Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission & Advisory Forum
4.—(1) The Act of 1952 is amended in the Third Schedule by the deletion of paragraph 6(1) and the insertion of the following:
"6. (1) (a) One senior and one junior member shall be elected by stakeholders in each jurisdiction for a period of five years.
(b) If a casual vacancy occurs among the members there shall be a by-election in the jurisdiction which elected the outgoing member to fill the vacancy.“.”.
I will make three brief points before coming to the amendments. This is the first occasion the House has had a chance to discuss fishing and coastal issues since the terrible tragedies of the Pere Charles and Honeydew II. At the outset, I express the condolences of the Labour Party to the families and communities involved in those great tragedies, and also sympathise with the crew of the Discovery from Castletownbere for the ordeal suffered more recently. The pressure on coastal communities is such that workers felt it necessary to go out in inclement January weather to try to make a living. That is a heavy responsibility for the Government.
Since we last met in a full session in this House the Government's new marine strategy report, Steering a New Course, has been produced. It was launched a couple of weeks ago by the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, and the Taoiseach, and I hope we get a chance to debate it fully before the session ends because there are some important issues in it that are related to the business before us today and to the difficult time being experienced by many coastal communities.
I welcomed this Bill on Second Stage. The Labour Party was very supportive of moving the legislation through this House in the speediest and easiest way possible and is committed to doing so again this evening.
The three amendments in my name, on behalf of the Labour Party, sum up one of the outstanding concerns we still have and that is why I resubmitted the amendments. Amendment No. 1 seeks to ensure that the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 is amended so that there will be an election to decide the board of stakeholders for a period of five years. Amendment No. 2 seeks to amend the Fourth Schedule of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952, suggesting the advisory council should consist of members elected directly by stakeholders in the Foyle fisheries. Amendment No. 3 states that in the Fourth Schedule of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 the members should consult, liaise and advise directly the members of the advisory forum.
We met the Foyle fishermen while carrying out the preparatory work for this Bill and these amendments arose from the fact that there was a strong feeling among the stakeholders on Lough Foyle, in Greencastle and other ports in Inishowen that there had not been sufficient consultation regarding the Bill. The key stakeholders, including, we heard, people employing more than 20 members of staff and investing perhaps €2 million, were not adequately consulted and there was a feeling that the Loughs Agency implementation plan, based on a Centre for Marine Resources and Mariculture, CMAR, study, was considered flawed as many of the stakeholders refused to participate in that survey. Others who were surveyed were not involved in shellfish activities. Issues were also raised relating to security of tenure for existing operators on Lough Foyle and the fact that people who had spent years and millions of euro developing the mussel fishery or pursuing the wild oyster fishery were let down and ignored by the legislation.
There was a general feeling that the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and advisory forum should be made more democratic and transparent. In particular it was felt the commission should have elections in a more transparent and democratic way. The Minister told me, in response on Committee Stage, that the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 had been superseded, with regard to the Third and Fourth Schedules, by the Belfast Agreement of 1998. This matter affects the jurisdictions of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission was the superseding body. As a result the advisory forum was set up with 48 members but there was a feeling among stakeholders who came to see me that some members represented very few stakeholders and, effectively, represented only themselves.
The Minister gave an assurance, which I would like him to address this evening, that the North-South Ministerial Council, which referred to this project under the St. Andrews Agreement, would give some degree of accountability and democratic control of the commission and advisory forum to us. There is a Deputy here tonight from the area in question.
Stakeholders told us that the commission, on the Northern side, was governed by the d'Hondt system relating to the agreement in Northern Ireland. This seemed to be a very democratic system whereby all parties and all stakeholders would be represented. I seek assurances from the Minister that there will be an ongoing, high level of consultation in this area. In particular the Minister might comment on the proposal the Taoiseach made last week regarding the new Dáil committee for North-South business and the North-South Ministerial Council. When will it be up and running? What activities will it engage in? Will this legislation and the similar legislation we will cover this time next week on the all-island electricity Bill come within its remit?
I seek to reflect the views of stakeholders as they were put to me, the fact that the mussel fishery, the oyster fishery and aquaculture are long established in the lough and that people felt, at the very least, they should have received the same rights and guarantees under this legislation as those applied in Wexford harbour. I have referred to this in a forthcoming amendment. From our point of view, in the current jurisdiction on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle, the key issues we wish to see addressed regarding the fishermen should be reflected in this Bill. In a previous discussion on amendment No. 1 the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, informed us of this. I think that amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are valid if we are to have fully democratic control of the commission and the Loughs Agency.
I think amendments Nos. 1 to 3 are akin to amendment No. 17. The stakeholders, the people who fish the area, should be central to this and should have a significant voice. There should be as much gender equality as possible or practicable. I understand the value in hearing outside voices on the matter but, in the context of the agency in question, the history of distrust means people who know the area best should have a voice. I do not wish to detract from people currently on the advisory board.
I want the Minister to know that people in Inishowen and the Foyle region generally are anxious to have their voices heard with regard to the Bill and how it is formulated. A key concern is that it should not mean a hand-over of all power to any particular agency but that the Minister and the Department should have as much interest after this Bill is passed as they had during the weeks spent putting it through Committee and Report Stages.
I second Deputy Broughan's vote of sympathy on the loss of life of the people off the south-east coast. Our hearts are with them and I hope, in the not too distant future, there will be closure on this appalling tragedy that demonstrates the perils of the sea and the risks people have to take. It has been an extraordinarily difficult time for all the families concerned and we sincerely hope that the matter will be brought to a conclusion.
While it is recognised by all that this Bill is very important as it contributes to the Good Friday Agreement, we cannot ignore the fact that it also contains many flaws. As it stands it could cause problems for and divisions between stakeholders on the Foyle and Carlingford Lough. I was in north-east Donegal last weekend and the lack of concentration in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as mentioned by Deputy Broughan, was brought to my attention. The study on which the implementation plan for this Bill is based has been cast in doubt by the stakeholders. Clearly adequate consultation would have prevented much difficulty.
One of the concerns expressed to me related to the level of driftnetting that will be allowed on Lough Foyle. The ban on the driftnetting of salmon is contentious in terms of the cutting back in the number of licences to 35. Will the Minister of State explain the position on the operation of driftnets on the Foyle? Although there are counters available, there is no quota system operating on the lough. People are concerned about the effects of the implementation plan on driftnetting on the Foyle.
Security of tenure for existing operators on the Foyle was brought to my attention. The Minister has accepted the advice of the Office of the Attorney General on the definition of "shellfish", for which I am thankful. However, he has given advice on several other areas that impinge directly on the future implementation of the Bill. What thoughts has the Minister of State given to this? The Bill refuses to recognise adequately the work and millions of euro invested by existing operators in aquaculture sites. They took risks to create sustainable jobs in an area of high unemployment and used their own money without assistance from any Government.
Deputy Keaveney raised issues concerning the mussel and oyster industries. Unfortunately I was not present for the committee hearing on the matter but I read its note on duplication in the area of licensing. This is also a very contentious issue. Neither the Government nor its predecessor would accede to the operators' request for licences for their aquaculture sites. It is not the operators fault they are deemed unlicensed. Had the two Governments applied the same logic to the Foyle as they did in Carlingford, licences would have been issued. The operators on Carlingford Lough will have their work and risk capital recognised but their colleagues on Lough Foyle will not.
Targeting social need is a declared objective of this Bill but, by not recognising the investment of the operators, over 100 jobs are being put at risk in an area with one of the highest unemployment levels in Ireland. Those who know most about developing a sustainable fishery are not being given a proper opportunity to continue their work.
Perhaps the Minister of State will refer to the suggestion by local fishermen based on the Wexford Harbour experience, as indicated by Deputy Broughan. Like Lough Foyle fishery, the one in Wexford developed over many years through a lot of hard work. There have been successes in many areas. When the Department proposed to introduce a licensing regime, the status quo regarding the existing sites was accepted. A time period and methodology were introduced to allow existing issues regarding site boundaries, area designation, etc., to be resolved. When this process was completed, legislation was introduced that accepted the status quo as a starting point and covered future plans for enhancing the sustainability of the resource. The Foyle situation is very similar to that in Wexford and the lessons learned from the Wexford experience should not be dismissed summarily.
The Minister has reassured fishermen that an appropriate weighting will be given to existing track records when applying for aquaculture licences for the Foyle. He pins his faith on the Loughs Agency taking his view on board, but does not enshrine these assurances in law. The Loughs Agency has great responsibility with regard to appointments to the board. It is equally important that there be sufficient accountability and that consultation takes place. There is much uncertainty regarding accountability and Deputy Keaveney is more aware than me of the uncertainty over public consultation on the salmon, mussel and oyster industries.
The success of aquaculture development on Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough was brought to my attention last week. It is dependent on access to sufficient seed mussel. At present neither lough has sufficient natural seed to sustain the industry and it must therefore must be obtained from sources outside the loughs. This is inequitable in that any UK-registered vessel can enter Irish waters to fish mussel seed but an Irish boat does not have similar rights. It can only gain access to Northern Irish waters and thus the system is open to abuse by UK operators. This issue ought to be discussed.
There is no Northern Ireland register of fishing vessels; rather, there is only a UK register. The United Kingdom's single register does not differentiate between Belfast, Liverpool, Cardiff or London as ports of registration. Thus, mussel dredgers and non-fishing vessels beneficially owned in Wales or England, can access seed mussel off Wexford, but Irish boats cannot access seed off Wales. Irish mussel dredgers have no reciprocal access to mussel seed in Welsh waters, where there is currently a vast untapped seed resource. There is no restriction on where the seed may be re-laid. This means UK-registered boats beneficially owned outside Northern Ireland could continue to harvest seed in the Republic and simply leave their native seed untouched for future use. Any UK-registered vessel can access a Belfast fishing identification number that allows that vessel to fish in the waters of the Republic. Does the Minister propose to revisit the inequitable voisinage agreement to secure an even playing field? Irish vessels should either have fully reciprocal rights to access UK seed or the Irish seed resource should be accessible to Irish beneficially-owned boats only.
I join Deputy Broughan in expressing sympathy to the families of those lost at sea. I visited the families on a number of occasions and witnessed at first hand the grief suffered as a result of the tragedies along our coast, particularly at Dunmore East.
I have no problem debating the Cawley report in the House given that it contains good news. If the Whips can arrange the debate, we will certainly facilitate it.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, concern the composition of the former Foyle Fishery Commission and Foyle Advisory Council, as provided in the Third and Fourth Schedules, respectively, to the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. The amendments are concerned with ensuring stakeholders or representatives are consulted on issues of concern to them. The provisions of the Third and Fourth Schedules were repealed by the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999, which established the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. The 1999 Act provides for the composition of the commission.
The principle informing the Deputy's proposed amendments, which is that stakeholders should be consulted on issues of concern to them, was shared by the North-South Ministerial Council, which directed that the Foyle and Carlingford Area Advisory Forum be established. The current forum has 48 members, including recreational and commercial salmon fishermen, wild shellfish fishermen, aquaculturalists, environmentalists and hospitality providers. There are three working groups working on the agency's proposals in respect of the salmon fisheries for 2007, the agency's proposals for a marine and water-based leisure strategy, and the roll-out ofaquaculture licensing and its interface with the loughs' wild fisheries.
The Deputy wants to ensure that people's views, including those of the stakeholders, are considered in the development of future plans for the area. His concerns are addressed adequately by the arrangements I have outlined and, accordingly, I do not propose to accept his amendments. As the advisory forum was established under the direction of the North-South Ministerial Council, it is open to the latter to consider how it is working. Creating a body comprising elected representatives would require new legislation.
The Loughs Agency has published its proposals to end indiscriminate mixed-stock salmon fishing, as required by the habitats directive. This issue was raised by Deputy Perry. No decisions have been made on the number of licences or the criteria to be applied in allocating them. The North-South Ministerial Council will have to approve any regulations to implement changes in the licensing regime. I am well aware of the voisinage agreement the Deputy mentions, but this is sub judice, as it is the subject of court proceedings, so I cannot comment on that.
I wanted to try to ventilate as many of the amendments as possible. I wanted to ask the Minister of State about that Oireachtas committee, which should be helpful to Members of the 30th Dáil, hopefully most of us. What is the plan in that respect? Has the Taoiseach given any indication that the business such as tonight's could continue to be monitored, as regards this very important commission on the Loughs Agency so that our people on both sides of Loughs Foyle and Carlingford could be adequately represented in their business and livelihood in this House? Can the Minister of State give the House any assurances in that regard?
The Taoiseach referred to this committee. I am sure that all issues will be discussed but I shall get more details on it for the Deputy.
Will it sit in the lifetime of this Dáil?
I am not sure about that, but I can get the details for the Deputy.
Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 11 are related and will be taken together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 8, after "area')." to insert the following:
"All existing licences granted for specific Lough sites by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will be recognised.".
Before I begin, I should like also to be associated with the message of sympathy for the crew and skipper of the Pere Charles and also the Honeydew. I knew both Tomáisín and Pat Hennessy, personally, over the years. I fished in Tralee Bay with them and they were highly experienced people. The circumstances where fishermen find themselves having to meet a quota by the end of the week — if not, there is no carryover — is creating enormous problems for the whole fishing industry as people believe they must take chances in order to make a living. It is a terrible tragedy for the entire coastal area and particularly in the south east, in the Minister of State’s constituency.
I want to address amendments Nos. 4 and 11. As regards amendment No. 4, after line 8, I want the following inserted: "All existing licences granted for specific Lough sites by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will be recognised." I find amendment No. 5, as put by Deputy Broughan on behalf of the Labour Party, however, to be far more substantial and I will be supporting this and withdrawing amendment No. 4.
Amendment No. 11 seeks, in page 8, line 36, after "licence)." to insert the following: "The position and limits of existing licensed areas will be retained by the existing licence holder.". I have met with the fishermen from the Foyle. Having listened intently to them and given that many of them have long-standing stakes in that they have been involved in aquaculture in that area for quite a time, built up a small industry and invested considerable time and money in it, it is only right and proper that the right of tenure they have established over the years be protected. It is somewhat similar to what happened in Wexford Harbour where the licensees in that area had their rights protected for the future. In the circumstances it is only right and proper that their efforts, given the work they have put in, be maintained. Amendment No. 11 refers mainly to the sites on which people have lived and worked in that area. They have developed them and have established sites, from the very fact that they have been working there consistently, many of them for more than ten years. I hope the Minister of State will take on board amendments Nos. 5 and 11. Amendment No. 4 has been overtaken by Deputy Broughan's amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
"(2) In granting licences the Commission must recognise existing and historic rights of tenure for current long-standing operators on Lough Foyle. The allocation of such licences on Lough Foyle should follow precedent established at Wexford Harbour.".
In respect of aquaculture licences, the amendment seeks to provide that in granting them, the commission must recognise existing and historic rights of tenure for current long-standing operators on Lough Foyle and that the allocation of such licences should follow the precedent established at Wexford Harbour. As I mentioned on Committee Stage the stakeholders believe that this section of the Bill is badly framed and is based on a false premise. The experience of Wexford Harbour in this regard should provide the way forward for the legislation on Lough Foyle. In Wexford a very substantial unlicensed fishery developed over many years and operators in the area continued the successful development there, as in the Foyle, without a legislative regime. There were some inherent problems with boundaries and so on, but stakeholders in the south east seemed to be able to resolve these on a local basis. When the Department eventually introduced a licensing regime, as is proposed for Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough in this legislation, the status quo on the sites of existing operators was accepted. On meeting some of the fishermen from the area I recall them referring to one of the historic fisheries off Redcastle, for example, where there was a short season where people had operated for perhaps, 15 or 20 years. A sustainable type of aquaculture has developed in the Foyle, and in some ways is a very interesting model, as I mentioned on Committee Stage. By comparisons with other forms of aquaculture it seems to be very sustainable environmentally. It was felt that a similar time period and methodology to allow for existing issues relating to site boundaries, area destinations etc. to be resolved was put in place in Wexford. When the process was completed and the legislation passed, the successful status quo there served as a useful model.
As I mentioned earlier, the Foyle fishery has been built up with the investment of much blood, sweat and tears from the people of Inishowen. On the exploitation of that fishery, there are some impressive operators and decent employers who presented a very strong case here in the Oireachtas for Opposition spokespersons and their own local Deputies as well as for the Minister of State. I believe this is a reasonable amendment that seeks to give proper standing in this legislation to existing and historic rights of tenure. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, responded the last day on Committee Stage to the effect that this was a public fishery and there could be no recognition of the status quo. The historic standing provided that people operated among themselves but this could not be established on a legislative basis, he said. However, as I rightly pointed out, and as my colleague, Deputy Perry has mentioned, there is at least one other precedent on the Irish coastline where this has happened. We know that a large section of the lough has been mapped, where people were able to operate with ease outside Redcastle and other areas, in agreement.
I again urge the Minister of State to give some consideration to this argument. Even if he does not accept this amendment he could still, even at this late stage of the night, frame one of his own which would provide security and ease people's worries. My colleague mentioned a very important issue about the seed management advisory committee and the whole situation with UK operators chasing our scarce seed resources in Lough Foyle. I asked on Committee Stage whether this was an issue we could address. We are moving to some extent into uncharted waters in that these are the two great waterways we share with our sister jurisdiction, which all Members of the House hope will be a single jurisdiction in time to come. We are all citizens and people of this country on both sides. We have concerns about operators from other jurisdictions who did not look after their own resources sufficiently well. It is reminiscent of the discussion we had about the white fish regime in the north-east Atlantic. Our first duty should be to protect our people. The concerns put to us by the stakeholders should be reflected back to the Minister of State's colleagues in Belfast in the North-South Ministerial Council. We should come up with some system which would ensure the protection of the seed resources of our operators in the Republic.
I extend my sympathy to those who were lost at sea. Greencastle and Inishowen have had their share of very sad losses. It is one of the worst tragedies for people not to be able to find their loved ones. It occurred with the loss of the Carrickatine in Greencastle and we have heartfelt sympathy for those people who lost loved ones.
If I had realised that there was a certain amount of latitude, apart from the fact that I would have declared my interest that I live by the Foyle, I would have asked about the salmon fishery as well. Whatever decision is to be taken, it must be taken quickly. This time last year, people had already applied for the licences and were certain as to what would happen in the summer. People want certainty.
If an Irish or British boat can be registered in Belfast and thus can fish all waters in the UK and Ireland, it is too bad that a boat registered in Greencastle does not have the reciprocal arrangement. However, I know that the Minister of State cannot comment on that because there is a court case pending.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 11 will probably not be accepted on the basis that there is no existing licensed areas, which is what the Minister stated on Committee Stage. However, I follow the spirit of amendment No. 5. We are not starting from a situation where people have been licensed, but neither are we starting from a greenfield site. We are starting from a situation in which we are trying to legitimise the people who are there. We would not have aquaculture licensing if we did not have aquaculture. We have both wild and farmed aquaculture and we must recognise the reality. There is strong recognition of the history of the people there. Had we started from a greenfield site, nobody would put in a greater claim than anyone else. However, the mussel fishermen would say that about 40% of the Foyle is mapped out for mussels, yet only 10% has been occupied because of the lack of seed. The oyster fishermen would say that they have mapped out about 49% for oysters, although whether it is all used is another question. The environmental studies that were mentioned on Committee Stage might yield results on this issue.
There must be strong emphasis from the Department and the Minister of State that the people who have invested their time, energy and money in this are recognised. One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, and many of these people had to invest money that went nowhere. They had to make mistakes to achieve success. It was not a great honey pot for anybody. I would like to see not only the rights of tenure for those who are currently there, but also some opportunity for new entrants. However, I worry about too many licences being given out for a scarce resource. Unless we can solve the problem of seed, it will be unrealistic for the Department to think that aquaculture can be the bright new dawn for the Foyle area. A cake can only be divided in so many parts so it must be done in a sensible manner. Access to the seed is a golden goose, but it cannot lay the eggs to match its potential at the moment.
I support the amendments tabled by Deputy Ferris and Deputy Broughan. I was in Inishowen last weekend and the debate is very sensitive, particularly in regard to salmon. The fact that a tag will cost €7 is contentious, as will be the fact that the number of drift netting licences will be cut from 100 to 35. The politics of this is different from that of inland fisheries.
The Farrell Grant Sparks report commissioned by the Government has not been debated in this House, but it should be discussed. The management of the Foyle is different from the management of fisheries within our jurisdiction. With the differences between oyster, mussel and salmon fishermen, there is a great lack of trust up there. The oyster fishermen were at loggerheads with the mussel fishermen regarding the duplication of licences. People have invested heavily and as this Bill updates the 1952 Act, it is very important. There is a huge element of trust involved.
Will the Minister of State indicate the level of accountability involved in the appointment of those from the South? There has been a lack of consultation with the stakeholders. Deputy Keaveney pointed out that there is a huge demand for mussels, but if that industry is to be grown, we must get the seed. That is a very contentious issue up there. People with oyster beds feel that mussels are to the detriment of oysters. Salmon fishermen are annoyed that drift netting is being allowed. We have spoken about banning drift netting, but the Foyle is a huge stretch of water. Only 35 licences are being issued for drift nets, which is down from 100 licences. Last year, 20 licences were apparently not reissued.
Having met a number of people there last weekend, I felt that the politics of this are difficult. Different people have different concerns and many of them are uncertain as to who is in charge. With the joint authority, very few people knew who was effectively in charge. Very few public meetings were called with the stakeholders and their contributions were not taken on board. It is important that we assure people that there will be accountability under this new agency. If the vested interests have a grievance they must be able to approach somebody. It is important that the Minister of State indicates that those appointed on this side have the resources to deal with complaints. There must also be complete transparency. Until now, this has not taken place.
What has happened in the Foyle is quite extraordinary when compared to the inaction within the seven fisheries boards in this State. There are fish counters in all the rivers going into the Foyle and the authorities know the exact number of salmon there. There is no quota whatsoever and the whole thing is based on the assessment of the availability of salmon. However, there is now talk about charging €7 per tag for salmon. Perhaps the Minister of State has some information on that. I ask him to explain. It is quite different to the management of the inland fisheries within the Minister of State's jurisdiction.
While this legislation is welcome in some respects, many questions have not been answered. Many people are unhappy because they lack confidence in the ability of management to ensure the future survival of those working in the oyster, mussel and salmon fisheries and to develop aquaculture businesses and wild aquaculture. I ask the Minister of State to outline the level of accountability that is in place to protect taxpayers who are investing a considerable amount of money in the management and funding of our fisheries resources.
Deputy Broughan proposes in amendment No. 5 that when the commission grants licences, it must recognise the existing and historic rights of tenure of current long-standing operators in Lough Foyle. I understand that existing operators do not have any legal right to operate in any particular area. It is important to bear in mind that as the Lough Foyle area is a public fishery, individuals cannot have exclusive rights. This situation will change when this legislation is enacted, as aquaculture activities in the area will be licensed. Individual licence holders will have exclusive rights in the licensed area to cultivate that area. The ownership of any fish that is farmed will be vested in the licensees.
The aquaculture implementation plan for Lough Foyle sets out how the agency proposes to regulate aquaculture activities in that area. The plan provides that consideration be given to applicants' history, commitment and experience in the aquaculture sector, including previous financial investment. The circumstances in the Foyle area are different to the circumstances that pertained in the Wexford area prior to the licensing of aquaculture activities there, as there are some special areas of conservation in the Foyle area, as well as wild mussels and oyster fisheries. The agency will conduct a strategic environmental assessment, followed by an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment under Article 6 of the habitats directive. The assessments will enable the agency to determine which areas are suitable for aquaculture. They will identify sites that are unsuitable, or protected under environmental legislation. Consequently, some operations may not be permitted to continue in their present location. The details of the suitable sites and protected areas will not be available until the studies have been completed. In the circumstances, having seriously considered the views of the Deputies, it is not possible to incorporate an amendment of this nature. However, following the Wexford analogy there will be full consultation. The various studies will be published for consideration by interested parties.
I will now speak about amendment No. 11. Section 53 of the 1952 Act provides that aquaculture licences shall define the position and limits of the licence area. Current licences in Carlingford Lough are covered by section 53B, which provides that when the Bill is enacted, these licences will be treated as if they were granted under this legislation. A similar provision is contained in the draft Northern Ireland order for licences issued by the Northern Ireland authorities in respect of Carlingford Lough. The Bill also provides that the Loughs Agency will be empowered to vary licences in the public interest, and where appropriate at the request of the applicant. In such circumstances, this amendment is not required because the Bill does not affect the provisions of existing licences. Moreover, the amendment would not be compatible with the need to ensure that the Loughs Agency has the necessary discretion to act in the public interest if required.
On an issue that was raised by Deputy Perry, the environmental studies will facilitate the designation of wild oyster and mussel fisheries, as well as areas suitable for aquaculture and special areas of conservation.
The Minister of State referred to the proposed new section 53B, which relates to Carlingford Lough and the southern side of Lough Foyle, which is in Northern Ireland. Is there not a discrepancy between the licences, in the sense that the operators on the Southern side of Lough Foyle are being treated differently to the operators on the Northern side of the lough and the operators on both sides of Carlingford Lough? While the implementation plan sounds fair and interesting, was it not possible to include a reference to it somewhere in the Bill, for example in one of the Schedules?
The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, gave serious consideration to the issues raised by Deputy Broughan following the Committee Stage debate. He felt it was not appropriate or suitable to introduce an amendment to deal with the issues in question.
I would like the Minister of State to comment on the salmon issue. Is he aware of the payment of €7 per tag?
The Minister of State has spoken twice on this amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
"(2) In granting licences the Commission must recognise existing and historic rights of tenure for current long-standing operators on Lough Foyle. The allocation of such licences on Lough Foyle should follow the precedent established at Wexford Harbour.".
In reference to an issue raised by Deputy Broughan, the 1959 Act and the subsequent legislation does not apply in the Foyle area.
It does not apply.
As amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related to amendment No. 6, amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 6, line 19, after "sea" to insert "or an oyster bed,".
These amendments relate to aquaculture licences, which I have spoken about previously. I am keen to ensure that oyster fisheries be included in this section. It is unfortunate that this legislation neglects to refer to the protection of wild oyster beds. I hope these amendments will be accepted. The Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997, which states that an aquaculture licence should not interfere with oyster beds, is the only protection given to wild oyster beds in the Republic. I am not sure why this protection is not included in the Bill. Wild oyster fisheries provide employment. Careers in this area have been handed down through the generations. I was disappointed with the response to this amendment on Committee Stage, when the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, said that "oyster fisheries in Lough Foyle are public fisheries — they are not owned by any individual or body" and, therefore, "it is not necessary to seek consent". It may not be necessary to hold discussions with the parties involved in this area. It is shocking simply to ignore the many years of hard work done by fishermen in Lough Foyle to develop the oyster fisheries there. This issue affects those who work in the mussel, oyster and salmon fisheries. There is a great deal of uncertainty within the industry.
I fully recognise that this Bill forms part of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. However, I have referred to many issues that cannot be ignored. When one examines the development of the industry over recent years, it is obvious that a great deal of funding has been allocated to it. Updating of the relevant legislation has also played a part in the satisfactory development of the sector. The lack of development of the State's inland fisheries over the years contrasts with the astute management in this area. It is clear that great progress has been made with wild aquaculture and farm aquaculture. This Bill will regulate aquaculture to a fair degree. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the industry. While I do not doubt what the Minister of State has said, it is important that assurances are adhered to in line with the spirit of the Bill. The degree of credibility that will attach to the board will depend on the people who are appointed to it by the Minister. The public will be reassured by the level of transparency and consultation with the stakeholders. I have no doubt the tenure and investment of the licence holders in the past will be taken on board in the future issuing of licences to them and new entrants. It is possible there will not be many new entrants; it will probably be the same stakeholders.
The Minister has been frank that this does not encompass everything but I believe he is taking account of the concerns of people who have invested heavily up to now. It is regrettable there was not more public consultation about this Bill. People might have been given a level of reassurance they have not received to date.
I understand what was said on Committee Stage. It is the same as the argument regarding mussels. We need legislation because there is no ownership and there are no licences. That is the reason this Bill is necessary. Amendment No. 8 provides that the commission shall not license a person to engage in aquaculture within the limits of an oyster fishery that is the property of a private person. That is what the legislation is about; there is no ownership of either mussel or oyster fisheries in the Foyle area. However, there is a traditional element of oyster fishing and people have invested in the oyster fishery in the same way as there has been investment in the mussel fishery.
I hope the mapping that will be done by each sector and by the Department in the context of examining special areas of conservation and other environmental matters will take account of all the different interests. I do not know enough about the science to know whether it will form a neat package that will discriminate one area from another. The Minister spoke on Committee Stage about sanitary areas between mussels and oysters. I hope that can be worked out and will not cause major arguments. I am told by most of the fishermen I have talked to that there is room in the Foyle for everyone. In that context, I hope those who have invested in oyster and mussel fisheries will be given adequate recognition so they can become the owners of licences and become the real owners and stakeholders. The Department, through the Loughs Agency, should recognise the investment they have made.
I support the amendments. Deputy Perry correctly raised the rights of people who have been involved in the oyster fishery in particular and seeks to ensure that their historical entitlements are recognised. As Deputy Keaveney said, the rights of all the stakeholders should have a place in the implementation plan. It appears we must wait for that plan. The Minister does not seem to be of the view that we can insert a protective amendment for the oyster fishery. The argument for it has been well made by my colleagues and I ask him to reconsider accepting these amendments.
I support Deputy Perry's amendment regarding the oyster fishery. The traditional right to fishing has existed there over the years and it would be an awful injustice if the fishermen's rights and entitlements were not protected in the future.
Oyster fisheries in Lough Foyle are public fisheries. As they are not owned by any individual or body, it is not necessary to seek such consents as requested by Deputy Perry in the amendment. Regional fisheries boards may issue oyster licences in the jurisdiction under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959. However, this Act does not apply in the Moville area and no such licences have been issued with regard to the Foyle. Oyster fishery orders may be made under the 1959 Act but such orders do not apply in the Moville area.
Wild oyster fisheries will be regulated under section 13 of the 1952 Act if this Bill is enacted. The environmental study will identify the different fisheries and aquaculture interests. The amendment of the definition of "fish" on Committee Stage will greatly facilitate the fair and transparent regulation of aquaculture and fisheries, mussels and oysters, in the interests of all the stakeholders. In these circumstances, the proposed amendments are not necessary.
It is regrettable that the 1959 Act does not apply to Moville. I respect Deputy Keaveney's remarks because she knows better than anybody how sensitive the issue is there. The derogation in the 1959 Act does not give the Minister many powers with regard to the implementation of what would apply elsewhere in the State. As Deputy Keaveney stated, there should be enough for everybody in Lough Foyle but it will depend a great deal on the science. Given the huge scientific resources available, it should be possible to identify areas to ensure there is not an overlap of mussel and oyster fisheries.
It is a huge area. I do not know the size of the body of water but it looks huge when one drives into the peninsula. Obviously, the concern is that there would be an intensity of licensing in one area. It is important that the mussel and oyster fisheries are clearly and separately marked out. Apparently, the people who fish for oysters do not fish for mussels.
It is mainly separate.
The same operator would not fish for both mussels and oysters. I accept theMinister of State's comments. However, it is important that the scientific survey of the waters would indicate what capacity there should be for each licence to be granted. If there is public consultation with all vested interests, the lack of trust could diminish.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 6, line 27, after "fishery" to insert "(including an oyster fishery)".
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 6, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
"(5) The Commission shall not license a person to engage in aquaculture within the limits of an oyster bed or oyster fishery which is the property of any private person or to which an oyster bed licence or oyster fishery order relates, without the consent of that private person or of the person who for the time being is beneficially entitled to the oyster bed or oyster fishery.".
Amendment No. 10 is related to amendment No. 9. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 7, line 14, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
This relates to subsection (2) of section 53B of the 1952 Act which states:
Without prejudice to any other provision of this Part, regulations under subsection (1)(a) may contain provisions similar to the provisions of Directive 85/337/EEC and may, in particular, require the Commission, when considering whether to grant an aquaculture licence, to take account of any information received by, or representations made to, the Commission which relate to the impact of aquaculture on the environment.
The amendment seeks to change "may" to "shall". The requirement should be mandatory. The provision I quoted seems to contradict the revised section 53C which follows it. That states: "In determining any application for an aquaculture licence, the Commission should consider any written representations relating to the application which are received by the Commission within the period of 28 days...". This was discussed on Committee Stage. I welcome the Minister's amendment. He has stated that he would consider my amendment even though he had some doubts about it. He has extended the provision to include any representation made to the commission which relates to the impact of aquaculture on the environment. At the Government's presentation on seafood a few weeks ago there seemed to be a view held by the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Minister of State, that aquaculture must be the way forward in the long term if there is to be a sustainable seafood industry which could meet the challenge of the massive requirements for nutrition, given the benefits of seafood. The environmental impact is critical. One of my first contributions in the House and in the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, was to do with complaints I received regarding Lough Swilly and the environmental impact of aquaculture in that waterway on the other side of Inishowen which is very beautiful and famed. The environmental impact is critical to the issue of the sustainability of aquaculture if this is the way forward in increasing the supply of seafood. The Labour Party and my colleagues in Fine Gael and Sinn Féin have our own views about the targets put forward in the Government's seafood strategy and the question of funding. The Minister put forward a proposal for 3.5% of the total national development plan budget for his Department to be put into fisheries. This amount should be revisited by the next Government, whatever its composition.
I do not see why the Minister should not make it mandatory that there be a requirement for submissions on environmental impact on our coastal waterways because we all have to live in the environment. These waterways must be protected at all costs while encouraging coastal communities to develop sustainable seafood industries.
Section 53 of the Bill is an enabling provision empowering the Loughs Agency to make regulations concerning applications for aquacultural licences. As an enabling provision it is written in discretionary terms. The amendment proposed by the Deputy is mandatory in nature and as such is not compatible with an enabling provision such as this. Any regulations made by the agency will require the prior approval of the North-South Ministerial Council.
Members will recall that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, shared Deputy Broughan's concerns on Committee Stage and undertook to obtain legal advice on the matter to see how best these concerns might be addressed. My officials have discussed the position with their Northern counterparts and the legal advisers in the two jurisdictions. On foot of the agreement reached in the course of these discussions, I am proposing amendment No. 10 which I believe meets the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. One of the points made on Committee Stage was that obligation on the Loughs Agency in respect of the consideration of representations on the environmental matters in section 53B is discretionary whereas section 53C imposes a mandatory obligation on the Loughs Agency to consider any written representations made in respect of an aquacultural licence application. The amendment I have proposed ensures that this mandatory obligation in section 53C will apply to representations made in respect of the impact of aquaculture on the environment. I propose that amendment No. 10 be accepted and that amendment No. 9 need not be accepted in these circumstances.
Is amendment No. 9 being pressed?
In the context of the Minister of State's response, I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 7, line 41, after "application" to insert the following:
"(including any representations made to the Commission which relate to the impact of aquaculture on the environment)".
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 16, line 50, after "available" to insert "electronically and".
I note that as in the case of amendment No. 9 the Minister has inserted the words, "where practicable". We are becoming used to doing our business by electronic means and it would be good to be able to see the register on-line, just like other registers and the planning lists. I would not put in the words, "where practicable" but I accept the Minister's proposal. I will withdraw amendment No. 12 in the context of what the Minister has done in amendment No. 13.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 17, line 1, to delete "inspection by the public" and substitute the following:
"inspection (including, where practicable, inspection by electronic means, by the public)".
Amendments Nos. 14 and 22 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 17, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"(2) Regulations under subsection (1) will provide that the level of fees to be charged shall be indexed to the general level of aquaculture and fisheries licensing fees in the Republic of Ireland.".
This amendment is a plea to the Minister. These amendments refer to the concerns of stakeholders about the level of fees that would be utilised, given the context of the earlier salmon discussion in which colleagues were engaged and the commission's need for revenue. Stakeholders were gravely concerned that licences and fees would tend to be higher than equivalent fees in the Republic. It was the view that they should be indexed to the level of fees in this jurisdiction. We have become accustomed to this with the drift and draft licences. They came before the House and we were able to invigilate them. Our stakeholders on the two loughs should not be disadvantaged as against those in other parts of Ireland, and they should not be treated harshly.
On the same point, in my constituency the same people are fishing both in Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly. There has always been a stricter regime in Lough Foyle than in Lough Swilly. I ask that the assurances given previously by the Minister with regard to indexing and an equal playing field with regard to fees be considered. I am not sure if it needs to be included in the legislation but the assurances were given before by the Minister and I want to reiterate my concerns that my constituents can be treated in two different ways on the same peninsula.
Aquacultural licence fees are calculated differently in the two jurisdictions. In this jurisdiction the same Minister has responsibility for licensing aquaculture and the foreshore. The bulk of the fees are levied through the aquacultural licence, having regard to the productivity of the licensed site. In Northern Ireland the bulk of the licence fees relate to the foreshore and are levied by the Crown Estates Commission. In terms of aquaculture operating in Lough Foyle, it has been agreed that the fees in respect of the foreshore will be shared between the Crown Estates Commission and my Department. The scale of the fees is the subject of ongoing negotiations between my Department and the Crown Estates Commission. It is intended that as far as possible the fees applicable to Lough Foyle should be consistent with the fees applicable in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Fees in respect of fishing licences are calculated by the Loughs Agency, having due regard for the existing policy in the two jurisdictions. Any regulation that the agency may make in respect of fees will have to be approved by the North-South Ministerial Council. Deputies will appreciate that as this is a North-South Body, it is not possible to index its fees to those applicable in Ireland. Any decision relating to the North-South Bodies must be agreed jointly. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to make this type of amendment.
As it is now 10 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and not disposed of, are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
This Bill is an important measure in the delivery of services by the North-South Body as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. I thank Deputies, particularly Opposition Members, for their co-operation on progressing the legislation and for recognising the importance of its enactment in tandem with the equivalent legislation in Westminster.
I also thank Deputy Keaveney, who comes from one of the areas covered by the legislation, for her valuable contribution. I also acknowledge the commitment and good will officials, particularly those in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General, have shown in progressing the legislation over a number of years. I thank officials from the North, particularly those in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Office of the Legislative Counsel and the Loughs Agency, who have made a major contribution to advancing the Bill. I thank officials from my Department for their contribution over the years and the advice they gave the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and myself in recent weeks.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for the briefing provided to Deputies on this complex legislation. The Fine Gael Party was pleased to co-operate with him on progressing this important cross-Border legislation. I understand the reason clarification cannot be given in certain areas. The new cross-Border body will set an example for future management of inland fisheries. I compliment the Minister of State on his openness and frankness as regards the legislation. I am certain the commitments given but not enshrined in the legislation will be taken on board by the secretariat which is given responsibility for its implementation.
People in the Foyle region have waited 13 years for the legislation. On 2 April 2007 it will be 11 years since I was elected to the House. Promises were given in the run-up to every new legislative programme that it would include this Bill. I thank the Minister and Minister of State and their officials. I also thank Opposition Deputies for working with the Government.
The most significant element of the Bill was the change in the definition of shellfish and ensuring its provisions extend to the fish the legislation must cover. This issue was missed by many in the media who appeared to find it too complicated to understand. I note the interest of members of the media today.
We did not want legislation to touch a cap to the concept of North-South bodies. Fishermen will have to implement the provisions. The issue has not been fully addressed by any stretch of the imagination and difficulties will arise in the implementation phase. However, if the implementing plan is made as clear as possible, these difficulties will be minimised. The Bill provides a badly needed framework which we will be able to work.
I thank everyone involved in the Bill and I do not underestimate the difficulties involved in bringing it to this point. I ask Ministers and their officials to maintain their interest in the Foyle fisheries, which are as much a part of this country as any of the Ministers' constituencies.
I thank officials for their assistance and the briefing they provided which informed this discussion. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who, in his usual affable manner, completed the passage of the Bill through the House. I am also grateful to him and the Minister for accepting a number of Labour Party amendments.
As Deputy Keaveney noted, this is an important Bill for people on either side of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. Its enactment will constitute a practical realisation of the work under way since the British-Irish Agreement entered into force in 1999. A similar Bill will come before the House next week. Developments such as these offer hope. Close co-operation between the two jurisdictions, working in tandem, are the way forward for this country.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. I am also grateful to Deputy Keaveney and members of other Opposition parties for the responsible manner in which they approached this debate. The cross-Border dimension of the legislation is of fundamental importance and marks the Bill as historic. I thank everyone associated with it.