Ceisteanna—Questions Oral Answers. - Fishing Limits.

15.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will state the British Government's position concerning the British fishing limits; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

While I am, of course, aware of the attitude which the British Government have expressed on this complicated and wide-ranging question I have no responsibility for the formulation of British policy and cannot therefore make a statement in the matter.

Could the Minister say if the British attitude in relation to fishery limits is somewhat similar to ours? Could he further say if a joint approach could be made by both British and Ireland concerning the extension of the present fishery limits?

There are, of course, elements common to our positions but the British Government have other and wider interests to which they give a high priority. Obviously, it would be inappropriate for me to speak for the British Government in the matter and perhaps the best thing would be for me to put into the Library of the House the statement made by Mr. Hattersley, then Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at a meeting of the European Council of Ministers on 4th May, 1976, which has been confirmed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Millan, on 13th October, 1976, as remaining the British position. It is better to let the British Government speak for themselves than for me to seek to speak for them.

Would the Minister not agree that, having regard to the extension of the fishery limits by American, Canadian, Icelandic and Norwegian Governments, there would be a strong desire on the part of the British Government to accommodate the displaced fishermen who had been fishing in those areas in alternative fisheries such as the Irish fishery waters? Is it not perfectly clear from the general British stance on the matter that the British Government are seeking at least quota facilities within the Irish 50-mile limit fishery waters.

No, that is in no way clear at this stage. What the British Government are seeking, among other things, together with other members of the Community are mandates for negotiation with the countries mentioned by the Deputy to enable their fishermen to continue to fish there. That is what is clear. It is not at all clear that the position is as stated by the Deputy. I think it must be left to the British Government to speak for themselves and I shall put in the Library of the House the statement of Mr. Hattersley.

There is some information that the British are looking for a quota system and in view of the fact that in our 50-mile fishing zone only 10 per cent of the total catch is caught by Irish fishermen, would the Minister give an undertaking to the House that in no circumstances would he or the Government accept a quota system within the 50-mile zone?

I think this is relevant to the next question and that we are now anticipating Question No. 16.

I am not aware of any British position in the matter mentioned by the Deputy and by the previous Deputy. That may yet transpire but it has not emerged so far. There is a reference to quotas in the statement of Mr. Hattersley in referring to the unsatisfactory nature of quotas if they are ineffective but that is a matter which Deputies can read for themselves.

But the Minister will not accept the quota system?

The Deputy is raising a much wider issue on this question which if relevant to either question, could be more relevant to the next one.

I have already mentioned that.

Recent reports would seem to indicate that on this question of the exclusive 50-mile limit——

I am sorry. The questions now being put are specifically related to the next question. I must call Question No. 16 so that we may deal with them properly.

No, if the Chair will let me present the question, I was about to mention the British position. Recent reports would seem to indicate that we are very much on our own on this question and that the British seem to be pulling out of the matter. Would the Minister care to comment on that?

I am calling Question No. 16 now.

Could we have a reply to Deputy Gallagher's question?

I think I had better deal with Question No. 16 and perhaps the question could come up on that.

16.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the recent EEC communique on the prospects of a 12-mile fishing limit, he will now make a statement of unilateral intent to declare a 50-mile exclusive fishing limit for Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

EEC Council Regulation 2141 of 1970, which was adopted prior to our accession to the European Community, laid down a general principle of equal access for all member states to each others' coastal waters.

The Treaty of Accession provided for certain derogations from this principle which in the case of Ireland allow us to restrict fishing to Irish fishermen in the inner six mile belt around our coast and in the outer six mile belt from Lough Foyle to Cork Harbour. We may also, and in fact do, restrict to Irish fishermen fishing for shellfish in the outer six mile belt between Carlingford Lough and Carnsore Point. These derogations are due to expire on 31st December, 1982. Certain countries have traditional rights in the outer six mile belt under the London Convention of 1964.

The Deputy is aware that the Common Fisheries Policy is being reviewed in the light of the general movement towards extending national fishing limits to 200 miles. In the negotiations we have been seeking to secure a guarantee of the future development of the Irish fishing industry and as a means towards this end have proposed for Ireland an exclusive national band of up to 50 miles subject to provision for the exercise of traditional rights by other member states' artisanal fishermen with boats of a limited size in the outer part of this band. The Deputy will appreciate however that there exists no legal competence on our part to declare such a zone unilaterally vis-á-vis vessels from other Community states.

We are prepared and indeed anxious to extend in common with the other member states of the Community our fishery limits to 200 miles from 1st January, 1977.

May I take it from the Minister that the fishery protocol as negotiated by the Fianna Fáil Government is not acceptable to him and to the present Government? Can be say if we can make a unilateral declaration to extend our own fishery limits? Can he say if he is satisfied that there is a need to protect our present fish stocks not only from over-fishing but from further infringement of our fishery limits?

We have inherited a very unsatisfactory position which unless altered in these negotiations would leave us without any protection against fishermen from other member countries fishing right up to our coasts and into our estuaries by 1982. The purpose of the present negotiations, so far as I am concerned, is to retrieve that situation.

That is the situation by the last Fianna Fáil Government?

It is the situation created by the terms of accession to the Treaty which were negotiated at that time arising from the regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy introduced by the original Six in 1970 without consultation with or regard to the interests of applicant countries. Would the Deputy repeat the second part of his question?

You are making excuses for yourselves.

These are facts.

He is trying to remedy a situation created by Deputy Gibbons's party and Government——

Did you support EEC entry?

(Interruptions.)

And it was your Government——

This is disorderly. If Deputy Collins has a relevant question to put will he please put it?

I am being interrupted by a former Minister who was responsible for——

The second part of my question is: can we unilaterally declare an extension of the fishery limits?

The position is that the extension of fishery limits to 200 miles is a national prerogative supposed to be exercised by the State itself. The fishery zones thus created, if this action is taken by all member states of the Community are, however, under the terms of the 1970 regulations in the Accession Treaty subject to the operation of the Common Fisheries Policy as set out in those negotiations. While we can unilaterally extend the 200 miles, the zones thus created are subject to the common fisheries policy and are not capable of being dealt with unilaterally by us once they come into existence.

What is the present policy of the Government?

The primary purpose of our policy is to protect existing fish stocks which in a number of instances have been seriously affected. The extent to which they have been affected is not widely realised. For example, herring catches in the Celtic Sea have fallen from 19,000 tons in 1970-71 to 6,500 tons in 1975-76, which represents a fall of over 65 per cent. The stock position is serious because of over-fishing immediately outside our present limits. Obviously the question of ensuring adequate conservation is a vital part of the current negotiations.

Would the Minister accept that on entering the EEC we had to accept the Common Fisheries Policy as it then operated; but that being on the inside we are now in a much stronger position to fight for the rights of our fishermen? Would the Minister also accept that if the Government had been taking the steps suggested in this House we would have a much stronger hand to deal with the EEC?

I cannot comment on whether different terms could have been secured in the negotiations. I have no information on that matter. I have not had the time to seek ammunition to give the Opposition that point. The facts we face are that the terms negotiated give us no protection from 1982 onwards and our problem is to put that right. In seeking to put that right we start from a difficult position because the other member states know that, if these present negotiations do not succeed and if they simply wait it out and ignore the case we are making, they will find themselves in 1982 in the advantageous position secured by the Accession Treaty. Our job is to try to renegotiate in the present circumstances of the extension to 200 miles, using what bargaining counters come to hand in the new situation to retrieve the position which we inherited.

The remaining questions will appear on the Order Paper for the next sitting day of the Dáil.