Wednesday, 23 February 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to implement a comprehensive national development strategy to maximise the growth and employment potential of the marine and natural resources sectors.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Fahey, to the Seanad. This is his first occasion in the House as a Minister and I congratulate him on his appoint ment as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. I thank him for the efficient and quick manner in which he has visited the coastal ports to meet those involved in the marine and fisheries industries. I am amazed at his grasp of the portfolio after only a few short weeks. The Minister is aware that there are many problems in the fishing industry.
The way forward for our marine and natural resources is charted in the national development plan. The proposed Government expenditure of £938 million in the period 2000-06 underpins its commitment to our most natural indigenous asset and, with further investment of £317 million, total expenditure on this sector will reach £1.2 billion.
The development of these sectors is vital for many coastal and rural communities which have nothing other than farming and tourism to sustain them. Given the disastrous situation in farming over the last two years, there is now nothing but tourism to sustain many areas along the west coast. I hope, therefore, the Government's huge investment in this sector will help to redress the deficiencies that have developed over the years and provide an alternative source of revenue for many coastal communities.
The investment will ensure the benefits of economic prosperity in all regions. The programme provides funding for infrastructural development, value added, marketing and research. A wide range of resources are included, such as sea angling, aquaculture, fishery harbours, seaports, angling, marine tourism and leisure and forestry.
The development of our vast natural resource is one of our greatest challenges. The marine and natural resources elements of the national development plan are designed to deliver sustainable growth, competitiveness and jobs, regional, rural and coastal development and environmental and economic infrastructure. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness also sets down many objectives in this area and outlines how they can be achieved.
The main objective in which I am interested is concerned with balancing the objectives and parameters of the EU Common Fisheries Policy with the potential to develop the sector in coastal regions where there are few alternative work opportunities. I hope the targets for the fishing industry will be achieved in the review of the CFP in 2002, in which we will seek to maximise the long-standing case for a significant increase in Ireland's quota share and more effective fishery management systems within the CFP framework through an effective strategic negotiating position informed by the research and conclusions of the national common fisheries policy review group and the recommendations of the NESC on fisheries policy. This is the first time I have seen recognition of the difficulties facing our fishing indus try which have arisen since the previous CFP and I am glad the Government is to address this.
The review group chaired by Padraic White has produced its first report on the sustainable future for European fisheries through technical conservation measures which will protect young sea fish. We are all agreed that there should be management and conservation of sea fish, but many Irish fishermen and processors, especially those involved in the pelagic industry, believe they alone are involved in most of these activities.
The PPF also sets out to maximise the value added potential of our fishery resource throughout the supply and demand chain by developing a first class national fish and shellfish health monitoring and research facility. It also acknowledges the significant potential of aquaculture production. In many coastal areas aquaculture has taken over completely from fishing and fish processing. With the passage of licensing legislation just over a year ago much progress has been made in this area.
Unfortunately, there are still many areas where difficulties arise with coastal zone management and the quality of the water due to the lack of sewage treatment plants in town adjacent to many bays. I have raised this issue here on many previous occasions. Many licences in my town of Dunloe have been refused because of the water quality.
The PPF also acknowledges the importance of the fish processing sector and sets out to improve and strengthen it. It proposes that it be supported to create a competitive value added capability of scale at national and international level through the development of new products, technology and scale, including building effective networks among the small and medium sized enterprises in the processing sector. It also proposes that investment support strategies for the medium to long-term be informed by a comprehensive review of the processing sector to be carried out this year.
The PPF also sets out to ensure that the inclusive management, conservation and development of our inland fisheries resource is brought to the highest standard and to realise its potential in terms of social and economic benefits to the regions, farmers and local communities. This will be done by negotiation between all stakeholders, including farmers and the regional fisheries boards. The programme also addresses the need to develop forestry to a scale and in a manner which maximises its contribution to national economic and social well being on a sustainable basis and which is compatible with the protection of the environment and the support of climate change commitments.
I welcome the investment of £171 million to support a sustainable, competitive and quality driven seafood industry. This is broken down between £76 million for the productive sector, £10  million to provide training and £85 million to support aquaculture and fishery harbours. The development of seafood processing to create a competitive value added product is the main aim of the national development plan. Its purpose is to ensure that we can compete with other countries with the highest quality of fish produce. This sector employs 16,000 people throughout the country, with 1,500 directly employed in the industry in my constituency of Donegal South-West. When one takes account of the service industry and the other back-ups, in excess of 25,000 people are employed in the sector. Up to 3,000 people on the west coast of County Donegal are totally reliant on the fishing industry.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy negotiations in 1983 failed the west of County Donegal. The Minister heard most of the problems and complaints when he visited the area last week. When I grew up Killybegs was not as large a port as it is now and Burtonport was approximately the same size. The main fishing at that time was for herring, salmon and white fish. For a variety of reasons these species have collapsed over the years and we are now reliant on the pelagic industry. Boats and factories have been developed in line with the development of this industry and in recent years we have became totally reliant on mackerel and horse mackerel. However, the jobs and livelihoods of the large numbers employed in the industry must be protected, otherwise County Donegal will face a crisis far greater than that caused by the problems at Fruit of the Loom.
I appreciate that exports are of low valued added, but over the years the industry has had no other option but to proceed on this basis because a lead was not given and the industry had to develop itself. In doing so it unfortunately had to rely totally on mackerel. The pelagic fleet was built up without any grant assistance and the innovative fishermen acquired bigger boats. Regrettably we are now almost totally reliant on pelagic fisheries.
We are now told we must develop other species. We tried to do this recently with blue whiting, but unfortunately when the quota system was introduced we were sold short again. Nevertheless, I compliment the former Minister, Deputy Woods, on securing an increase in the quota for blue whiting.
Four years ago we had a quota of 90,000 tonnes of mackerel. Last year it was reduced to 60,000 tonnes, but thankfully it has been increased to 70,000 tonnes this year. Up to two years ago there was no quota in respect of horse mackerel, but now there is a quota of approximately 70,000 tonnes. When the Minister visited Killybegs it was pointed out that most of the mackerel are spawning off the west coast and that all we seek is an adequate supply of our own natural resource. This is not a national issue, it affects the western  area of one county because of the numbers who are totally reliant on the industry.
We all acknowledge that the value added element is not what it should be. In order to have more value added products factories will need to re-equip. The last equipment grant available to the industry under a previous EU directive was to improve hygiene. We now need the maximum grants available under Objective One status to enable factories diversify, change direction and produce high quality fish products.
We heard about EU controls and the discarding of fish at sea. The industry feels it is operating the controls properly and that tightening will be needed. From the Minister's comments in Killybegs I know he will do everything in his power to achieve this.
Factories will probably close from February to September, a terrible situation, particularly for ordinary employees, due to the CFP. Our national quota is owned by us all. It saddens me that some of our boats land some of our quota in other countries and by doing so put jobs at risk.
The national development plan sets out to enhance the safety, quality and efficiency of our fleet. The white fish renewal scheme, introduced by Deputy Woods when Minister, has improved the situation immensely, with many fishermen investing in new fishing boats. After years without investment we now have new boats entering the fleet. The Minister launched one of these, Naomh Eoin, last Friday in Burtonport for Mr. Hannigan. We were totally reliant on the pelagic fleet, but hopefully the former Minister's initiative will change the situation. I also congratulate him on introducing safety grants.
The national plan also identifies the necessity to continue programmes to underpin safety standards in employment, expand the skills base and attract new entrants right across the seafood sector, providing £10 million in this context. Apart from low value added product, poor marketing strategy is also a major shortcoming in our seafood sector. Most companies in Killybegs are marketing separately on the Continent and using different agents. The national development plan will provide £6 million to enhance seafood market development strategies to capitalise on international markets.
I could refer to many other items in relation to the development plan and the strategies being put forward by the Government. However, I will conclude by referring to the large gas find off the Mayo coast. I ask the Minister to take note of what has been said about the harbour development in Killybegs. There is an airport in Carrickfinn and Enterprise Oil will be returning in April to use both facilities. Hopefully there will be a large oil find which will help the people in Mayo, many of whom have gone to England over the years to work in the gas and oil business. Other  counties in the west are hoping they will get a share of the cake.
Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Ba mhaith liom ar dtús fáilte a chuir roimh an tAire ar ais chuig an Seanad, an uair seo le caipín nua mar Aire na Mara agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha. It makes people like myself very proud to see these young people returning to the Seanad having trained them well. I wish the Minister every success in his new Department and I compliment the former Minister, Deputy Woods, on the fine job he did.
I will probably be critical in some of the things I say, but this is not meant to be offensive in any form. I see things we can do which would make a huge difference to the fishing industry. The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources is understaffed and under resourced. A plan cannot be implemented without having the necessary people and resources. The Department has great people in various sections whom I have known over the years, and I feel they are getting frustrated as some of them are undoubtedly overworked. I do not think it is our fault that there is insufficient staff. Rather it is because there are better jobs available.
Many of us have spent many years involved in the fishing industry and its development. However, there is no joint Oireachtas committee to which the Minister is answerable. We have a Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and while there are at least a few on that committee who have a great interest in fishing, they may not have the same interest in the related activities. It is very strange that such a committee exists, which can bring people from the industry before it to find out what is happening on the ground, but that we, who know about fishing, are not involved. I ask the Minister to examine the establishment of a proper committee which would facilitate appropriate consultation with the fishing industry.
Every other day farmers are meeting the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and advising him. He calls them in and asks them to accompany him to Brussels. This should also be happening in the fishing industry. I am not saying that such people are the be all and end all, but it is their business and they should be advising the Minister, or more accurately telling him what is happening in the industry. I would like to see much more consultation.
The Minister is new to the job and, rather than waiting for somebody to ask him to go to Brussels to discuss the fishing industry, he should immediately seek a meeting with Franz Fischler to out line the difficulties and the hardship which the EU has imposed on us. The Minister is from the west and does not have to look too far to see the difficulties in the fishing industry over the years. It is amazing that the 200 mile zone to the west is shared with all of Europe. The original concept of a united Europe involved sharing all our natural resources. However, no other country in the EU is sharing its natural resources with us. We are the only country which is sharing our fishing grounds, and we are getting the least from it.
Those fishing our waters are mainly Spaniards, and I have a list of boats and their activities. A Spanish boat, Gonzalez Covello, was detained in Castletownbere having been fishing for two years without a licence, with none of its catch recorded. The Minister will be arguing with such people in Brussels. I do not know whether the Department has the list of other boats. The UK/Spanish ship, Mount Eden, exceeded its monthly quota twice in five days. It had 4,390 kilogrammes of monkfish on board even though the quota was 200 kilogrammes – 23 times the quota. This is one of a number of court cases which have taken place in Ireland and they can be examined to ascertain readily what is happening.
It is estimated that the EU benefits to the tune of £2 billion annually from Irish fish stocks. EU officials are quick to point out, including one who appeared on “Euronews” recently, that Ireland is doing well financially because of the EU. However, if the EU has taken £2 billion worth of fish out of our waters annually since the introduction of the fisheries policy in 1983, it is a massive amount of money for which Ireland has received nothing in return. The EU is destroying the livelihoods of people in the Minister's constituency and along the west coast. Can anyone name any other worker who has not been compensated after his rights were taken from him?
I have no problem with the introduction of laws which protect fish stocks. Tuna fishing was a lucrative business in the west. There was no quota for such fishing and our fishermen used drift nets. French fishermen were the only others to use drift nets. Last year, like a thunderbolt out of the blue, the EU decided that drift netting would not be allowed any more and that Irish fishermen should adopt long line fishing, similar to the Spanish and Portuguese. It was unfair of the EU to do that without first informing fishermen about the change. Such a change would cost a fisherman approximately £200,000, yet it took place over a few months. Members will recall the trouble in Brussels when the fishermen went there to protest because they were terribly annoyed about was done to them. Advance warning should have been given. Senator Bonner outlined other examples, such as blue whiting and horse mackerel.
Foreign boats should land in Ireland because  the local economy would benefit from their presence. Every large fishing boat which docks in our ports generates approximately £10,000 for the local economy. The Spaniards are now sending out “mother ships” which means that their boats will not even have to come into port because their catch and supplies will be transferred to and from such ships at sea. I do not know whether the Department is aware of this practice but the Minister should resist it. How can the Spanish fleet stay at sea 365 days per year when our fleet can only fish for four months because of quotas? I want the Minister to dig his heels in and tell the EU that enough is enough. I will outline the arguments for him.
It is difficult to draw up a positive plan. I dwelt on the problems in the fishing industry and I hope other Members will deal with other elements of the Minister's brief, such as inland fishing and natural resources. I wish him well in his new portfolio.
Mr. Caffrey: I welcome the Minister and wish him every success in his new post. It is gratifying that a politician west of the Shannon has been given the marine portfolio. The Minister will devote his energy and imagination to it. I regret that Galway and Mayo are not in the same constituency because one factor that seems to determine the Government's decentralisation policy is where the Ministers are from. Nevertheless, I am delighted that the Minister is transferring the Marine Institute to Galway. We, in Mayo, would have been delighted if it had been decentralised to Mayo because its director, Dr. Peter Heffernan, is from Ballina. The realities of political life dictate that it will be moved to Galway and it will be a major boost for the region.
Ireland's territorial waters total 900,000 square kilometres. This is a tremendous resource which is not being utilised. Recently, Enterprise Oil discovered gas 35 miles from Achill Island, which will have major implications for the country. I hope that the new appraisal well which is being drilled will be a positive development and that the company will announce in the near future that it is viable. County Mayo should be the primary benefactor from this major natural resource. However, it is one of many resources which are underwater.
At the rate the construction industry is expanding, sand and gravel will be in short supply in the near future. There are unlimited quantities of sand and gravel on the sea bed and many countries have the technology to extract these minerals without causing great damage to the coastline. Ireland is doing nothing about this. Ireland is also running low on electric power. It is estimated that if consumption continues to increase at present levels there will be a shortage of power in a year or two. We have wave energy as a resource. Many countries are tapping into this  energy source in terms of research and development but we are not doing much in that regard. We have our fishing industry and I will be parochial by referring to Mayo in particular. No other county in Ireland has the same length of coastline as we have in Mayo, yet we have a deficiency of ports and harbours. We cannot cater for a fishing fleet of a significant size. They have to go to Killybegs, Rossaveel or elsewhere. We have no facilities in Mayo. The recent announcement for ports and harbours in the county was totally inadequate. As I said at the recent county council meeting at which it was announced, these are minor developments that will merely maintain the status quo in the county.
In a county with the resources we have and our natural coastline, we should examine the possibility of major infrastructural development. The fact that 90% of our imports are carried into the country by sea gives us some idea of the vast potential to develop along the west coast. Four million people come into this country by ferry every year. Those statistics are amazing and Government policy, especially in our region, is to just maintain the current position and not look at the bigger vision. The bigger vision is a major seaport along the west coast. I know the Minister has commissioned a feasibility study for Rossaveel which is due to be completed within three or four months. It will be interesting to see what is recommended for the Killala Bay region where, over the past ten years, two feasibility studies have been done on the possibility of a deep sea port in the region.
Mr. Caffrey: Killala Bay, yes. McCarthy and Partners have already produced two substantial reports on it. An international firm of marine experts which came here last year said that the natural resources existed but that we needed capital investment and a policy. I hope the Minister will cast his eyes far down the coastline and examine the potential in this region.
We also have an abundance of seaweed along the west coast. Arramara Teoranta has a factory in Newport. There was always a seaweed production factory in Newport but that industry has been phased down over recent years. However, there is great potential in the seaweed industry. In the 1950s and 1960s, the seaweed industry in Westport employed up to 100 local people and during the seasonal period that figure rose to 200. There is new emphasis on the production and manufacture of seaweed and it is something the Minister and the Department should examine.
On the question of policy for resources, a blueprint, Towards a Marine Policy for Ireland, was published in 1991 by the Marine Institute. That was a most comprehensive document with every aspect of our marine infrastructure covered and  which included the gem of many good ideas. It would be worthwhile resurrecting that document and examining it to see the various recommendations that were put forward at the time as a basis for a dynamic marine strategy for the whole of Ireland. I am disappointed this document has not formed the basis of Government policy over the years in pursuing a total marine strategy for our country. We have the ideas, the technology, the natural and financial resources and people who are interested in pursuing this ideal, and it is something the Minister should take on board.
I am delighted a man from west of the Shannon is in charge of this portfolio which offers tremendous opportunities. No other portfolio in the entire Government structure has such possibilities as this one. I am sure the Minister, being the intelligent man that he is, fully realises its potential. I hope he will work on that over the coming years.
Before the last election, Fianna Fáil was one of two parties – Fine Gael being the other – which brought forward a programme for Government that had reference to marine strategies, plans for fisheries etc. in the future. Some of the other parties did not look beyond Dublin and have little interest in fishing or farming.
I pay a sincere tribute to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Woods, who did trojan work with limited resources, particularly in my area. Ten years ago, in the tiny hamlet called Union Hall, which the former Minister, Deputy Woods, visited, one would have to reverse a juggernaut for half a mile to get to the pier where the fishermen landed their fish. Thankfully, since then a major pier and onshore parking facilities have been developed. Union Hall obtained funding towards that development because its catch increased from £500,000 or £600,000 to in excess of £8 million or £10 million in four or five years. The fishermen went out in relatively small fishing vessels and caught non-quota fish. Currently there are more than 200 people working on shore either in Skibbereen or elsewhere as a result of the initiative of the fishermen.
We all can be critical of Ministers and Departments, but there has been a lot of success in the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. I have no doubt that with the proper strategy and plans, we can succeed in creating onshore jobs, one of my main interests. Much work has been done in Castletownbere also. Thanks to the initiative of the former Minister, Deputy Woods, a number of state of the art whitefish vessels have been built. Two of them have been delivered already to the west Cork region and six more are awaited. This is an indica tion of the Government's commitment to fishing despite our problems with Europe, lack of quotas and so forth.
The Department has a greater remit than fishing. It is also responsible for natural resources and oil and gas exploration which, no doubt, will be of major importance in the future. My colleague, Senator Bonner, spoke about a strategic plan for the proper harnessing and development of offshore resources.
When we joined the then EEC in 1973 the fishing industry, probably due to lack of interest and commitment on the part of successive Governments, was a fledgling weak industry. It was a substratum of the then Department of Agriculture. Despite the fact that Ireland had almost 25% of EU waters, it ended up with approximately 4% of the fishing catch. We can thrash out this issue ad infinitum but I must urge the new Minister to get tough with Brussels. We must put our foot down and take no nonsense. If the need arises, the Minister should take the extreme step of using his veto to ensure we do not lose jobs in the fishing industry.
We have put up with nonsense for long enough. The fisheries on the south-west coast, in particular, have been ridden bareback by Spanish fishing vessels which are far larger and better equipped than Irish vessels. They are marauding the Irish waters and raping them of valuable stocks. Apart from getting tough with Europe, trying to hold our own and perhaps gain extra quotas, the biggest issue facing fishermen in the next ten years is conservation. The big concern for fishermen who own trawlers, and I meet them daily, is what will be in the sea in ten or 20 years. If the rape of our waters by foreign vessels continues without restriction, the future appears bleak.
As a result of research carried out by the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, a number of new species of fish have been identified off our coasts. These fish, so far, are not subject to quotas. If a quota regime is introduced, we must be first in line to guarantee we receive a quota for those species. For too long we have played second fiddle to our European counterparts.
When we joined the European Community, the fishermen did not have their catch properly logged, apart from in a few prominent ports such as Killybegs and Castletownbere. As a result, we ended up with an extremely poor quota. To a great extent, the fishermen were to blame. The normal practice in my area was for fishermen to be paid cash for their catch. Records were never kept so when the fateful day arrived to produce the records, the fishermen, unlike the farmers, had great difficulty producing evidence of their catch.
The traditional fisherman in Cork, Kerry and probably along the entire west coast generally  had a small boat which he would use to fish for lobster and crayfish. In the winter he might turn his hand to mackerel or herring fishing. That tradition has gone by the board. One of the finest natural spawning grounds for herring, recognised as such by the Dutch and the Germans, was a place called Gearhies in Bantry Bay. Alas, that is gone now and the herring market has collapsed. The sale of roe to Japan has virtually evaporated. In 1976, when I was herring fishing, we were getting £16 per box for herring. Now, 25 years later, one would not get even £10. There is something radically wrong.
That type of traditional fishing is gone and the small fisherman has disappeared. There were little hamlets around west Cork where people fished for herring, mackerel and horse mackerel from September to March. Hundreds of small farmers got their income from working the poor land, in so far as they could, in the spring and summer and from fishing in the winter. That practice has evaporated. On a positive note, it has been replaced by successful mariculture or aquaculture development.
The aquaculture industry in places such as west Cork and south west Kerry has created between 300 and 400 jobs onshore. That is something we must protect and develop. In fairness to the Department and to BIM, this has been a success story. On 8 January 1979 on Whiddy Island there was a massive explosion in which 50 lives were lost. The biggest asset of the bay at that time, which created much employment, was more or less closed down. By trial and error, many of the men who were formerly fishermen or were from fishing families started fish farming.
They generally started with mussel rafts, but due to lack of knowledge or expertise, the rafts sank. One of the reasons they sank was that mussel growth in the Gulf stream along our coasts was only nine or ten months for a market-ready product whereas the fish farmers' knowledge came from Scandinavian books which said the period required was double that. Since then, BIM and the Department have pumped a great deal of money into the industry. There are two state of the art factories in the Bantry area. One was recently completed and is not yet opened. I hope the Minister will open this massive factory for processing mussels in the not too distant future. It cost almost £7 million and it is hoped it will create and sustain approximately 200 onshore jobs.
This is the way to go. For too long about 70% of the fish landed in Castletownbere was carried by juggernauts over desperately bad roads across Europe to Spain or Italy. This is a sad statistic. The Minister will be aware of the difficult terrain for a huge, heavily loaded truck which has to drive from Castletownbere across Great Britain, through France and into Spain. It is regrettable  that this percentage of the fish is being exported in its raw state.
I have always advocated that onshore processing should take place for added value and the creation of jobs. In the last ten years, despite the restrictions imposed by Europe and the shackles and chains which have held the industry down, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources has done exceptionally well in that regard. When Dr. Woods was moved from the Department, the Irish South and West Fishermen's Organisation issued a frank and positive statement which thanked him for his years of effort. He was long associated with trying to promote the fishing industry in the south-west, although I cannot speak for the west or Donegal. Ports such as Union Hall stand as a monument to this Government's policy for positive development.
Recently there was a huge welcome in Union Hall when one of the newly built boats was officially launched by the new Minister, Deputy Fahey. Twelve years ago this was a sleepy village which had only a few small punts and a couple of clapped out trawlers. Now it is a vibrant port with many onshore jobs. It is easy to be negative but I urge people to be positive. Much has been done and a great deal of work is currently being done on the improvement of harbours and piers. Money is available and we should continue the infrastructural development in peripheral areas, be they Bantry or Baltimore in west Cork or Killybegs or Killala. That is the direction in which we should go.
While I wish the Minister luck in the difficult task of dealing with Europe, he should take off the kid gloves and not leave any stone unturned. We have lost out badly and this island nation which depends on fishing and the natural resource of the sea cannot afford to lose jobs around its coastline. I urge the Minister to be prepared to go all the way and use the veto. For too long, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, successive Ministers under different Governments, including those of my party, returned from Europe with empty promises and small quotas which meant we were rowing backwards for many years. Matters have improved in the past ten years and I am glad the industry is in a healthy state. The Minister has an arduous task ahead of him but we will be singing his praises in a few years if he can succeed in the Common Fisheries Policy.
Mr. Ryan: It is good to debate a motion such as this but I would have preferred had it been more precise in its prescriptions. I listen with great interest to Senator Bonner every time he speaks. He knows far more about the fishing industry than I do. I suspect he has forgotten far more about the industry than I will ever know. There is a ring of truth in the point he has consistently made that, perhaps in terms of the areas of  the country which are most underdeveloped, which by and large are along the west coast, the greatest single policy error was made in the negotiation of our accession to the Common Agricultural Policy. I have never been entirely clear why we did so but we seemed to assume that agricultural production and prices would increase indefinitely and entirely independent of market conditions. We in this country have had a considerable education in the ups and downs of the marketplace with our various economic crises, and we are all a little more hard-headed and perhaps a little more realistic in our beliefs about what the State can do and our understanding about the way markets operate than we were 25, 27 or 28 years ago when we discussed membership of the EU. Nonetheless, one does not have to be an economic genius, not that there are many of them, to accept that one cannot continue producing forever. The tragedy was that we were so swept up in the joys of the Common Agricultural Policy and many people failed to confront the ongoing tragedy of that policy.
A major study in economic history remains to be conducted to examine the failure of the country to develop a competitive fishing industry before we joined the EU. At a time when other countries in less favourable locations, such as Iceland or Norway, developed internationally recognised fishing industries, we were piddling around in little boats on the margins of our coastline talking about 12 miles as the upper limit of our ambitions in terms of what we would ever use as our fishing resource. I have never understood why Irish private enterprise did not do something about that. I do not say this in any ideological sense. It is a fascinating example of a lack of self-belief that this country never managed to make for itself an industry out of a resource which was freely available and which was ours to sell into a market which, even 40 years ago, was sophisticated. We did not seem to know that there was a whole European Continent which, by the 1950s, was prosperous and growing economically at a rate at which no other collection of countries had grown and with a huge taste for marine produce. We seemed to believe that the problem was that our people would not eat fish except on Fridays and even then only reluctantly.
We never managed to lift our horizons, but the great thing the EU has done is enable us to do so. Far more than economic benefits or transfers, it enabled us to discover all these little countries all over Europe which were spectacularly richer according to the index we always used to measure ourselves, which was the neighbouring country, and which obscured in more ways than one and more psychologically than physically our vision of what the rest of the world was like. However, since we joined the EU, we have had one hand, if not one and a half, tied behind our backs in terms of what we can do for the cheapest natural resource we have. As Senator Caffrey said, 90% of what should be the national territory is sea, and that represents a greater proportion of the  European Union's fishery resource than our land area represents of the EU land area or that our population represents of its population.
We are reaching a stage where many of the things we did well and large parts of the bargain we struck when we joined the EU are beginning to be questioned. We have already seen, for better or worse, the abolition of duty free sales, an Irish invention begun in Shannon Airport and copied throughout the world. We have seen that taken from us to a considerable extent. We now see our judicious use of tax policy to encourage development beginning to be questioned. The great success of the 1980s was the International Financial Services Centre, a greater success than people like to acknowledge because of what it did to develop skills in and improve understanding of international technology and communications and where it dragged us in terms of communication. People are beginning to say now that the preferential tax rates for such developments must be abolished. The beginnings of an attack on our generalised low levels of taxation for the corporate sector are already on the horizon and will grow as our prosperity does. I am not necessarily committed to a 12.5% rate as are many others in the Oireachtas or in my party. Nonetheless, I see a gradual reshaping of the bargain. Perhaps it is inevitable. It is most evident in agriculture.
There is a wrong attitude in this country to the EU. The single greatest benefit for us has been the cultural shift where we went from seeing ourselves as small and poor next to someone who was rich and powerful to being an equal partner in all levels of decision-making and where those who had patronised us, at the very least, for many hundreds of years had to treat us as equal. However, much of the rest of the bargain has been taken from us. As that has changed, vast quantities of a natural resource have been taken away gratis by other countries.
There is considerable concern about the renationalisation of support for agriculture and by consumers throughout Europe who have developed a stubborn preference for local produce because of fears about food safety. There is a case for renationalising fisheries, although I do not mean that in the classic left wing sense. This is a vast resource which we are giving away. A colleague in the other House asked the previous Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources a question about the scale of fish catches in terms of price in our zone of economic interest by non-national fleets. The figure for our 27 years of membership of the EU is between £12 billion and £20 billion worth of fish. That makes all the transfer payments look small.
Another reason we should renationalise fisheries is that fishery resources are being depleted throughout the world. I want to register a note of dissent from a general type of national adulation. I am not overly impressed that we have built the largest fishing vessel in the world to fish off the west coast of Africa because we are now doing  there what we are angry that other people are doing off our coast. I do not feel comfortable with the idea that enough fish to feed 14 million people could be in one ship off the coast of a starving continent, although I do not criticise the individuals involved.
We are the only people who will have sufficient interest and commitment to look after our fisheries resources. If we leave it to a collectivity, such as the EU, collective decisions will be taken but there will also be collective enforcement and that will not be sufficient. Iceland does not participate in those collective operations. It has succeeded, nevertheless, in protecting its fishery resources and it fought a cod war against the United Kingdom, although it was a farce, to insist on its right to conserve its resources.
The fundamental issue is that any review of the Common Fisheries Policy must ascertain whether it has worked in delivering prosperity to the countries where the resource exists and in providing a sustainable basis for future fisheries development.
The challenge is to sustain the development of our waters to maintain a certain level of fish. I remember spending eight or nine hours on a fishing boat in Cyprus some years ago and I did not see one fish in the water. We must protect our natural resource. The Minister must avail of opportunities in the review of the Common Fisheries Policy and in the management of our natural resource.
I welcome the positive decision by the Minister to move the Marine Institute to the Galway area. This will help in the management of our seas, rivers, inlets and coastline. We must also manage our catchment areas, set out principles and balance the development of mariculture, whether it is shellfish or salmon farming. We have the institutes to do that on a trial basis. There is a great opportunity to set up ranches along the western seaboard where fish could be released and a measurement system could be put in place to build up our fish stocks.
I welcome the recent launch of new ships in the fishing industry which will help its development. Inshore fishermen must benefit from existing resources to sustain their families. This is a time of economic boom but a time will come when we will need our natural resources to sustain families and young people. We must invest and encourage people to become involved in the shellfish industry and in the management of our lobster and crayfish stocks which are under threat and for which there is a market. We must create jobs, sustain families and retain a resource that is important to our people.
A challenge facing the Minister is the development of the seaweed industry which we have  failed to develop over many years. It is a changing market. It can play a greater part in sustaining families in correlation with the development of our marine resources. If it is properly managed, investment is found to help it expand and terms of reference are laid down, it will provide opportunities for people, particularly along the western seaboard.
The shellfish industry has developed strongly along the western seaboard and throughout the country. Our waters are of good quality so they are a good resource for rearing fish. The shellfish industry creates employment and it gives a good return and it should be developed further.
The Minister should look at areas along the west coast in which management plans can be developed and he should consider developing and investing in our tributaries and small rivers. This has been tried in Iceland and it has been extremely successful in retaining stocks. Perhaps this might be included in a future national plan.
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I thank the Senators for their good wishes on my appointment. It is nice to back in the Seanad as a member of the Cabinet. I spent some of my happiest times here and I learned a lot from being a Senator. It is a pleasure for me to come back as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.
One of the greatest challenges facing Ireland is the development of its natural resources. While the Senators have concentrated on marine matters, there are a number of other important areas that I want to mention in terms of my responsibilities and my portfolio, not least natural resources involving the mining industry, the offshore search for oil and gas and the forestry sector which is a major contributor to our economy in rural Ireland. The forestry sector has potential for development and is one of the areas that I am keen to develop. The forestry investment programme in the national plan will have an impact on this economy and on people throughout rural Ireland. We must make difficult decisions in respect of our forestry developments and the future of Coillte. I hope to be able to make those difficult decisions and move on the development of this important natural resource.
With regard to offshore developments, an important appraisal well will be drilled by Enterprise Oil in April which will determine the commerciality of the Corrib field. We must be careful not to be over confident about the possibilities of a commercial gas find until we have the results of the exploration exercise. If it is successful it will be of great significance, not least for the west.
With regard to the marine sector, most people do not realise that 90% of Ireland's territory is under water. It is a significant resource. We can all agree with the point made by Senator Ryan that we did not do as well in the EU negotiations with regard to the resource off our coast as we  did in other areas. As a result we have the major disadvantage of a tight quota position.
During my term in office one of my highest priorities will be the renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy. A high level review group is examining this policy and preparing a case with me that will be presented in Brussels. I can assure the House, especially Senators who mentioned that we need to fight, that we will put up a solid case and a strong fight to try to improve our position. It will not be easy. If we get an increase in our quota we will have to take it from someone else. No one is naive enough to believe that getting favours from our European partners will be easy. I can assure the House that we will leave no stone unturned, we will be well prepared and we will use the best scientific evidence available to us, in addition to the strong case that this is our resource. As Senators have said, our waters are being heavily fished by other nations who have bigger capacity than we have and I am concerned about that. Notwithstanding that, there is potential to develop this industry.
I will concentrate on the major area of marketing, processing and the additional added value of the fishing sector. There is no doubt that we have a fine product and that we do not market, process or add value to it as much as we should. During my term of office one of my main priorities will be to work with BIM, the Marine Institute, my Department and with the industry in bringing forward a vigorous marketing campaign and developing an effective processing sector. We will talk to Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia with a view to getting a comprehensive programme in place as quickly as possible so that fishermen can benefit to a greater extent from their fine product.
Aquaculture is a huge resource which has developed well over the years but there is room for further development. The salmon sector was mentioned earlier. We produce only 18,000 tonnes of farmed salmon whereas Scotland produces 100,000 tonnes, Norway 400,000 and the Faroe Islands, which only got into the business recently, produces 35,000 tonnes. Therefore, farmed salmon has potential.
There have been difficulties about getting the balance right between aquaculture, the environment and the traditional fishing sector. I have talked with the research people in the Marine Institute and I am satisfied that we can get the balance right and prove scientifically that both sectors can live and progress together. I will try to get that message across. Scientific evidence will prove to everyone that we can develop aquaculture without detrimental effects on the environment or the traditional fishing sector.
The whitefish fleet has been a huge success. There are not many projects we can claim to have successfully brought to fruition in 18 months, whether in industry, agriculture or the public sector. It is remarkable that in the past 18 months, from the first day a document was put together, the whitefish fleet has developed to the point  where on the first day of my tenure as Minister we launched the first two boats which cost £1.5 million each. They were launched under the stewardship of two young west Cork skippers and there are about 30 more boats to follow. That is a great credit to the young men and women around the coasts who have the courage to proceed with such an investment. The whitefish fleet sector has a bright future. We will have difficulties but we can overcome them.
The pelagic sector also faces difficulties. As Senator Bonner said, I was in Killybegs to meet people from the fishing and processing industries. We have tight quotas and we have well equipped fishermen in Donegal who can catch more fish than they are allowed. Clearly, we have a major difficulty in terms of the controls we must implement and with the European Commission to ensure that we adhere to the rules.
I believe there are new ways to go forward and new markets. I also believe that there is new terrain to be fished outside of the immediate control areas. There are new processing and marketing opportunities which will bring this industry back to the better days it once enjoyed. I am happy to work with the industry and to move forward with these new initiatives.
We have the ability to marry some of the smaller operators involved in the sector through the inshore fishing fleet with aquaculture developments. The development of our inshore fleet will be one of my priorities over the coming months. There will be a new emphasis on investment and modernising that fleet, replacing some of the older vessels, which are, on average, up to 30 years old. I intend that people involved in the inshore fishing business be also involved in aquaculture. There is no reason why the two cannot go hand in hand. I know of some examples, not least in west Cork, where recent developments mean that inshore workers are now involved in various aquaculture exercises, which are proving very beneficial.
We can add the marine tourism sector to that, a sector with significant potential for which a sum of £20 million was provided in the national plan and which is almost totally undeveloped. Senator Tom Fitzgerald tells me that during summer, many tourists from France and other places, whose presence would enhance the already great reputation of Dingle, are being turned away. It is ridiculous that the facilities are not available to take these high-spending tourists who want to enter some of our ports and marinas. A new division has just been started to put forward a series of developments in marine tourism. There is much potential across the spectrum and many developments are under way. I acknowledge the work done by my predecessor and the Department to date, in making great progress.
 One area of concern is that my Department has not been good in the past on customer relations. I am taking immediate steps to try to improve that. It is not due to any lack of effort on behalf of the Department officials, but rather to some of the old-fashioned structures and systems within which they operate. One of my priorities will be to streamline those systems and to devolve some of the work, such as the marine surveying work, licensing work and some of the other engineering works which cause frustration and delay and which hold up progress. While we will not allow reductions in the standards that must be imposed, in terms of safety and quality of work and so on, we can improve our ability to make decisions faster and to allow people to proceed with their work. Already progress is being made on that and I hope much further progress will be made over the next 12 months.
I will put every ounce of energy into improving and increasing the work already being done. I will be happy to consult Members of the Seanad in any way I can. Some of the Senators raised the question of a joint Oireachtas committee. In principle, I have no difficulty with a joint Oireachtas committee on fisheries. Our Department is currently very stretched and has to resort to fire brigade action because of a lack of staff, as some Senators said. As we are not able to respond as effectively as we should, I ask the Members to give us a chance to deal with some of the issues before we set up yet another committee. However, I am happy to consult Members of the House in any informal or formal setting to deal with some of the issues of concern to them. As we progress, we intend to set up a formal committee to deal with some of these issues more appropriately.
We want to introduce some items of legislation and I am taking initiatives to bring forward that legislation more quickly than has been the case to date. I am happy to communicate with the House on those matters again in the future.
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his elevation to a portfolio of such importance. A more fitting man could not have been picked for this position. It is a great honour for him and his family to be elevated to the position of Cabinet Minister but it is also a great honour for the west of Ireland, Connacht in particular, to have a young, enthusiastic Member at the Cabinet table. I wish him every success. He is well up to the task and will show innovation and set down a great foundation of development in the Department, which offers much opportunity. While he may be constrained somewhat by negotiations which took place many years ago regarding EU quotas, there are, as he said, other opportunities, including his ability to negotiate under the Common Fisheries Policy generally.
The seas around Ireland are a wonderful resource. The inland lakes and rivers are also of importance, as are other natural resources,  including natural oil, gas and forestry. People from coastal counties have a far better understanding of the fisheries industry than I, although I have gained some experience through a recent investigation in this regard under the strategic management initiative by an Oireachtas committee. It is a vast industry and our investigation opened my eyes to many windows of opportunity, which I had previously not seen, concerning the potential in the industry. The Minister is correct on that matter.
The potential in inland fisheries is far greater than that currently being experienced. Recently, I undertook some research into inland fisheries in Northern Ireland. I was flabbergasted to find out the level of activity taking place in Lough Neagh, for example, in the eel industry alone. This is an area with much opportunity for employment and exports. It is a useful export industry and our take from the Shannon, for whatever reason, is negligible compared with that in Northern Ireland. The potential is there and also in the inland fisheries.
I recently applied for afforestation permission and was turned down on the basis that the land was not considered up to standard. The same lands for which I applied were adjacent to those passed and put under forestry by Coillte, namely sections of the Derryfadda Bog. If that is to be the approach of forestry officials, then we are losing out. Cutaway bog and lands which are not good for farming and are not involved in the Special Areas of Conservation, are ideal for forestry and should be promoted for it. We should invest for the future and bring the level of afforestation up to a level that would compare favourably with the rest of Europe.
Nothing is confirmed yet on the possibility of a major gas find off the west coast and the possibility of that find being transported through the country. It is vitally important that there should be links between the cities of Galway and Dublin.
The potential using a combination of gas and peat to produce energy in the west should be considered when new proposals are being put forward. I know that this does not come under the Minister's remit but it is time such a combination was considered. In that context, the resources contained in 25,000 acres of peat land in the Suck and Shannon basin and in County Galway remain untapped.
I reiterate my congratulations to the Minister on his elevation to Cabinet. I look forward to working with him. There is already great enthusiasm in the industry, particularly among people on the west coast, about his appointment. Everyone in the west wishes the Minister the best of luck with his portfolio.
 I wish to raise a number of points which I hope the Minister will take on board. First, I want to discuss the need to maintain vigorous standards in respect of preventing pollution. Certain beaches in Dún Laoghaire and Killiney have been awarded blue flags but beaches in many other areas require maintenance. If we are not vigilant it will be easy to allow standards to slide, particularly in terms of leakages from trawlers and the pumping of sewage directly into our ports. The Minister must give careful consideration to this matter.
I welcome the Minister's comments on marine safety. Unfortunately, there have been a number of tragic accidents in recent years and I recall a particular incident which occurred off the coast of Donegal. Monitoring mechanisms must be put in place in this area. A system has been put in place to inspect eight year old cars and there are many trawlers which could benefit from similar inspections because some of them do not have the necessary safety equipment on board. Trawler owners should be obliged to maintain basic life-saving equipment, emergency flares and radio equipment.
People should not take chances by putting to sea in rough weather, they should adopt a common sense approach. The same applies to those who engage in marine leisure activities. Too many tragedies have been caused by people taking to the water without life jackets etc. Perhaps the Minister will ensure that the various checks and inspections are carried out. If trawlers do not have the necessary equipment, they should be confined to port.
The final issue I wish to raise involves the National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire. Discussions are currently taking place with the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and others regarding moving the museum. Most people would like to see the museum remain in Dún Laoghaire, given that it has been situated there for many years. I accept that other ports throughout the country might have claims to house such a museum, but the museum has been situated in Dún Laoghaire for a long period. The port there is growing and the marina is being developed.
I ask the Minister to consult with his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, on this matter to ensure that the museum is retained in Dún Laoghaire and upgraded. The problem with museums is that some of them do not operate on a self-financing basis. People would like to see some of the millions of pounds raised through the national lottery etc. used to finance the National Maritime Museum, the National Museum and other museums in order that our heritage is preserved. We are making great advances for the future, but there is no harm in people remembering their past.
 I ask the Minister to consider this matter in conjunction with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to ensure that the National Maritime Museum is retained in Dún Laoghaire. I accept that the location may have to change and that the aspect of funding must be examined. However, I hope the Minister will take my comments on board and consider the case on its merits.
Mr. Bonner: This has been an informative debate. While many Members concentrated on the fishing industry, a number of colleagues, including the Minister, referred to issues involving natural resources. I acknowledge the presence of his predecessor in the House and I referred to many of the initiatives for which Deputy Woods was responsible during his time in the Department. I refer here to his actions in respect of the whitefish fleet and the national plan on the marine and natural resources, which was developed during his stewardship of the Department.
I compliment the new Minister on his knowledge of the industry. I note that he rarely referred to his script and he displayed a great knowledge of the industry and of matters relating to natural resources. It is encouraging to note that, according to the Minister, certain changes will take place.
The Minister referred to customer relations within the Department. Since I entered the House two and a half years ago I have always been treated with great courtesy by the staff of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. I have always found them helpful, particularly on a one-to-one basis. Unfortunately, as the Minister stated, the structures in place do not allow certain things to happen. Perhaps we can look forward to changes in that regard.
I was encouraged by the Minister's comments in respect of a number of other areas. He stated that he intends to make immediate moves to develop the inshore fleet and inland fisheries. The Minister said that £20 million or £24 million in funding for tourism and leisure has been made available over the period of the national plan.
Other speakers referred to forestry. I note £80 million is available under the national plan for excess harvesting and other matters such as public relations. In many heavily afforested areas a great deal of damage is being done to public roads and access roads. The Department should ensure that harvesters and Coillte, in particular, are held responsible for the damage they cause to the infrastructure.
We have made a number of changes in the draft development plan for Donegal in relation to afforestation. It baffles me that people with less than a certain acreage who are not looking for a grant do not need planning permission, but those looking for grants always have planning per mission difficulties with the local authority. I would like the Department to look at that.
Up to now the Department has been extremely slow in developing ports. The former Minister, Deputy Woods, made certain changes when he was in the Department. I am talking here, however, about the small harbours around the coast. The Minister's constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, has, through his Department, provided much of the funding for the development of many harbours in my county that had fallen by the wayside.
Senator Caffrey referred to the lack of harbour development along the Mayo coast. The difficulty is that all the Mayo fishermen have moved to Killybegs. Senator Ryan referred to the largest fishing boat in the world, which is owned by a Mayoman who has lived in Killybegs for many years. Quite a few Mayo people are involved in the industry and have been very successful.
Reference was made to the Marine Institute moving to Galway. I suppose that decision was made long before the Minister was appointed. However, it is only right that it should move to Galway. When I was studying in UCG almost 30 years ago Professor Ó Céidigh was involved in marine research long before anyone else took a serious interest in it.
The biggest issue, and the one on which most speakers concentrated, is the question of quotas. I raised a number of matters with the previous Minister, Deputy Woods. I congratulated him when he secured the extra 5,000 tonnes for small boats. However, many boats had not applied for and did not get onto that scheme. I am talking here about traditional fishermen whose families have been in the fishing industry for many years. Some of them are only looking for one or two tonnes. I ask the Minister to see if any of the special tonnage is left to help a number of these people.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, has also raised with the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources the issue of a small tonnage being put aside for people on the offshore islands who want to get back into fishing, and I support him in that regard. When I was growing up, Burtonport was a very successful salmon port. Many of the half-decker boats that operated out of Burtonport were based on Aranmore Island. I think there are only two boats on Aranmore Island now. A special case could be made in that regard.
The Minister heard what everybody said about the tonnage and quota system. I was not too hard on him when I referred to it earlier. However, it is the single biggest issue facing fishermen. Senator Ryan raised the issue of how we were sold out in the earlier negotiations. This is our last chance. I know from listening to the Minister and the knowledge he is gaining that he will do his best.
We have been trying for years to get proper access for Killybegs. Under the National Roads  Authority and the Department of the Environment and Local Government, up to £50 million will be spent on improving the road structure. It would be a great disaster if we had the road infrastructure but no fish for the factories. We can do everything else in Killybegs, but if we do not have the supply of fish, we cannot improve efficiency, added value and other matters.
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