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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Nov 1937

Vol. 69 No. 7

Fisheries (Tidal Waters) (Amendment) Bill, 1937—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The original Act which we seek to continue by this Bill was passed as a result of what was known as the Erne decision of the Supreme Court. I am sure every Deputy remembers what that decision was, that the Erne was declared to be a public fishery and that other rivers would be governed by the same decision. At that time it was considered that it might not be advisable, from the point of view of the fisheries, that a free right of public fishing should be allowed on the River Erne, as it was considered to be a very prolific river, and it was feared there would be a fair amount of damage done if indiscriminate fishing was allowed. An Act was brought in in 1934 to regulate public fishing on the River Erne and other rivers concerned in the same decision. That Act was to continue for 12 months. It was brought in hastily, and there was admittedly very little time for the consideration of the problem. At the end of the 12 months it was renewed for two years. I hoped at that time that what was referred to as the major Inland Fisheries Bill might be brought in. That is manifestly impossible now, and even if the major Bill were ready it could not possibly pass through all stages before December 31st. Therefore, the renewal of this Bill is necessary. The major Fisheries Bill is advanced, and, as a matter of fact, is now with the Parliamentary draftsman. I hope it will emerge in the very near future.

In this Bill we are asking for an extension of two years. The question of the estuarine fisheries will, of course, be dealt with in the major Bill in a comprehensive way. When it comes before the House, Deputies will have the opportunity of giving their views as to the best way of dealing with those fisheries. In the meantime, I am asking the Dáil to extend the present arrangement: that is, to give me authority, which I got under the 1934 Act and extended under the 1935 Act, to issue special licences for fishing in the River Erne and in the other rivers affected, and to charge special licences for the fishing there. I am, however, asking the Dáil to agree to an amendment of that principle in this Bill. The amendment is to the effect that fishermen be allowed to pay their licence fees by instalments. The licence fees are fairly high in the River Erne. A fisherman owning a boat, with, say, three companions, finds it difficult at the beginning of the season to put down the full licence fee. I am asking the Dáil to agree that I should be enabled to take the licence fee in instalments, divided into not more than four instalments. If that is agreed to, a man will be asked to put down only 25 per cent. of the licence fee before the fishing commences. He may be expected, in the ordinary way, to have some receipts to meet the other instalments as they become due. That is all that is provided for in this Bill as it stands at the moment. I am, therefore, asking the Dáil to continue the present arrangement until the major Inland Fisheries Bill is introduced, which I hope will be in the very near future.

Would the Minister say if there is any chance of making the arrangement that he proposes about the payment of the licence fee apply universally?

I think there is not the same case for it as regards the other rivers.

There may be in the case of some other rivers that, I think, the Minister himself is aware of.

Even the 25 per cent. asked for in the case of the River Erne will be higher than the total licence fee paid in respect of other rivers.

I agree with the Minister that this Bill does not make any substantial alteration in the existing state of affairs. The only alteration seems to be the payment of the licence fee by instalments. There is just one thing that I would like to bring to the Minister's notice. I have heard many reports that the fishery in the Erne was gone down very much; that, since it has ceased to be private property under a well-known decision, the fishery has deteriorated, and is deteriorating, very much. I would like to know from the Minister if, from the information at his disposal, that is a fact, because, of course, the salmon fishery is a very great asset to this State. It is one of the most valuable things we have and it would be a serious loss to the State if it were allowed to deteriorate, and if other rivers were held to come under the Erne decision.

If my memory is not at fault, I think it is correct to say that the Supreme Court have not yet decided the Moy fishery case. As the Minister knows, a good deal of the evidence given in the Erne fishery case turned on a question of Irish history: as to when Magna Charta was promulgated in Ulster. Now, it appears that the Moy fishery case, if decided in a certain way, may have the effect of cutting down very much the Erne fishery decision, because fresh historical knowledge has been brought to the notice of the Supreme Court in the Moy case which was not available in the Erne case. I agree with the Minister that it would be better not to deal in a permanent measure with the fisheries in tidal waters until the law has been clarified more—until it is made more plain the rivers that will come under the Erne decision and private ownership be swept out. I suggest to the Minister that he should take considerable care, now that private ownership has gone, that a river is not over-fished, and that permanent injury is not done to it.

What Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney has said about the decline in the salmon fishing in the River Erne is, I think, true. I do not think, however, that it has declined any more in the Erne than in other rivers. There has been a decline this year as compared with last year. That happens some years, but next year may be a very good year. I do not think that the decline has been such as to justify anybody in saying that things have disimproved as a result of public ownership of the River Erne. I agree with the Deputy that we should be very careful. That was why we brought in legislation in 1934 to try and preserve the salmon fishing in the River Erne so far as we possibly could. The Erne decision, I think, does not govern any river outside the County Donegal. It does govern some small rivers in that county. The Deputy referred to the fact that the Moy case is still before the courts. I do not think, however, that that is any reason why we should delay the introduction of the major legislation until the courts have given a decision in that case.

I did not ask the Minister to delay the introduction of his legislation.

I may say that the legislation which is being prepared is taking the question more from the economic point of view than from the legal point of view, so that whatever the legal decision may be would not influence us to any great extent.

Has the Minister no power to restrict the number of net licences?

Without this measure we would have no such power. Under this we are not restricting the number, but we are taking power to charge more for the licences. In that way we restrict. The point the Deputy has raised can be discussed more fully when the major measure comes before the House.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 24th November.