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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Jun 1978

Vol. 307 No. 6

Private Members' Business . - Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1978: Second Stage .

: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am aware that the Minister for Fisheries stated recently that it is his intention to introduce a comprehensive Bill to block a loophole that exists in the legislation with regard to fines on foreign fishing vessels found poaching within our territorial waters. I understand that the Taoiseach today, during the debate on the Order of Business, stated that such a Bill might have to be introduced today or tomorrow. Nevertheless, we gave plenty of notice that we were not satisfied with the existing situation and we have decided to proceed with the moving of the Bill in the hope that the Government will allow it to pass and if not that they will agree to amendments to keep it in line with their proposals.

There is a glaring need for amending legislation. All the available evidence points to a big increase in poaching by foreign vessels since the legality of the existing legislation was questioned, particularly since the High Court decision in February last that the District Court did not have the right to fine foreign vessels more than £100, which is the maximum fine, and that the District Court did not have the right to order the confiscation of catch and gear. This is the kernel of the matter. In some cases the cost of the catch and gear amounts to thousands of pounds. The District Court in Cork was found to be wrong when it ordered confiscation of gear worth £102,000 belonging to a Bulgarian trawler named Aurelia on 22 September 1976. We hope that this legislation will raise fines and penalties to a realistic level.

There has been a big increase in the scale of poaching by foreign vessels. I will endeavour to illustrate that point by referring to replies to recent questions in the Dáil. In answer to a question on 1 December last, the Minister for Fisheries told us that from 1 January 1970 to 1 December 1977 19 Spanish boats had been prosecuted for illegal fishing in our territorial waters. In eight years, 19 Spanish boats were apprehended and convicted of poaching. In 1977, 12 boats were apprehended. In the previous seven years a total of seven Spanish boats were apprehended and in one year, 1978, 12 boats were apprehended. Since then, 14 Spanish boats have been apprehended. In one week in May of this year seven Spanish boats were apprehended and convicted of illegal fishing. That was a rate of one per day whereas up to 1977 the rate was one per year. Poaching must be stopped because our fishing grounds cannot take this type of depletion. The Spanish, French and Dutch boats are no longer in the same category as the Irish fleet. The Spaniards are no longer using 40 foot or 50 foot wooden boats. In the last ten years they have been using very large boats and their catching power is immense. Not alone are they convicted of illegal poaching but they are invariably convicted of catching under-sized fish, which is a serious aspect of the matter.

Contrary to common belief our fishing grounds are not rich in fish stocks. We are not as rich in fish stocks as Norway and Iceland. Our fishing grounds are only average and can easily be ruined by the recent fishing efforts of the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.

On 1 December last the Minister promised to introduce a Bill in January of this year to bring fines to a realistic level. On that day I asked the Minister if he had any plans to increase fines to a realistic level. The Minister said he had, that a Bill was nearly to hand and that he would introduce it in the Dáil in January. So far we have not seen that Bill. On 13 April 1978, Deputy Dr. Browne asked the Minister if any steps would be taken in regard to a recent High Court ruling that the valuable penalty of confiscating fishing gear of foreign trawlers was unconstitutional. In reply, the Minister said that he proposed to introduce amending legislation urgently to increase fines substantially to provide for the forfeiture of fishing gear and to provide for trial on indictment in cases of illegal fishing. In a reply to a supplementary question by Deputy O'Keeffe, the Minister said we could have a full and constructive discussion on the legislation which he proposed to put before the House within six weeks. The Minister said that we would have two Fisheries Bills within six weeks. That reply was given on 13 April. This is 13 June and so far we have not even had one Bill. We need two Bills in relation to fisheries urgently.

We urge the Government to accept this Bill. If they have any reasonable amendments to put forward we would be glad to accept them to allow the Bill to go through the House as quickly as possible. During the hearing of a case in Carrigaline District Court on 12 May this year the District Justice said it was ludicrous that the maximum penalty which he could impose for poaching by foreign boats was £100. He did fine two Spanish trawlers £100 each for fishing within our exclusive limits. He also fined each of them £50 for having under-sized mesh in their nets. The continentals have no qualms about the size of the fish they catch. As this Bill does not provide for increased fines——

: If the Minister is willing to put forward an amendment it will be gratefully accepted. The continentals regard small fish as a delicacy and our view is that they should not be caught. The catching of hake that is only a few inches long is out of order and should be severely punished.

Another interesting fact came out of that court case in Carrigaline on 12 May: the State Solicitor, Mr. Dempsey, looked for costs in bringing in the Spanish boats. He said that the cost to the Irish Navy, and hence to the Irish Government, for bringing in the Spanish boats was £780. The figure for arresting and bringing in a Spanish boat has been quoted to me as being approximately £1,000. Therefore it costs us money to arrest and bring in foreign boats. There is no certainty that we will even get the £100; they may very well escape when we bring them in; that has happened on occasion too. Whereas we should be penalising these people heavily, the State has to pay for convicting them.

: With respect, that is why we have to be careful about the Bill—to make sure that this does not happen.

: Anything that will help to adjust the present unsatisfactory situation is to be welcomed.

We may draw comparisons with the penalties imposed by other countries. It is difficult to obtain exact details of the penalties other countries impose but I have a list of some. For instance, in Canada not alone do they have a very heavy fine—the last of which we have any knowledge was one of 25,000 dollars, or two years in jail for the skipper, or both, and that is quite an old law. In Norway they confiscate fishing gear and cargo, as they call it, as well as imposing a heavy fine. I believe also that they have made provision for confiscation of the boat if it is apprehended for illegal fishing and also a prison term of three months for the skipper. As one might well imagine, Iceland has a very severe penalty for illegal fishing. The British have a maximum fine of £50,000 and we understand they will increase that quite substantially in the near future. It has been reported in various sources that a lot of countries are waiting to see what the British do and then copy their legislation. I hope we do not have to await their legislation because that may take another year or two.

According to a report in the Irish Independent of Saturday, 3 June 1978 a Japanese fishing boat which was caught with more fish on board than that to which it was entitled in Russian waters was fined in excess of £1 million. That is quite an extraordinary figure, 1.45 million roubles for having more edible shellfish on board than was recorded in its log book.

Therefore the proposals in our Bill are not very drastic. The fines are quite large but are not out of hand; they are very mild in comparison with the Russian-type penalty. Our Bill provides for a fine of £100,000, for confiscation not alone of the gear and catch but also of the boat and, if necessary, a prison term of three months for the skipper. People may question some of these penalties and say they are rather severe. Let us look at the present make-up of the continental fleets—and remember we are really worried about continental fleets only at this stage because the Russians and East Europeans who fished rather heavily off our coast in recent years are not noted for illegal fishing; by and large they adhere to limits and are fairly good at doing that. The people we have to watch are the Spanish, Dutch and French, two of whom are partners of ours in the EEC and the third, the Spanish, have applied for membership. The boats from these countries that fish off our coasts are huge by any standard. By and large they are not privately-owned; the vast majority of them belong to huge conglomerates. We will get a few French boats over here during the summer months when the weather is good, small French boats, fishing for lobster, mackerel, prawns and so on, which are privately-owned. But my information is virtually that all of the Spanish, French and Dutch fleets are owned by large companies which can very well pay fines of the order of £100,000. Their catching power on one trip alone is greatly in excess of £100,000 worth of fish. We are told that the modern Spanish trawler costs something in the region of £2 million to £3 million to build and that on one fishing trip alone they can catch many hundreds of tons of fish. When one remembers that fish on the continent is fetching over £1 a lb. one can see that their catching power and its value are quite immense. Therefore we must make them pay dearly if they are caught inside our territorial waters, and they must get the message fairly soon. The whole point of this legislation is to keep them out. They— especially the Spaniards—have been thumbing their noses at the Irish authorities, be they the naval protection service or the district justices around the country. I am sure they come out of our courts smiling having been fined £100 when they have illegally caught fish, the value of which amounts to many thousands of pounds. Therefore we need not think that our fine of £100,000 is extremely severe; certainly it is not.

The confiscation of the boat is a penalty that will really sting. As I have said, most of these boats are owned by companies and no company would like to lose a boat valued in that region. Other countries have legislation which caters for confiscation of the boat. The third penalty is one of a prison term for the skipper. If the skipper is merely working for a company it is not going to be much of a penalty to him if he is caught poaching inside our territorial waters. While he probably would get off scotfree the company would have to bear the cost of the fine. But making him liable to three months' imprisonment is an appropriate penalty, given that there is no other weight on his shoulders.

The Minister has said that he will bring in a comprehensive Bill to make up for all of the deficiencies obtaining at present.

: The House will have it on Thursday morning.

: One aspect I should like to see covered by any Bill is that aerial evidence be accepted in the courts. The present system under which a trawler has got to be caught with its fishing gear in the water is entirely unsatisfactory, is very difficult to prove and is far too restrictive. Nowadays with modern techniques— particularly with the use of radar—a boat that is poaching can see the approach of a patrol vessel many miles away. By the time that patrol vessel comes on the trawler it is more than likely the gear will have been hauled aboard. Therefore it makes it extremely difficult for the navy to catch one of these boats actually fishing and, hence, a conviction is exceedingly difficult to obtain. For the life of me I cannot understand why evidence by our aircraft personnel is not accepted. I cannot see what prevents us from including that type of evidence in any future legislation. It has been accepted previously. There have been cases in which the Canadians have got convictions in court for evidence taken by spotter planes. In the past four years there have been two such convictions in Britain as a result of observation by aeroplanes, the more recent of which was reported in The Cork Examiner of Saturday, 20 May 1978.

The report is as follows:

An Irish Sea chase and an unique arrest of a Spanish trawler by an RAF Nimrod patrol aircraft were described to magistrates yesterday when the Spanish skipper appeared in court for fishery offences.

The vessel "Goizalde Argia" was arrested in Irish fishing waters after a five-hour chase across the Irish Sea after being spotted fishing illegally some 38 miles off the Pem-brokeshire coast on Wednesday.

The skipper, Jesus Cereza, was fined £15,000 by Milford Haven magistrates yesterday for illegal fishing in British waters. He was fined a further £100 for refusing to comply with the RAF pilot's direction to stop, and £100 for using an illegal net. He admitted the offences.

Mr. Michael Howell, prosecuting for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said that the Nimrod aircraft used all the recognised international signals to try to stop the vessel and direct her to Milford Haven.

The report continues:

But it was not until after a five-hour chase that the vessel was stopped by the fishery protection vessel HMS Lindisfarne in the Irish sector of the fishing limits. Mr. Howell said that the arrest was legal under old law which dated back to the days of piracy.

I am not criticising the Minister, but it appears extraordinary if the British can get convictions against the same people who are poaching off our coast due to aerial surveillance, that we cannot legislate for the same thing.

My Bill is a crude attempt to plug an existing loophole. I am not a barrister like the Minister and I have not draftsmen at my disposal to draw up this legislation. If the Minister wishes to amend this Bill, let him do so. If this Bill is voted down, we would appreciate it if legislation introduced by the Minister included the acceptance by courts of aerial surveillance. It is the obvious thing. We are trying to patrol a 200-mile limit and it is virtually impossible with the vessels at our disposal. I know the Minister has promised that he will get £30 million from the EEC to provide more boats, but even with five or six more boats the 200-mile limit cannot be policed effectively. There is an outstanding case for introducing aircraft as the primary instruments of detecting poachers in our territorial waters and I should like to have the Minister's view on that point. If the British can do it, why can we not do it? It is a straightforward point.

We have been fooled up to the whites of our eyes by foreigners who have been poaching in our waters. The present disastrous state of fishing stocks off our coast is not due completely to the poaching in recent times by the Spanish or the French; it is mainly due to the wholesale poaching by the Dutch in the late sixties and early seventies. The Dutch more than anyone else have ruined our fisheries, particularly our herring fisheries. They were unscrupulous, and if they are given the opportunity again I have no doubt that they will be likewise. They have disappeared to an extent, not completely, in recent years mainly because it was not worth their while. They have killed almost all the herring off our coast, particularly off the south coast. There are still fairly considerable quantities off the west and the north-west coast and some in the Irish Sea, but our main herring fishery in Dunmore East has been wiped out due to the activities of the Dutch.

In the late sixties and early seventies they went as far as plotting the course of the only fishery protection vessel in the Naval Service at that time. There was only one such vessel and they employed people onshore to plot its course, when they knew it was out of the way on the west or north-west coast or in dry dock they came in and fished right up to the shore. That is the cause of the depletion of our stocks. Unless we tackle the problem urgently the Spanish will do the same thing, particularly with our white fish supplies. They have been at it on an enormous scale and we must keep them out. In a couple of years' time it may be too late. We cannot afford to wait.

The Irish fishing industry is at a very youthful stage. Our fishing industry is not developed at all in the context of the Continent. We have not the large boats and the trained personnel and until such time as we have we must try to protect these fishery grounds. We must try to improve the training facilities for our fishermen. I appeal to the Minister to do something to rectify the extraordinary situation where facilities available are not sufficient and to hand over the responsibility for training our fishermen to some agency which can do it usefully. I mention in particular a body such as BIM. I cannot understand why this has not been done.

: Most of our fishermen are not properly trained and cannot use the type of gear that they are expected to use. It is a common thing to hear people say that a lot of our fishermen are using sophisticated gear which costs a vast amount of money much of the time purely for the sake of prestige. That is an abominable situation. We must keep strict control on our fisheries until we are able to fish them properly. We are not able to do that now because we have not the boats and the personnel to man them properly.

Up to now we have facilitated foreign fishermen who have been apprehended within our territorial waters by allowing their cases to be heard before a special court. We have been too nice to them.

: Bent over backwards.

: A special court is held immediately the foreign boat is brought into port. In my opinion that boat should be kept in port until the District Court is sitting in the general area, whether that is within a week or two weeks—the longer the better from our point of view. Nothing hurts these people more than being tied up for a week or so. At present a special court is held within a day or two of their being brought into court and then they are off again to do more damage. They are probably fishing again once they get outside the mouth of the harbour. The facility of a special court should be abandoned.

We should also abandon the necessity of having the patrol vessel which apprehends them accompany them to port and the necessity for that vessel to stay in port until the court case is over. I cannot see why this should be necessary. If the officer who took the reading and carried out the arrest accompanies the trawler into port, the Naval protection vessel should be allowed to return and carry on its work. This can be a serious drawback when there are only a couple of protection vessels at sea: it prevents the apprehension of other boats which are fishing illegally. It is obvious from the recent spate of convictions that they are out there in droves. It costs the State a considerable amount to have the vessel in port doing no useful work.

I do not know how soon the Minister hopes to get this money for extra patrolling. He has stated that he hopes to get five or six extra boats and to have them built in this country. I agree that this should be done and we welcome this measure. It would be a major solution if our courts could accept the aerial evidence which I have mentioned. I should like the Minister to accept this Bill and to put down amendments if he wishes. If they are reasonable we will gladly accept them. What we are most concerned about is that some such measure as ours should be introduced and implemented immediately.

: Obviously, having regard to the tenor of Deputy Deasy's remarks we are going to have a constructive discussion on this matter. As far as the principle is concerned of dealing with the obviously inadequate situation in regard to penalties for sea fishing offences I, on behalf of the Government, agree with the Deputy that this matter must be tackled by legislation. As the Government, we have had to take considerable care in preparing the legislation so as to ensure that we do not once again have legislation dealing with sea fishing offences and penalties declared unconstitutional. While I appreciate the spirit and principle embodied in the Bill brought in by Deputy Deasy and agree with it, the Bill is not adequate to cope with the situation created by the High Court decision which found basically that a District Court was an inadequate court to deal with the serious penalty of forfeiture of gear, nets and fish which was the position heretofore. Effectively, our legislation because of that High Court decision is completely inadequate to handle the serious problem as Deputy Deasy rightly described it and I think we all agree.

It is such a serious problem that we want legislation that can finally fasten it down and ensure that whatever is passed through the House can stand up in constitutional terms in our courts and also in international law. For that reason we have been giving very detailed consideration in my Department and in the Attorney General's Department over the past few months to a comprehensive Bill which would cope adequately with the situation in the spirit of Deputy Deasy's Bill and more important, would incorporate the legal constitutional and court mechanism that can fully stand up to any test, in an Irish court or in any European or international court of justice. What we are doing is very serious and important business—I say that advisedly. Under the Government legislation we propose to make very substantial increases in penalties for fishery offences that will affect very seriously our Community partners, third country investment and also our own fishermen if they adopt illegal gear or nets or anything of that kind in the course of their fishing.

: You will be caught in that net yet.

: This is an all-embracing matter that requires time. I am very glad to be able to inform the House that I have the draft of the proposed Government Bill before me. It is quite a comprehensive measure involving 22 sections with many detailed subsections, schedules and tables. It is now with the printer and will be in Deputies' hands at least on Thursday morning of this week.

: The Minister is the best man at pulling things out of mid-air that I ever saw.

: The timing was not bad, thanks to Deputy Deasy and myself but at least I can acknowledge the helpfulness——

: I did not help you; I provoked you into it.

: That is help in itself and I acknowledge the help in that respect. We have the legislation and Deputies may get it tomorrow evening if it comes in green form but it will certainly be in their hands on Thursday morning.

To have a sensible parliamentary debate on the matter it is better for the Government, I think, to introduce its measure in its more comprehensive form which comprehends and includes much of what is in Deputy Deasy's Bill. It is much better to go about it this way rather than for the Government to start amending Deputy Deasy's Bill. This is only a procedural aspect because basically we are agreed in broad principle on what requires to be done. On the procedural aspect, I assure the Deputy and the House that there is no ill intent in that respect. However, from now on, once the Government Bill is published, a much more effective way of dealing with it is to proceed with the debate on the Government Bill and take amendments as they occur to Deputies. We are including and embracing the principle in Deputy Deasy's Bill but we are making the Government Bill much more comprehensive so as to cope with the legal, constitutional and international law situation in which we could be involved in the future unless we have a Bill that can stand up fully in the legal sense.

I shall not deal in detail with the weaknesses of Deputy Deasy's Bill. He does not deal with the summary court aspect at all but only with the indictment aspect. He does not deal with the consequential provisions necessary in regard to the trial of indictable offences and he does not deal fully with the consequences of some of the provisions where in some areas the Government's measure goes further than Deputy Deasy's Bill. In order to bring a degree of realism to the debate I might as well say now in broad principle what will be in the Government measure. It will embrace what is in Deputy Deasy's Bill and go further in certain areas.

Briefly we propose to proceed on three bases. First—and this gives alternative options to the Irish State in prosecuting for fishery offences— we should have at our disposal adequate summary jurisdiction. At present it is inadequate at £100 and we propose that should be increased to £500. If there is the option in the case of a minor offence that can be dealt with quickly, then there is a penalty of £500 which is more realistic than the present £100. I doubt if there will be any disagreement on that. It involves a simple amendment of the Principal Act.

In addition, we will write a forfeiture provision into the Bill in regard to unlawfully caught fish and unlawful fishing gear found on the boat. That comes within the High Court decision in that that decision was related to the section in the Principal Act which declared all gear, nets and fish found on the boat to be forfeited. We can still retain the forfeiture provisions in the District Court as long as it is proved that the fish gear and nets were unlawful as such.

In relation to indictment areas we propose to go to a second tier of offence. We intend to bring the offender to a trial by jury and to allow for absolute forfeiture, at the discretion of the court, of all fish and fishing gear found on the boat irrespective of whether it was lawful or unlawful, together with a fine of £10,000 in respect of entry alone, without proof of offence, by foreign boats. The second tier of offence would involve foreign boats entering the exclusive fishery limits of the State. The fact that they entered the exclusive limit would automatically make them liable to a fine on conviction of £10,000 and confiscation of the gear. This is a new type of offence. This second tier of offence, involving a £10,000 fine and forfeiture of gear, will apply to any form of illegal fishing which may take place within our waters or to any device used in regard to legal fishing. The final and most serious tier of offence, on which Deputy Deasy concentrated, relates to a fishing offence by a foreign vessel. Illegal fishing within the exclusive limits of the State by foreign vessels merits the same penalty as that in Deputy Deasy's measure, £100,000.

: Is it true that the Government upped the figure when they saw the Bill we published?

: Not really. They all follow a pattern from £500 for the minor offence to £10,000 for the middle offence and £100,000 for the most serious offence.

The penalty of £100,000 on conviction and the total forfeiture of lawful or unlawful gear and fish applies to the major offence. There are three prongs to what we propose to do and Deputies can see from the brief outline given that there are more serious penalty provisions here than those envisaged in Deputy Deasy's Bill.

Because of the constitutional provisions involved the introduction of this Bill has been delayed somewhat. With all due respects. Deputy Deasy's Bill would not stand up in a court of law if it were enacted. Our job as a Government was to ensure not just in the Irish courts, which are difficult enough having regard to their interpretation of the Constitution, but in regard to the European Court and any other international court relating to third countries, that the measure would stand up, and that accounted for the delay.

Apart from the offences and penalties mentioned there are other matters ancillary to the offences and penalties to be incorporated in the Government measure. In other legislation we make provision for the detention of a suspect vessel in port for up to 48 hours for examination prior to the institution of legal proceedings. This requires a lot of consequential legal provisions to be incorporated in the Bill. This provision must be watched having regard to the exigencies of European and international law apart from our Constitution. In this Bill we issue a strong warning to illegal fishermen. This Bill indicates that we are not standing any more nonsense in this respect. I know I am on common ground with Deputy Deasy in this aspect. If the owner of a vessel is convicted of a second offence we propose to confiscate the vessel.

: Does that include Irish fishermen as well?

: No, foreign fishermen. Deputy Begley will have a chance to see the legislation and to see that as far as Irish fishermen are concerned the Bill mainly relates to gear and fish. I am talking about the major offence, the illegal entry and fishing by foreign fishermen within our limits. I am talking about the £100,000 penalty category. In addition, if there is a second conviction, we propose that the owner of the boat will be liable to have his boat confiscated. It is important to make it quite clear that we mean business in this respect.

I will take into account the point made by Deputy Deasy in regard to aerial evidence and perhaps we can have a Committee Stage discussion on that. I will certainly take some legal advice from the Attorney General on how that can be incorporated into the Bill. It may cause some problems in regard to the laws of evidence, but the point will be taken into account. We have the very effective practical help of the spotter planes at present, and from the point of view of linking up with the vessels, giving the information, surveying the scene and so on they have proved invaluable in the practical sense. Whether that can be further translated into practical help in the terms of evidence in court is something that would have to be looked at and I certainly will look at it.

Deputy Deasy mentioned the situation in regard to Spain. I am well aware of the problem and last week we had discussions with Spanish officials about the situation. We hope that, prior to Spain's entry into the EEC and in the course of her negotiations in regard to membership, to secure a final, lasting and sensible arrangement relative to the whole vexed question of Spanish boats fishing in Irish and EEC waters. This cannot be allowed to continue. The Spanish authorities are fully aware of this, as aware of it as we and the EEC are, and yesterday I had discussions with Commissioner Gundelach on this aspect. What we are doing at the moment is securing a substantial reduction in the Spanish fishing fleet operating in our waters. This is being achieved by a substantial reduction in the licences issued but a great deal more needs to be done particularly from the point of view of the historic rights Spain has between six and 12 miles off our coasts. At the moment we have that area under control and we hope to work out some sort of reasonable negotiating position which will give a conclusive result and fully protect Irish fishermen from the largely haphazard operations at the moment on the part of Spanish fishermen.

The question is one of control. This is where plans come in and, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers next week. I hope to ensure that we get the first plan with the Dutch off the ground. We have that worked out in very great detail. It is the herring fishing plan off the west coast running from Belmullet down to County Clare in an area approximately 20 miles from our base line where we have restricted the inner box up to that to boats of up to 84 feet registered length, which includes practically the whole Irish fleet, apart from three boats, and excludes the Dutch fleet, which the Commission will be recommending next week and under which a quota of 10,000 tons will be allocated to Irish fishermen and 4,000 to Dutch fishermen, that 4,000 tons to be caught outside the 20 miles from the base line and, in some cases, 25 miles outside that.

This is a start. I do not say it will be the answer overnight but it is the first plan adopted within the Community and Ireland is taking part in it. It is not too difficult because there are only two countries and one species of fish involved. It will be much more difficult to work out similar plans for a number of species and a number of countries in other areas around the coast but it is at least a start and I hope to get it through next week at the Council of Ministers and have it in operation in July.

: There is so much confusion about the system there will be chaos.

: No problem.

: It is very simple. Fishermen will be allowed until October to fish in the area mentioned outside the 20-mile base line, 15 boats for five days each week and 45 boats in all. We will have the registered number, type of boat, length and engine power, the skipper will report on his entry into the box, and there will be an Irish naval vessel permanently there controlling the situation. I have decided to go along with this on an interim basis to see how it works and I am glad to say the Irish fishermen's organisation has taken a responsible attitude to it.

: It is a reasonable start and I hope the Minister will do as well around the rest of the coast.

: It will be more difficult. As I say, the fishermen are taking a reasonable attitude. The problem will be to make that sort of arrangement where you have a greater number of species, boats doing mixed fishing and boats of different nationalities. I mention that because it is very much part of what we are at in the present discussion, the object being to ensure there is a proper system of control, proper monitoring and proper organisation of fisheries. The days when fishing was just left on a haphazard, hit-and-miss basis are gone for ever. That is a fact of life today. We will have to make it quite plain to people from other countries that they must observe the law and we must have the law that can deal with them. We must also have arrangements that will ensure everyone knows the law and that the law will be properly administered. We must have penalties.

Finally, while I must oppose Deputy Deasy's Bill on the basis that it is not sufficient in scope to cope with the problems for the reasons I have mentioned, I approve the spirit generally of the Bill and the motivation behind it but, when he and his colleagues see the comprehensive Government measure on Thursday morning, he and his colleagues will appreciate that we can proceed as a matter of urgency with the business we have to do on the basis of that measure plus whatever amendments may be made in the Bill.

: Nowhere has Fianna Fáil neglect been more obvious than in their handling of our fisheries. We have before us a Bill as a stop-gap measure to deal with an urgent and critical problem. Deputy Deasy has outlined the difficulties we have had over a long number of years with illegal fishing in our waters, difficulties accentuated by the reference of the Bulgarian case to the High Court on constitutional grounds. That really brought the problem to a head. Looking behind the problem, we had a situation where the fines levied for illegal fishing were of a derisory nature, £100 in the 1959 Act. That could only be regarded as nominal. The real penalty was the forfeiture clause. The figures, however, do not support the argument that the forfeiture aspect was all that important or of tremendous consequence up to a couple of years ago because, in reply to a question by Deputy Cosgrave on 30 November last, it appeared that the total in fines ran into only £100,000 each year and the forfeiture maximum never exceeded £45,000. As a result of the difficulty about the Circuit Court jurisdiction we came to realise that a problem of a critical nature was facing the country in that it became very clear that owners of foreign trawlers were fully aware of our ineffectiveness in dealing with illegal fishing. This brought up the question of amending legislation.

Deputy Deasy produced a Bill which will stop this gap. Coincidentally, the Minister has produced a measure which is on similar lines but is a more comprehensive measure. What concerns me is that even at this stage, if the Minister's Bill is circulated on Thursday, in view of the fact that this session is due to end shortly, when will it become law? I assume the Minister is not suggesting that his Bill can become law in the current session. This will be put back to October or November at the earliest. We have a situation whereby over the next six months foreign trawlers which have been ravaging our fish stocks can continue, and even increase, their efforts. On the other hand, we have a Bill drafted, printed, circulated, now at Second Stage, before the House, a Bill which Deputy Deasy does not pretend is perfect and does not answer all the problems but which he has produced to meet one major critical problem. If this Bill is allowed a Second Reading this week, put down for Committee Stage next week, I have no doubt any Committee Stage amendments will not be alone accepted but welcomed by Deputy Deasy. With the full co-operation of the Minister and the Government this Bill could become law before the end of the month. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of having a measure on our Statute Book to deal with this major problem of illegal fishing in our waters. I accept that the other matters mentioned by the Minister in his comprehensive measure must be dealt with, but I do not put them on the same critical level of urgency as illegal fishing within our waters.

We are faced with this choice: with the co-operation of the Minister and the Government, Deputy Deasy's Bill can be on the Statute Book by the end of the month. If that choice is not accepted, our waters will be open to all for another six months. The statistics in this regard quoted by Deputy Deasy are very discouraging. It is quite clear that the graph of illegal fishing is rising very rapidly. We had a figure of seven Spanish boats over approximately seven years—an average of one a year. In the next 11 months we have 12 boats—the average had jumped to over one a month. Since then we have had 14 Spanish boats which roughly would appear to double the average to two a month. Last month, May, there were seven Spanish boats in one week. If we follow this graph what will we find next month? The entire Spanish fleet could be using the six month interregnum to gather what they can, knowing there is a good measure—let us be fair about this—coming from the Government, but in six months' time. We are giving them advance warning. We are advertising our wares. We are telling them “you have six months to clear out what you can”.

: Free fishing.

: "If you fall foul of the fishery protection vessel, have your £100 in your back pocket. Lob it down on the counter and off you go to your illegal fishing again." It is as bad as that. I do not want to be an alarmist about this but as somebody who comes from a coastal constituency I have no doubt that even the figures which have been put before this House do not in any way represent the extent and scope of the illegal fishing going on. I have been given reports from people on the coastline in my constituency of enormous fleets of foreign vessels fishing almost right up to our shores. I appreciate the difficulties of the fishery protection service and the good work they are doing, but they cannot cope with what amounts to an invasion, a new Spanish Armada, which is hitting our shores.

Let us be honest about this: we are all interested in ensuring that our fishery stocks are protected from foreign invaders. It is a question of how to do it. I am not suggesting for a second that the Minister is not interested in having this done. What I am suggesting is that this is a way it can be done. I am afraid I have to put it to the Minister that there has been serious neglect on the part of the Government in dealing with this problem.

We had a situation last December where a Bill to close this gap was to be produced within a month. It was to be circulated in January. In April, even worse than having promises of producing it within six weeks, under pressure from me inquiring about the delay I was informed by the Minister, and I quote from the Official Report, column 715 of 13 April 1978:

The matter is only on my lap since the final court decision which was made only a month ago.

I got that reply in April from a Minister who had stated in December that he would have a Bill ready in January. How these two replies can be reconciled is a puzzle.

: The Deputy appreciates what lawyers are like.

: The Minister is speaking for himself. It is obvious that the two replies of December 1977 and April this year are irreconcilable. Be that as it may, the problem has been allowed to remain. It has not been tackled and the Government have not produced a bill to try to close the gap, to try to ensure that the foreign invasion of our fisheries will be stopped.

The position is that both sides of the House are on all fours on the need for a measure to control the invasion of our fisheries. We were similarly agreed six months ago on this need. We did not get legislation from the Government and as a result the Opposition have introduced this Bill. It attempts to cope with the problem in a simple way and it does not go beyond simple amendments of sections 221, 222 and 223 of the Principal Act. It attempts to deal with the problem by providing that if any foreign fishing vessel enters our exclusive fishing limits the master shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £100,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both. More important, it provides for the forfeiture of fish, fishing gear and the boat. We believe that will stop illegal fishing once and for all.

In a relatively vague way the Minister has said that this Bill may not stand up, that it may be unconstitutional, that it may not be looked on favourable by European or other international courts. The Minister should be frank about this. He should have defined clearly how it would be unconstitutional——

: I did not want to get into a legal debate.

: We approached this on the basis that we should have legislation that will stand up constitutionally at home, and internationally, and that such legislation will be put into operation as quickly as possible. We are anxious for co-operation from the Government side. We could have amendments to it, if necessary, to ensure that it complies totally with European or other international conventions. We would accept any such amendments, but we must examine criticisms of the Bill uttered in a vague way, suggesting that it may not stand up to international law.

I suggest that at this stage the debate should not be conducted on the legality or otherwise of words and phrases in it. I would hope to see from the Government specific concrete suggestions as to how the Bill could be refined to ensure that it will meet international obligations. I suppose the Minister's response has been understandable to some extent. He has told us that he has a Bill ready, that he has a document before him ready for the printers. However, because that Bill cannot be enacted before the end of the session I urge the Minister to put aside his pride and to co-operate in amending the Bill now before the House and have it operable immediately. In order to do this we must agree to the Second Reading of the Bill and then get down to considering necessary amendments. There are words, phrases and sections in the Minister's Bill which could probably be added to this Bill on Committee Stage.

If the matter is tackled in this way we will be doing a service not alone to our fishermen but to all the people of the nation. The fish stocks around our coasts are not limitless and we, the legislators of 1978, have a duty to ensure that those who come after us will have some fish left to talk about and that there will still be need for a Minister for Fisheries and for Irish fishing boats. If we genuinely wish to tackle this problem, this is the way to do it. I therefore appeal to the Minister and the Government to cast aside all notions of pride and to look at this problem as we have been looking at it. We regard it as urgent, as being in need of a remedy forthwith. Therefore the Government should join with us in a mutual effort to preserve our fish stocks. At a later stage there is no reason why the Minister should not introduce a more comprehensive measure dealing with other aspects of fishing, dealing with problems which are serious but not as urgent as those which we attempt to tackle in this Bill. Already, arising from this discussion, there have been a couple of suggestions which the Minister will undoubtedly take note of and consider in the context of their being incorporated in a Bill at a later stage. In particular there is the question of the catching of undersized fish. I understand the fine for such an offence is £50 maximum. That is one aspect of the matter that the Minister might consider.

: That is in our Bill.

: We would approve strongly of that question being tackled. There is a question, too, of evidence. I agree that there are technical complications from the point of view of early evidence and I suppose there are technical complications also in relation to the identification of vessels but perhaps we could have a provision whereby the name and the number of a vessel would be visible not only from the sea but from the air. There are other technical complications which deal with the law of evidence. This is another matter that could be incorporated in our fishery law although it is not of the same urgency as the other matters. However, it is a matter which should be looked at but looked at in a positive way and not in a manner that would permit the holding up of the major operation which is that of putting an end to illegal fishing in respect of which the evidence is now alarming. The stage has been reached when anybody interested in the industry cannot afford to be complacent. If the job is not tackled now we may find that irreparable damage will be done to our fish stocks in the very near future.

Therefore, in the spirit of co-operation and of an anxiety to help our fishermen we urge the Minister to revise his thinking and to allow a Second Reading of this Bill so that we may proceed with it and complete it in time to have it enacted before the end of the present Dáil session. We accept that the Minister is trying hard in the area of fisheries. Although we do not agree with everything he is doing we accept that he has the same concern as we have for our fishermen and for the fishing industry.

: I support Deputies Deasy and O'Keeffe in their plea to the Minister to accept this Bill. It is significant that there is not even one of the Minister's party in the Chamber to support him in the rather feeble arguments he put forward as to why the Bill could not be accepted. One can only wonder whether the Minister has the party behind him at all on this matter. As Deputy O'Keeffe pointed out rightly, the Minister, in what was a typical contribution from him, did not tell us when his legislation would be implemented.

: That is a matter for the House.

: The Minister did not give us any guarantee that the legislation would be enacted before the Dáil adjourns for the summer recess. Is he prepared to undertake to us that so far as he and the Government are concerned all sections of the Bill will be passed before the coming recess?

: That is a matter for both Houses of the Oireachtas.

: It is a matter for the Government to allow time for the Bill. Even at this late stage the Minister is continuing merely to indulge in flowery language.

: I cannot steamroll legislation through the House.

: One might be forgiven for getting the impression that the Minister's Bill was ready to go on the Statute Book immediately. I am asking him again at 8.27 p.m. whether the Bill will be completed soon.

: Let the Chair decide the time. I shall below the whistle any moment now.

: The Chair has put his finger on the matter. It is time that is important. Deputy Deasy has told us of the plunder and rape of our fisheries off the south-west coast by the Spaniards.

: Not only the Spaniards.

: It is a question of "My dark Rosaleen, do not sigh, do not weep ...". The Minister has begun to show a little more interest now in his portfolio. I appeal to him to disregard the line he threw out to Fine Gael this evening when he told us that our Bill was unconstitutional that it was not adequate. I am beginning to be a little worried about the EEC factor in terms of this Bill.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 June 1978.