The matter Deputy Browne raised regarding prosecutions etc. needs to be addressed to the SFPA directly. To make a general point, we have across the country fishers and so many others working in our fishing sector, which employs 16,000 overall and is worth €1 billion to our economy. It is such an important sector, has a really strong and sustainable future and can add value but also must deal with the undoubted impact, unfortunately, from Brexit, which will impact 15% of our national quota between now and 2026. There is no doubt but that the revocation of the control plan impacts everyone in the sector, but without a doubt the vast majority of people working in the sector and the vast majority of fishers work really hard. It is a really difficult lifestyle. They go to great lengths to comply with the rules and regulations. It is very important we say that and make that clear. They deserve our recognition and our thanks for that.
Alongside that, however, we have a reality we have to deal with as a member state which concerns our control plan and the administrative inquiry the European Commission conducted. There are issues that have to be addressed as a result of that. The inquiry found that Ireland, as a member state, was not meeting its obligations arising from meeting the regulations through its control plan because the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy could not be minimised. The assessment and the audit done by the Commission found there were issues which arose and which they came across which meant the Commission did not feel the control plan we had in place could ensure all the rules were being met. The revocation of that control plan and the fact that factory weighing, which was much more practical for so many, has gone has been very challenging. I know the SFPA is dealing, consulting and liaising daily with fishers and those who process fish on the impact of this. It has led to tremendous difficulties. We cannot, however, wish it away. We have to deal with it. It has had an impact, and as Minister I have to deal with the administrative inquiry and that legal process with the European Commission. The control plan revocation is just one aspect of it which has had an immediate impact on our fishers. There are other aspects of it which I am dealing with as part of that legal process. I know that when the SFPA met with the committee last week, it outlined how it is engaging regarding the practical situation that now applies and how it will engage at an operational level with the European Commission move towards getting a control plan back in place and its intentions in that regard.
Regarding Deputy Browne's other point about the interconnectedness between the master's control point system and the courts system, if a master were to receive penalty points under the legislation and under the points system, he or she would have the option of an oral hearing with a determination panel. He or she then has the option to appeal that further to an appeals officer and then the option, on a point of law, to appeal that to the High Court. If the High Court, on a point of law, were to find in favour of the master, the penalty points would fall in that instance. That is the points system. It is an administrative system, not a criminal system. It does not involve a criminal conviction. What happens is that you get points on your master's licence. If you accumulate a certain number of points - I think it is 90 in total - you can lose your master's licence. If you get some points and within three years do not receive any more points, those points fall off your licence. If you receive points and over the course of those three years get more points, you hold onto the ones you have got, the additional points you get accrue and the three-year clock resets. If you do not get any more points within the next three years, those points then fall off your licence as well. Ultimately, in the event of your getting the 90 points, you would lose your licence as a master. This is not a criminal sanction but an administrative sanction whereby you are no longer able to operate as a master if you accrue that number of penalty points. That is the impact of that.
It is similar to what would have happened regarding the licence holders within the licence holder penalty points system that was introduced by statutory instrument last year. It is therefore not a criminal system but an administrative system. There is an obligation on all EU member states to have such a system in place. In fact, we are the only EU member state at this stage that does not have a penalty points system in place for masters' licences. The obligation on member states to introduce one has been in place since 2012 and we are now the only state that does not have one. On that point, and regarding a level playing field, other member states would certainly be able to make the point that without us having such a system in place, and because we are the only one that does not have it in place, there is not a level playing field. Because we are the only member state that has not introduced it so far, the European Commission has taken infringement proceedings against us in the form of a reasoned opinion and has suspended our funding by up to €26 million already, with the potential for that to increase to €38 million. The next step after that, if we do not meet our obligations to introduce a masters' penalty points system, would be for us to be taken to the Court of Justice by the European Commission for non-compliance. That is the situation that pertains in that regard, and that is the reason we have to bring in a penalty points system, as is the obligation on other EU member states. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that people comply with the regulations and, in particular, given that the vast majority do so, that there is a mechanism in place whereby those who do not comply can be penalised. That was the principle and the theory behind its introduction.