Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
78. Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he proposes to change the law whereby fishermen are the subject of criminal proceedings for minor infringements of fishing law and thereby bring Ireland in line with the EU Commission’s thinking on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44056/08]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): Ireland has a very important position as custodian of some of the largest and richest fishing waters within the EU but also in our location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Ireland continues to maintain high standards in the enforcement of regulations within the Exclusive Fisheries Zone using the resources of the Naval Service, the Air Corps and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.
The systems for dealing with infringements of the Common Fisheries Policy vary greatly from Member State to Member State and useful comparisons are not easily drawn. Many continental legal systems are different to Ireland’s and lend themselves to an administrative fines and penalties structure. Previous advice from the Attorney-General in this regard indicated that under the Irish legal system the types of penalties which Ireland is obliged to apply under the Common Fisheries Policy would be viewed as criminal in nature and therefore could only be administered by the courts by virtue of Articles 34, 37 and 38 of the Constitution.
Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006 the position is that all sanctions are purely financial in nature. The Act simply sets down the maximum fines that may be applied. No minimum fine is set and it is a matter for a Judge, taking into account the specific case, to determine the actual fine levied. The Act also applied for the first time a scaled approach to setting maximum fines whereby the maximum fines set for smaller vessels are less than for larger vessels. In that respect the 2006 Act sought to guarantee a degree of proportionality for fines based on vessel size, a factor which did not exist in the previous legislation.
Administrative fines for fisheries offences could be introduced in Ireland if the infringements and appropriate sanctions were set down in European law. I welcome new proposals which have been brought forward by the EU Commission with regard to introducing a new overall control regulatory framework. These proposals will be examined carefully, including from a legal perspective, to consider if their provisions will support the introduction of administrative sanctions in Ireland.
We have always argued that control levels need to be raised across the EU if we are to protect the future of stocks in all community waters and fishing communities throughout the community who are wholly dependent on those stocks. It is clearly in the interests of the Irish fishing industry and fishing communities that there is strong and effective implementation of the quotas and other conservation measures on all fishing vessels fishing on stocks in our zone. I am committed to this in the interest of our fishermen and consequently welcome this proposal for a new control and inspection regulation, including efforts to introduce a harmonised system of sanctions.
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