The Minister for Fisheries was in possession.
Supplementary Estimates, 1979. - Fisheries Bill, 1979: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I said all I wanted to say.
We welcome the part of the section which deals with the acquisition and transfer of fisheries and hope that the State will take over many more estuaries and rivers which are at present landlord-owned. Is the River Moy being taken over? Rumour has it that it is.
It cannot be taken over by the State until this section is passed. The Galway fisheries were able to do that without legislation on the basis that it was for scientific and research purposes. This is the first section which gives a Minister of this State the authority to acquire fisheries of this kind either voluntarily or compulsorily.
Let me rephrase my question. Is it intended that the River Moy will be taken over by the Department as soon as this Bill is passed?
That would be a matter for consideration when the Bill is law.
Every fishery and the access to every fishery becomes open to investigation for acquisition either voluntarily or compulsorily when this section becomes law.
I accept that, and that is why I welcome this part of the Bill. Is it not true to say that negotiations for taking over the River Moy when this Bill is passed are at an advanced stage?
It will be one of the rivers under active consideration.
Is it under active consideration at present?
It is being looked at along with a number of other rivers and fisheries.
It is under active consideration?
Very much so.
We can take it that the River Moy is being actively considered and when this Bill is passed it will be taken over by the State. In the Supplementary Estimate a sum of £53,000 is provided for the acquisition of fisheries. Is that figure for the taking over of the Galway fisheries?
Only the Galway fisheries.
Yes, although it was purchased for a higher figure.
I welcome the part of this section which deals with the acquisition of portion of rivers and lakes——
That would be more appropriate to the next section.
Earlier I spoke about ESB fisheries and quoted figures from their 1978 report. I am sure the Minister read the 1979 figures; if not, I will give them to him. As I said, the figures for 1978 were alarming but the 1979 figures are disastrous. If I may quote from the ESB figures at 31 March 1979——
I have seen the figures.
The salmon count in the River Shannon was 3,102, the lowest ever recorded, and the report went on to say that the run on the Erne continued to decline. I gave the figure at around 400, but actually 297 salmon went through the ESB hatchery in the River Erne and 42 fish went through the fish pass in the Claddy. Has the Minister not considered taking over the ESB fisheries?
That does not have anything to do with the ESB, but illegal fishing——
It comes under the acquisition of fisheries.
There is no point in acquiring fisheries if there is illegal fishing.
We both agree that this Bill is to tie up illegal fishing in the estuaries. Can the Minister give a guarantee that the ESB will restock each river under their control? Can he guarantee that hatcheries will be opened in the Rivers Liffey, Lee, Shannon, Erne and Claddy?
This section deal only with acquisition and transfer of fisheries.
I am talking about acquisition.
The Deputy is talking about restocking and so on which do not come under this section. It is in order to mention acquisition and the fact that the ESB fisheries should be acquired under this section, but we cannot go into the restocking of rivers.
It is seldom I am out of order and I do not think I am out of order now. I am making the case under this section for the acquisition of the ESB rivers. I pointed out that these rivers need to be restocked. I do not think I am very much out of line when I say that and I am surprised at the Chair pulling me up about it.
If we do not get a commitment from the Minister that the ESB fisheries should be acquired or transferred by the Department—they may not even have to be bought because the ESB might give the Department a subsidy—I am afraid I will have to press this to a vote because this is a very serious matter. The Department of Fisheries are the body to deal with this. In my view, all rivers under the control of the ESB should be transferred to the new central board. We want a guarantee that the hatcheries will be restocked and that eel farming in suitable rivers will be reintroduced.
This section is very important and one which we on this side of the House have looked forward to for a number of years. We have persistently placed before the House in many debates over a number of years the desirability of acquiring the fishery rights of our rivers and lakes for the benefit and use of the Irish people. We welcome the powers vested in the Minister in this section. We trust that the section will not prove too cumbersome in acquiring as many stretches of water as possible.
Many interested parties concerned with the welfare of our inland fisheries have expressed grave concern about the adequacy of this section to deal effectively with the problem of acquisition of fishery rights, amongst them the Trout Anglers Association of Ireland. They are concerned, as we are, that the Bill does not seem to be adequate or effective to do the job which we all desire. Is it not a fact that there is no intention in section 36 or in the Bill generally to take into care the hundreds of miles of potentially good rivers and streams which are at present derelict and unproductive? If that is the truth of the matter, then it can be said that this section is lacking substantially in effectiveness. I urge the Minister to take on himself the power, duty and responsibility to take in charge these potentially good rivers and streams which are falling into a derelict condition. It is the obligation of the Minister to intervene in this situation. Is it the intention to allow these rivers and streams to go by default altogether? That would be a scandalous state of affairs.
The section is unsatisfactory and I urge on the Minister the desirability and great need to take into account these large sections amounting to hundreds of miles of rivers, streams and lakes which have been abandoned, are without clear ownership and are utterly unproductive. They could and should be put to good use. The Bill should include the stipulation to vest all unclaimed waters in the State and, if necessary, use compulsory acquisition procedures in respect of any remaining rivers that may be involved. It is the belief of many people that the provision of the section is so cumbersome that it may conceivably be ineffective in acquiring a typical 10-mile stretch of free fishing on a brown trout or coarse fish river with perhaps 100 or more riparian landowners. These are some defects we see in it.
We welcome the powers vested in the Minister but they should be more embracing and comprehensive to take into account all potential fishery waters. That is not being done in the Bill and I deplore it. I would ask the Minister to deliberate deeply on it and perhaps bring in on Report Stage an amendment which will empower him to do as I request: take in charge all unclaimed waters. They are many in number and many miles in stretch. They are potentially great waters if treated properly.
It has been said that legal problems will arise under this section as to whether a stretch of water is comprehended by the phrase "a particular fishery" in section 36 (a), as to the grounds needed to satisfy the Minister under section 36 (5) that a public right to fish exists, and from the point of view of constitutional rights on the lack of any specific provision for an appeal to the courts from the decision of the Minister or the arbitrator. We must not pass this section without bringing these matters to the attention of the Minister and asking him if he will have second thoughts on tidying up this section so that we can leave the Bill, in its passage to the House, in the knowledge that the State has control over all inland fisheries.
For the first time.
I accept that and extend my congratulations to the Minister for what is contained in the Bill. I am seeking to strengthen the Minister's hand in giving effect to a measure which will have control over all our inland waters. In order to avoid the pitfalls and trauma of compulsory acquisition it is recommended that the Bill provide, in addition to the powers of acquisition, that after a date to be appointed no charge may be made for fishing or for access to fishing on any unrated fishery without the approval of the central board. The Minister will see the significance of that. Others may take over the rivers I referred to and seek to use them for their own purposes outside the Bill in years to come. The appointed date to which I have referred could be so arranged that existing owners of fisheries which are valuable would have enough time to enable them to have their value assessed by the Valuation Office beforehand. They could be given two or three years from the passing of the Bill.
In respect of what Deputy White said about acquisition and about the role of the ESB, I am not certain if this is the appropriate section to deal with it but I have already gone on record in the House in my speech on Second Stage and on Committee Stage as seeking to impress upon the Minister the need to ensure that all bodies interested in fisheries are taken under the umbrella of this Bill. That would include the ESB. I know of no good reason why the ESB Salmon Research Trust or indeed the Department's own fresh water research unit should not be included. If we do not bring these bodies under the aegis of this Bill we are clearly allowing fragmentation of work and interests which would be inefficient, costly and cumbersome. I would deplore a situation where the Minister, while leaving the ESB off the hook, acquiesced to pressures in that area. It would be a far more effective Bill if the ESB were seen to be included.
We have seen the sorry situation which can result from a number of bodies, the ESB Salmon Research Trust, and in particular the local authorities, seeking to do the same job. We have seen lakes and rivers virtually die while all these various bodies fiddled about. In a situation, as can be borne out, where the ESB have failed in their responsibility to maintain the fishery waters under their control, where stocks are down and they have failed to replenish the stocks, there is a bounden obligation on the Minister to bring the ESB under the control of this Bill. They were established to provide electric power. It was only by accident rather than design that they came into control of fisheries and lakes. This Bill seeks to tidy up that situation and there is no justification whatsoever for leaving the ESB outside the ambit of this Bill.
The point I raised on Second Stage was that approximately 50 per cent of the salmon rivers and estuary salmon fisheries are in private ownership at present. I am aware that the Minister did a very good deal in purchasing the Corrib fishery two years ago and he has developed it along the right lines and with great benefits to the nation. However, I suspect that the moneys will not be available to acquire the bulk of fisheries presently not being utilised to the fullest advantage. For instance early this year or late last year the Screebe fishery came on the market. At the time the Minister said he did not regard it as being sufficiently important to acquire for public ownership but I suspect that the finances were not available.
That deal is still open.
The Minister did not move at that time. I wonder if the Minister could quantify the proportion of the 50 per cent in private ownership which are neglected and the proportion which are utilised to good effect. Has the Minister any idea how much of that total should be acquired? Many of these fisheries are being neglected because the owners are absentee landlords and pay little or no attention to the fisheries in question. It has also been pointed out to me by people interested in the inland fisheries that a number of lakes, especially in the midland counties of Cavan and Monaghan, are not controlled at all; there is no development of what could be very good fisheries. What steps does the Minister intend to take to see that these are developed in the public interest?
A number of points have been made. I would just like to clarify one aspect and that is in regard to the ESB. Under this legislation the ESB are in precisely the same position as any private owner of a fishery. Under this section which is a very global section the central board, provided the Minister is satisfied, are enabled to acquire any fishery in the country so therefore any of the ESB fisheries can be acquired under this section. That is the position.
What I was concerned to say on the last occasion was that, as matters stand now, by reason of the substantial investment by the ESB in their fisheries, particularly in the Shannon fishery, and their commitment to the development of fisheries I would not envisage moving against them in any way at present. But I can do it and any successor of mine could do it and if the ESB drop their commitment to fishery development in the waters under their control at some future date then the central board can, on application to whatever Minister is here, move against the ESB. Certainly as of now, the ESB have set up a magnificent fisheries division; they have a fisheries research station on the Shannon which is one of the best in the world; they have a magnificent stock there; they have excellent salmon hatcheries. They are losing £250,000 a year on it but they are committed to it. I asked them not to lose faith in it.
It was largely they and other people who are interested in fisheries who induced me to bring in the strong regulations last year for the preservation and conservation of salmon because I am convinced that unless we tackle the illegal fishing in our estuaries there is no point in the ESB, the State or anybody else embarking on a national hatchery policy. I agree that there should be a national hatchery policy. It is essential for the future that there be such allied with a natural rehabilitation of the existing spawning beds. The two go hand in hand and there is no point in putting the cart before the horse. The first priority in this area is to stamp out the high incidence of illegal fishing that has taken place particularly over the past ten years.
It is not in the estuaries only that is taking place.
Illegal fishing covers an even wider area than the estuaries as Deputy Deasy reminds me. In that context I was thinking in particular of the Shannon. The wholesale buccaneering that has gone on in the Shannon Estuary over the past five to ten years has been nothing short of a national scandal. We have done what we can and Deputy Deasy is aware of the fact that we have enabled controls to be exercised for the first time ever.
It was a national scandal and it has not been curtailed.
They are getting into the swing of things now.
They seem to be concentrating almost exclusively on my constituency.
Everybody can say that but they are not concentrating exclusively on one constituency. I will let the House into a secret. We are going to have a bonfire very shortly. We have nearly £500,000 worth of illegal nets located in various military barracks around the country, most of it mono-filament net.
The Minister should sell them to the strawberry growers in County Wexford.
We are getting into a debate on conservation now. The section deals with acquisitions.
Under a later section we will have an amendment which I have put down to deal with the purchase, sale and distribution of mono-filament nets. I have devised a formula to deal with this menace which is a totally illegal form of netting.
This all arose out of the the question of the ESB to whom I want to pay tribute. The House should not go off on a tangent about this, but the ESB are doing a magnificent job. I am in a position to inspect them. They would do an even more magnificent job were it not for this illegal fishing that is playing ducks and drakes with our whole hatcheries programme.
Can the Minister give a guarantee here that when this Bill is passed we will have a proper restocking policy from the ESB? I am not going to let him off the hook. He can talk for as long as he wants but I am still going to come back to it.
The ESB are already losing £250,000 a year on their present hatchery policy, as the Deputy has rightly pointed out. This is a magnificent effort by a semi-State body who need not be in this business at all.
It is disgraceful that legislation was not brought in until now.
They are doing this for the national benefit. Neither the ESB, the State nor anybody else are going to invest in a national hatcheries policy or a particular hatchery policy for a particular river, lake or water, unless and until the illegal fishing is stamped out. Is it not obvious that one is not going to put money into a hatchery policy to produce the fish if the fish are going to be collected by buccaneers at sea?
That is what this is for, after the Bill is through.
I assure the Deputy that a complete national hatchery policy will be initiated under this new central board once we are satisfied that we have illegal fishing under control and that the programme will not be just frittered away by illegal fishing.
May I come in here?
No Deputy will be denied his right to speak on the section. The Chair would like to point out that the section deals with acquisition and transfer. We are getting into a full-scale debate on conservation, illegal fishing, stocking of hatcheries and so on. I will call Deputy Cosgrave when the Minister concludes.
I want to come back to the section and to reiterate what I said, that under the section if the ESB ever lose interest in a fishery development in the future it is quite open, valid, legal and specific to acquire any such ESB fisheries. I want to make that position clear to the House.
What did the Minister say?
If at any future date the ESB, for instance, lose interest in fishery development, effectively the position is the same as that of a private fishery owner. They can be proceeded against under this section and any ESB fisheries can be acquired, as any private fishery can be acquired, by the central board on application to the Minister of the day on his being satisfied that it can be acquired. The Deputy will find that stated in section 36 (1) in clear, unambiguous English. The Salmon Research Trust are mentioned as are Bord na Móna. Any State body who may require a fishery are in the same position as any private owner. No distinction is drawn. Subsection (1) (a) states: .... it is necessary that a particular fishery be acquired under this section,
It cannot be plainer than that. That means that any and every fishery within the State is open to the acquisition procedures set out there in section 36. I hope that is clear.
I am very proud of this section. This is the first time that such a section has been introduced and the first time the State is taking on to itself this power to acquire such fisheries in the national interest either voluntarily or compulsorily. It is an historic occasion.
Deputy Treacy raised a point about stretches of water with no title, or unclaimed waters. I assure the Deputy that I have a lot of sympathy with the point of view that he expressed and when we were preparing this Bill I went into this point in very great detail. As he said, quite rightly, representations were made to me by angling bodies, the Trout Anglers Federation in particular, in regard to the acquisition of such waters. I am going to be frank as to why we did not include this in the Bill. It comes down to the legal question of making title, the rights of riparian owners, the rights to private property under the Constitution and so forth. We would be getting into a tangled legal undergrowth of trouble and we would have to build up a whole staff to deal with it and there would be no end to the difficulties involved.
I would not mind facing up to that if there were not enough waters that we can acquire fairly quickly and immediately provided the money is available for the purpose, but there are so many waters in the country and so many rights-of-way that can be acquired and so many waters that can be developed without getting into any legal tangle or tussle, that there is enough work in that area for the Central Fisheries Board for decades ahead. In other words, it is not as if waters with no title were the only waters in the country. They are not. I appreciate that there are many desirable waters which could be acquired which have no title and so on, but we face the problem of acquiring them and then facing legal action, being brought into the Supreme Court and so forth by some riparian owner who imagines that he or she has the right to such waters. That would be the situation, especially in an area like a stretch of water where hundreds of such people could be claiming a right to it.
Deputy Treacy was talking about unclaimed waters.
I know very well what he was talking about, but if you start to move against unclaimed waters a lot of claimants arise. Any lawyer will tell you that if you start to move against an unclaimed plot of land plenty of people will arise who will claim it and if you start to move against unclaimed waters every riparian owner will be in with some imagined right or other. I have examined the point fully and I recognise its merits, but on balance I came to the view that it is as well to get this legislation through, get this section on the Statute Book for the first time, deal with the waters that can be acquired and to which title can be ascertained and obtained, and deal with the access. I place greater importance upon the access than upon the waters themselves.
That is going to cause more trouble than we have already.