Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - EC Fishery Agreements.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

4 Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for the Marine if he has satisfied himself that Ireland's fishery interests were taken into consideration by the EC before the recent EC agreements with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were signed; if in view of the fact that the EC is presently examining a request from Russia for a bilateral fisheries agreement, he will give the implications this proposed agreement with Russia could have on fishing grounds off our west coast which is the only place the Community can offer access to Russian fishing vessels; and the steps, if any, he intends to take to safeguard Irish fishing rights in that area.

I am happy to assure the Deputy that Irish fishery interests were given full consideration before the conclusion of fishing agreements between the EC and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

In relation to a potential fisheries agreement between the EC and the Russian Federation, the European Commission presented its proposal for a new negotiating mandate at the March Fisheries Council of Ministers meeting. The Deputy is correct is supposing that if the Commission's proposal for a new mandate was adopted in its present format by the Council any agreement which might ensue could allow Russian vessels access to the Irish zone of the north-east Atlantic. However, I would emphasise that this is merely the beginning of the discussions on this matter and I can confirm that our difficulties, on control, conservation, fleet management and balance grounds, with the possibility of Russian vessels fishing in our zone, have been voiced at the Community's external fisheries working group in the period since March.

The Commission's proposal for a new negotiating mandate is due to be considered in detail for the first time by the Fisheries Council of Ministers at its meeting today in Luxembourg. I wish to assure the House that the interests of the Irish fishing industry in this matter, not only in relation to access to waters, but also as regards stock allocations and market access will be articulated at the Council.

I should add that Ireland, both directly and as a member of the Community, is anxious to do everything possible to develop good relations with the Russian Federation and to facilitate its economic development, including the development of its fishing industry. It would, however, be unreasonable to expect that, if this should be proposed, we could support Community development proposals for the Russian fishing industry which would operate to the disadvantage of the Irish fishing industry. Any development of fishing activity to which Ireland would be party would have to address our disadvantaged position in our own waters. I am not satisfied that the mandate the Commission is seeking is consistent with that basic position.

Can the Minister of State say what benefits will accrue to Ireland, as a member of the European Community, under these agreements with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia which were signed recently? So far as I am aware, the only benefits that will accrue are reciprocal fishing rights. Can the Minister State say what Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have to offer in terms of reciprocal fishing rights and joint venture projects? If those countries gain access to our one fishing block off our west and north-west coast this will have serious implications for our trawlers in terms of the catch landed. The Minister of State has to realise that a substantial number of European Community fishing vessels are already operating in that zone. Indeed, 70 of those vessels are tied up at Castletownbere, Kinsale and Dunmore in protest against the EC fishing laws.

I want to assist the Deputy in eliciting information but we must proceed by way of supplementary question at this stage.

I agree with what the Deputy has said; few benefits will accrue for our fishing industry. That is the reason the Minister is making a strong case and putting forward a forceful argument in Luxembourg at this time. I should remind the Deputy, however, that Castletownbere has benefited considerably during the past few months having regard to the fact that the Russian fleet has anchored in the harbour.

They have been welcomed with open arms.

That is the problem we face and it is being discussed in Luxembourg at present.

The Minister of State did not respond to the first part of the question: what do those three Baltic States have to offer Ireland, in terms of reciprocal fishing rights?