordingly, I am satisfied that all stakeholders will have every opportunity to participate fully in the development of the new strategy and I encourage them to do so.
Mr. Ferris: I thank the Minister of State for his response. Does he agree that the Government has failed to formulate a comprehensive strategy for the fishing industry, as requested by the main fishing organisations? Does he agree that it took considerable pressure from those organisations representing all sectors of the fishing industry to bring about a scenario where the Government will consider having them consulted as part of a future strategy?
I welcome that the strategy group has met the industry. Unless there is a comprehensive outcome which will contribute to the survival of the industry as well as its development, the strategy group will be little more than a talking shop. It will not have the support of those involved in the industry.
Will the Minister of State give an assurance that when the fishing organisations make their submissions to the strategy group later this summer, their views will be accorded priority? Will he assure the House that the recommendations they make for the future of the industry will be treated accordingly?
From the debates we have had, especially during the passage of the recent Bill, everybody is acquainted with the current state of the industry, irrespective of where they come from. We are also aware of the input and contribution of those who are actively involved in the industry and on the fishing fleets. It is important their views are taken into consideration and that they are given a paramount position in the development of the industry for the future.
Mr. Browne: Two months ago the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and I met in Dublin the industry liaison group, which is representative of all the fisheries organisations, processors and exporters. The suggestion came from them that we would create a totally independent group to look at the fishing industry in terms of quota reductions, the number of fishermen, the need for research and development and the need to introduce modern technology, innovation and added value, and, more importantly, to draw up a vision for the future of the fishing sector that will carry us over the next five or six years.
As a result, we drew up terms of reference and sent that to all the fisheries organisations and, indeed, to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and those on the Opposition Front Bench. We received a number of recommended additions to the terms of reference which we have included — we have included practically all the fisheries organisations’ additional recommendations to the terms of reference.
We also asked a number of eminent people to become actively involved under the chairmanship of Mr. Noel Cawley. Indeed, Mr. Cawley was very acceptable to the fishery sector as well as to the Department. Mr. Cawley and his group held a meeting yesterday morning with the industry liaison group. They have agreed to meet regularly over the coming months or as requested and agreed by Mr. Cawley and his group. I hope that this group will make recommendations by the end of September, although it may need a little extra time. The first meeting will take place in Wexford over the next week or two, and then across the country there will be meetings with full, open and frank discussion.
It is important to take on board that this is an independent look at the industry. Mr. Cawley has been very involved in drawing up strategies in the food sector in the past and we must acknowledge that the fishing industry is an important food sector. I hope that by the end of the year we will have a strong vision for the future of the fishing industry and that we can move forward together. As I stated in Killybegs, it is a matter not of the Department versus the fishermen, the fisheries organisations, the exporters and the processors, but of all of us moving forward together. Mr. Cawley’s group will also look at the Department’s role and we also may have some questions to answer. It is a totally independent review and we should leave it at that. The fisheries organisations are quite happy that some of the concerns they had over the past couple of weeks on the independence of the group and on their input have been ironed out. We should move forward together. Let us get on with the vision and develop a fishing industry strategy for the future.
Mr. Ferris: I thank the Minister of State for his response. Without the fishermen everything else falls. There is much suspicion among those actively fishing, particularly given the way they have been treated over the past 30 years and in the recent past. The contact I have with the organisations is also one of suspicion and worry that if the submissions to develop the industry of those who fish day and night while at risk from the elements do not take precedence over everything else, the Minister will achieve nothing. I want the Minister of State to give an assurance here that their submissions will be afforded the considerations to which they are entitled.
Mr. Browne: Mr. Cawley agreed to take the job on the basis that it would be a totally independent review. The eminent group which we set up agreed to consult widely with the industry and to have a number of regular meetings with the industry as it progresses through to the final vision.
It is also important to maintain the group’s independence. The fisheries organisations sought an independent group, which would look at the entire fishing industry, including the positive and negative aspects, the quota reduction and that too many fishermen are involved in the context of quota, and which would draw up a strategy that would enable fishermen and their families around our coastline to have a decent income for the future.
Let us be honest. What is happening at present, with reducing quota and the same number of fishermen, will not provide a viable fishing industry for the future. The group will look at all the aspects, including decommissioning, research and development, innovation, added value and new boats, replacement boats or removing fleet from the industry. We should not tie the hands of Mr. Cawley and his group because they would not take it on board. Mr. Cawley has been successful in the food sector and we should give him a chance. No doubt when he drafts the vision for the future, it will be one with which the fishermen will agree. Knowing Mr. Cawley, he cannot draft a fishing policy for the future without entering into dialogue with the fishery sectors and the communities on how any new policy for the future will affect coastal communities and the jobs in those communities, which is also important.
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