I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 17, 37 and Priority Questions Nos. 3 and 6 together.
I outlined in considerable detail to the House on 25 October last the wide range of consultations I had held with the different interested groups and agencies with a view to resolving the difficulties that had arisen regarding angling licences.
Also on that occasion I set out my general perception of the problem and the objectives I had set myself. In particular, I stressed the need to bring about reconciliation between the various pro and anti-licence groups so as to heal the deep divisions which sadly are so evident in some communities.
I mentioned the need to create a mechanism which would overcome the perceived difficulties raised by the licence concept and could be capable of being implemented in a fashion which would be tolerant of local feelings and traditions. I added that I was finalising specific ideas along those lines but stressed that it would be wrong to underestimate the difficulties of getting the various parties to come to any agreement and that there would have to be give and take on all sides.
Having carefully listened to and considered the views put forward by the various groups involved, I decided that the best course of action was to introduce a completely new system of funding trout and coarse fish angling development to replace licences for trout and coarse fishing. In this regard I should mention the strong avowed commitment by all groups to support the funding of inland fisheries. The new system I propose now provides them with the opportunity to demonstrate the earnest of this commitment.
This new system, the details of which were announced generally on 10 November last, envisages trout and coarse fish angling development co-operatives being established in each of the seven fisheries regions. The membership of the co-operative will comprise holders of "share certificates" which will be issued annually. The holding of a certificate will enable the holder to fish. It will also entitle him or her to vote for representatives on the regional fisheries boards as well as for the management of the co-operative. There will be special arrangements and incentives for clubs as well as £ for £ matching for an initial period for receipts. There will be exemptions for young anglers, senior citizens and unemployed and disabled persons. The management of the co-operative will, in the main, be elected by the shareholders on a local basis and they will be given considerable discretion in managing their own affairs on the basis of good democratic and co-operative principles.
These arrangements, I am satisfied, meet the genuine grievances of all parties and are aimed at reconciling the different groups by promoting co-operation and neighbourliness — comhar na gcomharsan — on our rivers and lakes. If this concept is taken up and worked by committed anglers, it has enormous potential and could lead to a transformation of the funding of the in land fishery resource.
I have met the various angling groups at length to outline and explain my proposals. I remain confident that they can still attract all-round approval and support. The tourist sector has acknowledged my efforts as a major advance. Other groups who consider a licensing arrangement to be the best approach, while they have reservations, are nevertheless prepared in a spirit of compromise also to go along with my proposals, if they would lead to a settlement.
I have made it clear at all times that my door remains open and that I am prepared to clarify further the proposed arrangements to interested parties. That process, however, will not involve any fundamental change in the balance of my proposals which were carefully worked out after several months' deliberation and consultation and were framed in such a way as to take account of all points of view so that the various parties involved can be reconciled.
I have had a request from representatives of the anti-rod licence campaign for a further meeting and I will be arranging this as soon as possible. Deputies will appreciate that I have been fully occupied in recent days with important European Community business relating to our sea fisheries and aquaculture, which is a £150 million export industry. I have, in fact, four Council meetings within a period of less than a month and these must be given their proper priority.
I will be appealing again to the anti-licence group to give my scheme their full backing. I have made a major and generous offer and this has been acknowledged across the spectrum. The only criticisms I have received are largely to the effect that I had gone too far. But I make no apology for that. The onus now, however, lies squarely on all to reciprocate and to do so without delay so that planning for next year's tourist angling season can proceed on a proper footing in those areas where fishing was disrupted over the last year or so. Deputies will be well aware, of course, that angling has proceeded as usual over large areas of the country and that very successful coarse angling, with many visitors participating, is, in fact, going on at the moment in many localities.