Fisheries Local Action Groups: Bord Iascaigh Mhara

Before we begin, I ask members and witnesses to turn off their mobile telephones. This meeting is being streamed live and mobile technology interferes with the recording and broadcasting equipment. I welcome from Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Mr. Michael Keatinge, interim chief executive officer; and Mr. Donal Maguire, director of the aquaculture development division. I thank them for attending the meeting to discuss fisheries local action groups, FLAGs.

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.

I invite Mr. Keatinge to make an opening statement.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

I thank the Chairman and members. It is a pleasure to be back here today. I have provided a short presentation document, copies of which have been distributed to members.

The European Fisheries Fund, EFF, which ran from 2007 to 2013, introduced Axis 4, a new approach for the delivery of structural aid in the fisheries sector. This consisted of programmes which focused on the sustainable development of fisheries areas. The approach reflected the complexities and speedily changing forces which are affecting fisheries and the areas and communities in which fisheries operations take place.

Central to this area-based approach is the objective that the EU be able to provide accompanying measures in conjunction with the conversion of areas affected by the restructuring of the fisheries sector. I am sure members are aware of the significant change that took place in 2000 or so in terms of moving towards a maximum sustainable yield, MSY, system in fisheries. That change has had a downward effect on quotas in the past decade or so. Fisheries are returning to MSY and we hope to see the quotas increase, but there has been a significant impact at local level in the past ten years.

The area-based approach under Axis 4 of the EFF means solutions may be adapted to the situations and problems that arise in different parts of the country. The real difference between Axis 4 and other elements of the EFF lies in the way actions may be implemented and linked together in the fisheries area and by fishing communities within those areas. In this respect, Axis 4 is similar to the area-based approach to development in rural areas under the Leader programme.

The introduction of Axis 4 arose out of the need to tackle the effects of the economic, social and environmental consequences of the depletion of fish stocks. The purpose is to enable communities in fisheries-dependent areas to create new and sustainable sources of income and thereby improve their quality of life. The objective is to empower communities by providing them with the resources to devise and adapt solutions to meet their specific needs.

The central principles of this approach are driven by the diversity of fisheries areas and situations existing throughout the EU as well as by the principle of subsidiarity. This means empowering local communities to become the drivers of local development. All of the assistance provided under Axis 4 is designed to form part of an integrated local approach centred on a development strategy that is adapted to the local situation. The process is designed to be as decentralised as possible, co-ordinated by a partnership comprised of members from the public, private and community sectors who come together to form a fisheries local action group. The overall approach may be characterised by three main and interlinked strands, namely, the area, the group or partnership and the integrated local development strategy. They are the fundamental pillars on which the process is built.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara is the implementing authority for European Union structural aid through both the EFF and the forthcoming European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. As such, we are responsible for the overall administration of Axis 4 under the old EFF and of Union Priority 4 under the new EMFF. The fisheries local development measure is the basis of all grant aid dispersed by FLAGS. Although the EFF sets out the areas that may be funded through Axis 4, it is a matter for the FLAG - that is, it is a local matter - to determine how the funding will be prioritised. Each FLAG sets out its objectives in this regard in its fisheries local development measure or plan. I have brought copies of the development strategies and plans produced for the different regions around the country. Members will see they are fairly comprehensive documents and, as I said, they are produced at a local rather than a national level. The fisheries local development measure document sets out the priorities, terms and conditions and selection criteria, as well as the funding application form, in respect operations that will be financed within a priority area.

The basis on which funds may be spent is set out in Article 44 of the EFF.

These include strengthening the competitiveness of fishing areas; restructuring and redirecting economic activities, such as promoting eco-tourism, as long as these activities do not result in an increase in fishing effort; diversifying activities through the promotion of multiple employment in the fisheries through the creation of jobs outside the direct fisheries sector; adding value to fisheries products; supporting small fisheries and tourism-related infrastructure and services for the benefit of small coastal communities; protecting the environment in fisheries areas to maintain its attractiveness, regenerating and developing coastal hamlets and villages with fisheries activities and protecting and enhancing the natural and architectural heritage. The European Fisheries Fund may also finance measures such as the promotion and improvement of professional skills, worker adaptability and access to employment, particularly in favour of women, provided that these measures are an integral part of a sustainable development strategy. What is allowed, within the parameters of the EFF, as well as any parameters agreed nationally and the priority each has with respect to the rest, forms the basis of the fisheries local development measure.

Since the introduction of the Axis 4 initiative and the establishment of the six FLAGs, each of which has developed its own strategic plan, BIM has engaged with the FLAGs and retains presentation on each of the six committees. In addition to the six coastal based staff who work directly with FLAGs, a further three BIM staff members are involved in administering the scheme. Therefore, in each of the FLAGs, the BIM representative will help the group to develop the project proposals put forward and will bring them to fruition.

All of these projects are then brought to be assessed centrally. I wish to stress that the central assessment is not a selection process; it is merely to ensure that projects are eligible and legally allowed under the programme. BIM's only role is to advise the FLAG that a project is or is not eligible. BIM does not indicate or assist with the selection process which is entirely done at a local level. BIM is completely agnostic other than on eligibility.

Once projects are deemed eligible for assistance under the scheme, they are put before the FLAG for selection but decisions must be made at local level. BIM takes responsibility for the administration and payment of projects under the scheme. We administer the cheques and carry out checks on all the paperwork and so on. Then we finally issue the payments.

Over the past two years, 2013 to 2014, the FLAGs have completely engaged in the process and have shown themselves to be responsible and fair in their operation. The new seafood development programme, which will incorporate the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and technically ran from 2014 to 2020 but in reality it will emerge in the latter part of this year and will run beyond 2020, will develop and channel support from the EMFF into the FLAGs and the local development initiatives.

Under the aegis of that seafood development programme, supports for local initiatives involving inshore fisheries and aquaculture will be available. When BIM was last here, I indicated that we hoped for an allocation of €12 million. A public consultation was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine recently and that €12 million allocation can be clearly identified in this document. It is part of a public consultation at the moment but to give the members a full understanding, I stress that the €12 million directly attributed to FLAGs is complemented by other funds for the inshore sector, as well as for funds directed under the CFP, more generally. It would be remiss to suggest that €12 million is the only money available to FLAGs and the inshore sector. I can return to this matter and explain it more fully in a moment.

As the new seafood development programme will be launched in 2015, it will mean all of the FLAGs must be reconstituted and we will seek applications from interested local groups to run these FLAGs. It is our intention to extend the number from six to seven groups in order to allow for a better allocation of resources in the Cork-Kerry area. The current Cork-Kerry FLAG is about twice the size of any other one and, therefore, has become difficult to administer. It is a very big part of the country. We hope to have a seventh FLAG by splitting the Cork-Kerry south-west region into two distinct FLAGs.

In the three years the Irish FLAGs have operated, which includes this year, a total of 320 projects have been submitted which represents an investment just shy of €5 million. I appreciate that is not a huge number but given that its early days in the evolution of this process, we the programme is now taking root and can develop real change in the years ahead.

I have added some material by way of a little presentation. It may be worth quickly considering some of the points outlined in the presentation but I shall not dwell on them. On the first page we reiterated the points that I made in my opening presentation, that is, what the FLAGs are about so that is pretty self-explanatory. FLAGs are about bringing fishing communities together and strengthening their influence, which is an important aspect of FLAGs. They are not just about distributing structural aid. BIM believes, as was said the last time I was here, that the influence should extend to the whole range of fisheries management. Local communities must have a way to influence fisheries management.

If one turns the page one can see a map of Ireland which demonstrates an important point. BIM had a long and quite a strong debate with its colleagues in the European Commission. Brussels holds the view that one should allow groups to emerge. For example, if a FLAG is wanted in Galway and another FLAG is wanted in Kerry but nobody in the middle fills the gap, then Brussels will believe that nobody wants a FLAG in the middle region. I refer to the nature of fisheries in Ireland, in particular the fact that of the 2,200 boats on the register, more than 2,000 are under 12 m, that the bedrock of our industry is small coastal communities, which are often very disparate, that at times the people in charge of those boats are correctly out making a living to help feed their families and that those fishermen often do not have the time to take part in these types of communities activities but, in general, their partners can become very involved. The principle we have taken has been a good one. We said there shall be a FLAG for every fisherman in Ireland and that nobody should be denied access to one. We decided to divide the country into six parts and to create six FLAGs which encompasses the entire coastline, with the small exception of urban areas of over 100,000 people. That means the cities of Dublin and Cork are excluded but that is simply the way the scheme has been set down in the regulations.

On the next two pages we have outlined what happened in the UK and France, which is the way I believe the Commission would have seen things evolve. Let us take the United Kingdom, for example. Cornwall has an active FLAG but there is gap along the south coast of England and along the Wash. The next FLAG does not appear until Lincolnshire. Scotland followed our model and opted to have a FLAG for every area. France followed the Commission's model. One can see a FLAG in Brittany and one Normandy but there is nothing until one is almost at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay. There are vast tracts of the French coastline where fishermen, because they were not in a position to organise themselves, have found themselves denied access to the structural aid provided by Axis 4.

Ireland has pursued this model for the next programme and again the Commission queried why we did so. I remain steadfast in my belief that it can be very difficult for communities and fishermen to come together at the drop of a hat to create FLAGs. We must work with people to ensure nobody finds themselves outside of the net simply because they were unable to give the matter the time required.

The next few slides deal with what I talked about in my opening remarks. This is about increasing income for fishermen and their families and creating new opportunities, not just within fisheries but complementary activities which throws up some challenges. For example, France is like us and had a restriction on the use of fishing vessels. The boat could either be a fishing boat or a passenger boat but could not be both.

Working with their equivalent of the Marine Survey Office, they have been able to change the rules so that fishermen can now go out early in the morning to tend to their pots, before returning later that morning to bring people sea angling. They have become multifunctional. I think that particular project took place in France. The fisheries local action groups in France worked with the administration to help to change the rules. I think these sorts of things can be done. There can be a move from an entirely fisheries-based opportunity to an opportunity that is much more wide-reaching in the sense of tourism and many other activities. Many members will be familiar with where I am coming from. We can see opportunities in places like Dunmore East and Cleggan, for example. In Dingle, with which Deputy Ferris is familiar, there are huge opportunities for fishermen to bring people out visiting the Blasket Islands or engaging in activities like sea angling and scuba diving. Who knows what other activities they could facilitate? They would still be able to tend to their pots in the morning or, in summer, when they return late in the evening.

The next two slides deal with the important issue of strengthening the supply chain in fishing communities and the emerging area of blue growth. I remain utterly convinced that Ireland is not achieving the added value in the seafood sector that it could be achieving. The last time I appeared before the joint committee, I mentioned that approximately 70% of the fish we eat is cod or salmon. As we have a relatively small cod quota and we are a relatively small producer of salmon, some 60% of what we eat is imported. We have a wonderful resource comprising langoustines, Dublin Bay prawns, nephrops, lobsters and crabs, etc. that we are largely exporting without any noticeable added value. We must try to use a local approach to develop this. Many of the stocks about which I have spoken, particularly lobsters and crabs, are locally caught in small amounts. This is an area we need to tackle. The opportunities that will be presented by the whole area of emerging blue growth also need to be borne in mind.

I would like to show the committee a photograph that was taken yesterday in Dunmore East, which is familiar to me because it is the town I come from. If I look up the estuary from Dunmore East, in the distance I can see Passage East, Cheekpoint, Ballyhack and Templetown and I am not too far from Kilmore Quay, Wexford and Tramore. The fisheries local action group in the area has come together in an admirable fashion. Those involved have put aside their old differences, even in terms of playing hurling. Fishermen in Dunmore East rarely if ever spoke to fishermen from Kilmore Quay, but now they have created a network of sub-committees within the estuary to deal with specific problems. They operate their fisheries local action group at an extremely advanced level. As I have said, they have a whole network of subgroups dealing with specific issues. They work together collectively. These groups are not confined to distributing community funds - they actually create a focus for thinking and outreach within their communities and across boundaries that previously existed. That is part of the essence of what they are all about. They reach out to various sections of the community.

The final point I would like to make is reflected in the committee's report. The Chairman and members wrote the report at a time when our old inshore fisheries management initiative had fallen by the wayside and essentially become moribund. BIM was deeply disappointed that the lobster management plan had gone nowhere. In the past 12 months, using the fisheries local action groups as a stepping stone and with the backing of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Department, we have been able to create a new network of six regional inshore fisheries forums, which are driven through the fisheries local action groups, in effect. Each action group is used as a stepping stone because it is a community group with knowledge and has the understanding and support of the local community. Each new committee that has been created has two members from the fisheries local action group and six members from the fisheries sector. Each of the six regions now has an inshore fisheries forum. It, in turn, sends two members to the national inshore forum, which generally meets with the Minister in attendance. It has met three times this year and the Minister has attended all three meetings. Decisions have been made at a fisheries level on matters like lobster management. Consideration is now being given to recreational potting.

I am happy to report to the committee that the situation in relation to inshore fisheries management in Ireland has taken a genuine step forward in the past 12 months. It has done so on the back of the infrastructure that surrounds the fisheries local action groups. The notion that each of these groups is entirely the same as the Leader group is no longer true. Groups of people with a genuine understanding of fisheries areas seem to be coming together, seeing the structural support and the funds that flow through it and displaying an understanding of fisheries management. For example, the group in Roaring Water Bay is grappling with the imposition of Natura. One of the problems it is facing is the notion that potting and the ropes from pots could damage the zostera beds. This group is now able to say it wants to fund research to figure out whether this is really a big problem, or how big a problem it is. I think that type of integration across different policy areas will be the real value that emerges from the FLAG process. There will be a move beyond the simple distribution of community funds. It is actually a much wider thing. I will not dwell on that. I think I have said enough.

I thank Mr. Keatinge for coming in and explaining this in great detail. Can he confirm that a total of €12 million is being provided for the six-year period from 2015 to 2020?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

That is correct, yes.

That means it is €2 million a year.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

There is €12 million in structural aid, which will nominally represent 40% of the total.

I know that. I am talking about the direct grant aid from Europe.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Yes.

The provision of €12 million equates to €2 million a year.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Yes.

Given that there are seven FLAG areas, I suggest that each of those areas will receive approximately €30,000.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

I think the figure is €300,000.

Sorry. There will be €300,000 per area. One of the things I have a problem with is the myth that one can develop rural Ireland with peanuts. I am not blaming Mr. Keatinge - I am blaming those in Europe or whoever - for the idea that this can be done cheaply. They would not think of providing a similar sum for the development of a street in a city. I was involved in developing rural Ireland by creating jobs, etc. I am aware that millions are needed to get a decent project off the ground.

It seems to me that there are seven themes here. Seven goes into 300 approximately 30 times, if one is generous. That is where I got my figure of €30,000 from. There will be approximately €30,000 for each fisheries local action group, which extends across the length of a county. It is interesting that BIM is being asked to work the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I think those days are over. I know of nobody who can turn this kind of money into the kind of growth that is needed. Regardless of the multiplier factor that is put in, it is still not money. At least €250 million has been made available under the current Leader programme, even if this represents a huge cut on the previous programme. It is going to be a very small programme. Everybody involved in Leader is telling me it is a peanut programme. It is very small this time. They are correct to say that there have been massive cutbacks.

The main point I want to make is that there is a need for someone to go to Europe to get some decent money so that we can have a proper FLAG programme that will make a difference in these areas. Nobody really thinks that this kind of money, by the time it has been spread over an entire county, will make a significant difference in the communities we represent. Having been in and done the job - I know what is involved - I am aware that this is totally cosmetic. This is what often happens in rural schemes. It is not real and it is not going to do us any good. Some of those who get a few bob will be happy to go around saying "I got this and that". I do not begrudge them the few bob, but if we are talking about the overall economic development of rural areas, this is a non-player.

I thank Mr. Keatinge for his presentation. The content and principle of what is in this document is good stuff.

However, in order to activate it, one needs to have the funding required to deliver it. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív outlined a breakdown of what is available. Unfortunately, it is so minuscule that it will not have a discernible effect. I live only a couple of miles from the coastal community of Fenit where BIM representatives held a meeting with local fishermen and, unfortunately, nobody bought into it. I will, however, go back and try again, but if we do not have the funding required to get fishermen to buy into it, it will not work.

On the management plans for local areas, there is much that could be done if one had adequate funding. Every day fishermen are out with 500 to 600 pots fishing for lobster and crayfish. The wages of some of these fishermen's might be €50 a day, despite working from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. Depending on price, they might have a good week. They are, however, hostage to buyers who set the price at any given point to suit their agenda. I have always argued that if one had the facility to store crabs, crayfish and lobsters and sell them at the optimum price, as happens at Easter and Christmas, one could, in a co-operative way, retain them and get their real value. Bord Iascaigh Mhara spoke about the lack of added value. With FLAGs, if funds were available, some of them could be used to create a market, both internationally and nationally. The processing side has been spoken about. Most of the fish caught are exported, which is sad. It was stated we were importing 60% of what we consumed. That reflects the fact that there is no forward planning. If there was any understanding by the Government, irrespective of who was in government, of how beneficial this could be and the knock-on effect to sustain and keep the necessary social balance in local communities, it would be money well spent, but the amount provided to be divided along the entire coastline of the Twenty-six Counties will not make a discernible difference. I would, however, like to see the project working and will co-operate and help in any way I can in a personal capacity. I will work with BIM to see can we advance it.

I come from Kerry, a coastal county. When one travels from Lauragh to Tarbert, one notes the number of people who have left coastal communities areas because there is no viable income to be earned from farming or fishing because they have been neglected and betrayed by the political class which has abandoned them. We need to do something to reverse this. All BIM can do is work with what it has. The plan which, in principle, offers many opportunities has nothing to offer because the funding required is not available.

I thank BIM for its presentation. I must agree with previous speakers on the value of the FLAGs plan, for which I understand BIM is the implementing authority. I would like to tease out the extent to which it was involved in the application process for funding under Axis 4 of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, to see whether it had any input in how much could have been availed of by the State. As mentioned in the presentation, funding was available under Axis 4 from 2007 to 2013. The FLAGs formed part of it, yet they were only in place in Ireland for the past three years. That means that nothing was done here between 2007 and 2012. I am not saying, however, that was Mr. Keatinge's fault. Obviously, there is a wider policy problem in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in targeting available EU funding. As Mr. Keatinge is probably aware, the committee was informed by the Commission that in the period 2007 to 2013 some 8,000 jobs were created across the European Union with Axis 4 funding. In Ireland there were 20 jobs created. That is a sad indictment of our targeting of these funds in protecting and saving coastal communities.

I come from Killybegs which, as Mr. Keatinge will be aware, has been Ireland's largest fishing port, in volume and value, for a number of years. However, I know more ex-fishermen than fishermen. That represents the outworking of Ireland's fisheries policy in the past 20 or 30 years. We saw the late former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds get off an aeroplane and talk about having €8 billion in his back pocket. Much has always been made of how we availed of funding from the European Union. In this regard, however, the record is appalling. That is the historical context. I do not know what BIM's role in accessing this funding or devising the policy was - perhaps Mr. Keatinge might fill us in - but in terms of who should be getting the finger out and working on this issue, perhaps we are talking to the wrong people.

In looking at what has been proposed, Mr. Keatinge has outlined a proposed budget of €12 million for the period 2015 to 2020. In preparation for this meeting I looked through a guidance document from the European Commission on community-led local development involving so-called "local actors", particularly FLAGs. It states a budget of €3 million per local development unit per is the minimum amount that should be considered. Given that there are seven FLAGs, one is looking at a figure of €1.8 million for each of them, which means that we are not coming anywhere near the figure mentioned by the Commission and even then the impact might be minimal. I apologise if I am talking to the wrong people about the policy, but perhaps Mr. Keatinge might enlighten us in that regard.

I must agree with previous speakers. This is throwing peanuts at a mountain to try to deal with a problem. Unfortunately, I do not see how we can achieve any of what is intended under Axis 4, that is, to help those who have been pushed out of fishing because of quota restrictions by developing alternative industries and retraining. Unfortunately, at €15,000 per project, there is no way any of this will be achieved.

Gabhaim buíochas le BIM faoin cur i láthair. I will not go over ground that has been covered, but I echo the sentiments expressed. I take it that none of the funding available can be used to help those still engaged in fishing in dealing with issues such as safety and upgrading. We recently had a delegation in Brussels who talked about the way the European Fisheries Fund, EFF, would be used. I wonder, if it cannot be done under the FLAGs measure, whether BIM is looking at applications under the EFF to allow minor upgrades and safety equipment to be bought for smaller fishing boats. This has been brought up with us as a serious issue. The fishermen involved are finding it difficult to maintain safety standards without the availability of funding.

I am interested in what BIM has stated about boats being used for multiple purposes. It has been said somebody could go lobster fishing in the morning and engage in sea angling in the afternoon. What can be done to promote this option even more? We need to look at how fishermen can look at different streams of income under the FLAGs.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the following issue - I am sure Mr. Maguire expected it to come up - given that there is a FLAG in Galway Bay where there is huge controversy around the fish farm project being developed there.

Is a fisheries local action group a forum in which potential projects such as this, about which there is huge controversy and about which many interests are unhappy, could be discussed, with recommendations being made to the Department, BIM and so on on this type of policy? It is a policy issue BIM is bringing forward under the aegis of the Department. From what I can see, most of the stakeholders in the bay are unhappy with the project. Is the fisheries local action group a good forum in which policy developments on the type of fish farm being promoted in Galway Bay could be discussed, including the need for new seafood markets and the detrimental impact it would have on other industries in the area? There are serious issues around this matter from which, perhaps, the delegates might be able to tell us at this stage they are pulling back, as was envisaged.

Earlier a link was drawn between the FLAGs and the RIS, which I found interesting. I presume the RIS would also take into consideration the views of the inshore angling community, one of the greatest advocates in opposing the development of the proposed aquaculture projects. How will that engagement work in order that, irrespective of the particular project I mentioned, other projects that might be planned down the line could be discussed at a pre-emptive stage in order that there would not be a huge community battle involving all of the different interests?

I thank Mr. Keatinge for his presentation. Up to now there has been no representation in this area, particularly in terms of the inshore fleet and the 12 m LOA applicable in that regard. Those involved were left to their own devices and, as correctly pointed out by Mr. Keatinge, were busy every day. There was, however, no representation. They were members of producer organisations, but the more powerful players within the industry would have had their say and control of the producer organisations. Through the inshore fisheries forum and the FLAGs there is now in place a structure through which many of these producers are supported.

While the consolidation of the fishing industry in the fishery harbour centres has worked very well for the centres, it has led to decline in other areas, particularly in many coastal villages and small towns such as Union Hall, Baltimore and Kinsale. Producers now have fend for themselves again. However, there are opportunities. This is not just about money. I acknowledge that the funding to support projects selected by the FLAGs could be greater, but money is not always the sole concern. Issues such as regulation and engagement with the agencies involved often present a problem. Reference was made to the Marine Survey Office. We regularly hear that boats of a particular specification leaving the United Kingdom with a particular load experience no problems, while similar boats leaving Ireland encounter huge problems. The reverse could be the case; we do not know. It is a difficult issue with which to grapple.

The multi-functional use of vessels was mentioned. Vessel use is a hugely untapped resource among inshore fishermen. Some 2,000 such boats could, for example, be used in the tourism sector, but getting the Department to license them is an impossible task. In fact, moves in this regard are in the opposite direction. There is also a difficulty in reclaiming VAT and carbon tax relief on small petrol engines. While big players can do this, small players cannot. These are tangible disadvantages which could be addressed by the FLAGs on behalf of small inshore fishermen, many of whom, in terms of funding, also have to deal with the SFPA, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, BIM, the Marine Survey Office, the European Commission, local authorities and Leader companies such as Comhar na nOileán. They then have to go out and do a day's work.

While I acknowledge that the amount of funding in this area is small and will not solve everything, I am not aware of funding having solved all of the problems in any particular area. I would prefer to see FLAGs coming up with proposals on how each of them could supplement their own industries and help them to grow in a more sustainable manner. This is the right structure to do it. The ground up approach needs to be supported. I agree that without additional funding many problems cannot be addressed. This is a relatively new initiative which deserves a chance and to be supported.

It is worth noting that EMFF funding for Ireland under this CFP is almost twice that provided in the last round. As such, the financial environment is improving. Coastal communities are not only supported through the FLAGs, they are also supported through the seafood programme of BIM, the infrastructure programmes of the local authorities and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Leader companies, Comhar na nOileán and so on. While there is a lot of funding available, the red tape and bureaucracy in this regard, in terms of the number of agencies with which people are required to deal, are crippling. A more supportive environment to allow small fishermen and their communities to diversify and grow is required. That is where I could see the FLAGs flourishing.

I welcome the proposal to split counties Cork and Kerry. While there is more that unites the two counties than separates them, in this case geography is a big player. The proposal must be supported, if only on geographical grounds.

I fully support the FLAGs initiative. The inshore fisheries forum which previously was a huge focus of the work of the committee and the sub-committee on fisheries will I hope give inshore fishermen a voice. That is a reasonably good start. I accept that funding is an issue. I have never heard anybody say at any committee that the funding available is acceptable. However, the agency has a very good template with which to work. It is not only small communities that are affected. In places such as Killibegs and Castletownbere up to 90% of economic activity is entirely dependent on sea fisheries. If anything happens with that industry, it will mean wipe-out for places such as Castletownbere, Killibegs, Dunmore East, Rossaveal, Howth and the other harbour centres. Equally, there are other issues to be dealt with. The FLAGs have a huge role to play in promoting projects and lobbying and dealing with the agencies involved. I often hear that fishermen just want to be left alone. I hope they will have a stronger voice under the FLAGs initiative.

It has been stated that in the three years the programme has been operational a total of 302 projects have been considered by the fisheries local action groups, FLAGs. How many have come to fruition?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

A total of 100 have been completed to date and 120 are going through the process. It is hoped most of them will be completed before the programme ends this year. In board terms, approximately 240 of the 300 projects will come to fruition.

What is the average amount per project?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

The honest answer is that every project that was successful essentially got what it asked for. The total spend on the 100 completed projects was €700,000 and the 120 now going through the process will command another €400,000, so the projected spend to the end of this year is about €1.1 million or €1.2 million.

That is on the 202 projects.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Yes. They range from people looking for €1,000 to help support a local festival to, for example, assisting with the installation of lifts for disabled people to access sailing boats in Greencastle, a lovely project that has brought a new lease of life to people who want to go out sailing and enjoy the coastal community. It is that type of project that we would-----

Many of those projects would not be contributing to the sustainability of the industry.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Not in a direct sense.

I understand the importance of having a lift for disabled people and so forth, but we were just on about the sustainability of fishing communities.

I will ask Mr. Keatinge to come back to all the questions. I will just pose one question. Article 44 of the EFF had a structure in place, as did the old rural development programme, which made it far more restrictive for cross-funding between axes. Is that correct? Apart from being an increased amount, does the new EMFF allow for cross-funding from the various different sections of the programme? I am not trying to align the FLAGs with local development companies such as the partnerships and Leader companies, but could they set themselves up so that, apart from the submissions they would make under EMFF, they could apply for funding through other sources, either separately or to co-fund projects they would identify?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

That is the real difference this time around - what I might call integrated community-led local development. I will address a number of the questions together and perhaps help the members see the complex nature of what we are dealing with. At a European level, Ireland accessed some €241 million of funds from the EMFF. That would have been set at an EU level, so we get the amount set down by the council. BIM would have no part in that negotiation, but I stress that it is set at an EU level. With regard to where we are in this structural fund compared to the last round, I understand there is an improvement. That fund depends on one critical thing: the EU element is €147 million or thereabouts, but to ensure we got the full drawdown, the State was required to come in with national co-funding. The State did not have to come in with the full co-funding. It could have said it was prepared to put up only a certain amount, which would mean less funds could be drawn down. The point I am making is that the EU part has been fully backed by the State part and Ireland will access the full €241 million that has been allocated to it.

We are dealing with a fund of €250 million. Unlike the last time, however, the fund now includes not just fisheries and seafood development but also control and enforcement. Members will see in the public consultation document that control and enforcement have been allocated €46.5 million. It also incorporates the data collection framework, which funds much of the research and surveys that the Marine Institute does, the work BIM does collecting economic data and so on. That is funded to the tune of €40.8 million. Of the €240 million, about €90 million is taken out for control and enforcement and for data collection, leaving something in the region of €160 million for seafood development.

One might then say that €12 million is less than 10%. We should bear in mind the point to which Deputy Harrington has alluded. The €12 million represents that portion of the fund that we are giving over in its totality to local groups to handle. That must not be confused with the suggestion that they cannot access the remainder of the funds. For example, the Senator raised the issue of safety. We will have a big safety programme.

As an aside, one of the key things we do on safety in Ireland was evidenced by what I call the life jacket scheme, which was launched in Union Hall 18 months ago after the dreadful tragedies in which people were lost. We put the new life jackets on everyone going out on a boat, particularly those under 15 m in length, with a built-in personal locator beacon. I am not glad to report, but it is worth recording, that some weeks ago a vessel sank off Wicklow. Three men found themselves in the sea within minutes. It was rather like that tragedy in Waterford in which three brothers were lost. They could probably see Brownstown Head and the local airport in Waterford, where the helicopter was located, but nobody knew they were alone in the sea and dying. The three men who found themselves in the waters off Wicklow last month were all wearing the new life jackets that BIM and the State had provided. The little personal locator beacons went off and in less than 15 minutes the helicopter was overhead. What could have been a tragedy ended with families reunited. There is an important lesson to be taken from this. The point I am making to the members is that under EU legislation the EMFF will not allow us fund that, because it is a requirement under national legislation and the EMFF states that structural aid may not be used to fund something that is already a legal requirement. Ireland, though, has taken the view that we should continue to fund that regardless under de minimis. That sort of safety programme will remain in place, along with all the other safety work we do. That is, the standard safety scheme, under which we deal with life rafts, life jackets, fire-fighting equipment and all that, will remain in place. That is outside the €12 million. Those fisherman in FLAG areas can continue to avail of that.

We are bringing in a new programme to support education. For too long, fishermen have not been financially supported in attending the colleges in Greencastle or Castletownbere. Of course we have the mobile training units that visit these sites, but I believe fundamentally that we should offer financial support to fishermen to undertake training - not just safety training, but the whole range of training. For example, our fishermen come ashore in the winter looking for alternative work. They may go to a shipping company looking for a job as a deckhand, but they have no qualification. We must change that. We must look at the fishing certificates to ensure that as the year rotates they can move seamlessly from inshore fishing in the summer to working on a guard ship, a supply vessel or something else in the winter.

To return to the point I am putting across, the chairman has said the difference this time is that FLAGs can and should be encouraged to promote projects to avail of the rest of the €160 million for fisheries development. The €12 million is the bit they will fully control. The other €148 million is there, as are Leader funds. We have to stop seeing the FLAGs as somehow in competition with Leader. Far from it: community-led local development should be a partnership and it should be seamless across the agencies. The one thing we are saying is that the unique situation of coastal communities demands that they have a local action group. They deserve that. They deserve their own group, which must not be confused with suggesting there is any distinction between BIM and Leader. It should be the opposite. A public consultation is under way. Of course we are vying with the processing sector, with the bigger fishing boats, within agriculture and so on, right across a whole range of areas of seafood development, and everyone wants their part. There is €12 million there for FLAGs, and there are many other people vying for funds. It is a balancing act. If I take the direct funds the FLAGs will access €12 million. If I take the inshore management scheme, which is another €6 million, that brings us up to €18 million. Deputy Ferris talked about onshore storage for products, and we have worked a lot in the past, particularly on lobster storage. There is a special measure in here that deals directly with support to produce organisations for quayside storage of unwanted catches. However, that sort of measure can also provide onshore facilities. It will mean the total package for the inshore seafood areas will far exceed €12 million, but the €12 million will be there to be directly driven by local communities.

That is the empowering aspect and there is no reason it could not increase in future.

On the area of multitasking, it would be remiss of me to suggest to the committee that it is an easy job. I have discussed this at length with the Marine Survey Office and the big problem is that if someone heads out to sea in the morning with pots, rope and equipment, then comes back ashore later and encourages tourists to come on board to do whale watching, sea angling or whatever, there are issues of insurance and safety which pose complex problems. It may be that we are able to find a way forward whereby a single vessel may change role midway through the day or multitask. That would put new demands on the operator of the vessel. There are other models; for example, in a community with a number of boats, they could, through a community-led structure, make a decision as a group of fishermen that a particular boat will be dedicated this summer for sea angling and that they will equip it and so on - "I will help you fish your pots in the morning, and you use my boat during the day for sea angling." That type of group thinking and co-operation could be another way forward. These are models we will have to explore with the Marine Survey Office. They are not easy, and it would be wrong of me to suggest that the Marine Survey Office is just blocking this. It is very happy to co-operate but it is difficult. There is a range of things we can consider.

I have mentioned safety in particular, and I will ask my colleague Mr. Donal Maguire to say a word about the area of aquaculture. There can be a very exciting role for aquaculture in the whole area of FLAGs.

Mr. Donal Maguire

There is a big role for the possible integration of aquaculture techniques into inshore fisheries. We have a vision whereby, using modern aquaculture techniques and marine hatcheries, we can replenish depleted stocks such as scallops and lobsters. If we could get the right structures in place at a local level, we could begin to restore some of those stocks to their former abundance. A vision for the successor to Food Harvest 2020 will also be incorporated. Greater integration of co-operative measures and modern aquaculture techniques with inshore fisheries could yield a huge benefit.

In response to Senator Ó Clochartaigh's question on Galway Bay, I am afraid we are not withdrawing the project. We have submitted it and are no wiser as to where it lies within the consideration process. The environmental impact study regarding that project showed very clearly that there would not be a significant negative impact on any of the inshore fisheries. Nobody has produced any evidence during the consultation process to show there would be such an impact. There is ongoing controversy over migratory salmonids. That is an issue on which there are differences, and it is a difficult one to resolve.

I had a couple of questions that were not addressed. Why did it take until 2012 to get the FLAGs up and running? There was an EU recommendation that there be a budget of €3 million per FLAG area. What is Mr. Keatinge's view on the fact that only 20 jobs were created in Ireland over the period of the last EMFF when there were 8,000 created across Europe? I also have a couple of supplementary questions.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

The direct answer to the Deputy's first question concerns the delay in establishing the FLAGs. I admit that there certainly was a delay. It must, however, be remembered that while the programme was nominally for 2007, the European Fisheries Fund's n+2 rule effectively meant that it did not get going until 2009. The current programme we are dealing with is the 2014 to 2020 programme, which was not agreed by the Council until the middle of 2014, and which nobody has implemented. That is unfortunately just way the things are. It is not an Irish issue but an EU one.

From 2009 to 2013, 8,000 jobs were created across Europe and 20 in Ireland.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

I am not sure that is comparing like with like. What the Commission is failing to tell the Deputy is that, in some countries that do not have a development authority, for example, they took all their funds and put them into their FLAGs. In Ireland, we took our funds and distributed them through a set of recognised programmes. We have had fleet safety, fleet modernisation, processing measures, and assistance throughout a whole range of areas. They have been done outside the FLAGs. We have had relatively modest funds allocated to the FLAGs, which is not to say that was all of our funds. If the Deputy looked across all of the programmes we have run in the areas of sea fisheries, aquaculture and onshore processing, it would be clear that we have created considerably more than 20 jobs. They are saying that Ireland gave a small part of its total fund to FLAGs and then judging that number, 20 jobs, against another country that gave most of its fund to FLAGs because it does not have an equivalent of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM.

The figures are wrong?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

I am not saying they are wrong. They are technically correct, but we are not comparing like with like - we are comparing apples with oranges, and it has been a little bit misleading.

I will check that with the Commission.

If the Deputy was going to check it, he would have to check the descriptions of the jobs to see whether similar jobs were filled only through a different channel in Ireland. Is that the way to compare like with like if that is what we need to do?

I think so. It is possible that the explanation given by Mr. Keatinge is actually what the Commission is looking at - the question of comparing like with like. I am sure the Commission would be interested to know whether it was doing it right.

What are Mr. Keatinge's comments on community-led local development guidance and the budget for FLAGs?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Fisheries in Ireland represent about 3% of the European fisheries in terms of numbers employed. It is a relatively small part. Countries such as Greece and Italy have huge maritime fisheries sectors and, compared to them, we are actually very small. Again, it is important to compare like with like.

If I look at a range of initiatives even in County Donegal, in terms of the jobs created by the new investment in Killybegs, I could list jobs. Mooney's boat yard in Killybegs is part of an emerging industry. We have not built boats in Ireland for 25 years, since BIM went out of the boat-building business. We are not building the hulls in Ireland because it is more cost-effective to build them abroad, but the new boat for Clogherhead was delivered into Killybegs last week to be fitted out with the engine and the interior. All the hard, labour-intensive work is being done in Killybegs, where there are now about 25 people involved in boat building that were not there before.

Has the EMFF funded that?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

No, the Structural Funds did. That is the point I am making. We have chosen to give a small amount directly to the FLAGs initially. Once we hand that money over, the FLAGs decide where it goes. There is a sense of building this slowly but carefully so that we get a good outcome. That does not mean the rest of the Structural Funds were not available - of course they were. They continue to be administered through the State and through Bord Iascaigh Mhara. That is our job. We are the development agency.

We want to move forward by creating a new partnership with the FLAGs. We do not want to simply say "Why not just take the quarter of a billion and hand it all to local communities and, sure, we can close BIM down." I do not think that is the way forward. The way forward is to develop on one scale at a national level, to ensure balanced, proper development, while also developing at a local level through the FLAGs. We are getting that balance right in Ireland.

The point in my presentation was to consider other countries that have a chosen a different route. What happens in an area in England or France that is outside the FLAGs - for example, on the south coast of England? There is no FLAG and the UK does not have an equivalent of BIM. Of course, they have structural aid, but it is a case of getting the balance right.

In terms of the €3 million, if the Deputy takes that as an indicative figure of what a FLAG should get over the course of the coming programming period, that would add up to €21 million. We have allocated €12 million in direct funds.

This is a proposal; it is a public consultation. Some €6 million is specifically allocated to inshore fisheries management, which is the work of the regional inshore forums, or RIFs, so the FLAGs will avail of those funds as well. They are there to be used by the inshore fisheries forums, as we discussed. That is a sum of €18 million.

Looking at what is going on in processing, training and fisheries generally, the FLAGs can still operate within those funds. I actually think we will not be far off the €3 million for FLAGs. When one adds all of that together and asks what FLAGs do in the seven years, we should not be far off the €3 million mark.

How much funding will be available for retraining people who have been forced out of fishing in recent years due to quota difficulties and rationalisation within the industry? How much funding for retraining and upskilling will be available for them?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

That is one particular area that the new FLAGs themselves will control. Within their allocation, they can direct funds to that. We are open to applications from groups and once the new FLAGs are constituted in the coming months, they will take the last programme and update and develop their new programme around what they see as being important for their area. That is one of the things that they can include.

Can they do that reskilling and upskilling?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Yes, they can do so. To show the contrast in our thinking, we would see the provision of training for the seafood sector - for example, access to funds for safety training, upskilling and certificates for officers on fishing boats - as a national matter, not a local one. In other words, the FLAG in Donegal may decide it does not want to prioritise training, whereas the FLAG in Kerry does. Why should a fisherman in one county not be able to avail of the same training opportunity as another? We have said therefore that we will handle that programme nationally.

That is all very well for active fishermen within the fishing sector, but I am talking about people living in fishing communities whose income has been taken away due to developments. I am not talking about upskilling existing fishermen.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

I appreciate that, but it is not BIM's job. It is something we delegate to the FLAGs.

I imagine that is what the action groups are for.

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Maybe we actually would agree. We see it as a priority, but we do not see that we should make that decision. That is one of the areas that FLAGs should decide. They should see the importance of that in their local communities and specifically fund projects to assist people. Therefore, that will come out of the fund. We will let people make those decisions locally.

I do not mean to delay the meeting, but I have another question. The Marine Survey Office has said that one cannot have dual-purpose vessels. Suppose an island community decided to purchase an angling vessel that fishermen could use during the tourist season. Would that be funded by the FLAGs?

Mr. Michael Keatinge

Yes, that could be funded. Once a FLAG has made a decision to include eco-tourism as a priority, why not? If that is something it sees as giving viable alternatives within their area, then we would absolutely encourage that type of thinking. I am being careful not to suggest that our colleagues in the Marine Survey Office are anything but helpful. I would stress, however, that it is a case of insurance and safety. A community could come together and say that, as a co-operative group of inshore fishermen, it wants to purchase and run between them a sea angling vessel. They will look for funds under our FLAG to have one and also want to run an office in Baltimore or Downings. People can then come in and book their activities and make plans. That is the sort of thing we are going to encourage.

It is vital on this occasion that, as we approach the first round of funding, and before we get there, we take stock of what we have achieved over the last three or four years in 2013, 2014 and 2015. How many projects have we funded, what were they about and what did they really add up to? We also need to help those running the FLAGs to get a suite of projects for the next measure, which will perhaps be a bit better thought through. We may need to have some bigger demonstration projects focused on job creation. They should be substantial and form a real stepping stone to the future. Equally, I believe there is a place for very small projects, including local festivals, artisan operators and small producers. Those are all terribly important. A small grant of €20,000 or €30,000 can create sustainable jobs. I can think of one particular individual, although it would not be appropriate to name him. We gave him a small grant to buy a portable ice-making machine. That gentleman now employs five people collecting inshore fisheries products and providing ice locally. One can create jobs with small grants, but I also think we did not achieve enough big projects under the last programme. That is one of the things we will have to work on directly with our FLAGs to help create confidence in communities to go for slightly bigger projects this time.

I thank Mr. Keating and Mr. Maguire for their presentations, which were opportune given the timelines for the reconstitution of the new FLAGs within the EMFF consultation period.

Mr. Keating mentioned the local development companies and Leader, but they are not the same and neither are they competitors. There are comparisons, however, and there are lessons to be learned from the original establishment of Leader companies and the rural development programme over 20 years ago. A lot of money was thrown at them initially but due diligence was not run over every project, which landed some of them in trouble at the time. FLAGs will initially take smaller steps to try to get themselves correctly formatted. Everyone has said that the structure and template were good but they needed to improve their ability to fund projects. In his summary, Mr. Keating said they needed to focus on job creation. Jobs will be the lifeblood of the communities they are targeting. We would like to see better funding, but we also want to ensure that they can access and draw down funding from other sources. Today's discussion has been useful and hopefully it will help people when they consider how they want FLAGs to work in the future, for both policy makers and participants. For that reason, I hope the crossfire of questions and answers in this engagement has been helpful. I also wish to thank members of the committee. There has been a good deal of interest in this subject. The committee members are keen to see that this project gets onto a correct footing and is properly funded in time to come. Once again, I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.38 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 June 2015.