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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 11 Jul 1975

Vol. 283 No. 8

Elections of Conservators (Postponement) Order, 1975: Motion.

The Parliamentary Secretary should be here to take this motion because he is in charge of Fisheries. He has been telling us all about fisheries. It is not right that the Minister, who is not a fishing man, should take this?

Before the Minister commences, I should say that the amendment in the names of Deputies Gallagher and Lalor is out of order and may not, therefore, be moved.

Could we be told why?

Yes. A motion of approval of a draft order under the Act may not be qualified by way of an amendment or proviso. There is no provision in the Act to enable this to be done. However, the matter contained in the amendment may, of course, be discussed during the debate.

Could I ask a legitimate question? Is there an order under the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries Act which delegates this function to the Parliamentary Secretary? If so, why should the Minister's name be on the order?

I am informed that I am perfectly within my rights.

The Minister has actually signed the order.

The final authority is with me.

Has there been no delegation of it to the Parliamentary Secretary?

Yes, but it is a limited delegation.

It is wise.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the draft of the Elections of Conservators (Postponement) Order, 1975, which was laid before Dáil Éireann on the 16th of June, 1975.

Under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, as amended by the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1962, elections to boards of conservators are scheduled to be held every five years but the elections due to take place in October, 1974 were, in accordance with the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1974, postponed to 1975 or such later year as may be fixed by order. I now propose to make an order postponing these elections to 1976.

I had hoped, when introducing the Fisheries Amendment Bill last year, that by now fresh legislation would have been enacted to improve the constitution of boards of conservators and the system of election of members. I decided, however, that before introducing amending legislation I should await the final report of the Inland Fisheries Commission which has been examining all facets of inland fisheries so that, if the commission had additional proposals in regard to boards of conservators and any such proposals were found to be desirable, the proposed legislation could be enlarged to provide for all the changes that were required.

My main objection to the existing arrangement under which elections to boards of conservators are held centres around the constitution of the boards and the voting system by which members are elected. It was envisaged that the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission would have been received sufficiently early to enable the amending legislation to be enacted so that the elections due to take place in October, 1975 could be held under the revised system. This objective was not achieved but I am pleased to say that the report has just reached me. It is a very exhaustive report and will require very careful study over the next few months.

I should like to pay tribute to the chairman and the members of the commission for the hard work they have put into the task assigned to them. I should also like to record appreciation for the work in the conservation and protection of our fisheries which has been accomplished by the boards of conservators over the years and the service which has been provided by the members of the boards on a completely voluntary basis. I am confident the members of the boards will be prepared to continue to do so for a further year.

I accordingly recommend to the House that a resolution be passed approving of the draft order.

Last year my party accepted the postponement of the election of members to the various boards of conservators. We expressed disappointment that the Minister found it necessary to bring in the order at that time. We are very disappointed that he finds it necessary to ask us again to extend the order for a further period.

I agree that the boards of conservators in their limited way have contributed a great deal to the conservation of stocks but it is necessary to have some urgent thinking and planning in relation to the question of boards of conservators and our waters throughout the country. Many Deputies who spoke last year expressed this opinion. It can be said more forcibly this year that it is necessary to have some very positive thinking in relation to this matter.

The powers of the boards of conservators relate to fish but they are very limited. They work with very limited staff and they are badly paid. The finance of the boards in general is not geared to doing a job which is very necessary from many points of view. When one considers the way water is being used at the present time, it is necessary to introduce some Bill which will govern the use of water and also deal with conservation.

I mentioned last year that in England a river authority covers all aspects of the use of water. In my county we have had the experience in the last year of a textile company setting up a large industry necessitating the use of millions of gallons of water from one of the best trout lakes in the country.

We have also the situation where it is proposed to have two regional water schemes for two of our biggest towns based on Lough Mask which is, perhaps, the best trout lake in the country. In matters like this it is essential to have an overall plan to ensure that various interests are catered for and, at the same time, tha stocks of fish will be maintained at the highest possible level. There is an inclination to use our rivers and lakes as amenities for local people apart from their importance from the point of view of tourism. From every point of view there is a certain urgency about setting up an overall authority to handle the question of the proper use of our waters. This is a very serious matter.

The powers of the conservators are limited. Pollution is a problem and this could be dealt with if we had some kind of authority to handle such matters. In Britain the boards are representative of a variety of interests. Industrialists and developers have to have sanction if they are using any quantity of water or building in close proximity to water. All steps are taken to safeguard stocks of fish. I hope the Minister and his Department will move quickly to ensure practical steps of this kind are taken here.

The report of the Inland Fisheries Commission covers many aspects and I hope that report will not be left on the shelf, so to speak. I trust that worth-while suggestions will be acted on. I had experience of the working of this Commission and I can honestly say it would be hard to find a more dedicated body of people who worked on the compilation of this report.

We accept this order though we are not altogether happy about it. This year has been rather unfortunate from the point of view of salmon. Because of the drought all the fish are not getting up the river. Professional poachers are cashing in on this unfortunate situation and valuable stocks are in danger. We need legislation and personnel to act against poachers.

We also have the unhappy situation in which certain people claim rights to certain stretches of water. The rivers should be there for the benefit of the people generally. We should get away from the old system that has operated for so many years. Indeed, these people fish in a manner which I would describe as illegal. They use traps and nets. There is shameful destruction of stocks. This should not be allowed to continue. A great deal of noise is made about drift net fishermen. These men fish in open sea and it is well known that salmon do not mesh except during certain hours of darkness. Drift net fishermen have about four hours in which to catch fish. The season from 8th June to the end of July is the time when the ordinary run takes place. The men are not allowed to fish over weekends. One can easily see that they have in all about 20 nights during which to fish. The experience is that salmon mesh better on a night when there is a bit of a breeze and the sea is choppy. Whether or not the men should go out on a night like that is debatable.

It is time the heat was taken off the drift net fishermen and the emphasis placed where it should be on the slaughter taking place in the rivers. I believe the biggest culprits very often are the rod and line men. There is a tradition that salmon go up river in pairs, that male and female go up the river together and spawn at a certain time. It can be argued that a rod-and-line man breaks up a partnership when he catches a salmon. It can also be argued that with a rod and line more male than female fish can be taken out of a river. That upsets the mating pattern by reducing the number of fish spawning in the river. It is time we took the heat off the drift net fishermen and laid the emphasis where the real damage is done to salmon stocks.

We have a wonderful potential here. A great deal of money and planning are needed to develop the industry. We must have an overall plan. The present system of having a small board of conservators doing a job based on an Act passed about 100 years ago is not relevant to what we have to face today. For that reason I would urge the Minister to ask his Department to produce a plan speedily for the development of our fisheries and of our rivers and lakes as amenities for our people. This would be worth while. We have mountain streams and rivers which could be developed and stocked with trout and other fish. This would provide employment and reduce the need to some extent to bring in foreign industrialists.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but he will appreciate the measure before the House is very limited in scope. It deals with the postponement of the election of conservators. The Deputy is embarking on a very wide ranging debate on fisheries as a whole. I have given him some latitude, but I should like him to relate his remarks to the Elections of Conservators (Postponement) Order, 1975.

I may have gone a little off course but I think what I had been saying is related to conservation and to the matter before us. I hope this is the last time we will be asked to renew this order. We will expect from the Minister and the Department in the near future some new planning and thinking on the development of our rivers and lakes and the conservation of our fishing stocks.

When the Parliamentary Secretary introduced the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1974, I expressed reservations about the provision in the Bill whereby he could bring in an order again postponing the election of conservators for a further period. I am disappointed that since last year he has done absolutely nothing in relation to inland fisheries. He did not bring forward legislation to deal with this very important subject. I am disappointed that the elections are again being postponed. Do we assume that this time next year he will bring in another order extending the period for a further year to 1977 or is it definite that the elections will be held in 1976?

I can understand the Parliamentary Secretary's difficulty in not having available to him the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission but I understand the Minister has now got the report. I do not think it has been published. The Government cannot shuffle off their responsibility for inland fisheries on to a commission or anybody else. They are responsible for introducing legislation dealing with fisheries.

There are very good boards of conservators and some of them are very big. The Limerick fishery board covers the whole area from Carrickon-Shannon to Loop Head and touches about 13 of the 26 counties. They have been severely restricted under the Conservation Act in dealing with the problems which arise. When rivers are polluted the board have no power to sue for compensation for damage done to fisheries. This is a serious fault in the Consolidation Act. Overnight immense damage can be done and thousands of salmon and trout can be destroyed and the board have no power to sue the people responsible. The Parliamentary Secretary should look into this very closely.

The boards of conservators have been working fairly well and fairly effectively over the past few years under very stringent financial control. When they send their estimates to the Department they are cut back severely and therefore they are severely restricted in the job they are elected to do. The Parliamentary Secretary should introduce legislation which will provide proper financial support for whatever boards are elected. These boards are doing a magnificent job under strict financial control. They would do a much better job if a proper financial commitment were made by the Government to them. The senior executives of the boards are elected on a yearly basis. There is no superannuation scheme in operation. They have no pension rights. They receive no gratuity of any kind. All along the line, from executive officers of boards of conservators, through senior inspectors, down to waterkeepers, there is no security of employment. Executive officers work on a year-to-year basis and waterkeepers are employed weekly. In this day and age surely there should be some security for people who work so hard and so dedicatedly.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to bring in legislation as soon as possible to regularise the situation of the inland fisheries and to ensure that there will be some security for employees of boards. Such legislation, I can assure him, will have the full support of every Member of the House.

I do not know what the Parliamentary Secretary thinks about the present system of voting, which is carried out by licensed fishermen. Outside of nominations, there are ex officio officers. I do not think there is very much wrong with the present system but I suggest that more elected representatives be appointed to boards of conservators. I am disappointed that the Department are not tackling this problem in a more constructive way. They seem to be satisfied to shove off the problems attached to inland fisheries to a fishery commission and to everybody else. Deputy Gallagher has very aptly described the situation, and I will not go over the same ground. I hope that in the next 12 months the Department will get down to tackling all the problems in relation to inland fisheries and have legislation presented to the House which will have the full support of every Member, instead of having these year-to-year orders postponing the elections.

I agree with Deputy Daly. I served in the Dublin area as a conservator and I am disappointed at this further postponement of the elections which exemplifies our whole attitude to our inland fisheries. There is an air of despondency and doom about inland fisheries, and this further postponement of the elections does nothing to dispel that attitude.

Time is running out for us in the matter of conservation of our salmon fisheries. We must deal swiftly with this matter. As Deputy Daly said in regard to the manner in which conservators are elected, I think the system deserves to be studied very carefully to ensure that the new boards will have public representatives elected to them. We do not so much require experts on these boards as thoroughly dedicated representatives such as we have had in many of the existing boards.

One reads in the newspapers of people who are violating every fishery law in existence. We need something new and revolutionary to preserve our fish stocks. This is the only capital city in Europe—I exclude Galway, of course—which has a salmon-bearing river going through its centre, with tributaries such as the Dodder, and we should do everything possible, by every means, to ensure that salmon stocks are preserved in it. Because of action taken by the local authorities in Dublin, we are ensuring that the waters of the Liffey and its tributaries will be much cleaner. Deputy Gallagher mentioned our prodigality in the use of water—every Dublin citizen uses 50 gallons per day for his personal use. Perhaps we are either very clean or very wasteful. There may be an intermediate explanation, and one must pay tribute to the co-operation of Dublin city and county people during the recent water shortage.

I hope that in the preparation of legislation the Minister will look very hard at private fisheries. I will not use any of the clichés about nationalisation and all that, but this is a big question which must be given the utmost consideration. We must ensure that private fisheries will conform to our regulations on conservation of fish stocks and not engage, as some of them have been doing, in taking as many fish as possible from the water.

Deputy Gallagher asked the Minister to take the heat off the netmen. They have been criticised in the past for their prodigality in catching salmon and in their general attitude towards conservation of stocks. There are two forms of damage being done, one by people who are not fishermen and who catch salmon by illegal means, and the other by pollution. For all those reasons, I hope Deputy Daly is incorrect when he forecasts that the Minister will not come in soon with legislation to cover all these matters. We all hope that the elections will not be postponed further. Time is running out if we are to conserve our fisheries. The importance of our salmon exports, in particular, cannot be over-stressed when we read the latest figures the effect of which is that the levy on salmon exports was more than £13,000. It shows the contribution our salmon fisheries make to our economy.

Dublin salmon fisheries go back to the time of Henry II of England. One can read that when Henry VIII was short of money he did not put on a tax as we would. He never heard of VAT. He used to tax salmon exports from this country, putting a tax on each salmon exported, and did quite well from it. I mention that as an historical aspect. It would be frightful if we were to preside over the liquidation of our salmon fisheries which have gone on that we know of for at least 800 years on a fairly organised basis. The Minister should be very careful indeed to ensure that the legislation is not merely going to elect boards of conservators but that the legislation promised will ensure that our inland fisheries are protected and developed in the interests of the people generally and that we will not allow by our inaction the decay to any further degree of this great national asset. When the Minister brings forward his legislation, he can be sure that we on this side will give every possible help to the provision of legislative machinery to ensure that not alone will our inland fisheries be protected but they will be developed and conserved.

If we let Conservation Year go by without making any great contribution to the cleanliness and purity of our rivers, let us make up for it now before time has taken its toll. I hope the Minister will urge everybody concerned to avoid any further loss of time in giving us this Bill which we look forward to having and which we hope we will have before we have seen the last salmon go up or down the Liffey.

I wish to apologise for the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is fulfilling an important engagement today and could not be here. I think he was looking forward to being here because his knowledge of the fishing industry is much more up to date than mine and much more intimate. That is not to say that I am completely in the dark about the subject, because for some years when I was spokesman on fisheries on the Opposition benches I had to become familiar with the industry generally, and I still continue to take an interest in it.

I should like to thank the Deputies who have spoken for their appreciation of the reason why we are asking for a further postponement of these elections. While disappointment has been expressed by all Deputies that this was necessary, I think they fully appreciate and accept that it was the right decision. Deputies who have spoken have all in their own ways spoken with special knowledge and one might say, inside knowledge— Deputy Gallagher who was a member of the commission, Deputy Healy who as far as I know is a member of one of the boards and Deputy Moore who has had his own experience. In this way I can appreciate what they know about it and how they are so reasonable about the whole matter.

I want to say that as the law stands at the moment the life of the boards cannot be continued beyond another year. We could of course bring in legislation to change that position——

Do not do that.

——but that is the present position, and I would not like to feel that it was our intention to bring in such legislation.

Deputy Gallagher particularly will know that the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission has been delivered only in the last week. It is a very sizeable report. I can claim to have read only about half of it but I hope to be able to finish it this weekend. I must say that what I have read of it is extremely interesting. It is obviously a very comprehensive report and there is no disagreement between us as to what should be our approach to the further development of the inland fisheries in the future.

My own inclinations are exactly those proposed and spoken of by the members who have dealt with the matter. I think there is an enormous potential here and we have only tapped it. There are so many things that can be done and should be done which I agree with and can see, but it would be very foolish for us at this stage when we have this very comprehensive report to be making decisions now. Deputy Gallagher said that urgent thinking and planning were needed. There is an urgency about it, I have no doubt, but it would be quite impossible within a year to provide for the extremely comprehensive reorganisation that is required and have that all built into one piece of legislation and to put all the people into the places they should be in. I see the urgency, and we have the blueprint and should be able to condense this and know what our intentions in the future are, and then we should do the most urgent matters as quickly as it is possible to to do them, and I would say that within a year we should take urgent action but we should have a phased sort of development in mind. If we are going to rush this and try to get it all in in the first effort, we are going to disimprove rather than improve the situation.

There seemed to be an attitude expressed by Deputy Daly that there was a concern on the part of the Government to shuffle off, as he said, their responsibility to a Fisheries Commission. Deputy Daly knows that it was the previous Fianna Fáil Government who set up the commission. I think they did the right thing. There was a very big job to be done here, and the very fact that it has taken so long to do indicates that there was a big job. All the interests were represented on this, and because of its size, among other things, it was difficult to reach agreement. This is a good reason for waiting for the report and for postponing the election and that I think is accepted by all concerned. I do not know whether it is right or proper to widen the scope of this debate, but I think that in the way it was dealt with we have not over-widened it. There was concern expressed about the limited scope and powers of the existing boards, and when looking at re-organisation we should have regard to these limitations and ensure that when the new boards are set up we will not be confronted with the same limitations. I am not sure that it is proper for me to go into the various matters raised because I think the Chair rather objected to the distance Deputy Gallagher went in his description of how damage is done. He is very anxious obviously to absolve the drift netters, so to speak, for any of this damage.

The only thing I say in relation to that is that one of the figures I remember from glancing at the report is that the drift netters take 72 per cent of the total catch of salmon, and in taking that 72 per cent there is an enormous scope for damaging stocks. Much more damage will be done if, when salmon are "running" and mating on their way up river, a rod fisherman takes one of the partners. There is much damage done in the rivers but it would be wrong to say that drift netting plays no part in this, to say that it is sufficient that there are limitations of four hours and 20 nights in respect of drift-net fishing because those limitations, unfortunately, are not being observed. It is well known that there is day-time fishing.

It has been said that the conditions under which the staffs of the boards are employed are unacceptable. In this regard I can tell the Deputy that there is legislation in train for the purpose of improving those conditions. Among the improvements will be the provision of a pension scheme. When we get down to the general re-organisation of the situation, I trust it will be very much improved.

Can the Minister say when it is proposed to have published the report of the Commission?

It is a question of having sufficient copies printed, but I do not think there will be any delay. I will have to go to the Government about publication of the report, but it is of such importance that I do not anticipate any difficulty.

Would the Minister be prepared, in the meantime, to go ahead with improving the conditions of the employees of the boards?

I am advised that any such improvements must be part of the comprehensive legislation. The improvements should come about within a year.

Question put and agreed to.