Impact of Brexit on Fisheries Industry: Discussion

I welcome the representatives from the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, Mr. Patrick Murphy, CEO, and Mr. Damien Turner, chairman. Mr Greagoir O'Cathasaigh will be joining us remotely. I would also like to welcome the representative of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, Mr. Seán O'Donoghue, who will be joining us remotely.

We have received the witnesses' opening statements, which have been circulated to members. Our time is limited due to Covid-19 safety restrictions. The committee has agreed that the opening statements will be taken as read so we can use the full session for questions and answers.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Those participating in the committee meeting from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to those participating within the parliamentary precincts do not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether or the extent to which their participation is covered by absolute privilege of a statutory nature.

The Brexit process has reached decision time. "Morning Ireland" was dominated by talk of fisheries this morning, so it is a very opportune time for us to hear the witnesses' concerns and those of their industry. I will open the floor to members to ask questions and allow an exchange of views on issues facing the industry.

I thank the representatives of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation and the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation for their presentations. I looked through both of them last night. They make for very alarming reading. I will direct my first few questions to the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation and my next questions to the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation.

The presentation submitted to the committee by Mr. Patrick Murphy points out that under the Common Fisheries Policy Ireland's share of the fishing opportunities in what would be termed UK and Irish waters is 15.5%. I understand that about half of that catch is within UK waters. The impact of the loss of access to those waters would be absolutely devastating. Mr. Murphy also expressed the concern that if there is no deal or a significant reduction in access there will be serious pressure on the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ. The maps included in the presentation show the particular pressure that will fall on the southern coast of Ireland. Mr. Murphy calls for urgent studies of the environmental and biological impact of the European fleet being denied access to UK waters and coming to ours. He has provided a superb presentation. The maps contained in it are deeply alarming. He particularly emphasises the pressure that will be on the shallow waters which are important for trawling. Can he elaborate on the biological and environmental threats posed by this huge displacement?

Mr. Patrick Murphy

I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak. The easiest way to describe this is using the analogy of a football pitch. We are steeped in GAA history, and I am no different from anyone else in the rural community who gets involved in clubs. Our local GAA club might host five or six matches on a Saturday or Sunday. The pitch can sustain that amount of strain. We can imagine the condition of the field and the mud that would be thrown up in the old days, when a ball would be thrown and two villages would fight for it. That is what is going to happen if a massive number of vessels come into an area, regardless of their quota share. We are fearful of the impact on the biologically sensitive area where the boats operate.

This comes back to one of the meetings we had with the Marine Institute a few years back when we discussed the nephrops industry. One of the scientists said they were alarmed at the rate of depletion of the stocks in The Smalls but they found out what had happened, namely, there was the displacement of maybe seven or eight Scottish vessels into the area. That raised the concerns with me and that was a few years ago. It is something that should be investigated and we should see what would happen. The Common Fisheries Policy was designed in the 1970s and copper-fastened at the start of the 1980s and we still have the same regime today as we did back then. Everything is changing. We do not know whether we are going to have access to UK waters and we do not know how much fish the UK will be given or will want to take as a coastal state and that is going to change the share-outs.

We have just finished a meeting with the Minister this morning and know the hard work done in Europe to try to get us the best deal. I am sure my colleague, Mr. O'Donoghue, will address that too. The complication is we do not know how much fish we will have to give up, we do not know how much will be left in the pot and we certainly do not know how many vessels are coming in. There will be some sort of a rebalance because the UK vessels currently fishing here will have to go back to their own waters if there is no deal, but I think they number around 38 or so. I do not know how many foreign vessels have the opportunity to come in here but we know the Belgium beamers have expressed an interest. In the past couple of days we discovered their concern was how to get the fish back to market but now that there are two sailings a week to Zeebrugge, I think that obstacle has been removed for them.

These are the concerns we have in the Irish south and west.

Mr. Murphy reported that there has been a 42% reduction in vessels over 18 m from 2006 to 2019. There were 280 vessels over 18 m registered in 2006 and 165 today, a reduction of 42%. Even more dramatically, in the 15 m to 18 m category, 50 vessels have been reduced to 18, a 64% reduction. Obviously that reflects a very significant decline in the sector. What can we do to create wealth for our coastal communities from the immense resource around us?

Mr. Patrick Murphy

We would have to look for a bigger share of the pot. Not only is Brexit going to impact the quota shares we have but we have vessels in the south and west that go to the UK coastline and target non-quota species such as cuttlefish. We have them going up to Rockall and catching squid. When those boats are at those fisheries they are displaced from the other share of the pot and that gives more to everybody else. The system we operate is on a monthly basis. We start at the start of the year and we do a countdown of the quotas. My organisation advises the Minister every month, together with my colleagues, Mr. Seán O’Donoghue, Mr. Hugo Boyle who is not here today, Mr. John Ward, some representatives from the National Inshore Fisherman's Association, NIF, and Mr. Lorcán Ó Cinnéide from the processors. We advise the Minister on a monthly basis. When we can displace boats ourselves into other fisheries, it alleviates the pressure on certain boats around our own coastline.

All of this is now going to change so in answer to the Deputy's simple question, we must look for more quota. How do we look for that? Relative stability now is totally and utterly changing. Once the dust settles we are going to see whether this is going to be renegotiated or if we are going to continue with the same share. If there are fewer fish, if we see a reduction in fish of 40% like Mr. Boris Johnson is looking for, then for me that is a reduction of 40% on somebody's fleet so somebody will have to give up that fish. We do not have a 40% profit margin in our fleet. Our chairman is beside me. We have already seen massive reductions in earnings this year due to Covid and the depletion of the markets so there is no room here for manoeuvring in the vessels. The only thing that has staved off annihilation, as I would describe it, is that in fairness the banks have negotiated and have given the boats a break. Many of our members are after putting aside a lot of bills and are holding off but it is necessary to keep their boats up to standard and keep the safety on board the boat and that is something we have to be very aware of.

The bottom line is we have to look for more species. We have to try to see if there is anywhere where we can look for fish. I do not know whether it is possible or not, but the difficulties there should not stop us from doing so.

I thank Mr. O’Donoghue, CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, and Mr. Murphy for giving the historical context. The PowerPoint presentation submitted by Mr. O'Donoghue was also excellent. It is a pity time does not allow for it to be displayed on screen as the maps in particular are so important. I remember when the representatives of the fishing organisations gave a presentation to a previous agriculture committee about the threat of Brexit and the maps were very stark at that time.

Both representatives have touched on relative stability and in his presentation Mr. O'Donoghue referenced the Hague preferences as giving a little comfort, but only a little bit. Do both representatives believe that if - we are all hoping and praying that this does not materialise - for some reason there is a no-deal scenario that we must immediately revisit the Common Fisheries Policy relative stability measures? I appreciate that in his presentation, Mr. O'Donoghue referenced working in partnership with other European member states and the fishing organisations. Obviously it is agreeable that we should stand together and defend the common interest but if this does not work out we need to defend the Irish interest. Does that, therefore, require an immediate renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy and an immediate revisiting of relative stability? Perhaps Mr. O'Donoghue will go first, then Mr. Murphy.

I call Mr. O'Donoghue.

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

I thank the Chairman. If we end up in a no-deal scenario and we have significantly lost percentage share, which I certainly have been moving might and main to ensure will not happen, two things would have to be done immediately. There would have to be a revisiting of the shares, as the Deputy said. The other member states would have to compensate Ireland for that.

The Deputy made a very important reference to the Hague preferences. We are now at a defining moment again in the history of Hague preferences. They are additional quotas that Ireland gets every year. They were enshrined in the Hague Resolution in 1976 and have been honoured every year since then in the issuing of the total allowable catch, TAC, quotas. Now that the UK is leaving the European Union of its own volition, the Hague preferences that it has will revert to the EU. I would be looking at that. Now is the time to really copper-fasten those Hague preferences for us and to get an equalisation from the amount that is coming back from the UK that we would get a certain amount of that as well. Though it gets very little commentary, it is well worth noting that this is all about the myth of how the UK lost out here in 1973. The UK gained significantly between 1976 and 1983. It actually ended up getting an additional 90,000 tonnes of fish from the EU between 1976 and 1983 as compensation for losses in third country waters. Now that it is leaving the EU and taking back those waters, it cannot expect to take those presents with it. When one looks at this on a yearly basis, over the past ten years the UK has got €1 billion a year because of those additional quantities of fish it got, beginning in 1983. That is €1 billion over a ten-year period. We have been screeching from the rooftops about this but as a starting point in the negotiations, that has to come off the UK.

I hope I have answered the Deputy's questions on the Hague preferences and the relative stability issue.

Deputy Michael Collins requested the witnesses to attend this morning. I think there has been a misunderstanding. He in not in the Dáil precincts. The secretariat has advised that if he is outside the Dáil precincts he cannot ask a question. He has been looking to get in since the meeting started. We may meet in private session with people operating outside the Dáil. I am told there is a legal issue with him contributing to a public session when he is not in the Dáil precincts. That is why Deputy Michael Collins has not been called on to contribute. I was not aware of that stipulation.

I call Senator Lombard, followed by Senator Paul Daly.

I welcome both speakers. I read the presentations last night. They were very informative and gave a very good overview of the future of the fishing industry. In the Armageddon scenario of having no deal on Brexit, not alone would we be locked out of the UK waters, we would have an increased fleet in Irish waters, which we all hope will not happen.

The Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union met yesterday and was addressed by representatives from the Scottish Parliament. Their views were very interesting. They believe that some of its fishing fleet could be displaced to Northern Ireland because they believe they will land their catch in Northern Ireland to get access to EU market itself. In such a Brexit scenario, they believe they could lose many of their processing jobs to Northern Ireland because some of their fleet may decide not to land their catch in Scotland.

The media are reporting that 15% to 18% of the quota is to be transferred to the UK. What impact would that have on our coastal communities? If that were the Brexit outcome, how would towns like Castletownbere and Killybegs survive with a 20% cut in quota? Would this result in vast unemployment issues and a total downturn in the economy? If there were a 20% cut, what should the package be to ensure that the fishing communities could survive?

Mr. Patrick Murphy

We do not know. From the media, we hear that the UK Prime Minister is looking for an 80% increase, but that 80% is of the 60% what will be referred to as the foreign vessels are now catching. In my view that would be 48%. Adding that in, that would be an 88% total. That would only leave 12% of fish in the UK waters for the European fleet. Those figures are frightening and staggering. No industry could sustain a wallop like that on top of the boats that would be displaced into other areas looking for fish. I am joined today by an operator of a vessel for the past 30 years. He might join the discussion shortly. I do not want to put any pressure on him; it is his first day in here. Our organisation's chairman, Damien Turner, is now noticing boats that we have not seen in Irish waters previously. These are new boats, displaced boats, coming in to try to catch fish, resulting in added competition.

I would describe it as follows. If somebody cutting silage got to a field before somebody else, there would not me much grass left for the second person. The first one to arrive will take the fish and the next fellow coming along will be looking for those fish. It is that simple.

With the legal entitlements reduced so dramatically, a significant reduction in the fleets will be needed. As Mr. O'Donoghue said, we look for a fair share of the fish coming back. I will use the Porcupine functional unit for nephrops as an example. Four countries have entitlements there. Spain has 795 tonnes; France has 498 tonnes; the UK has 387 tonnes; and we have the vast bulk of the share which is 957 tonnes. We normally look for swaps because it is such an important fishery to our fishermen. It sustains many vessels and is a prized fishery. When the UK leaves, how much of the 387 tonnes will we get? Will it be divided in proportion?

When we joined the EU, it was to allow boats to come into our waters with a traditional right, but they did not own the fish. They had a traditional right to come in and catch fish. I would hate to see that changed now. That right is copper-fastened. They could use that right as a tradeable commodity without even having to catch anything. They could use that to go back to the UK and say, "I have 1,000 tonnes of monkfish in Irish waters, but I would like to catch it in your waters." They could trade that, and we would have no skin in the game per se. As Mr. O'Donoghue said, if there is a no-deal Brexit we need to go back and look at all these aspects. Before we joined the EU, they were our fishing waters. They had a traditional right here, but in my view, they did not have a traditional right to claim the fish. That is how the negotiations should go forward. I hope I have explained the fears we have.

The Senator asked about the devastation to our coastal communities. I will give a story from experience. I started fishing with my father, Danny Murphy from Hare Island. I left school aged 18 and went fishing in a small half-deck 27 ft. vessel. We targeted what I was told were aristocracy fish, lobsters, crabs, spider crabs and shrimps - the expensive stuff. We did it fairly well and made a good living out of it. During the wintertime we took in our pots and protected them, leaving us free. We normally spent the winter repairing gear and getting it ready. If I was lucky enough, I might get a berth in one of the 30 trawlers out of Baltimore, but it would take a month to get to get my name in to get the berth on the boat. However, there are no boats in Baltimore now. Only one or two families have managed to keep that going. That was the sacrifice made in the past.

If that happens again, places like Ballycotton could be wiped out and even Union Hall could suffer greatly. These are jobs in the local community that will not be replaced by anything else anytime soon. That will mean fewer mechanics in the garages, fewer children in the schools with a loss of teachers and more shop closures. It would be an annihilation of our coastal communities, towns and villages. That is not something that might happen; it has already happened. That could be the final death knell. About 1,000 fishermen are fishing in the Cork region up as far as Dunmore. BIM has advised that each of those jobs lost will cost five more ashore. The figures are stark.

We do not know, but we have great fears. We should definitely protect the goose that lays the golden egg, which is our fishing grounds. We cannot damage the biologically sensitive area where the fish come to spawn, as can be seen in the maps not from me but from the Marine Institute. They show the value of the Irish fishing grounds not just to our fishing fleet and those visiting. Those fish travel and that is why we are so adamant that the UK cannot just grab those fish because they are in its waters when it wants to catch them. They come to our waters to spawn and if they are not spawning, they will not be in UK waters.

That is our argument and I am sure Mr. O'Donoghue agrees with me because he has been to the forefront on this. He is negotiating on both sides of the fence and bringing eight other countries together to try to reason with the people on the other side. It is all about linking the trade. If we break that linkage, we are doomed. Mr. O'Donoghue discovered that and he has been at it for 30 years. As soon as Brexit became a reality, he knew that this was the only way we could protect ourselves.

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

I want to go back to the question of the 15% or 18%. I caution everybody about listening to sound bites. On hearing this figure, one automatically assumes it is 15% or 18%. My first question is about the species and areas are involved. The North Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the west of Ireland, the north west of Ireland and the Celtic Sea are all involved here. There are large numbers of stocks in the North Sea that we do not have an interest in.

The devil is in the detail. Irrespective of whether it is David Frost, Boris Johnson, Michel Barnier or Ursula von der Leyen who give us sound bites, I want to see if there is a deal and to read what the text states about access, quota shares and whether the agreement will be reviewed. According to media sources we have reached the end phase of the three major areas of a level playing field, governance and fisheries. The mood afoot seems to be one where we can sort out the level playing and governance but can leave fisheries, which is unacceptable. None of the Heads of Government has agreed that that would be case. As late as yesterday, we got confirmation from our Minister, Government and, indeed, other Governments that fisheries will not be separated from the other trade areas, which is absolutely critical here. Somebody could claim that the deal is good but only lasts three years and if that is the case, then it is the same as a no-deal for us. If we end up with that scenario, it will lead to the demise of our very healthy Irish seafood sector that generates €1.22 billion for the coastal peripheral areas that stretch from counties Donegal to Cork to Louth. Our coastal communities depend on fisheries. If we lose access then over a period of two years we could lose between 5,000 and 6,000 jobs out of the 16,100 jobs in the industry. In addition, the value of the seafood sector could also decrease from €1.22 billion to €600 million. Therefore, to prevent the demise of the seafood industry, we must collectively move might and main. We are at the end game so people must be strong and hold their nerve. We have been told that there will be no trade deal if there is no fisheries agreement. I expect the Government, the other Governments and Michel Barnier to honour the mandate they have got in relation to this matter.

Like previous speakers, I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive submissions. Even though we have seen the maps it would be good for the committee to examine them again because when one concentrates a little more thoroughly on the issue at hand they are frightening. We are in a vacuum and hope for the best but we must still consider the worst possible scenario.

Let us leave the numbers and percentages aside. Fish spawning in Irish waters and their migration have been mentioned. How would the loss of access to certain geographical areas of water affect the variety and types of fish that we can land? In a worst case scenario, could we end up being unable to supply our domestic market because the fish that we process here has been exported? This year, 2020, has been an exceptional year for the food sector but my questions concern a normal year.

Will the voisinage arrangement cease or can it exist afterwards to our advantage? Conversely, would the arrangement with whatever scenario be the death knell for some of our fleets and fishermen who operate along our coasts between zero and 6 km off the coast? Will the arrangement remain in situ in a no-deal scenario yet allow the Northern Ireland fleet to fish along our coast where we are banned?

I am very interested in hearing about the different varieties of fish and the affect on the export market but, more importantly, the domestic supply and food chain.

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

I thank the Senator for his questions. In terms of fish species, the two main species that drive the Irish fishing industry are mackerel and Nephrops norvegicus or Dublin Bay prawns. We are 30% dependent on access to the UK market with whitefish species, such as cod, haddock, whiting, monkfish, hake and megrim.

In terms of fishing, yes, we would be able to fish mackerel in our own waters but the quality and price would probably be a third of what it is at the moment thus making it uneconomic. Nephrops or Dublin Bay prawns differ from mackerel in that they are sedentary for which we need 40% access to the UK waters. We probably would be unable to catch our allocated quotas for nephrops because of a lack of access. Yes, we would have enough fish as our domestic market is only 10% of the catch and we export between 80% and 90% of our total catch.

As all of the members will recall, there was a major debate in the Oireachtas on the voisinage agreement two years ago. As members will see when they peruse the Dáil record, one of the assurances given was that if we ended up in a no-deal scenario that the arrangement would fall, which is also my understanding. Given that it is a neighbourhood agreement, it could be negotiated.

Mr. Patrick Murphy

Mackerel move from the Bay of Biscay to the waters around Iceland and Norway whereas the nephrops burrow into the seabed and remain there. Therefore, if one does not have access to where the nephrops are, then one cannot catch them.

Mr. O'Donoghue and I would like to see the domestic market grow. I would like more people to eat more fish as it is a healthy food. People who live on the Continent eat multiplies of the amount of fish we eat. If the domestic market grew, then fishermen would get a better price and greater reward for their work.

Displacement is not just about boats moving into an area. Fishermen have to make enough money to be able to go to sea again, and to make it attractive enough to bring men out with them. If one fishery is denied, they have to move on to another fishery. There are myriad complications in moving on. Pelagic fisheries target their pelagic stock, so it does not really affect them per se. As Mr. O'Donoghue noted, if fish are not caught in their prime condition, it is not that they are not good enough to eat or whatever; it is just that, like all species, their fat content at different times of the year varies. Going back to the issue of animals in a field, if they are being fed on grass and have then to be taken into the house, they will have to be fed nuts and silage to keep up their condition. The fish do that naturally at a certain time of the year and in particular parts of the waters. If that opportunity is missed when they are there to swim, move on and move in their life cycle, they will lose conditioning, although that does not mean the fish are not good and wholesome - I want that to be understood. I do not want anybody outside the House thinking they are not of good quality. They absolutely are; it is just that the market price would not be top notch at that time of year. That is the difficulty.

Coming back to the displacement issue, there are non-quota species in UK waters that can be fished without a quota. It is a good opportunity for boats to displace from the quotas they have to give them a little leeway to make some money with another type of fish, and to take pressure off other boats. If the effort is condensed, in the same way as moving boats into an area, it will narrow the playing pitch and making it more difficult. As with the analogy of the silage cut, the boat that gets there first gets the lion's share of the fish. The fish will come back to the areas because that is what fishermen do, namely, protect the tracks of where they go fishing and go back to them time and again. They do that because that is where the fish like to congregate for whatever reason, whether currents, tides or the flow of food through that area. They just need some time after having being caught for the others to move in from the other area. Again, it is like displacement.

The question the Senator is asking cannot yet be answered. We know from the negotiations that at the start of next year, because of the uncertainty, the Commission has decided to give three months of the year and one quarter of the fish in those three months for boats to catch. That is their entitlement at the moment and it will be revisited to decide whether access will be given. Access will have a part to play. There is so much uncertainty at the moment that it is difficult to give a definitive answer. As Mr. O'Donoghue stated, until we see the detail of the agreements and what has been decided, it will still be guesswork. Nevertheless, it has very significant implications.

I read somewhere, although I cannot remember the figures mentioned, that if there is a no deal and the European fleet is barred from what the British are calling the British territorial waters, the UK will not have a fraction of the fleet to harvest those waters. What effect will that have on stocks down the line? Will fish migrate? It might be a silly question but when I read about it, I wondered what all the argument was about, given that even if the UK got what it was seeking, it would not have the ability to harvest it. Its own fleet would not be able to manage or get anything worthwhile from the waters it would then sail.

Mr. Patrick Murphy

I will pass that question to Mr. Ó Cathasaigh because he has a legal background and I think he would be best suited on our side to answer it. Mr. O'Donoghue too might be able to answer it.

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

I might comment first. The Senator is correct to say the UK does not have a large enough fleet if it wants to double its catch. There is no way, however, under international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement, that the UK can legally double its catch. It has to negotiate with the European Union. The European Union shares with the UK 119 of the 143 stocks for which there are tax and quotas. The UK and the EU are duty bound under international law to talk to each other about the sustainability of those stocks, whether they like it or not. A doubling of the UK's catch cannot happen because that would mean it was fishing the stock unsustainably. I do not envisage that scenario happening because, although people are not saying it, the UK is barred under international law from doing it.

Mr. Gréagóir Ó Cathasaigh

Depending on how they are counted, between 300 and 400 European-registered boats - French, Dutch and Spanish - fish in the exclusive fishery limits of the British economic zone. In a no-deal scenario, from 1 January they would not have access to British waters, nor to British fishing grounds, nor to British stocks. They would be displaced from British waters.

Two questions arise, namely, where the boats are supposed to go and what is to happen to the stocks in British waters. We may well say they will be allowed to catch only that which is allowable under ICES advice within their waters, but there is nothing to stop them building their own fleet to reach that number of boats to be able to catch what is in their waters over a period of years. The displacement out of British waters is the main problem, because the boats that are displaced will, inevitably, flood into Irish waters or be decommissioned. To be honest, I cannot see the Dutch, the Spanish, the French and the Belgians welcoming that, or the Danes, for that matter, in the North Sea.

It is all very well to say that under international law, and under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement, the UK cannot do that, but Boris Johnson promised what might be called the most fervent Brexit supporters that from 1 January, whatever else happened, Britain would have its fishing rights back. That is the promise he made and he is staring down the barrel of a gun if he does not have that. Whatever deal he does has to take account of that. That is the real political problem, as I see it.

The UK might well be inclined to give away whatever quantity of fish it likes from 1 January, once it has control over its own waters. It is as simple as that. They are the two immovable objects in this. We want to maintain and retain access to British waters and to the stocks within British waters, whether they are spawning and migrating into British waters or straddling stocks across the demarcation lines between the various national waters. Does it really matter if the British insist that on 1 January, everybody is out and that they will deal with the matter on a country-by-country basis or with the European Union to give it access back in? That is the real issue.

I have a question for Mr. O'Donoghue. He focused on trade in his presentation. An important point is the dependence of the British fishing industry on the European market. I will invite him to elaborate on this shortly. It is 74% dependent on the European market. The value to the British fishing industry in accessing that market is €1.2 billion. The important products are salmon, Norway lobster, scallops and crabs. The thing that may have been missing from the equation is that one can catch all the fish one likes, but there has to be a market for the fish. A significant percentage of that market is in the European Union. Maybe we need to inject some reality into the chest-beating we are seeing from certain quarters in Britain.

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

I am pleased the Deputy brought up that question because it is a key question. All we hear about is what Boris Johnson will do for the catching sector. We do not ever hear that the UK market for fish products is 74% dependent on the EU. From the beginning, immediately after the referendum, we went after that. It is all down to access, quota share and linkage to other trade areas, not just seafood trade. To be fair to Michel Barnier, when he was doorstepped during the week, he made it clear that if the UK wants free access to the Internal Market, whether for seafood, energy, financial services, the car industry or whatever else, there needs to be a reciprocal arrangement for fisheries. That is why this linkage is so important. Eleven areas are being discussed here and the European Union has the upper hand in ten of them. If any negotiator worth his salt cannot deliver on the 11th area, he is not doing a good job. The Deputy has highlighted a key issue about the seafood market but it is not just about that. The linkage applies to all the areas. That is a fundamental principle. If it is thrown under the bus at the eleventh hour, it will be a disaster for the Irish fishing industry.

I thank the witnesses for their submissions. Regarding the Northern Ireland protocol, I recall that there were previously problems with fishing boats being hauled in due to a law not being put into force. What will happen with Irish fishing boats going into Northern fishing areas and vice versa with the protocol? Is there an arrangement in place?

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

There is uncertainty about this. I understand there is some provision in the Northern Ireland protocol regarding Northern Irish vessels landing in the South in the event of a no-deal scenario. My understanding is that does not apply to the Irish vessels. It is something about which I have sought clarity from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Agriculture and the Marine. I await that clarity. It is a pertinent and relevant question. If it transpires that there is no deal, there could be vessels from Northern Ireland that would be able to land only in Killybegs or Castletownbere which is nonsense if they are small vessels and, vice versa, we would be able to land only in the designated ports, and I am not sure whether there are any designated in Northern Ireland. A no-deal scenario throws everything up in the air. It will be an unmitigated disaster if that happens.

Can Mr. O'Donoghue not get clarification on that at the moment?

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

To be fair, there seems to be ambiguity about whether what I am saying is correct. I was waiting for confirmation about whether it is the case that vessels from Northern Ireland can still land in the South under the Northern Ireland protocol in a no-deal scenario. I know it applies with regard to matters on land because there is no border, as such, between North and South. My understanding is that Northern Irish vessels have that option but that Southern vessels do not have that option.

Would it be helpful if this committee wrote to the Minister and sought clarification for Mr. O'Donoghue?

Mr. Seán O'Donoghue

Absolutely. I have asked this question on a number of occasions and have been told I will get an answer.

I thank the witnesses for attending and engaging constructively on the topic of Brexit and its impact. Deputy Michael Collins has been listening to the debate all morning and it was at his request a week or so ago that the witnesses were asked to come in. I was not aware that he could not contribute in public session from outside Leinster House or the Convention Centre. He has listened to the full debate and I am sure he will be in touch with the witnesses after this exchange of views. The witnesses' presentation has highlighted the situation to the committee. The secretariat will follow through on Deputy Fitzmaurice's request and try to provide clarification.

Sitting suspended at 9.58 a.m. and resumed at 10.04 a.m.