Sea Fisheries Sustainability Impact Assessment: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

We will now resume in public session. I remind members and witnesses to make sure that their mobile phones are turned off completely. In this final session of our meeting today we will deal with the forthcoming EU Council meeting on agriculture and fisheries to discuss the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment. I welcome the Minister and his officials who are here to brief the committee in advance of the next agrifisheries EU Council meeting to discuss the above mentioned impact assessment.

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 Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite the Minister to make his opening statement now.

I welcome the opportunity to present the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment to the committee. As in previous years, a rigorous assessment has been undertaken to examine the implications for Ireland of the EU Commission’s proposals for the fixing of total allowable catch, TAC, for the coming year. The EU Commission proposal was issued on 7 November and a number of non-papers updating the proposal have issued since. As the committee will be aware, the final arrangements for 2019 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 17 and 18 December. The levels of TAC and the quotas for Ireland will be determined at that meeting following intensive negotiations with member states and the Commission.

The waters surrounding Ireland contain some of the most productive fishing grounds in the EU. We have a duty of care to protect their biological richness and, as such, they must be managed responsibly and sustainably. Ireland’s total allocation of quotas in 2018 amounted to a total value of €266 million. There are also very valuable inshore species which are not subject to EU TAC including, for example, crab, whelk, scallop and lobster, and are fished by the Irish fleet inside our six-mile coastal zone. The process of preparing for the Council is now well under way. The proposal covers stocks which are not subject to third party international agreements and are, in the main, whitefish and prawn stocks. Stocks which are subject to ongoing international negotiations are not included in the proposal as yet, with the exception of mackerel. While those negotiations are ongoing we know at this stage that there will be at least a 20% cut for 2019 and possibly more.

Next year will see the full implementation of the landing obligation or discards ban. This was a central element of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and was agreed by all member states as well as the European Parliament. It will cease the dumping of perfectly good fish at sea and end the catching and discarding of juvenile fish. This is a common sense goal but the obligation comes with significant challenges. We must be determined to face these challenges head on if we are to ensure the sustainability of our vibrant coastal communities that depend on healthy fish stocks. There are a number challenges that can only be addressed by common action from the Commission and the member states and I will pursue these issues vigorously.

The proposals themselves are based on formal advice received from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, the independent international body with responsibility for advising on the state of fish stocks. The proposals also take account of the views of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, STECF, which gives the Commission its views on the economic, technical and social impacts of the scientific advice.

In order to inform my negotiations at the December fisheries Council, I have had an assessment of the impacts of the Commission proposal undertaken. To facilitate the assessment, an open consultation process was initiated whereby stakeholders were asked to submit their comments and observations on the Commission proposal for fishing opportunities for 2019. From 7 November an online web portal on was activated to enable the transmission of electronic submissions for consideration. These portals remained open until 21 November and three submissions were received by the closing date. The full content of all the submissions received by the deadline will be published on the website. In addition to the written submissions, I convened a meeting of stakeholders including fishing industry representatives and environmental NGOs, on 23 November. The purpose of this meeting was to give a further opportunity to the main stakeholders to outline their positions on the many aspects of this proposal. I would like to thank all of the various stakeholders for their contributions to this impact assessment.

As always, there was a range of views among stakeholders. However, there were also commonalities and I agree with many of the sentiments expressed through the consultation process. These include a call for adherence to the available scientific advice to enable responsible and appropriate management decisions to be taken. However, this must be balanced against the concern that major cuts to TACs could have severe socioeconomic impacts. In this context, I will not support cuts unless I am satisfied that they are absolutely necessary and fully supported by rigorously assessed, clear scientific evidence.

A very serious concern in the proposal is the fact that the Commission has not allocated quotas to member states in accordance with our respective shares for a number of key stocks. Instead, it proposes a by-catch TAC that would be available to any member state. This is completely unacceptable as it would considerably dilute our share of key stocks and lead to a race to the bottom or Olympic fishing. Such an outcome would be devastating for our fleets and the sustainability of the stocks in question. I am working closely with other relevant member states to ensure that these particular proposals are dropped.

Apart from this issue, I also have concerns with some of the TAC level proposals, for example for haddock in the Celtic Sea, which is minus 14% and for cod in the Celtic Sea which is minus 58%. This is also a Union TAC. For our most important demersal stock, nephrops, there is mixture of advice depending on the area. While some areas are showing an increase in abundance, there is significant reduction in others. In overall terms, the collective advice is for a 32% cut. The Marine Institute is currently examining the advice to determine if all relevant information has been considered in its formulation. Once that analysis is complete I will be able to assess whether there is a case to be made to mitigate to some degree the scale of the cut proposed. Following the consultation process and the expert advice of the Marine Institute, I do not believe that the full scale of these reductions in quota is either justified or necessary. I will accept cuts where the scientific advice available to me is unequivocal, for example, for Celtic Sea herring.

There is some good news in the proposal for certain stocks. Cod, haddock and plaice in the Irish Sea will all see increases as will megrims, monk and hake in other areas. The Marine Institute and BIM have again made an invaluable contribution to the assessment of the Commission’s proposal, which is contained in the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment before the committee today. I would like to briefly set out the findings of that assessment.

From a purely biological perspective, the Marine Institute's view, which coincides with the ICES view, is that there has been an improvement in the status of some fish stocks. However, others remain a concern. In the impact assessment, the Marine Institute summarises the pressure on the 74 stocks dealt with in the 2018 stock book and compares this assessment with the same evaluation presented in the stock books from previous years. There is a higher number of sustainably fished stocks, at 32 in total and a higher percentage, at 43%, in 2018 compared with last year. The percentage and number of stocks overfished, at 22% and 16%, respectively, has also increased in 2018 whereas the stocks with unknown status declined slightly from 28% to 26% or from 38% to 35%. The specific details for all stocks are available in the document which has been laid before the Dáil and in the stock book, which was prepared by the Marine Institute and is available on its website.

The socioeconomic impact assessment of the Commission’s proposals does not fully account for Ireland’s share of fishing opportunities. The current proposals exclude a number of important stocks - mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting - where the final European Union total allowable catch, and member states' quotas, depend on external, third country agreements. If agreed as they currently stand, the Commission’s proposals would see a net reduction in fishing opportunity, or quotas, of 15% by volume and 17% by value. In financial terms, this amounts to a direct income reduction of €34.67 million. These figures can be further explained, as follows: a net reduction in fishing opportunity for the demersal sector - whitefish and nephrops - of 5.7% by volume and 15% by value, with a direct income reduction of €20 million; and a potential minimum net reduction in fishing opportunity for the pelagic sector of 18% by volume and 20% by value, with a direct income reduction of €14.67 million.

The regional analysis of these figures is as follows. For north-west stocks, in what is known as area 6, there would be a 26% increase in fishing opportunity, valued at €2.1 million, for the demersal - whitefish and prawn - fleets. This will directly impact the ports of Greencastle and Killybegs. For the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and west coast stocks, in what is known as area 7, it is estimated that there will be 14% reduction in fishing opportunity for the demersal fleet. This reduction is valued at €24.31 million and will directly impact the ports of Clogherhead, Howth, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay, Dingle, Castletownbere and Ros an Mhíl, as well as other smaller ports.

In addition to the direct losses to the fleet, income is also lost from the processing sector as a direct result of reduced catches and in a number of ancillary industries, such as net making, chandlery, engineering, refrigeration, and so on. This will obviously have a knock-on effect for employment and BIM further estimates, on the basis of the most recent employment surveys of the catching sector, that these reductions could impact 500 full-time and part-time jobs. This could occur either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies in the seafood sector.

The proposals do not include the Hague Preferences, which are a safety net for the Irish fleet on specific stocks where total allowable catches are in decline. Essentially, these are additional amounts of quota that Ireland and the UK claim for important whitefish stocks. Many member states object strenuously to their application as the additional quota comes off their allocations. Ensuring that the preferences are applied will be a key political objective for me in the negotiations. The loss of these allocations in 2019 will amount to at least 1,222 tonnes of fish, with a direct value of €2.4 million and an associated impact on between 40 and 50 full-time and part-time jobs, either through reduced incomes, partial lay-offs or redundancies.

To conclude, I fully concur with the findings of the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment, which highlights the significant impact the current proposals could have on the Irish fishing industry. While significant challenges lie ahead over the next three weeks, I will do my utmost to agree a fair and balanced package for Ireland that ensures the continued vibrancy of our industry and the long-term sustainability of our stocks. I thank and acknowledge all those who contributed to the production of this impact assessment and look forward to the debate on the conclusions.

I thank the Minister and his officials for attending. One of the key things in all this, and it is the big issue facing everyone in the fishing industry and in so many other industries, is Brexit, the impact it will have and where it is going to leave us. In particular, there is impact on other EU country fleets which would traditionally fish in what will become British waters, if Brexit powers ahead, as we assume it will. Their displacement will probably put pressure on the stocks in Irish waters, or what would be Irish waters if we were not in the EU.

In that context and in the discussions the Minister is having at European level, is there any sense of a recognition of the impact this will have on the Irish fishing sector or that there needs to be a full review of the Common Fisheries Policy and where it is going in the context of Brexit? If we step back and look at the map of Europe, it is clear that Britain leaving takes a huge area of fishing waters out of the EU context. From an Irish perspective, Irish fishing vessels will either have to go through British waters or international waters to get back into EU waters. While this meeting is to discuss the total allowable catch and the pressures on the various sectors, and all that comes into play, much of the reason for all those pressures is overfishing and the pressure that comes from the very large fishing vessels from other European states that come into our waters and take a lot of our fish, particularly the super-trawlers. The impact of those will be even more severe if matters progress with Brexit as we expect them to progress.

Whereas the December Council is critical for the year-to-year quotas it secures for the industry, the Deputy has hit the nail on the head in terms of what is the biggest challenge for the Irish fishing industry for the years ahead, which is obviously Brexit. In that context, we have been engaged in a very intensive way with the industry since even before the UK vote on 23 June 2016 but this has ramped up significantly since then. The industry's analysis and our own analysis are ad idem on the scale of the challenge the industry faces in the context of the UK leaving in circumstances where it would control access and quota in its waters. For example, with regard to our most valuable fishery, we catch 60% of our mackerel and over 40% of our second most valuable stock in UK waters. We have been working hand in hand with the industry in regard to that challenge and building an alliance across Europe of other member states that are equally impacted in terms of the exposure of their industry to UK waters. Spain, France, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden are part of a platform that we have been instrumental in constructing with a view to feeding in our shared analysis on what it is we want in the Brexit negotiations, and this has been mirrored by a similar platform constructed by an industry alliance. There is not an iota of a difference between our shared analysis of the challenge and what it is we want from the outcome of these negotiations.

What we clearly want is continued access and, effectively, the status quo. In terms of how we prosecute that, we want to make sure that, in terms of the future relationship, these issues are dealt with in the context of the future trading relationship, not in isolation but in terms of the UK's demands for market access for its products, such as financial services, aviation, pharmaceuticals and the car industry. We want the negotiations on fisheries to be inextricably linked with those negotiations.

In terms of the agreement that is now there, that is, the withdrawal treaty and the accompanying political declaration, we are where we wanted to be when we set out originally. That does not mean there is any room for complacency. It means that, on the basis the withdrawal treaty is approved, the status quo will apply to the Common Fisheries Policy up to the end of 2020. During that period, in regard to what is in the political declaration, there will be negotiations around the issues concerning fisheries. We are very clear on what we want. We want the continuation of the status quo and we believe that, given what the UK is asking in respect of a close trading relationship, it is right and proper that those two issues would not be separated but would be inextricably linked.

I heard Mrs. Theresa May yesterday trying to sell her deal and one of the main points she made was that UK fishing vessels would operate outside the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. That was a strong selling point for her. One of the main reasons behind Brexit is that the British want to get away from European regulations and from the constraints placed on them by the EU. In that context, if they begin to overfish their own waters, what impact will that have on TACs in the future? Fish do not know where the border between the waters of the EU and UK lies. The border on the land is hard enough to establish and police but the border in the sea is even harder. I am conscious of the fact that in a few years from now the December meeting of the agri-fisheries Council could face a much starker problem than is currently the case.

As I said, we were clear from the outset about our requirements at this point. We wanted to work with the industry and with other member states that have fishing fleets, which are also exposed, to a greater or lesser extent, in terms of fishing UK waters and to prosecute our asks through the Barnier task force. Regarding what has been agreed, we are where we set out to be and this has been acknowledged by industry leaders here. If one assumes that the withdrawal agreement is approved, and that remains to be seen, serious negotiations on the future trading relationship will take place during the transition period. Reference has been made to concluding those negotiations as they relate to fish at "an early stage".

Is there an argument to be made for putting additional protections in place for Irish waters to ensure they are not overfished by other EU fleets? I understand the concept of a commonality of purpose and everyone working together, which is all very well and good. That is the appropriate way to proceed but in the cold light of day, when one is talking about a scarce resource with many people trying to make money from it, we could be in a position where others will take advantage of the situation. Are we at a point where the Minister should put forward a strong argument for protecting our own waters to ensure they are not overfished?

We are part of the CFP and in the context of Brexit, we are part of an alliance with other member states that have similar fishing interests. If we were to break from that, apart from the bad faith, it would do untold damage to the CFP and the relative stability that it provides by sharing out the resources between member states. We would effectively say to those who support our analysis and who have been part of getting us to where we are now that we want some of their fish. That is the surest way to isolate ourselves and it would leave us vulnerable in the context of the rest of those member states. When it comes to December Council, we will all fight each other tooth and nail for the maximum share for our own industries, taking into account the scientific advice, the data on socioeconomic impact and the journey towards maximum sustainable yield, MSY. We have a shared interest in a critical issue and if we start flying solo on it, that would be counterproductive.

I do not suggest that we fly solo or act in bad faith but there may be an argument to be made for convincing all the other parties in Europe that the situation here is unique. Our largest neighbour, whose waters practically surround ours, will not be governed by the TAC rules at all while we will continue thus.

It is an interesting point but there is nothing to be gained from failing to prosecute 100% the analysis we have made with others. If we were to suggest that we wanted in some way to protect Irish waters for Irish boats, we would alienate our allies. In the context of the CFP and access to community waters, we fish for 60% of our mackerel outside of our own waters. The CFP is based on Community waters being a Community resource. We fish for 60% of mackerel in UK waters. Our trawlers go elsewhere to what could be described as other countries' waters and equally, their trawlers come into our waters. We have a large 200 mile zone but it would be a serious misjudgment to talk about reopening relative stability or the CFP. That is for a later stage and when that happens, we will negotiate to get the best deal for Ireland. At this moment in time, what unites is important. What divides us or may divide us in future is not what we should explore now because that would be counterproductive.

I apologise for not being present earlier but I had to attend another meeting. I have read the Minister's opening statement and I thank him for coming in to discuss this important issue with the committee. The outline that he gave is concerning in respect of the overall impact, particularly if the proposal remains unchanged. It will result in a 15% reduction in volume and a 17% reduction in value in the sector. That is the starting position and the Minister will have to fight a battle on behalf of the country and in conjunction with other member states in the coming weeks. The proposed reductions this time last year and the position at the conclusion of the negotiations are an indication of what is possible in negotiations. In that context, I ask the Minister to remind us of the position last year in terms of the final outcome vis-à-vis the original proposal.

What has been the cumulative impact of reductions or changes in recent years? Have there been reductions every year for the past five or six years or have there been increases as well? I ask this to assess the impact on the fishing sector in general.

The Minister indicated that it has not been agreed that the Hague preferences will be applied. Have they not been applied in any years following negotiations? How confident is the Minister that they will be applied in 2019? I would have thought that given the pressure we are under because of Brexit there would be more solidarity from other member states this year. That is counterposed by the fact that the British Government benefits from the preferences as well, which is a complicating factor. I accept that fact but ask the Minister to elaborate a little on that matter.

On the TACs, the Minister indicated that he is seriously concerned about the fact that the Commission, in its proposal, has not allocated quota to member states in accordance with their respective shares for a number of key stocks. Instead, it has proposed that a by-catch TAC would be available to any member state. This is a concerning proposal that has never been suggested in the past. I hope that it will not be implemented and I ask the Minister to elaborate on it.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I do not have the figures that he seeks but I will endeavour to get them and forward them to him. I do not have data on the cumulative impact of cuts and changes in recent years or the specific figures for last year to hand.

I recall some of them last year - for example, with Celtic Sea herring there was a proposed cut of 60% and we ended up with a 30% cut. When the Hague Preferences were applied to nephrops, I think we went up by 15%.

Under the Common Fisheries Policy the Commission is committed to fishing under what is called MSY by 2020, whereby each species is only fished to the sustainable yield of the stock without putting itself under pressure to regenerate itself each year. That and the discards ban requiring fishermen to land everything are two issues giving rise to considerable challenges this year. Added to that is the issue on the Hague Preferences, which is a device applied where a stock is in decline. This is predicated on a case that was prosecuted back in the 1980s. In a way we were short-changed when the Common Fisheries Policy was established in 1982. As our industry was in some way disadvantaged, we got the Hague Preferences so that where stocks are going down we get a little bit more than everybody else. Every year other member states kick back against the application of the Hague Preferences.

It is complicated this year because the UK is going out the door. It was our ally in those negotiations. As it goes out the door, member states will feel we are more vulnerable on the Hague Preferences, notwithstanding that we have had a shared endeavour on Brexit. This is about what will be fished next year and people feel everything is fair game in the context of those negotiations and the Brexit thing is parked. The loss of the UK as an ally in negotiation over the Hague Preferences is a concern for us.

There is also concern about something of an unholy alliance emerging between the UK and Spain on what are referred to in the negotiations as Union TACs, that is where in certain species there would be no individual state allocations of quotas. There would be a headline quota for a species. We feel that would be severely detrimental to our interests. We have been working with other member states which would feel equally challenged by this arrangement. As Spain does not already have quotas for many of the species, it feels it could make a killing on this arrangement. It would lead to everybody setting out on 1 January 2019 and trying to fish the total quota as quickly as possible. I referred to it in my speech as kind of Olympic fishing. It could result in every boat being tied up by 1 April. That would not take into account when the market is strongest for a particular species. Everybody would go hell for leather regardless of the market. We are quite concerned about that, but are working with other member states to try to convince the Commission that is not a wise approach.

As always the background to the negotiations is the scientific advice from ICES. BIM feeds in scientific analysis on stocks. We need to take into account the science on one the hand and the socioeconomic impact on coastal communities on the other, and try to find a balance. We are sometimes criticised by the NGOs which feel we are on the wrong side of that line. Invariably if we go too far on the other side, those people who are employed in catching or processing feel we did not take their concerns into account. It is a balancing act across a range of species. As I said in my opening remarks, for some species the reports for 2019 are reasonable and for others they are particularly challenging.

Has it ever happened previously that the total allowable catch has not been allocated such that every member state gets its share? Will it be a new departure if Spain and the UK come together to go down the route the Minister mentioned?

I ask the Deputy to repeat the question.

The Minister expressed concern over so-called Olympic fishing. That would be a new departure; it has not happened before.

It would be entirely a new departure and would be in breach of the Common Fisheries Policy's relative stability principle in that there is no national quota for this species. It is an EU quota allowing everyone to go at it hell for leather with fishermen landing everything. We really feel that would be a retrograde step.

Given that only the UK and Spain are pushing for it, is Ireland in a strong position strategically, with other member states against it?

We would like to think that but we do not underestimate the challenge. In the Common Fisheries Policy Spain is "Mr. Fish". It sees a real opportunity here. It would be a major problem for us. We understand the complexity related to the landing obligation. The industry here has been very proactive in securing new fishing gear and adjusting net mesh sizes to meet the challenges on landing obligations. However, many of our fisheries are mixed fisheries in contrast with other fisheries. For example, the Baltics have clean fisheries where the fishermen who go out today will only catch cod. In our case fishermen bring in a mixed bag of fish. This can mean that one species caught early on will choke the opportunities for a host of other species. The Commission's response is to allow everybody go hell for leather at it without having an individual quota for each member state. We believe that is a really damaging proposition for our interests.

I have just been handed data in response to one of the Deputy's earlier questions. Overall quotas increased from 2015 to 2017, but in 2018 the quota decreased by 8% in volume and by 1% in value. The quotas in 2017 were the highest since 2002. That is the position we are trying to defend as we go into the 2019 negotiations.

I have a question on the landing obligation and the discards ban.

Fishermen can land everything now.

On a practical level how does that work for different species being brought on board and quota caps for species? The Minister indicated that was why Spain and the UK wanted to tinker with the-----

These would be in species in which they have had no track record of having quota. They might have previously swapped with other member states to try to deal with issues they had. They see this zero state quota as a free-for-all for anybody to fish and land as much as possible.

Under the discards ban, fishermen must now land everything even fish for which they might not have a quota. How does that operate in practice?

Industry forums, quota-management advisory committees, are discussing how we might deal with this discards issue. The industry here has been leading in introducing new technologies, and nets with escape hatches and larger mesh sizes so that fishermen are not catching juvenile fish other wild fish, etc., that they would be obliged to discard otherwise. From 1 January 2019 they have to land everything. The danger is that fishermen who have been out fishing one species might come in with a percentage of another species for which they have a very low quota and, hey presto, that becomes a choke preventing them going out catching fish for which they still have available quota.

We do not see the Commission’s response in terms of zero quotas for member states, but as a Union TAC as a way to deal with that.

How do we deal with that? The total discards ban is coming in but until now there has been more flexibility. Different fishermen have quotas for different things, but now they will be required by law to land everything. How do we prevent the choke scenario where a fisherman is unable to go out lest he catch something for which he has no remaining quota?

It is a real challenge for member states and the Commission, and there is no point in saying otherwise. It will take the industry's and the processors' best endeavours to share data and arrive at a situation where we can meet the obligation without having a consequent impact of closing off the opportunity to fish stocks for which we have quota remaining. I presume it will require, for example, trading opportunities and swapping opportunities with other member states at an earlier stage to ensure that we maintain the capacity to fish where we still have quota.

It was mooted that there might be a 60% cut in the mackerel quota. The Minister's opening statement indicated that figure might be down to 20%, although it could be more. What is the position regarding mackerel and how did the figure fall to 20% from 60%?

These are what are called the coastal state negotiations, which are negotiations between the European Union, Norway and other stakeholders, including the Faroe Islands and Iceland. The original advice from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, was around 60% but the Norwegian starting position was that it would not cut below 20%. The negotiations have been ongoing and there have been several rounds, including one in Clonakilty and a couple in London. They have not yet concluded but the landing spot will probably be the one quoted in the opening statement.

While we are discussing marine issues, I have a more parochial question which relates to the breakwater project in Greencastle Harbour. It was funded to a certain level by the Department under previous Governments, however it has been mothballed and the project is half finished. It is not one of seven harbours under State control, however in the past, the Department had a specific budget for these types of projects. It would be a great advantage for Greencastle Harbour were that project to be completed. Will the Minister update us on that project's status? Has he made progress in reinstating a fund that can finish the project which the Department started in Greencastle, as well as other similar projects in future?

I am aware of the Deputy's interest and that of his constituency colleagues in this issue. It is not one of the six State-owned piers. Efforts are under way across Government to try to find a funding solution however it is not on the radar for the Department's 2019 capital programme.

It is something that should be kept within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as it was the previous parent Department for its funding. There has been some discussion on the rural regeneration fund but I would counsel that that fund should relate to trying to start new projects and develop fresh enterprise and initiatives in parts of the country. It is important a project such as this, which is half-finished, is completed by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which was the parent Department funding it. It should instate a fund to provide for it.

I am not sure because it is the property of the local authority. While the Department was previously involved that was in the context of the work being done by the local authority being funded by the Department. Therefore, it does not matter what funding line goes to the project as long as the work is completed. It is not one of the six State-owned harbours. The Deputy will be aware that a pier extension in Killybegs will proceed in 2019 and that there are other efforts under way. It would not matter to Donegal County Council, which ultimately would be the contracting body, who was funding it as long as the work was done.

It would matter to the extent that a project, which is half-finished and which had been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, would now use funding that could have been used for new initiatives. That means funding being provided by the Department to finish the job. That is starving other projects of funding because it is being taken out of the regeneration fund.

We fund a scheme through local authorities. The problem with this project is that it has costed multiples of the conventional local authority scheme. Apart from those, there is a very considerable shopping list from the six State-owned harbours, including the one closest to us here, in Howth, in terms of dredging. Significant investment is already under way in some - for example, in Castletownbere. In 2019 it will happen in Killybegs. The Department has no shortage of capital projects on the marine-side that require funding. As long as the work is done in Greencastle, there should not be particular concern over the source of funds.

As there are no further questions, I thank the Minister and his officials for appearing before the committee to discuss this very important matter. We wish the Minister and his officials every success over the coming weeks in very difficult negotiations. I also thank the members for their patience today.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.48 p.m. until 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 December.