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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Feb 1977

Vol. 296 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Bill, 1976: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Esmonde was in possession and he has two minutes of the time allotted to him left.

I understood I had ten minutes.

We shall double-check that. I am advised that the Deputy has two minutes left.

It is hardly worth my while starting in those circumstances. I understood I only spoke for 20 minutes on the last occasion. I want to enlarge on something I said in relation to the legal implications of this matter in the light of the recent decision in the Kramer case of which I have now got the official report. It is in volume 6 of the 1976 edition which has just come to hand. I had been speaking from a very rough copy when I previously spoke on the matter. I should add one thing; as I finished I was being taken to task about the attitude to our negotiation on the Treaty of Accession. I was making the point that a blunder— major or minor, but I fear more of a major character—had been made in our accession negotiations. I find my view confirmed by a publication called "Into Europe: Ireland and the EEC" which was issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972. On page 20 there is a heading: "The Results of the Negotiations" and the paragraph on "Fisheries" on page 21 says:

The waters protected represent 92 per cent of the total catch. This arrangement is to be reviewed in ten years' time.

I am sorry but the time allotted to the Deputy seems to be up. We have doublechecked and we are satisfied that the allocation is correct.

I believe that this Bill is a reasonable and sensible attempt by Fianna Fáil to protect the Irish fishing industry and to secure and expand its future. Early in December this House authorised the Government to make an order to extend our fishery limits to 200 miles. We believe that the Government should now make another order reserving the first 50 miles of the 200 miles exclusively for Irish fisheries. The refusal of the Government to make such an order concurrently with the principal order establishing the 200mile limit makes the value of the 200-mile limit purely imaginary, in my view, and does not guarantee it to confer any real benefit on our fishermen or on the fishing industry as a whole. It is almost certain that it will be detrimental to the fishing industry as time goes on and things develop.

Deputy Haughey who moved the Second Stage of this Bill set out very clearly the background against which we in Fianna Fáil are putting forward this legislation. So did Deputy Gibbons who explained clearly the Fianna Fáil members' attitude at EEC level. The aims of this Bill are clear and unambiguous. This is our second attempt to secure the future of our fishing industry which has such tremendous potential. Fianna Fáil failed to persuade the Government to make an order concurrent with the principal order and we now ask the House to legislate for the position. We maintain that it can be legally done, that this is the right time to do it and that the sooner it is done the better.

I am convinced that unless this legislation is passed a disastrous situation will arise in regard to our fisheries. We must bear in mind that European fishing is decreasing and has been going through a lean period in recent years with catches declining up to 12 per cent per annum in many instances. Irish fishing is also suffering because of increased fuel prices and at the same time a drop in the price of fish, particularly white fish, on the world market. Fishing fleets have been practically cleared out of US and Canadian coastal waters and out of Norwegian and Icelandic waters and have moved towards EEC waters where we now have the principal fishery waters in western Europe. If we are to protect and develop our fisheries we must have a 50-mile exclusive limit. If we of this generation do not protect and develop this great natural resource it will be too late in a few years' time to do it. If the Oireachtas do not legislate for this protection nobody will do it for us.

Quite rightly, Irish fishermen are very disappointed with the Minister for Foreign Affairs who is in charge of our negotiations in this sphere and who does not appear to understand the implications of the situation. I read his speech here on Wednesday, 8th December, about securing in The Hague a promise that Irish fishermen could be allowed double their catch over the next three years. He should also have explained that if this ever materialised we would be doubling our catch in conjunction with and in competition with other EEC countries. This is a fundamental point which appears to have been missed.

We must bear in mind that with the vast amount of money being pumped into the fishing industry in other countries unless we have an exclusive 50-mile limit for our fishermen our fishing industry will be at a great disadvantage because the fish will not be there in the years to come. If it is planned to double our catch over the next three years where are the plans for the development of our piers and harbours, for the purchase or construction of more fishing trawlers, for fishery protection vessels? Where is the finance for the fishermen and for the training——

In the budget, Deputy.

What is included in the budget would not double very much in the line of development in any sphere. Again I would ask where are the millions necessary to fulfill this wishful planning coming from?

We must remember that this is a small island. There must be an exclusive 50-mile limit for our fishermen. We are not seeking too much when we seek this limit. The British have legislated and given themselves power to declare a 50-mile limit if it suits them. The majority of Irish people want a 50-mile exclusive fishing limit. It suits us to have it and I believe we can legislate for it, as the British have done. To talk about doubling our catches, the future planning of piers and harbours, and the provision of money for the development of our fisheries is nonsense unless it is tied in with a 50-mile limit which would have far-reaching and long-term implications, both economically and socially. We must bear in mind the value of the fishing industry to this nation. We must take into account the great natural resource off our shores which is there to be tapped and developed.

We must realise the effects of a policy of a 50-mile exclusive limit on many industries. We must also realise the effects which such a policy would have on the boat building and allied industries and the tremendous impact such a policy would have on grasping the opportunities for the development of fish processing industries along the coast, particularly in those areas adjacent to our major fishing harbours. This policy would, of course, far outstrip the present situation where we are exporting fish, some salted and some in refrigerated trucks, to all parts of Europe. We must think of the tremendous loss of employment because we do not have enough fish processing industries.

I believe a 50-mile exclusive limit is fundamental to the setting up of these industries. They will not operate efficiently, employing the maximum number of people, in the future if the fish are not there. The only way that can be guaranteed is by bringing in a 50-mile exclusive limit. We must bear in mind the effect this will have in years to come on employment in the development of piers, harbours and spin-off industries in the areas adjacent to our principal fishing harbours and piers. How can all this be achieved without an exclusive 50-mile zone for our fishermen when we take into account what competition is like at the moment, the amount of capital invested in the fishing industries in other countries, including EEC countries, and the limited amount of money being made available for the development of our fisheries? I believe there is no island in the world that would allow one of its principal natural resources to be shared among other nations.

That is what you asked us to do in 1972 when there was a referendum on the Treaty of Accession——

That is not so.

That is what the Deputy asked us to do.

We believe the Minister for Foreign Affairs has completely mishandled this situation and lost the confidence of the people who earn their livelihood from fishing. I am surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary interrupted me because he should know what the situation is and the feelings of the people, particularly as he comes from the area of west Cork where fishing is——

My views have not changed down the years. I held this view in 1972 and I still hold it in 1976.

Order. Interruptions are particularly unwelcome in a debate to which a time limit applies.

I fully support this Bill. I believe we should legislate for a 50-mile limit. We obviously have the power to do it; we should do it and the sooner the better.

I welcome the opportunity of making a few remarks on this motion which calls on the Government to make an order restricting fishing in waters within 50 miles to vessels which operate from ports in this State. We have been discussing matters relating to fishing for some months in this House. This debate is taking the predictable shape of previous motions by rehashing old ground.

Deputy O'Leary urges the Government to accept this motion and suggests that they have the power to do it and that it is in the national interest to do it. This is being treated by Opposition speakers with one or two exceptions, on a largely political basis —pandering to sentiment and emotion in an attempt to gain political support for the Opposition and to lessen political support for the Government.

In relation to powers, more cognisance should be placed on the fact that we are members of the EEC, in particular when we note the attitude of some of the Opposition speakers in this area. They have a bit of a brass neck in the circumstances because they were the Government of the day during the negotiations prior to and at the time of our accession to the EEC.

As people who have studied this matter are aware, in discussing the fundamental issue of Government policy vis-à-vis fisheries, we are talking of a much wider issue because it is an issue which concerns the totality of membership of the Community. One cannot discuss sensibly or honestly matters which impinge on our obligations within the Community without discussing broader Community issues than the specific one in question which is infinitely wider than merely the question of fishing. This is a classic example in that area.

In circumstances in which we are engaging in a political rather than in a vocational debate, it is fair to point to the attitude of the Government who were in office at the time of accession and in particular their attitude in the area of fishing. In relation to this issue it was stated in the White Paper of April, 1970 that some difficulty could arise from any decision which might be adopted by the Community within the framework of the proposed common policy for fisheries in regard to access to fishing grounds in the exclusive fishery limits of member states.

In attempting to compare that attitude of 1970 with the strident tone of debates on this issue during the past three or four months we seem to be dealing with two entirely different parties. It is not realistic for the party who were in power at that time and who adopted this type of summary attitude to a fundamental and difficult problem, a party who at that time had much more access to information regarding the background to regulations and European matters than was available to the then Opposition, to call now in such strident terms for a policy which could wreck the good name of this country within the Community and which could put at risk many of the very substantial benefits that we have gained from membership in many other areas.

This topic which now, apparently, justifies so many days of debate warranted only the comment at the time of the Treaty negotiations, a time when we were considering the effects of membership on the various aspects of our economy, that it might be necessary also to raise particular points in regard to other agricultural matters including future arrangements for fisheries before the accession negotiations would have been completed. I submit that that is an even weaker statement than the one I quoted earlier. Apparently fisheries are included by the Opposition in matters of an agricultural nature but one of the major complaints we receive nationally about fisheries policy is that it is a mistake to include it in the area of agriculture. Apparently the attitude of the then Government was that fisheries could be bulked in with agricultural matters. Let us contrast that attitude with the views of the Opposition today. In 1970 we were in a negotiating position. There may have been a limit to the extent to which we would have been successful but we had real power then and if the party on the other side had the same interest in the fishing industry as they claim to have now, they could have used much more leverage on this issue. The summary dismissal of the fishing industry by the then Government renders hypocritical the attitude that we are getting from some spokesmen from that party today who are using the issue for political opportunism.

During some of these debates on the fisheries issue there has been comparison with the Icelandic position. It was suggested, for instance, that we might take the sort of tough unilateral action taken by the Icelanders during what has become known as the Cod War. Let us be sensible about this. The Icelanders are not members of the Community. Consequently, they have no obligations in terms of the EEC. Iceland is a sovereign State outside that bloc and was in a position to take unilateral action. As Deputy O'Leary suggested we might have the power to take similar action but within the context of our membership of the Community we have very much less power than the Icelanders. Or while we might have the sort of power that some state in central Africa might take, our acting in such manner would be detrimental to the interests of our country.

In general it can be said that we have benefited substantially from membership of the EEC. In certain areas we have been fortunate to get major concessions which are underestimated. In broad terms, membership has proved very kind to the agricultural community in regard to markets, prices and continuity. Membership has been beneficial particularly to the industrial sector. Let us examine what has happened in that sector. At the time of our accessions we managed to retain particular concessions which we were offering to manufacturing industry for export purposes, namely, the tax concession which meant a complete relief on export sales and also the whole question of being able to offer cash grants to such industries coming here. Of the two, the tax concession is of major importance and, perhaps, is the single greatest factor that has led to a staggering level of industrial development here, a level which is fairly staggering at present having regard to the level of redundancies in some inherently inefficient companies. This is an example of the type of benefit that we have extracted from Community action. However, if we take the steps suggested by Deputy O'Leary and others we could seriously put in jeopardy the concessions that are available to farmers and to industrial workers as well as to commercial firms.

This is the very delicate background against which the Government must consider the fisheries issue this year. I make no apology for painting that background and for attempting to illustrate the kind of problems facing the Government in regard to this issue. Having said that though, our hearts are obviously with a motion of this nature especially those who live in the west, an area which has very limited resources, but on balance when we consider the problems involved we cannot go along with a motion which suggests such unilateral action.

The Government have done all they could in this area. They have started at the top. In a speech delivered about six months ago the Taoiseach made very clear the extent to which the Government were concerned about the issue as it affected our fishermen. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been extremely active on the issue. He has been to The Hague and to other centres in Europe as well as working hard behind the scenes. While there has been criticism of him publicly by some of the fishery organisations these people would have to admit the extent to which they have had access to the Minister during the past few months, the extent to which he spent time with them, the extent to which he briefed them when they went to Europe and the extent to which they received practical assistance from the Government. They got substantial support in these areas.

This does not mean that the Government are satisfied with the fisheries position. Of course the 200-mile limit is beneficial to the extent that at least within the Community it is an attempt to exclude from these waters the fisheries vessels from the East European bloc and from some other countries. We are entirely dissatisfied with the Community fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy was adopted initially as a policy concerned with the Six and it was, therefore, geared to the needs of the Six. That Community was, of course, an entirely different Community geographically and in outlook from the extended Community because the extended Community includes Denmark, Ireland and Britain, three major maritime nations with major fisheries interests. For very obvious reasons, therefore, we are entirely dissatisfied.

Taking unilateral action cannot be supported. The points we should emphasise in Europe are points relating to the West where there is a very strong social factor involved. CAP is regarded in Brussels as a policy substantially benefiting rural Ireland but that is not entirely true and certain facts relating to the Common Agricultural Policy should be articulated in Europe by our Government since the massive proportion of the benefits from CAP go to those areas where agriculture is a dominant feature. A very high proportion of the funds are flowing into the Golden Vale and the east. Naturally, we support this policy and wish those in these regions well.

What must be stressed is the fact that on the western seaboard from Donegal to West Cork the proportion of these funds flowing in is minimal in comparison with the rest of the country. In that area we are talking about very small holders with very low valuations and limited incomes, an area where one of the avenues providing a reasonable living comparable with other parts of the country is in fishing. This must be stressed continuously because the EEC in some of their documents have stressed what they describe as the special position of Ireland and refer in particular to areas in the north west. That needs to be translated into action. The fact that the western area is not getting the benefits that might have been envisaged initially under CAP should be emphasised.

We must also stress certain aspects relating to regional policy because at the time of the referendum one of the planks on which those of us in the west suggested to people that they should become committed to the idea of Europe was on the basis not only of the common agricultural policy but also on the basis of the regional policy issue. At that time there was apparently a strong commitment to the latter and we were told there was a policy to reduce imbalances, a policy of helping areas on the periphery and when talking about peripheries, we are talking about a part of our country on the periphery of the periphery. Frankly, the results in the regional sector have been a very big disappointment. The commitment was not carried through. There was the oil crisis, a world recession and a change of attitude on the part of West Germany. The result is that we are not getting funds to the extent envisaged by those of us involved at the time of accession. When talking to the EEC about the fisheries issue the Minister could strengthen his hand by stressing these points. At the time of accession this country had certain aspirations and those aspirations have not been fulfilled where fisheries are concerned because of the poor catches. This dependence on fishing is absent in other sectors. The Minister should stress this.

I support the Government in their attitude on this Bill and I totally reject the Fianna Fáil claim that the Government should take unilateral action. In my judgment and in the judgment of many people that would be detrimental to the interests of the country. What we must do is strengthen the Minister's hand to get a better deal for fishermen. Our means of achieving that is different from that suggested by the Opposition.

The whole saga of our negotiations for an exclusive 50-mile fishery limit is a sad chapter of failure on the part of the Government to appreciate the absolute necessity for such an exclusive ban, a necessity which arises in the first place from the need to conserve existing stocks to ensure adequate supplies of fish for the industry in the future together with the growth and expansion of the domestic fishing industry. It is sad in a debate of this kind to find a difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition on a matter which is in the national interest and related to a national resource. I cannot understand the attitude of the Government. We were led to believe that the Government were sincere in their desire to achieve a 50-mile exclusive fishery limit but events since those early hopeful speeches have shown the Government a great deal less sincere than they sounded at the time. Today there is disillusionment setting in among those involved in the fishing industry, a disillusionment with the Government and with the Minister responsible for carrying out the negotiations in this matter.

I believe the Fianna Fáil Party are acting responsibly in bringing forward this Bill. We deeply regret the fact that the Government are not accepting it. We regret the need for such a debate and we must continue to try to impress upon the Government how essential this exclusive limit is if we are to have a sea fishing industry in the future. One would expect Government action in matters of national importance to reflect the will of the people. Are the Government in some doubt as to what the will of the people is on this particular issue? Are they, after almost four years in office, so far removed from the people that they fail to appreciate the views and feelings of the people in a matter of such national importance as this?

There is no doubt about the wishes of the people or about the implications.

I and others are convinced that the Government and the Minister have underestimated the feelings of the people. The Minister and his colleagues make high-sounding speeches which ring with sincerity but the people judge on performance and performance in this matter, as in others, has been miserable and disappointing and has caused disillusionment, something which may prove fatal for the industry because investment may dry up. All the expansion and growth in catch and fishing fleets, about which the Minister has spoken so wonderfully, can never come about if there is a lack of confidence within that industry.

Which the Opposition are creating. They are undermining the future of the industry.

Investment will dry up and our catching power, instead of trebling as the Minister so gloriously stated some months ago, will diminish drastically. Since the foundation of the State all Governments have encouraged the expansion of the fishing industry. Credit is due to BIM for the development of a more rational approach to this industry. Great credit is due to those working within the BIM organisation and to the Government who had the courage to establish the board, guide them and fund them down through the years. Another significant development has been the growth of the co-op system. In recent years this has been the most marked development in the industry, and it has brought about a great increase in confidence and efficiency. There was a tremendous growth in the industry because of the rationalisation of the marketing which the co-ops helped to bring about.

There have been other changes in the industry. A few short years ago along the west coast, sail power was the main power in our fishing fleet. There was a gradual change to motor trawlers and, in recent years, there was a growth in the size of the fishing trawlers. The greatest change of all has taken place in recent times in the catching methods, not in our own fleet but in the foreign fleets. This is causing great concern. The foreign vessels who traditionally fished in our waters have made a dramatic change in their catching methods, and particularly in the size of the vessels they are now using. It used to be quite a common sight to witness French and Spanish 50 to 70 foot trawlers fishing off the west coast. There were cries about poaching and about coming inside our fishing limits. There is no doubt that many of those accusations were true, although few cases were ever brought to court.

All that has changed. Small trawlers from France and Spain and some other European countries are no longer in great evidence off the west coast. They have been replaced by a monster up to 300 feet long which can take up to 2,000 cran in two or three days and be back home in their own port within a week. This is what our fears are based on. If these massive vessels are allowed to fish freely inside our limits, they will deplete whatever stocks are there, without any regard for the Irish fishing industry which, in comparision to the industry in some of these other countries, is still in its infancy.

These factory ships are cleaning out the spawning and breeding grounds. Several commercial species are in danger because of the massive size of the catches. If only for the purpose of conserving whatever stocks are there, surely the Minister will agree it is essential that we should take a very firm stand on creating a 50-mile exclusive band to keep out these monsters. When the British Government occupied this part of the country, history shows they suppressed many of our major industries. Are we now to witness the suppression of our fishing industry by the EEC Commission with the connivance of the Coalition Government?

After the meeting held last October at The Hague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs misled the press and the Irish fishermen's organisations. The construction he put on the decisions made at that meeting did not mislead the Fianna Fáil Party. To their credit Deputy Gallagher, our spokesman on fisheries, and Deputy Haughey, who has taken an active and continued interest in this subject, made important statements pointing out that what the Minister had said would not happen. Time has shown Deputy Gallagher and Deputy Haughey were nearer to the truth than the Minister in his gloriously worded press statements which, at the time, deluded some representatives of the fishing organisations who, as the Minister now knows, have condemned him out of hand for his lack of determination on this issue. It is encouraging to see they now understand the real implications of the decisions taken at The Hague and the inadequacy of the case made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It is the considered view of those who really know this industry and who understand the realities that the only way to secure the future of the industry is to have a 50-mile exclusive national band. We can double our catch only if a 50-mile band is applied. There is a very serious flaw in the Minister's thinking. He has been saying we got this concession at The Hague without prejudicing our right to the 50-mile limit. Does the Minister not understand that these two things are inseparable? There is no possibility of doubling the catch or increasing the size of the fishing fleet in three years to the number he mentioned unless the stocks which are there are preserved and protected against the massive fishing vessels I mentioned earlier. How can we possibly double our catch if the fish are not there? Our waters have been opened to others since 1st January, and to some third countries. We have read reports—and whether or not they are accurate I will leave it to the Minister to say—that the Russian fleet absorbed their quota figure within the first few days. That statement was made by a former fishery officer with the Russian fleet.

When the Minister agreed to extend our fishing limits to 200 miles on 1st January without having insisted on the creation of an exclusive band, I am afraid he sold us out. He was in the strongest negotiating position on that issue of any Irish Minister since the EEC was created. Much has been made by the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and some other speakers from the Government side of the House about the original negotiations carried out when Ireland was applying for membership of the EEC. It is less than honest to make any criticism of the then negotiated agreement without recognising the very important fact that at the time we were an applicant country. We were not present at the decision making conference. We were negotiating from outside. Despite being in that weak position, our then spokesman and negotiator and the Fianna Fáil Government achieved a major victory in obtaining a derogation for Ireland. Despite the attempt of the then six member countries of the EEC to create a common fishery policy during the course of these negotiations and before our date of entry to create a policy wholly favourable to the six countries which would be to the disadvantage of the two great maritime countries applying for membership against the power of the six we achieved a major victory in obtaining that derogation to 1982.

The Minister is in a completely different position in his negotiations. He is in at these meetings. He is a member of the Council. Our country is a member of the Community. We are represented at the table. It is not an application being handed in to a meeting to be decided by those present at the meeting, as was the case when Fianna Fáil were negotiating Ireland's entry. Due recognition has not yet been given to the wonderful job that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Hillery, did for this country in those negotiations.

I would not draw too much attention to it.

That facile remark reflects very little credit on the Minister.

At least we have reached agreement. What has the Deputy's party got?

We were never in a position where we had a trump card. We were like poor Oliver Twist with his hand out asking for something.

If he had his hand out earlier it might have helped.

They are all there now as equal members. We were not an equal member at the time we were negotiating.

The Deputy did not have to raise it before the thing was adopted.

Yet we brought about major changes. The Minister has given away our trump card without getting anything in return. We maintain that we should not have created a 200-mile exclusive band without first getting a guarantee that the 50-mile exclusive limit was going to be granted to this country. No, we had to be the good boys, the obedient member of the Community. It was a sign of weakness on the Minister's part and did little credit to our nation that one of its great resources was so easily frittered away.

It was frittered away in 1972. That was the position.

The position was that Regulation 2141, 1970, established the common fisheries policy giving right of access to the waters of the then six members and the major achievement of the Fianna Fáil Government was that from that weak position of negotiation they brought about an amendment to the Treaty of Accession. Articles 100 to 103, establishing a transitional arrangement, or traditional regime as they call it, for ten years ending in 1982. Regulation 2141 amended by Articles 100 to 103 contemplated nothing but the six to 12-mile limits. Anything over 12 miles requires a new agreement. Article 100 paragraph 3 says:

If a member state extends its fishing limits in certain areas to 12 nautical miles....

This wording excludes anything over 12 miles. That is the view of the Fianna Fáil Party. It also happens to be the view of the British government as already written into the record of the House by Deputy Haughey. We maintain that our legal argument on that point is unassailable and we ask why the Irish Government have not taken up that position. To my knowledge our Government have not refuted that this is the legal position.

The Deputy must have missed the previous debate.

Why have our Government acted so, I go so far as to use the word treacherously, in arguing against this position, which is what they have done, thereby destroying our case? We have seen the French, Italians, British, other countries members of the Community breaking EEC rules in the past for good national reasons, to protect their nation's industries. We have a legal case, a sovereign right and a dire national need for an exclusive national fishery limit of 50 miles. The Government are failing in their duty to protect this great natural resource, a potentially valuable industry with an employment potential of thousands of new jobs in the future if handled properly.

As we stand now the future for the industry looks very bleak. There is a serious possibility that the industry will die, that investment in the industry will dry up. The Minister surely knows that the cost of a modern, properly equipped, electronically equipped fishing trawler—I am not talking about a massive trawler but one in the region of 100 feet—now runs to £1 million. Up to now we have had courageous young Irish fishermen, many of them still under 30 years of age, prepared to mortgage their lives through the purchase of vessels costing such large amounts of money. Young fishermen have bought boats in the last four to five years costing £100,000, £¼ million, £½ million, and the most recent, as we know, cost £1 million.

These decisions were made in the expectation that there would be fish to catch off our coasts. They were made in the expectation that our Government would ensure that the stocks were properly protected for the benefit of the home fleet. Recent inactivity, insincerity and lack of progress by the Government on the issue of creating the exclusive band have raised serious doubts in the minds of young, ambitious fishermen who up to now have been prepared to make that investment with their lives, their money and their hard work. The Minister knows that these men come from families of very poor means. The majority of them come from very small farms on the coastal counties. Quite a large number, even in the western counties, have made this huge investment. They will think twice at the moment before they order the new vessels which the Minister speaks about.

I refer to a debate that took place on 8th December, 1976, and I quote from Volume 295, column 376 of the Official Report where the Minister stated:

We are now proceeding with interim negotiation and either we will have a satisfactory result from it or we will have to take action of our own in order to ensure that the fish are there for our fishermen to catch from 1st January onwards. We are not going to wait till later next year for some final agreement to get to the stage when the fish are available for the fishermen, who are having a very bad season at present because of gross over-fishing.

Asked by Deputy O'Kennedy would the Minister like to indicate what the action would be, the Minister replied:

No. I have no intention of indicating in advance of negotiation what our intentions are. It is a complex and delicate negotiation.

But he went on to say:

I have told our partners that if the provisions made by the Commission are not adequate we will take the necessary unilateral action.

Well, the interim negotiations have taken place. The 1st January has since passed. No unilateral action has been taken by our Government, so we must assume that the interim agreements entered into are satisfactory and acceptable to the Government.

They have not been entered into.

They are certainly not satisfactory to our fishermen because they allow Community and third countries to fish anywhere within our 200-mile limit and because the agreement contains quotas, a system which the Minister knows is impossible to control, which have already been exceeded, as we were informed recently by some countries.

The Deputy is out of touch. There is no interim agreement.

The Minister will have to clarify that because his statements have added nothing but further confusion. All through this saga we have been led to expect that the Minister was shortly going to an important meeting where all these matters were to be decided. The meeting came, nebulous statements were issued and we were told there was to be another meeting where the major decisions would be made. Interim agreements were to be entered into. The Minister now says there is no interim agreement, yet permission has been granted to some countries to fish within the 200-mile limit. The Minister's statements have created the impression that these are only interim arrangements.

The Deputy knows extraordinarily little about this subject.

This is all adding to the disillusionment with the Minister and is having a bad effect on the industry. It goes back to the point which our party has continuously made. The Minister has thrown away his trump card and is now floundering around without knowing in what direction to go next. The crucial point was the extension of the 200-mile limit and that has been let go. Our primary card has been thrown down on the table needlessly. The performances of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been most disappointing on this issue and I am afraid they have put the future of the fishing industry in serious jeopardy. I would go so far as to suggest that the Minister should be withdrawn from these negotiations. I do not believe that his heart is in this. I do not know if the Minister is aware of it but there are people who believe that he has designs on a big job in Brussels when the Government are defeated in the next general election, and some people suspect that he does not want to run foul of the high officials in the Community who one day may be in a position to decide his future.

Even from the Deputy——

The Deputy has only two minutes left.

Unfortunately, in this whole political power game the fishermen have been the pawns. If the Minister has not got his heart in it and if there are ulterior motives preventing him from taking the firm hard stand which this country needs and demands, I would ask him to step aside and let a more determined and more committed Minister deal with the fisheries issue.

A suggestion worthy of Deputy Molloy's previous performance.

We in Fianna Fáil, if given the opportunity before too much damage is done, will take that stand, will protect our fishing industry and our fishing community and will ensure the creation of a 50-mile exclusive fishing limit.

I want to support all that has been said from this side of the House in relation to this very important matter.

Including Deputy Molloy's last imputation against my character? I do not believe that of Deputy Gallagher.

It is not a question of the Minister's character. It is a question of his determination and sincerity.

No. Ulterior motives, seeking a job in Brussels, betraying the interests of the country, that was the allegation. I cannot imagine a worse allegation, but coming from Deputy Molloy it does not carry much credibility and I do not believe that Deputy Gallagher supports it.

There are people who hold that view. That is what I said. I cannot be responsible for those views.

I would ask the Deputy to produce them in this House. He has a record.

The debate to date has been reasoned and reasonable from both sides of the House. We want to stress that the Government, in our opinion, have thrown away the one trump card they had in giving our EEC partners this right to a 200-mile limit without seeking any solid bargain which would be in the best interests of our own fishermen. Some speakers from this side of the House have been dealing with the legal aspects of the situation and I do not intend to dwell on that side of the business. I should prefer to leave it to somebody who is better equipped to talk in terms of the legal questions involved. I should prefer to deal with the matter purely from the fishing point of view and its importance, not only to this country but indeed to the EEC in general, and the whole position in relation to fishing in the world. We believe that a stand was necessary on this vital issue, a stand which the Government did not take and which I think will be regretted. Indeed, there are already signs of a loss of confidence in this industry.

It is no secret that stocks of fish have fallen drastically all over the world during the past few years and many species are practically extinct. They have fallen to a dangerously low level. The fact that some states outside the EEC have decided to extend their own limits to 200 miles has made the problem far worse as far as the EEC are concerned and particularly as far as we are concerned. At the moment fish is a dwindling resource. We are aware of the fact that it is a renewable resource but it has to be properly managed. However, modern fishing techniques have added to the problem of replenishing stocks. The truth is that the sea no longer has the capacity to protect fishing stocks because of the modern methods and the over-fishing which we see at the moment. Many nations are involved in industrial fishing and are taking fish that is not used for human consumption. They are taking out small fish; they are damaging spawning beds and there is absolutely no thought for the future of the industry. Statistics show that between 1958 and 1968 the world catch of fish doubled in weight. Despite improved fishing methods, since 1968, there has been no increase in the weight of fish caught. This shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the position is very serious and that drastic measures must be taken even at this late stage if the fishing industry is to have any future. This has been seen by small nations like Iceland who have taken the necessary steps to remedy the situation.

The world in general is not responding to any effort to do something about the very serious threat that exists to stocks. A recent European Commission report stated that the North Sea herring stocks have reached a critical phase of over-exploitation which cannot be overcome without immediate action involving severe measures restricting catches. We continuously get reports of this kind from the EEC but unfortunately we have no worthwhile action. In the North Atlantic as a whole herring catches fell from 3,334,000 tons in 1964 to 1,616,000 tons in 1974. These figures show clearly how serious this whole question is.

Against this background we have to study the position in relation to Ireland. We have not the resources at the moment to compete with EEC member states to take a reasonable share of the fish in the EEC waters. Inside our own 12-mile limit all we can take at the moment is about 10 per cent of the catch. The French, the Dutch and others are taking a far higher percentage of the fish inside our 12-mile limit than we are. Still the EEC do not seem to be prepared to listen or give any satisfaction to our people in this affair. They talk about managing a valuable resource, about conservation, about limiting of catches, about protection of inshore fisheries, but they are doing absolutely nothing about the matter. Last season and the season before yielded very little herring in our most valuable fishery, the Dunmore East fishery. The fishermen over the last number of years have relied on this fishery to carry them over with their repayments on loans and so on. While they manage to survive for the greater part of the year on other types of fishing, the Dunmore herring fishery was the one which really made the difference and left them with a profit and ensured their repayments.

Suddenly the EEC have become concerned about a 200-mile fishing limit. They realise that they will now have greater pressure from third countries, and as has been stated by Deputy Molloy and others, the pressure is now really on and the catches of fish being taken out by foreign trawlers can hardly be imagined. It has been said that some of these large boats take as much in one catch as our whole fleet can take for a season. The EEC realising that competition would be keener with these third countries encroaching on our shores decided on the 200 miles and pressured the EEC member states to have the 200 miles enforced. I suppose it is a good thing that the EEC are now in a position to try to dictate to third countries what can happen within the 200-mile zone. From that point of view, as far as we are concerned, we welcome this decision. We realise that the question is not of simply making an agreement and signing something. The question of having the 200-mile limit patrolled, the question of trying to limit catches and deciding on the number of boats coming inside the 200-mile limit must be rigidly defined if the agreements which we hear so much about are going to be effective.

I believe that we are in a rather awkward position particularly from the point of view of a naval protection service. What will their duties be? Will they be protecting the 200-mile limit for our EEC partners or will they be protecting our 12-mile limit? The protection service is being placed in an awkward position. It has a dual role at present and I find it hard to see how it can protect the 12-mile limit for our fishermen if it is expected to patrol the 200-mile limit. The EEC case for a 200-mile limit has been made because they realise how important it is to protect fish stocks. That case has been made strenuously by us and should be made strenuously by us in relation to the 50-mile limit. The arguments being made for a 200-mile limit are equally effective in regard to a coastal band for the protection of our fish stocks. Ours is a small developing industry and we cannot hope to see it expand without a coastal band. Our demands in this respect are being blatantly ignored by our EEC partners. On a recent visit to Brussels I debated this question with a member of the Commission and I was amazed by his attitude. His attitude was that fishing is not important for us as it represents only 2 per cent or 3 per cent of our people and that we would not be able to protect a 50-mile limit. It made my blood boil to think they were putting the boot in, and there is no other way to express it. They are ignoring us and have no interest in helping us because they are too interested in their own welfare. We are asked to be good Europeans but the others put their own interests first. This is my view of the EEC and it stems from what I have seen and discovered on visits to Brussels and other places on the Continent.

At present the industry is in a sorry mess; indeed, it has never been worse. A few months ago the Minister for Foreign Affairs came from The Hague and, with a flourish of trumpets, described the great benefits that he had secured as a result of the talks. We were to build 300 new boats by 1979 and double our catch. We were to improve harbour facilities, refrigeration and provide 18,000 extra jobs in a few years. In a radio interview at that time with the Minister for Foreign Affairs I said, "Time will tell". The figures provided in this year's budget for the industry tell a sad story. One of our boat yards has built two 80 foot boats and is building a third one but there are no takers for these boats. Within a month 30 per cent of the work force in that yard may be laid off. BIM officials are imploring fishermen to use larger boats.

As one who is interested in the development of the fishing industry I dislike today's situation. I am sorry to have to introduce this note into the debate. I am proud to say that a fishermen in my constituency has purchased one of the most modern boats in the fleet. He is taking on a new type of fishing and asked the development section of BIM to provide grants for the training of his fishermen in Norway. Unfortunately the money was not available. Having invested £1 million he then had to send his crew members to Norway and pay for them himself. I wonder whether the IDA or other promoters of industry would accept that kind of treatment. All this has come about at a time when we have more advantages than ever in relation to the industry. We have FEOGA and other grants for the development of the industry but we are in this situation because our fishermen have lost confidence in the fishing industry and in the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 2nd February, 1977.