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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 21 Jan 2021

Vol. 1003 No. 4

Brexit (Fishing Industry): Statements

Before I start today, I want to pay tribute and extend my sympathies to the family of the late Hugo Boyle, CEO of the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation, who passed away on Tuesday. He was a tremendous champion for the fishing sector and for fishermen. He was a man of integrity, dignity and accomplishment and a tremendous family man and professional. On behalf of the Department and everyone here in the Dáil, I extend my sympathy to his family, his wife Ellen, his children and wider family, and to his many colleagues, who valued him dearly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

As Deputies will all be aware, fisheries was one of the most difficult areas of negotiation around the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement will, unfortunately, have a negative impact on our fishing industry. This impact, however, would have been far greater had the Barnier task force agreed to UK demands or had we been in a no-deal scenario, which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and their subsequent displacement into Ireland’s fishing zone. While the outcome on fisheries was a difficult compromise, I can assure Members that the Government will work to ensure the fisheries sector and the coastal communities that depend on it are supported through the period ahead.

Last week, I published a preliminary analysis of reduction of fisheries quota shares under EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which details the level of quota transfers for Ireland across the different stocks. This compares the quota shares allocated to Ireland in 2020 and the corresponding quota shares for 2021 to 2026. The quota reductions are to be spread out until 2026 and the aggregate final quota transfer by Ireland is estimated to be €43 million by that time, which amounts to a 15% reduction compared with the overall value of the 2020 Irish quotas. The upfront change for 2021 is sizeable at around 60%, however. These reductions across the different stocks will be felt immediately by our fishing industry when the full annual quotas for 2021 are determined in March.

On key western mackerel stock, our quota share reduces from our current 21% in 2020 to 18% for 2021, and this will reduce to 16% by 2025. This represents a 26% transfer of our quota to the UK by 2025. In Ireland's largest fishery for our whitefish fleet, which is nephrops or prawns, in area 7 our quota reduces from our current 37% to 34% in 2021 and is reduced to 32% in 2025. This represents a 14% transfer of our quota by 2025. There are also notable reductions in many other whitefish stocks. These include substantial reductions in the whitefish quotas off the north west and west of Scotland to such important stocks such as haddock, which has a 23% transfer, megrim, which is a 19% transfer, and monkfish, which is a 20% transfer.

The analysis of reduction of fisheries quota shares document also shows that Ireland contributed approximately 15% of the total value of our 2020 fisheries quotas to the agreement. For other member states, this figure is considerably less. The quota transfers required of Ireland are clearly disproportionate and the outcome is inequitable in terms of burden sharing. The analysis my experts have undertaken and which is published on the Government website clearly demonstrates this inequitable burden placed on Ireland.

Yesterday, I met with Mr. Michel Barnier, the EU fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Virginijus Sinkevičius, and the ministers of the fisheries groups of member states regarding fisheries matters post-Brexit. At that meeting, I made it clear that Ireland considers the transfer to the UK as involving a very high share of some of our most important stocks. I pointed out that within the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, Ireland contributes to providing rich fishing grounds for EU member states and our exclusive economic zone provides spawning and nursery grounds on many of the core stocks, which are then shared with the UK and on which the trading co-operation quota package and the Common Fisheries Policy depend. I also strongly expressed my disappointment that the principle of burden sharing with the EU member states has not been adequately respected. I made clear that the inequitable relative contribution of quota share by Ireland is contributing to a strong sense of grievance within our fishing industry and more broadly. I pushed strongly that a mechanism must be found within the European Commission and relevant member states to find solutions. I intend to continue to keep the focus on this situation and use any opportunity available to seek constructive solutions that will help alleviate this unacceptable position.

UK vessels, including Northern Ireland vessels, have had a pattern of landings into Irish ports prior to the UK leaving the EU. Many of these vessels are based in Irish ports despite being registered in Northern Ireland. Following a detailed examination in consultation with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, I decided to designate five additional Irish ports for UK-registered Northern Ireland vessel landings for both illegal, unregulated and unreported, IUU, legislation and also for North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEAFC, requirements. The five new ports designated are Rossaveal, Howth, Greencastle, Rathmullan and Burtonport. These join Killybegs and Castletownbere, which continue to be designated for landings from vessels of any third-country origin. I have notified the European Commission to ensure the necessary notifications and requirements are in place to have these ports operational from the start of February 2021.

Under the new designations, Rossaveal and Howth will be able to accommodate landings of demersal fish from vessels under 26 m and will operate Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Greencastle, Rathmullan and Burtonport will be designated for non-quota species landings from vessels under 18 m and will operate from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday. From 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom is a third country and subject to IUU legislation and NEAFC requirements. This means any UK, including Northern Ireland, registered vessel must comply with third country landing requirements when landing in the EU, including Irish ports, and is a direct result, unfortunately, of Brexit and is included in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Up until the conclusion of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve, it remained unclear whether Northern Ireland vessels that had access to Irish waters would continue to do so. The designation of these extra ports is an important decision which will allow fishers in small vessels to continue their livelihoods following Brexit. Now more than ever, it is important to support our fishers and fishing communities and do all we can to help them continue their livelihoods.

I will touch on the issue of authorisations to fish in UK waters, and first, on the voisinage arrangements for the zero to six nautical mile zone in Northern Ireland. Last night, I met with Mr. Edwin Poots, the Northern Ireland minister with responsibility for agriculture and fisheries, to discuss the implications the trade and co-operation agreement has had on the fishing industry for both Irish- and Northern Irish-registered vessels. I have confirmed with the Commission that the voisinage arrangements can continue as before. The new EU-UK Fisheries Act 2020, however, will require Irish vessels to obtain a licence to access the Northern Ireland zero to six nautical mile zone. Northern Ireland vessels will similarly require an authorisation under EU regulations to continue to fish in Ireland's zero to six nautical mile zone.

The work to authorise EU vessels to fish in UK waters before 1 January 2021 was challenging, especially given the short window between the conclusion of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement and the start of the new year. My Department has worked closely with the European Commission to ensure that fishing vessels that traditionally fished in UK waters were granted access by the UK authorities. The temporary authorisations granted to 220 vessels expires tonight. Some of the additional data being requested by the UK to issue full licences has caused difficulties and there is uncertainty as to when the UK will issue annual licences for all of the 220 vessels. In order to avoid a situation in which vessels fishing at present in UK waters would be operating without a UK permission, my Department is issuing temporary authorisations for a further three weeks. This arrangement has been agreed between the European Commission and the UK authorities and the UK will publish a list of the vessels operating under the temporary licences. This will give time to ensure that all UK demands are met, that annual licences are issued by the UK and that EU authorisations are issued by my Department.

The focus to date has been on vessels that have in the past two years fished in UK waters or on operators that request an authorisation to fish in UK waters. However, given our geographical proximity to the UK and to its waters, we have sought that all our fleet be granted access by the UK to its waters. My Department will continue to work to maximise the number of vessels granted access and in the most timely manner possible.

On 25 December 2020, the European Commission published a proposal for an EU regulation establishing a Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR. The objective of the proposed BAR is to provide support to counter the adverse consequences of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in member states, regions and sectors, in particular those that are worst-affected by that withdrawal, and to mitigate the related impact on their economic, social and territorial cohesion. The draft regulation is subject to negotiations in the Council and European Parliament and its provisions may change. It is proposed that the BAR would have a budget of €5.37 billion in current prices and that approximately €1 billion would be allocated to Ireland in 2021 as pre-financing to assist Ireland in funding appropriate measures in 2021 and 2022 to assist the worst affected sectors of our economy. Government is aware that our food sector, not least our fisheries sector, is particularly impacted by the outcome of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement and is examining how best to deploy Ireland's proposed allocation under the reserve to help our economy adjust to the new arrangements.

I have listened carefully to the representatives of the industry and I have met individual fishermen who are facing a difficult situation. I have reflected on how to ensure that the funding made available to the sector in the BAR is focused to meet the challenges of the sector and of the coastal communities most impacted. I am minded to set up a task force involving seafood industry representatives and representatives of other stakeholders to provide recommendations on the appropriate measures that will best support the sector and the local coastal communities. I intend to set out the arrangements and the terms of reference for this task force later this week. I will ask the task force to immediately focus on possible arrangements for a temporary fleet tie-up scheme to counter the impacts of the reduction in quotas, which will impact from the beginning of April. When the task force has recommended on a tie-up scheme and when that is implemented, it will provide short-term assistance to the fishing vessels most impacted by the quota agreements with the UK, kicking in during the second quarter of the year. I hope the task force will provide recommendations on a range of other actions and measures that will allow the sector and the coastal communities to adjust and develop so as to counter both direct and downstream impacts on the wider seafood sector and coastal communities. I look forward to further engagement with Members during this session and to working with everyone in this sector in the time ahead.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. There are no two ways of looking at this. Whatever people's views on the overall Brexit package are, most if not all Members of this House would argue that, in the main, a good deal was negotiated, insofar as was possible, on behalf of Ireland. Putting that aside and looking at this from a fisheries perspective, this was an incredibly bad deal for Ireland. It is not the first time that Irish fisher communities have been the losers in our interactions with the European Union. Transfers to Britain as a result of this deal will disproportionately impact Ireland with €42 million out of the total of €182 million. That is not fair and nobody would accept or even argue that it is fair.

Does the Minister accept that there needs to be an overall re-evaluation of the Common Fisheries Policy? I hope the Minister accepts that because anybody looking at this objectively would accept that the quota Ireland receives is pathetic when one considers that we are the largest island in the European Union and our proportion of the quota does not in any way reflect that. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be an all-of-government approach to this? We know that if an Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine goes to an Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting and suggests a reopening of the Common Fisheries Policy he will be laughed out of the room. This can only be dealt with effectively if it is done at a Head of Government level and as a Government priority. In other words, we should tell the European Union that we are not accepting any further treaty change until there is a re-evaluation of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Does the Minister accept that at a minimum, there needs to be a Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries and the marine? I am not casting aspersions on the Minister's dedication to this area but this is crucial to so many communities and to our domestic economy, particularly in coastal communities, that it requires a hands-on approach. We need a Minister of State with dedicated responsibility. Does the Minister agree with that and will he bring that to Cabinet for consideration?

I thank the Deputy for his contribution. He outlined in a measured way how the overall agreement is a positive outcome in terms of the wider economy. However, as I have said, there is a significant impact on the fishing sector, albeit that impact is not what it might have been in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It was not what the British Government was looking for, nor was it what was sold to their fishermen in advance of the Brexit vote or since that.

I have outlined clearly in my contribution the disproportionate burden in the quota reallocation that is happening as a result of the outcome of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement. I will be taking that to Europe at every possible level and we have communicated our view on this to the European Commission at every level of Government. In the upcoming Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings, I will be strongly reinforcing that view. Likewise, in the run-up to the next review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which will take place throughout the end of this year and into next year, I will make our view clear. My clear objective and that of the Government will be to try to ensure a strong outcome to the review of the Common Fisheries Policy in terms of the allocation of quota to Ireland and the best possible result from that. I know that is a view that will be shared across all parties and it is an objective within the fisheries sector as well.

On the Deputy's second point on a Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, I have been honoured and glad in recent weeks to be a full Cabinet Minister who was at the Cabinet table at all times as we prepared for Brexit and as we made sure everything possible could be done in advance of Brexit, particularly as we negotiated and put forward the strongest possible national position throughout the process. Likewise, since then I have been present at Cabinet at all times and I have been engaging with my counterparts at European level. That full Cabinet status for the marine has been more important than ever at this critical juncture for the sector. My county has more of a stake in this issue than any other. As a Donegal man, I have been glad to be in a position to engage with so many fishermen and to represent their interests as a full Cabinet Minister.

The Minister will have been engaged in extensive discussions with fishers around the coast and he will know better than most the disaster that they see this deal as. It should be remembered that this was an industry already struggling. I met with the Foyle Fishermen's Co-operative yesterday online and they advised me that, in Donegal alone, as many as 400 jobs are threatened on the back of this appalling deal. The Minister will be aware that our fishing industry acted in good faith, working with other member states' fishing representatives, and they were shafted here. The burden that the Irish fishing industry is being asked to take is shocking. They do not want financial compensation. They want to fish the abundance of fish in the waters around our country. The Government voted down an amendment from Sinn Féin yesterday that mandated the Minister to go back and renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that the Irish fishing industry gets a fair share of the fish in its waters. The Government voted down that carefully worded motion. I ask the Minister now if he will seek to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy to get a fair share of the fish in Irish waters for our fishing industry?

I made clear in my contributions so far my absolute determination following on from the trade and co-operation agreement and the resulting unfair burden on our fishing quotas, which is more significant proportionately than that which other member states have to carry. We knew from the outset the grave danger our fishing sector was in and the grave danger a no-deal outcome presented to us given that one third of all our fish is caught in UK waters. If we had been blocked from those waters, the EU fleet, including our own, that fishes in British waters would have been displaced into our waters, so we knew the grave and drastic implications a no-deal outcome would have had from a fisheries point of view. We fought tooth and nail, working alongside the fishing sector domestically right through the negotiation process, to ensure that fisheries was prioritised at all time and that we held the strongest line possible. That resulted in fisheries being the very last issue dealt with. That was because we were fighting so hard on it and doing everything we could to put forward the strongest possible argument.

The British Government, as the Deputy will be aware, was looking to take back all the fish the EU fleet, including our own, catches in its waters under the zonal attachment principle. They were looking to take back 100% of that. We did not want to give any of it. The ultimate deal resulted in 25% of what the EU fleet, including our own, catches in UK waters being reallocated between now and 2026. That is not an outcome any of us wanted but it was a result. It was the best case scenario or best possible result we were able to get given the challenge of those negotiations. While they wanted 100%, they ended up getting 25%. It was 25% too much from our point of view but, as I say, it avoided a no-deal scenario which would have been drastic and catastrophic for our fisheries sector. As Minister with responsibility for the marine and working with all my Government colleagues, I will continue at European level to try to address the unfair burden in that and, in terms of the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, to put forward Ireland's case and what we bring to the Common Fisheries Policy, and to do everything I and the Government can to have that reflected in the policy as well.

The Minister is before the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine tomorrow and we will develop this conversation then.

With the limited time I have left, I will ask about Rockall. As the Minister will be aware, the naval authorities of Britain have prevented Donegal fishing boats from accessing the crucial waters around Rockall, particularly the zero to 12-mile limit. For example, Foyle Fishermen's Co-operative, as the Minister will be aware, derives one quarter of its income from those fishing grounds around Rockall. It is essential to their survival. Will the Minister give us an update on the negotiations with the British Government and will he defend the right of Donegal fishermen and Irish fishermen to fish in those grounds?

I am sorry there is no time for a response. The Minister will have to give a written-----

Could I finish a sentence to the Minister?

There is a set time here. It is not the Minister's fault. I suggest that the Minister gives a written response. Written before me is that Sinn Féin has ten minutes in total for questions and answers. That time is now up.

We will come to that when the Deputy's party slot comes or the Deputy can give up that slot now.

I am not negotiating time with the Deputy. There is a Business Committee. Go back to the Business Committee. The Deputy's next colleague speaking may want to do it.

Let any independent observer see what a nonsense this is.

I am moving on to the Rialtas.

The Deputy is out of order. I have given him time. I am going back to the Government's two speakers, Deputies Matthews and Christopher O'Sullivan.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

I beg Deputy Sherlock's pardon. In that confusion, I missed Pairtí an Lucht Oibre.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I took off my glasses. I was then reading. Gabh mo leithscéal.

I say in the best spirit possible that it is not the first time that has happened to Pairtí an Lucht Oibre.

If the Deputy wants to use his five minutes like that, he may go ahead. I do not mind but I will be bringing down the bell at five minutes. The Deputy may use it any way he likes.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. In the short time that is open to me, I share with Deputy Mac Lochlainn an interest in the question around Rockall. It would be good to have some clarity on that. That is my first question. As I only have four and a half minutes left, a one-minute answer would suffice.

I thank Deputies Sherlock and Mac Lochlainn. The Government is very much aware of the importance of the zero to 12-mile zone off Rockall for fishermen. Our position is resolute in that we have a strong tradition in that area. We will continue to hold that position. We are engaging diplomatically with the Scottish Government at present in trying to find a resolution to the issue that there has been in the past couple of weeks.

I welcome the reply. I look forward to hearing about progress on that matter. The Minister has mentioned the idea of a temporary fleet tie-up scheme in the context of the €1 billion Brexit adjustment fund. Is he giving consideration to a decommissioning scheme, and if so, will he include the smaller vessels that would have been excluded which were under the 18 m threshold in such a scheme? We want to ensure, if such a scheme is being considered from that €1 billion, that smaller boats would be included in that as well.

I thank Deputy Sherlock. The Government is clear in its commitment to stand ready to support the sector to address the impact that the sector has seen as a result of the outcome of the agreement, both in terms of representing our interests in Europe in trying to address the burden share as part of that but particularly in terms of trying to address the impact financially, both in terms of the sector and in terms of coastal communities. Part of that will be consideration, certainly in the short term, of a temporary fleet tie-up scheme. I will be consulting with the sector on how any impact can be addressed in the long term. As I outlined in my initial contribution, my intention in that regard is to set up a task force to ensure that there is full engagement and that all ideas from the sector, from those who are affected and from coastal communities, properly and fully feed into that and inform that approach.

It would appear from the Minister's reply that he has not given consideration to the idea of a decommissioning scheme. I would ask, frankly, because it is important for us to be honest with people in fishing communities as well. There will be those who will avail of a decommissioning scheme if it is appropriately funded. It is something that should be put on the table.

It is important for us to be honest with fishing communities as well. The fact of the matter is that the consequence of this deal and the loss of quota will have an impact, especially on smaller inshore vessels. Let us be honest with fishermen about that. I would ask that the Minister give me a clear answer in respect of whether he will consider the idea of a decommissioning scheme, specifically in favour of smaller vessels throughout our coastal communities, in the context of this €1 billion fund.

The outcome of the agreement, which in total involves the transfer of 15% of our national quota between now and 2026, affects all vessels of all sizes. The species most affected are mackerel, prawns and other whitefish species such as haddock, monk and megrim. It will affect many vessels. The Government is fully cognisant of this and stands fully ready to support the sector, as well as to address all outcomes. In the short term, it will be about a temporary fleet tie-up scheme. We have examined all contingencies including the possibility of decommissioning.

I am keen to engage with this sector on how we go about implementing it. The sector knows how it will be impacted. I want to inform it how it will be supported, how we can grow and ensure a sustainable and healthy fisheries sector and how we can address the unfortunate impact of Brexit.

We are moving to Deputies Matthews and Christopher O'Sullivan who are sharing time.

Our fishers and our fishing communities are going through a tough and stressful time as outlined by the Minister in his opening statement and other Deputies. Despite the Brexit deal, there are still many uncertainties. We still do not know exactly the quotas and the total allowable catch that will be shared among the sector or what sustainability criteria will be applied to it. We cannot guarantee that the scientific advice on sustainable fishing will be applied to UK waters. There is an indication that the UK is preparing to invest heavily in refitting its fishing fleet while weaker protections for the sustainability of its fish stock have been introduced. These are all very worrying when we share neighbouring waters.

At EU level there are legal commitments to end overfishing by last year but this has not been achieved. We are committed to the EU biodiversity strategy target and our programme for Government commitment to designate 30% of our marine area as marine protected areas. That process is starting. A marine protected area does not mean one cannot do anything in it or neutralise it. It just means that it is managed in a way that conserves the area and protects it.

Through our marine planning and development management Bill, we will be addressing how the ambitious and challenging development of large-scale offshore renewable energy will be managed. This process needs to work closely with our fishers, especially in the Irish Sea which will be the first place this work is carried out. The offshore renewable industry will create many jobs and bring economic benefit to our coastal communities. Ports like Wicklow and Arklow in my constituency are ideal bases to serve the supply chain for the offshore industry. There are opportunities for those in the fishing industry with such good local knowledge and experience to benefit, to become part of that supply chain, to change skills and to work in that industry. It is an area that we need to look at with those in the fishing industry.

It is also important that there is good co-ordinated co-operation between the fishing community and the offshore developers when surveys or works may temporarily prevent fishing within those areas where those works are going on. Protecting and preserving our marine environment is the most important measure we can take to assist our fishing communities.

Our marine environment is under serious and continuous threat, as well as being damaged. Marine biodiversity is in as much trouble as our terrestrial biodiversity. I asked environmental NGOs recently at a joint Oireachtas environment committee meeting what the biggest negative impact on our marine environment has been. Their answer was clear - fishing.

Will the Minister urgently engage across all sectors of government to ensure that the establishment of the marine protected areas, marine environmental protection and the conservation of marine species are carried out with the highest level of scientific expertise? Will he ensure we take that advice and work in close consultation with all those stakeholders involved, particularly the fishing community, as well as environmental and community representatives? Will he assist fishing representatives to engage with the offshore renewable energy industry to ensure good co-operation, benefit and understanding of the development that will take place over the next few years and the opportunities that this development will present?

I thank Deputy Matthews for his contribution and his insight into the issue of the future of our fishing sector. I certainly concur that there is a sustainable and healthy future for our fishing sector. We have to work on this, however.

Obviously we have had Brexit hanging over us for the past four years and all of the damage that it could potentially do. While the worst impacts were certainly avoided, thankfully, there has been an impact which we have to work with the sector to adjust to and then help it to grow and be a strong sustainable livelihood into the future. I acknowledge Deputy Matthews's contribution on how we can do that.

The Minister has acknowledged the impact that the Brexit deal will have on the fishing sector. The Taoiseach has acknowledged the severe impact that it will have on fishing communities across Ireland. Many aspects of it are unfair, such as the amount of quota share for a species like mackerel which has been given back to the UK. Ireland will give back 26% while Spain will give back 0.2% and Denmark will give back 0.8%. From those percentages, one can see straight away that Ireland is unfairly burdened and severely impacted by the Brexit deal. It is important that we react because businesses will close and jobs will be lost.

Last week I requested that the Minister set up a specific task force to deal with the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry. I am delighted he has acknowledged that and will set up such a task force. When will it be set up? Who will make up the task force? It is important that it includes the fishermen, the fisherwomen, the producer organisations and all relevant industry stakeholders.

I thank the Deputy for his contribution. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work he has done and the engagement he has had with me in the run-up to Brexit, representing the interests of fishermen. Like my constituency, the fisheries sector is important to Cork South-West. In the run-up to Brexit, the Deputy took a constructive approach in championing and defending the sector to ensure the outcome from Brexit was as positive as possible.

In recent days, we had engagement on the idea of a task force which I am considering. I have also discussed with many in the sector how this could be a valuable and constructive way to go forward. I acknowledge the Deputy's role in pushing this. Over the next week to ten days, I will be engaging with the sector on the task force's composition and its full terms of reference to ensure it is up and running soon. It will be essential to how we go forward with the views of fishermen and coastal communities. In the same way that I took the approach in advance of Brexit of working closely with the sector, I intend to work closely with it now.

I appreciate that response and clarity. I look forward to seeing the make-up of this task force.

There are still other opportunities to redress the unfairness and the imbalance in the deal. The €1 billion Brexit impact fund is a significant opportunity. It is vitally important that the fishing sector gets a fair share of that impact fund.

There have to be opportunities with fishing other species. We mentioned mackerel which has to be looked at again. For other species such as hake, haddock and monk, some EU nations, such as France, are not using their total allowable catches. It is important that we go back to those figures and see where there is wriggle room for the Irish fleet to be able to increase its quota without increasing the overall total allowable catch, because the protection of fish stocks and species is important. Will the Minister give some details on this?

Any option or idea will be fully explored. My objective as Minister is to ensure our sector is as strong as it possibly can be at European level and we have a strong quota for the various species.

In particular, I want to address the outcome we have seen from Brexit. I am working closely with the sector on this and I will fully explore and take forward any idea and suggestion. Ultimately, our objective is to ensure fishermen have fish to catch while at the same time recognising they will have to be supported to address what is an inevitable outcome from Brexit.

The next Sinn Féin speaker, Deputy Martin Kenny, is unavoidably not here so the next slot is for the Social Democrats.

I have just been informed as the Sinn Féin Party Whip-----

The Deputy is making a request.

With respect, we are working under restricted conditions.

I am trying to hurry things up to keep within the time. Is the Deputy's request to speak instead of Deputy Martin Kenny?

The request is granted.

I really appreciate that in the exceptional circumstances and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle very much.

I join with the Minister in paying my condolences to the family and friends of Hugo Boyle. He was a Donegal man but he was very important to fishers throughout the island, particularly in the south and west where he was the chief executive of the producer organisation. I have seen some very moving tributes to him and I join the Minister in paying tribute to him.

With regard to the issue of licences, I appreciate that the Minister listened to the concerns of fishers and has taken steps in the right direction in designating more ports but the difficulty is that the European Commission notified the Department last year, which gave it plenty of time that there was an issue with designation. The Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation, NIFPO, corresponded with the Department and asked about this issue. There was plenty of notice that there was going to be a problem. Right now, there are still affected fishers. For example, Dunmore East will need to be designated. There is a substantial fishery. It is the closest to some of the waters off the UK. Numerous vessels with UK licences land there every year and it would have a real impact. Due to the ill-health of Hugo Boyle, I assume, this issue may not have been raised as forcefully as it would had his health been with him. That may have been an oversight but I ask the Minister to address it. Piers such as Malin Head, Ballywhoriskey and Magheroarty in Donegal should be added.

I am also disappointed that Sea Fisheries Protection Authority officers seems to have controlled the time window available, which is Monday to Friday. We cannot ask fishers to fish a five-day week. They fish depending on weather conditions. There could be tremendous weather on a Saturday or Sunday when they are forced to go out and fish. There needs to be a review of these time windows. We need to respect that the industry has to work with the weather. We do not know what the weather will be on any day of the week so it is unreasonable to limit people to Monday to Friday. I say all of this while giving the Minister considerable credit for fighting the case and sending a message to fishers that somebody was willing to challenge those in authority in the Department. Credit is given to the Minister for his effort but more needs to be done and I ask him to review this and take representations from fishers.

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for his acknowledgement on the effort that we have gone to to try to accommodate this. I am the very first to accept it does not fully address it and that we cannot, unfortunately, go back to the situation that obtained beforehand and access the arrangements that were in place. Unfortunately, it is a result of what has happened with Brexit and the radical changes it has made to the relationship between Britain and Ireland and in terms of the UK fisheries policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. I put great effort and detailed work, with my team, into assessing this. I looked particularly at what the landing pattern was to try to ensure a geographic spread in the designation. Approximately half of the national landings of Northern Irish registered boats in the Republic are in Donegal, for example, so four out of the seven are in Donegal. There are also Rossaveel and Howth. Other areas had much lower landing figures, which is why they were not designated. I will keep it under review as time progresses and my ears are certainly open to the challenge.

Perhaps a written reply could go to cover the details.

I commend the Minister on his engagement with the industry so far. It is quite rare on big issues such as this when engaging with stakeholders to have so much correspondence with the Minister. I hope he keeps it up and I commend him for it. We are all aware of the considerable concerns in the fishing sector, with the Brexit agreement seeing a total loss of €43 million and Ireland surrendering a greater percentage of quota than most EU states. We need reassurance for coastal and island communities that the Minister will put in place schemes to support those who need them most. I have a number of items to raise and I will give the Minister time to respond.

The European maritime fisheries and aquaculture fund is a crucial support for sustainable fishing and the economic development of coastal areas. Its predecessor proved vital in fostering innovations to develop sustainable markets for small-scale and island fishing communities to stay alive. When will the text of the new scheme be available to the Minister and other stakeholders? Will he provide stopgap investments for current projects, such as the Government is doing with the LEADER programme at present?

There are ongoing issues with the designation of ports for the landing of UK-registered Northern Irish boats. The excessive reregistering costs are simply not an option for many, and I am sure the Minister knows this. Also, the 24-hour notice for landing is simply unworkable for many people. Will the Minister ensure the designation of further ports to those already announced? Will he introduce exemptions to notice periods until fishers have had a chance to adapt to the new arrangements?

With regard to quotas and decommissioning, does the Minister plan to address the loss of 15% of our quotas? Are there plans to establish a decommissioning scheme? Previous schemes have often been at the cost of small-scale and inshore fishing, which is the type of fishing we need to promote, and to the advantage of larger and commercial fishing. It is very important that any potential decommissioning scheme prevents this inequity and does not allow the sector to become dominated by a small number of big players.

Many of these issues can be connected with how decisions are made and whose interests are being prioritised. For many small-scale fishermen and women it can feel as though the Government is working against them rather than fighting for them. This has been the case with successive Governments and I hope this will change. They represent the type of sustainable fishing that has been practised for generations in west Cork and other coastal and island communities. However, successive Governments have focused on the larger, more lucrative - by more lucrative I mean more lucrative for the few and not the many - and the more damaging types of fishing. It is essential the Minister facilitates the granting of producer organisation status to small-scale representative groups to better reflect the various types of businesses, such as family businesses and island and coastal communities, that are often overshadowed by the larger players. Ireland has a diverse coastline with various requirements at regional level. Will the Minister please assure the organisations seeking producer organisation status that he and his officials will work proactively with them to ensure this? Their voices need to be heard at this crucial time for the industry. At present, many are feeling frustrated and held up by bureaucratic technicalities. The Department should be out there working with them to meet requirements. This is the type of Department that fishing communities need. Will the Minister make it happen with regard to producer organisations? I ask the Minister to prioritise this question.

I thank the Deputy for her contribution and overview of the challenges. On the Deputy's final point on producer organisation status for smaller groups, I certainly will work with them in trying to facilitate them where appropriate. Recently, I met the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, which has made an application and represents approximately 40 vessels. I am working with it. It is important that we can facilitate producer organisations, as they are a very important way to ensure fishermen are represented and engage with the Government.

On the point regarding reregistering Northern Irish boats, the Deputy heard my contribution earlier on this. Unfortunately, Brexit has radically altered the legal position between Britain and the EU and the particular arrangement in place for Northern Ireland. There are issues and a totally altered legal situation between the UK's fisheries policy and the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

In order to designate any ports, there has to be significant regulatory oversight available. I have been working closely with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and doing the best that has been possible, given the resources that are there, to accommodate the designation of seven ports, when it was two before this. We cannot, unfortunately, do away with the additional red tape and administration that is going to come with that designation. There is going to be, for example, the four-hour notice period, which is a requirement under illegal, unreported and unregulated, IUU, and North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEFC, regulations, and also the need for a tax certificate from the Northern Irish authorities for the catch to be landed. There are still real challenges there but certainly, as Minister, I was keen to do all I could to facilitate them, within reason.

First, I thank the Minister for the move he made in facilitating fishermen with Northern-registered boats at the ports. However, it is very restrictive. It is Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., in Howth and Rossaveal, and much more restrictive, as he knows, in his own county. Is there any way of facilitating fishermen who need to land at the weekend in order to get to markets early in the week, in other words, the Tuesday market, and who want to put the fish fresh on the market? It is an issue that has been raised with me and it seems a valid one. I am sure some arrangement could be made with the SFPA. In Rossaveal, for example, there are staff of the SFPA there seven days a week, or so I am told. I wonder if something further could be done on that. I recognise there was movement but I think we have to go a little further. We want to get back as near to where we had it before. While we cannot go back there fully because there are checks to be carried out, perhaps there could be some movement on that. That is the first question.

Will I ask all my questions together?

Whatever the Deputy wishes.

It is up to the Deputy as long as he leaves enough time for the answers.

I will try. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might stop the clock too.

Second, there is a perfect storm at the moment for the shellfish sector. There is Covid, Brexit and all the problems getting goods in and out. My understanding is that, particularly with farmed oysters, the price has literally gone through the floor, although some other shellfish are not as badly affected. Is there any plan to give assistance to that sector? Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Department of Finance did not see fit to include them in the CRSS scheme, so they do not even get their overheads, never mind the fact they are holding stock that is very difficult to sell at any margin, and the drop in price for oysters is quite scary.

The third issue concerns consultation on the small amount we are going to have left to give out. The quota management advisory committee has 1,198 boats registered. The vast majority of people work in the inshore fleet but while the producer organisations have four representatives on that committee, I understand 80% of the boats are inshore boats and they have one representative. Will the Minister consider increasing the representation for the vast number of inshore fisher-people? It should not be done by the output of the boats but by the number of the people engaged in the industry.

Fourth, I again thank the Minister for a parliamentary reply which stated that the Common Fisheries Policy is renegotiated every ten years. He gave me a warning that it is majority rule but, of course, many countries do not have a big stake in North Atlantic fishing. The Minister also told me in a parliamentary reply that our share of the fishing waters has gone from 10% to 12%, even though we are the country, with Germany, that lost the biggest percentage of quota. Therefore, the water we have has gone up proportionately and we have done very badly on quota. It is not a question of success or failure; it is a question of trying. Can the Minister guarantee that, in those negotiations, he will bang the table hard and that he will outline clearly the historic injustice done to this country in the Common Fisheries Policy, and that Ireland will keep shouting about the injustice of this until justice is done? I remember being very impressed at a European Council meeting I attended – an arts meeting, as it happens - where the Greeks were still giving out about artefacts that had been stolen from them in the 19th century, long before the EU existed. Eventually, that issue got on the agenda. It is time we started banging the table. There is an old saying that the crying baby gets the bottle. It is time we started wailing in regard to the injustice of fishing.

I thank the Deputy for his commentary, overview and assessment, and for his engagement over the last period of time in regard to fisheries issues and, in particular, in regard to Rossaveal.

With regard to the designation, up to Christmas Eve, it was not clear whether Northern Ireland-registered vessels would be able to fish in Irish waters. As the Deputy knows, it was widely reported there was a 50% chance of a Brexit deal. Thankfully, we had a deal on Christmas Eve and that means those boats will be able to continue to fish in Irish waters. It crystallised the issue in regard to access to ports and also crystallised the type of designation requirements that will be in place in regard to vessels. Subsequently, following significant engagement between my Department and the SFPA, we have put in place arrangements to try to accommodate those vessels. I will keep those under review but we have to work within the resources and capacity available. I pointed out previously that additional significant challenges are unavoidable, and it is important to point that out. I know those fishermen will be putting preparations in place before the start of February to be as prepared as they can be and to ensure they are able to work with that.

In regard to the shellfish sector and oyster prices in particular, last autumn, I launched a fund and a compensation package for the shellfish sector to try to help our oyster fisherman to address what was a very difficult and challenging year. I know that was very much welcomed, particularly by the IFA aquaculture committee, which had lobbied strongly for it, as well as the many fishermen within the sector, oyster fisherman in particular, who had a challenging year and made representations. I will continue to monitor the situation in the time ahead. They have been able to avail of the wage subsidy scheme, which has been very valuable and has been acknowledged to me by many as being important to them. I will certainly continue to engage very closely with the sector in regard to the pressure it is under.

With regard to the quota management committee, no proposal has been put to me but I will certainly consider any proposal I get. It is important that we have, and I very much value, engagement with the sector and with fishermen in terms of how quotas are allocated. I very much value the role of the quota management committee. There are many different views within the fishery sector itself in terms of how quota should be allocated, for example, when it should be allocated, and the quota management committee is very important in regard to bringing people together to try to provide appropriate advice to the Minister.

With regard to fishing waters and our quota situation, I can assure the Deputy I will be advocating in every way possible at European level over the time ahead in terms of putting Ireland's position forward and putting forward the tremendous resource we bring to the Common Fisheries Policy, and the fact that should be reflected in the allocations we receive. I will be fighting in every way I can. The Deputy knows, of course, that everybody will be fighting the same. As he said himself, success is never guaranteed but I can assure him we will be going there with all our capacity, all our effort and all our powers to try to ensure the best possible outcome for our country.

Níl lucht iascaireachta na tíre seo sásta faoin droim láimhe atá tugtha dóibh arís eile. Chuir mé fáilte mhór roimh an gcinneadh Ros a' Mhíl a ainmniú mar cheann de na calafoirt ina mbeidh cead ag báid ó na Sé Chontae agus ón mBreatain teacht isteach ann agus iasc a thabhairt i dtír. Ní raibh ciall ná réasún leis an gcinneadh gan ligean d'iascairí an méid seo a dhéanamh agus, mar sin, is comhartha dearfach é an dul chun cinn ciallmhar seo. Caithfimid anois infheistíocht a chinntiú do chalafort Ros a' Mhíl agus calafort domhainmhara a fhorbairt ansin. Impím ar an Aire geallúint a thabhairt dom inniu go ndéanfar é sin agus go bhfuil sé ar chlár oibre an Rialtais.

Is mian liom freisin aird an Aire a tharraingt ar cheisteanna a bhaineann leis an mBanc Porcupine atá san Atlantach amuigh ó Ros a Mhíl. Tá an t-ábhar seo ina chnámh spairne ag iascairí an iarthair faoi láthair. Agus muid ag plé na ceiste seo inniu, níl aon chead ag báid áitiúla ar an mBanc Porcupine, bíodh is nár chaill báid na Breataine fiú cuóta amháin agus go bhfuil siad amuigh ag trálaeireacht faoi láthair. An féidir leis an Aire míniú go dtarlódh sé seo? Cén fáth a bhfuil báid áitiúla ceangailte leis an gcé?

The fishing community is outraged, and rightly so, at how once again it has been left behind and forgotten. I was glad to see that Ros a' Mhíl was designated as a port that would allow for Northern and British fishing boats to land their catch. The previous decision not to allow this was ludicrous and it is good that a sensible decision has been reached. We urgently need to invest properly in Ros a' Mhíl and act on the development of a deep water quay. I am asking the Minister to commit to that now.

I also want to raise the very concerning issue of the Porcupine Bank off Ros a' Mhíl. Fishermen have contacted me on this. While we are discussing this, the Porcupine Bank is closed to local boats while British boats did not lose a single prawn quota and are now trawling for prawns. How can it happen that local boats are currently tied up?

There is also great concern among those who fish pelagic. They have lost a large percentage from their quota, far more than other countries, and this is crippling the fishing community. It affects the entire community; not only the fishermen themselves but local shops, the people who fix the boats and every element of the local economy. We are looking for renegotiation of the common fisheries policy to get a much better deal for Irish fishing communities. Will the Minister commit to that?

I am very well aware of the issue in Rossaveal. Deputy Ó Cuív has raised it with me on several occasions and is constantly pushing on it. I will continue to assess the situation. I fought very hard on the Porcupine Bank at the EU fisheries Council meeting in December and we will return to it at the next EU Council meeting. I hope we will have additional quota between now and the end of March to increase our prawn fishery in the Porcupine Bank.

On the common fisheries policy, I have clearly outlined that I will forthrightly put forward the Irish national position. It is always a challenging review and every country bats for itself. The Deputy can be assured that I will do all I can, particularly on the outcome of Brexit and the impact that will have on our quota, to make sure these things are taken into account and made clear.

It is good to see that the Minister has recovered from coronavirus. Congratulations are also in order, as I think he is now the longest serving Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this Government.

My questions relate to Covid and the Minister's Department. I accept that he may not have all the information before him but we do not have other avenues in oral questions and so on. He can give whatever information he has and then respond in writing. First, I will refer to the negotiations he reported previously about sick pay entitlements for meat factory workers. In September, the Minister said that those negotiations were ongoing. He has a particular responsibility for these factories, which have been a major source of Covid outbreaks. One of the major problems revealed last year by the unions and the workers was that most workers have no entitlement to sick pay. As many low-paid workers simply could not afford to go without pay, many people who felt unwell went to work and spread the virus. It is scandalous that there is no requirement on employers to pay sick pay and that the Government is still dragging its heels on this. Will the Minister update the House on this? Will the Government intervene to ensure all meat factory workers have a right to sick pay? The least that can be done is to ensure a right to sick pay for all workers and help to stop the spread of the virus.

The second question is on Covid officers in workplaces, such as the meat factories. I have heard of cases of Covid officers being hand-picked by the employers and being seen, therefore, as an extension of management. Instead of this self-regulation, will the Minister insist that every meat factory should have its own workers' health and safety committee elected by the workers themselves? Will he ensure that trade unions are allowed access to these workplaces, as is the case in New Zealand and elsewhere?

A related question is on workers whose accommodation is effectively tied to their employers. I have been informed of one worker who spoke up, including on social media, about conditions in a meat factory. The employer did not sack him, which would have allowed him to take an unfair dismissals case, but kicked him out of his accommodation instead. For many people working in the meat factories and other big agricultural companies such as Keelings, the boss is not just their employer but their landlord and they are currently exempted from the eviction ban. Will the Government act to resolve that?

If the Minister does not have the answer to my final question to hand, he can respond in writing. Cheltenham was a feature last year in the spread of Covid. I presume everyone accepts it was a contributory factor in the speed of the spread of the virus. I understand that 350 Irish jockeys, trainers and grooms are preparing to go to Cheltenham this year. Many of them may be in receipt of funds from Horse Racing Ireland, which in turn receives funds from the State. That is not to mention, and I really advise against it, those who intend to attend Cheltenham. Does the Department or the Minister plan to do anything on that?

I thank Deputy Murphy for his wholehearted good wishes and congratulations. Today's topic is fisheries and Brexit. I realise that is not a big subject in the Deputy's constituency and hence his focus on other issues. He has raised a number of issues and I will ensure that a written response is provided to him.

I wish to be associated with the Minister's tribute to the late Hugo Boyle who resided in Achill. He was very much part of the fine tradition between Achill and Donegal, particularly in our fishing community but also in all communities. I extend my sympathies to his wife and daughters and to his wider family. He was an exemplary servant of the Irish fishing industry all his life.

This is an incredibly complex time for Irish fisheries and the Minister has given it absolutely everything so far in his Ministry. There is the challenge posed by Brexit and also Covid. In many ways, it is the perfect storm. I welcome the commitment the Minister gave to Deputy O'Sullivan on establishing a task force. Will the Minister outline some of its modus operandi and what he sees as its terms of reference? It needs to have short and sharp terms of reference, and a short lifespan. Everyone knows the problems but it is important that the Minister involves people in industry in the solutions.

The Minister replied to a parliamentary question I put down last night. He outlined that through the Brexit adjustment reserve, €1 billion will be available to Ireland in 2021 and 2022 expenditure. Does he envisage an amount within that which will go to the fishing sector in particular? There has been fear of the consequences of Brexit since 2016, and now there are the consequences of Covid. Many Deputies have observed very simplistic views on this, but it is incredibly complex and challenging. We do a disservice to the fishing community to present it as something simple that can be easily resolved.

However, when we have things in our own control around the Cabinet table, such as the €1 billion, that is where we need the task force. I accept it is too early to have too much detail, but what are the Minister's general thoughts on the direction of that for fishing?

I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív on the inshore fishing community. They are often forgotten but they are a very important part of it in terms of their engagement in the industry and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on that industry. They need a separate investment programme for fleet and infrastructure to assist and allow them to get through this challenge and to grow into a niche that may be available for them also. I would encourage the Minister around that.

We seem to have taken the biggest hit on quota, particularly in mackerel. What are the plans or the chances of quota rebalancing within the short term? Renegotiating the fisheries policy is probably more medium term and will not produce the kind of results that we need, but on where we find ourselves in the context of the agreement reached on Christmas Eve and where the fishing industry finds itself, is there any openness or willingness to adjust quota reserves across the countries that matter as a response to the Irish situation?

I had the honour of being in the Minister's Department for a short time. My engagement with the fishing community was short but this is a very focused group of people who have great ambitions and who are faced with very big challenges - Brexit, Covid and also climate change - which are not in the long term; they are immediate. The Minister's response, and he has the support of all of us, will shape the future of the industry for many generations to come.

I thank Deputy Calleary for his very considered and thoughtful insight into the challenge facing the fishing sector, in particular the challenges and difficulties it has had to navigate over recent months and the important juncture we are at in ensuring that we have a strong, sustainable and healthy fishing sector and industry into the future. Given the challenging times there have been and especially given the timing of Brexit, I know the Deputy will join me in acknowledging the effort and commitment of the staff in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with these very challenging issues. I know he worked exceptionally well with them previously with great commitment, passion and understanding. Given the Brexit deal on Christmas Eve and its timing, I acknowledge all of the commitment, work and effort that was involved in the run-up to that and all of the work that was involved right after the deal. For example, very late on New Year's Eve I put a call in to fisheries officials in the Department of the marine to thank them for having worked all day New Year's Eve until late that night to get out the authorisations that were necessary for vessels to be able to fish the next day. That is the type of commitment that often is not acknowledged and I know it is one the Deputy would second. It is important that is made clear.

As to some of the issues the Deputy outlined, I welcome his acknowledgement of the task force as a constructive way to go forward. I agree with him on the importance of it having a prompt turnaround time. We have a window between now and the end of March where there is clarity around quotas, given the agreement of the December Fisheries Council meeting, but there will be an impact after that from the Brexit outcome and the adjustments. It is very important that that is informed by those in the fisheries sector who are affected by it. The terms of reference, which I am currently considering, will be framed around ensuring they have a clear and direct input into framing the way we go forward in the short term and ensuring a healthy, long-term future for our fishing sector post-Brexit.

Regarding the Brexit adjustment reserve, we are getting a 25% allocation at European level of the total allocation so far, which is a very strong national outcome in terms of a financial allocation, but it will take more than that. There is a clear Government commitment, in particular in respect of the fisheries and marine sectors, to invest in that and support it in the time ahead. The Brexit adjustment reserve funding will be welcome, but national funding will be forthcoming to support them to adjust, grow and sustain employment in a post-Brexit scenario.

With regard to quota rebalancing, as recently as yesterday morning in my meeting with Commissioner Sinkevičius and the chairman of the negotiation task force, Michel Barnier, I have been very clear about leaving no one in any doubt as to the unfair burden on Ireland as a result of the outcome of Brexit from a fisheries point of view. We were always going to be the nation, whether it be fisheries or other parts of our economy, that would be most impacted and most at risk from Brexit. Unfortunately, that has been the case and, despite the best possible efforts, there is an impact on our sector. I will be working at European level to try to find constructive solutions to address that.

Before I begin I would like to commend on the record the tremendous work my colleague, former MEP Liadh Ní Riada, did for the Irish fishing industry during her tenure.

There is no doubt that, as the saying goes, Brexit was neither good for man nor beast but in this case it was neither good for fishermen nor Irish fresh fish stocks. I have met inshore and offshore fishermen in my county, particularly the Kilmore fishermen, who feel completely let down and say once again that they are being used as sacrificial pawns on the chessboard of the Brexit-EU negotiations. The loss of 15% of the total quota of fish means an estimated loss of approximately €43 million over the next five years. That will have a huge effect on the fishing communities and will inevitably cause job losses and a depletion of Irish fishing vessels. It is also a loss of a natural resource that rightfully belongs to the Irish people. Their backs are literally being put to the harbour walls. They do not want to see their boats decommissioned. They simply want to fish as they have done for generations.

I ask the Minister if any solutions were put forward to counteract the loss of quotas for the Irish fleet, especially in mackerel and herring, and, if so, what were they? In the upcoming EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting, what solutions will the Minister and the Government be bringing forward? What proposals are in place in the upcoming review of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, and the 15% drop in quotas? Will a support package be put in place to compensate Irish lobster catchers to shield them from any new surge of US tariff-free imports?

I thank Deputy Mythen for his comments. With regard to quota share, as he will have heard from my previous contributions, it is an issue I have been taking up at EU level with my colleagues and with the Commission, and I will continue to do so. I will be seeking constructive approaches with regard to the fact that there is an additional burden on Ireland in terms of the outcome from the trade and co-operation agreement and to try to look at methods as to how we might mitigate that.

On the Deputy's final point about tariffs and particularly with regard to lobster, I welcome the inauguration of President Biden yesterday. I look forward to working with the new Administration and engaging with it in the time ahead. There has been a somewhat strained relationship in recent times, which has had significant tariff implications in our agrifood and beverage sectors. I hope the advent of a new Administration in the US will offer an opportunity to address some of those issues, ensuring a freer and healthy trading relationship between ourselves and the US and working to address some of the barriers that we have seen applied in recent times.

I thank the Minister. Are we to take it that President Biden is partial to a bit of lobster?

As long as it is from Mayo, a Cheann Comhairle.

I ask the Minister about the quotas that are in place on the upcoming review of the CFP and the 15% drop in quotas.

The review of the Common Fisheries Policy is to be completed by the end of next year. The engagement on that will be starting later this year, but in the short term, in terms of the impact and the result from Brexit, my priority will be to ensure that that impact and burden on Ireland is made clear at European level. I will also look for constructive ways in which we can have that addressed, working with the EU Commission.

I will address the issue of fishing. While I have the Minister's ear, I will raise one other issue. Is he aware that a number of serious allegations have been made about VAT fraud, insurance fraud, illegal state aid, environmental fraud and corruption in the poultry industry? Alo Mohan from County Cavan has stated that his business, which had a turnover of about €2 million, has been put out of business due to his refusal to participate in what he calls an illegal VAT practice. He claims that Revenue is aware of the practice and that it is costing the State millions of euro in tax forgone. He claims that he and others were told to deregister for VAT by a food processor and to start operating under a flat-rate VAT system. He claims that he was to pay higher than the market rate for feed while at the same time he would get a higher price for the chickens that he has sold. This issue made it onto the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs in 2016 and the Minister for Finance at the time, Michael Noonan, admitted, "VAT avoidance schemes were being developed and probably [were] in place, particularly in the poultry sector". He went on to state that he was going to introduce measures in the Finance Bill to address "tax evasion in the poultry industry that gave competitive advantage to those who used it rather than those who didn't".

Is this related to Brexit, Deputy?

I will bring it to an end here. Given how serious this is, will the Minister meet with Alo Mohan and other campaigners to see if we can find a resolution to this?

I think it would be more appropriate if Deputy Tóibín wrote to me with the particular matters that he has raised. I do not think it is appropriate for me to address this on the floor of the House.

I will indeed write and know that former Ministers have had letters written to them in this regard.

On fishing, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has admitted that fishers will be disappointed with the deal achieved with Britain with regard to fishing concessions. As the Minister responsible for the marine, did the Minister raise objections to the deal and if so, where did those objections materialise? What effect did they have?

From the outset, all of us nationally and in the fishing sector were concerned about the potential impact that Brexit could have on the fisheries sector. The Deputy is aware of how taking back the fish quota, reclaiming their waters and all of the fish caught by an EU fleet was made to be a number one priority by the British Government. The approach taken here was resolute and strong. We worked with our domestic sector to ensure that we spoke with one voice and to make sure that we spoke with one voice at a European level, both with me working at a political level with other EU fisheries ministers and the fisheries Commissioner and the industry working with its compatriots in the European Fisheries Alliance, EUFA, to ensure that the EU approach to the negotiations on fisheries was as strong as it could be. That was instrumental in ensuring that the worst excesses that Brexit could have created for fisheries was avoided, with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and pushing back at every opportunity against the British demand for 100% of the fish caught by the EU fleet to be reallocated. Ultimately that was confined to 25%, which is damaging in itself but it was an outcome which was achieved as a result of a strong negotiating approach.

I asked if the Minister objected to this in any way and if that had a material outcome. I imagine that what the Minister has said is a long way of saying that there was no official objection by him, the Department or the Government with regard to what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said is a disappointing outcome. Ireland's coastal share of fish will shrink by at least 15% over the next six years. The mean reduction of fishing available for EU member states is 9%. Ireland's reduction significantly surpasses the average European reduction. Ireland's fishing industry is the joint highest loser, with Germany. How was this allowed to occur? I understand that there were complex negotiations with many balls in the air but how is it that Ireland happens to be the country, along with Germany, which lost the most? Seán O'Donoghue, the chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, said that they would now only get a 13% share. He said that it is unfair that when 80% of mackerel spawn on the west coast of Ireland, we now only have a 13% share and Britain has a 71% share. He said that it is totally unacceptable and that they will not lie down and accept it. How does the Minister propose that we change this so that we get a fairer share in the future?

I made it clear in my first response that we fought tooth and nail as a nation to ensure that there would be no loss of fish. That was what we were looking for. The British Government's approach was to take back 100% of all fish caught. Throughout the negotiation, our approach was to hold tight and not give anything up. Unfortunately at the end, in order for a deal to happen, there was this outcome. It was not at the scale of a no-deal scenario, where our fisheries would have lost access to where we catch one third of our fish, in British waters, and it would have caused significant damage to the rest of our economy too. Our clear position all along was to hold the strongest position and line possible. It ultimately resulted in fish being the last item to be agreed on and the deal ultimately hinged on it because of the resolute approach we took to it.

I do not have much time for the questions and maybe the Minister can reply to me after the debate. I spoke about fisheries yesterday and I will repeat some of what I said in case the Minister did not get a chance to hear it. I have consistently called on the Government, especially the Minister, to be straight with the fisheries sector and the public about why the Government effectively sold out the entire sector during Brexit negotiations.

The latest analysis released by officials in the Department of Agriculture and the Marine illustrates how out of touch the Minister is on this issue. The preliminary analysis now confirms that the transfer of quota shares from Ireland is a staggering 27% higher than the Government initially announced. The official report indicates a total loss to Ireland's fishermen of €43 million by 2026, with the mackerel sector, which is the most valuable to the Irish fleet, hardest hit. This sector faces a 26% cut in quota share, which is worth €28.6 million. Approximately 60% of this cut will emerge in 2021 so the impact will be felt immediately.

What is the number of EU, non-Irish, UK and other coastal state vessels that have authorisation to fish in the biologically sensitive area in the Celtic Sea, off the west coast, the Irish Sea and off the Donegal coast? How does the Government monitor the amount of fish that these vessels catch every day in Irish waters?

As the Deputy will be aware, if he has been listening to me over the last months and again today, our position at all times has been to defend the fishing sector tooth and nail, because we very much value it. It might be easy to present that as a sell-out. Our approach was to ensure that it was prioritised. If the Deputy has been assessing how the negotiation evolved and the Brexit debate from the outset in Britain, they emphasised how they were coming after their fish and it was a priority, while our priority at all times was to defend the sector. That was crucial to ensuring that fishing was the last item to be decided, because we would not give on it and were holding a resolute line. The British were looking for 100% of the fish caught in British waters and that was confined to 25% with Britain having left the European Union. There is no doubt that we are committed to working with the sector to try to address the matter.

I hope the Minister is not going to sell out the beef sector and the Irish farmers as he has just sold out the fisheries. I have huge concerns over the fact that beef cattle are now averaging €3.75 per kg. This is well below the break-even target figure of €4.50 per kg. I am aware that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many people are working from home. Our farmers are working from home 365 days a year. Beef farmers are a long way short of breaking even. Is the Minister aware that some farmers are using a percentage of their single farm payment for the production of cattle so that they can stay in business, rather than for their families? What controls are going to be out in place to stop the cartel-like system that the factories are operating? I brought this issue up earlier with the Tánaiste and asked him to raise it with the Minister. At the moment, when factories are audited, end-of-year figures are used to work out an average price. If the factories were audited throughout the year, it would be apparent that the feeder groups for those factories are getting the highest price and people involved with the factories are receiving the highest single farm payments. They are getting the highest price for their cattle within the factory system. What is the Minister going to do about this? When is he going to stand up and save Irish beef farmers? There was €5 billion put in place by the EU to support agriculture. Following the UK exit from the EU, are Irish farmers first on the list to be compensated? Irish agriculture is constantly under threat from cheap imports coming into the UK. What is being put in place to safeguard against the beef coming in from South America?

I know that the questions concern beef, and that is perfectly good with me.

I cannot hear the Minister.

Is my microphone live?


We are all supposed to wear a mask as much as we can.


Let us not argue over masks.

If the Deputy was paying attention to the budget last October, he would have seen that I delivered an 11% increase in the agriculture budget for the year ahead, based on the previous year. That was so that we can ensure that many of the schemes that are key to our farming sector can continue at full capacity and with ongoing payments. There was also an additional €79 million of fresh funding allocated in order to develop a new environmental pilot scheme and measures. As the Deputy knows, I am very committed to developing and protecting the incomes of our beef sector and to working with and supporting our fishermen. Looking ahead, over the course of this year, I will be bringing additional transparency to the food supply chain and developing the office of the National Food Ombudsman, which is a key commitment in the programme for Government.

I start by paying tribute to the Minister. His response to the issue of UK registered vessels has been good so far. It is good to see that response. I am not sure that another Minister would have responded in such a way to designate additional ports. However, I am concerned that a minimalist approach was taken in the designation of these additional ports, with the least amount of ports being designated as possible to get over the line. The additional ports will be required and used at all times. This is particularly the case in north Inishowen, in Culdaff and Malin Head, where many fishermen use those ports. As the Minister knows, those waters are dodgy, and having to steam around to Greencastle to get in with a catch in bad weather is dangerous. With the designation of additional ports at Culdaff or Malin Head, they can be used safely, which is important.

On the whole fiasco that has arisen over the issue of the designation of ports, one wonders what the Department was doing over the three years of the Brexit negotiations. What was actually happening? Earlier on in the year, we saw how the Department did not have a complete list of boats that needed to be registered with the UK in order to land in UK waters. Indeed, fishermen were asked to come forward to register their boats with the UK so that they could land and fish in UK waters after Christmas. It beggars belief. Following that, there was a row about the designation of additional ports. If the fishermen had not campaigned, the issue would never have been sorted out. That is the reality. It is really worrying.

On the issue of mackerel quotas, one fisherman from Killybegs told me:

If mackerel had passports, they would be Irish, because that is where they are born and spend most of their lives. They only pass through UK waters to get into ours to spawn.

That is the reality. Through the negotiations, the Minister could have ensured that our mackerel quota continued to be caught in Irish waters rather than in Scottish waters and leaving it open to being part of the deal, which is what happened. I disagree with the Minister. A no-deal Brexit would have been a better outcome for fishermen because they could have held on to their mackerel quota and caught it in Irish waters. That is the reality. The Minister has said that he will go forward and campaign on the Common Fisheries Policy. I hope to God that he does, because the fishing industry has been let down repeatedly since we began negotiations to join the EU when the EU stole our fishing from us.

I have two questions. I refer to the announcement today of the linear cut of 2% which is going to affect small family farms around the country because Britain is not paying into the EU. The previous Taoiseach undertook that Ireland would make up this deficit. Will that be done, rather than letting farmers around the country, especially low-income farmers, face a 2% linear cut?

On the issue of farm machinery being brought across, I have talked to hauliers and 200 loads should have been brought across at this stage. Only 80 loads have been brought across because of bureaucracy. There have been major problems with getting tractors and other machinery. I ask the Minister to address the issues I have raised.

I will address the issues raised by Deputy Fitzmaurice first. As he is aware, pillar 1 payments are 100% EU-funded. There is no capacity for domestic funds to be allocated towards it.

It was said that this would be topped up.

The overall EU budget has been increased in monetary terms. Also, as the Deputy is aware, and as I pointed out previously, in the most recent national budget I delivered an 11% increase from last year, which was important overall.

Is the €100 million being topped up?

On the question of machinery, there is currently an issue in respect of ensuring that paperwork is complete. Unfortunately, there are many additional administrative burdens as a result of Brexit. It is challenging as those adjustments are made.

On the points raised by Deputy Pringle on the designation of ports, they were designated for illegal, unregulated and unreported, IUU, purposes and North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission purposes. There is oversight in place. Staff infrastructure is required to be able to oversee it. There are now four designated ports in Donegal and seven nationally. Unfortunately, the times are restricted and we have to work with the resources and the capacity that we have in that regard. It is something that I will continue to monitor.

Deputy Pringle mentioned the authorisation for boats issue. As he is aware, the Brexit deal was reached on Christmas Eve. It allowed a window of around a week.


There were three years of negotiations. The actual outcome of that was achieved on Christmas Eve. That made clear that authorisations would be required. As I said earlier, the departmental staff were working right up to late on New Year's Eve to get those authorisations out and put in tremendous work within the time involved.

On the Deputy's final point that a no-deal Brexit would have been better for fishermen, we must recognise that one third of our fish were caught in British waters. In the negotiations, we discussed Rockall and other areas and the importance of those fishing waters to our fleet. For example, where would our prawns on the east coast, our haddock, monkfish and megrim be caught if those waters were blocked off to our fishermen? At least the Deputy is being consistent.

I remember taking part in a debate on Highland Radio with Deputy Pringle and Gregory Campbell of the DUP during which the Deputy advocated, in advance of the Brexit vote in the UK, that it should go ahead and do Brexit. At least the Deputy is being consistent in saying now that, somehow, a no-deal outcome might have been preferable.

We must conclude.