Tá an-áthas orm agus tá mé fíor-bhuíoch deis a fháil dul os comhair an choiste seo mar chuid den phróiséas ceapacháin mar chathaoirleach ar Bhord Iascaigh Intíre Éireann. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to address the committee as part of the process of being appointed as the chairman of Inland Fisheries Ireland. Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, was established on 1 July 2010 following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and seven Regional Fisheries Boards. The main functions of IFI, as identified in the 2010 Act, are: "to promote, support, facilitate and advise the Minister on the conservation, protection, management, marketing, development and improvement of inland fisheries, including sea angling."
The 2010 to 2015 period has been a time of huge change and consolidation for Ireland and for the fisheries sector. Its establishment, unfortunately, coincided with the economic collapse and the ravages of the recessionary period have had serious consequences for IFI. Between 2009 and 2014, staff levels at IFI reduced from 440 to 298, a reduction of 32%. To put this in context, the overall State agency staff numbers have reduced by 18.2% and the overall Civil Service numbers have reduced by 9.2% over the same period. Therefore, IFI has lost almost four times more staff than the wider Civil Service average and the overall budget of the agency has decreased by 15%.
Despite the serious reduction in manpower and financial resources available to it, IFI has continued to maintain a 24 hour a day, seven days a week fisheries service on Ireland’s 74,000 km of rivers and streams, 128,000 ha of lakes and over 5,500 km of coastline. This has been made possible by the innovation and commitment of the board, management and staff. Necessity is the mother of invention, and work practices at IFI have fundamentally changed the way it does its business.
IFI staff now use a range of hi-tech equipment to target specific "hot spot" areas and increase operational efficiency. This includes kayaks, which are being used to conduct silent patrols along river and lake shores; all-terrain vehicles, which are being used on some of the countries beaches to patrol for illegal bass fishing; personal water craft, including jet-skis, which are being used to patrol shallow estuarine areas which previously would have been inaccessible to RIBs; larger RIBs, which are being used to launch dawn patrols on coastal areas, and officers go well out to sea under the cover of darkness and then approach coastal areas at first light; and night vision scopes, thermal imaging equipment and long-range spotting scopes, which are being used to great effect. In 2014, staff seized 372 nets extending to 20.72 km. This level of seizures illustrates the positive result of overt and covert patrols but, in reality, is just a percentage of the total number of illegal nets.
It is this spirit of innovation and co-operation which has helped IFI to develop as a professional agency and enabled it to fulfil its mandate in adverse financial circumstances. During the first five years of its existence, IFI has established its headquarters in a modern, fit-for-purpose building in Citywest and it continues to consolidate and upgrade its facilities in the regions. It has adopted a recognisable staff work-wear, engaged in extensive research projects and produced innovative policies for the management of trout, pike and bass fisheries. I compliment the outgoing chairman, Mr. Brendan O'Mahony, past and present board members, the CEO, Dr. Ciaran Byrne, and management and staff on their sterling efforts in the protection and development of our fisheries.
IFI is a public benefit entity with a small budget and a large national mandate. Most people are probably unaware of its existence but it provides great benefit to rural communities and the nation in general. The economic contribution of angling to the Republic of Ireland stands at over €836 million per annum and is estimated to support in excess of 11,350 jobs. Some 446,000 individuals participated in recreational angling in Ireland in 2014, which is 7.5% of the population based on a Millward Brown omnibus survey of 2014. This includes Northern Ireland and visitors. Some 132,000 of these anglers came from overseas. A 2014 Fáilte Ireland survey indicates that Britain accounts for approximately one third of our overseas anglers while 59% come from mainland Europe, with Germany being the single largest continental market at 24%.
Fáilte Ireland estimates that approximately 2% of all overseas visitors are angling tourists, which equates to 132,000 visitors per annum. All this angling activity provides a great economic spin-off to hotels, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and tackle shops. Angling is the life blood of many peripheral communities and it provides jobs in areas that have been ravaged by unemployment and emigration.
IFI currently employs approximately 230 fishery officers around the country and they engage in vital stock protection, habitat protection and research work. The future health of Ireland’s angling resource is dependent on ensuring that our fish populations are protected and conserved. Our fisheries are a precious asset. If one does not protect and invest in an asset it diminishes in value. Having provided a brief outline of the sterling work that IFI is doing with limited resources to conserve the great national asset that is our fisheries, I will now outline a vision of the enormous potential that our unique fisheries and our pristine waters present if we are willing to nurture, market and invest.
The age profile of anglers is worrying. We can and must engage a new generation in angling. To do this we need to encourage the development of accessible fisheries around the country, in many cases focusing on urban dwellers. These models have been proven internationally, and an example of one successful model is the Go Fish BC, an initiative supported by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia. We also have to support entry into angling through appropriate and targeted education and coaching programmes, such as those run by many of the angling federations and the Dublin angling initiative.
If our unique angling resource is to be positively exploited to its potential we need to provide trained knowledgeable guides with local expert knowledge. There are viable career opportunities here. Participation levels in angling are directly related to the quality of the product. Provide good fishing and the world will beat a path to your door. Investment in the product will re-engage lapsed anglers and increase participation levels. IFI has concrete, verifiable evidence to prove the definite link between quality of resource and participation levels. The 1994-99 tourism angling management, TAM, programme saw the targeted investment of £17 million in our fisheries. By 1999, overseas angler numbers peaked at 173,000.
These are not pipedreams but are some of the strategies, methodologies and projects that IFI have researched, examined, costed and documented as part of the soon-to-be-launched national strategy for angling development, NSAD. The strategy marks a significant milestone in the development of our national fisheries resource and will act as a roadmap for the development of Ireland’s angling sector in the future. The extensively researched background material for the strategy lists projects such as the Owenmore River, Ballynahinch, County Galway; the Easkey River, a salmon river in Sligo; Lough Sheelin trout fishery in Cavan; the River Shanowen game fishery in Kerry; the salmon fishery in Lough Currane, County Kerry; and the coarse and pike angling fishery in Lough Ramor in Cavan.
An investment of at least €25 million will be required to deliver this strategy nationally over the period of 2016 to 2020.
In return, it has the potential to grow the economic contribution of angling from its current level of €836 million to €900 million per annum and, in the process, support an extra 1,400 jobs in local areas. A properly financed and resourced implementation of the national strategy for angling development, NSAD, will be a game-changer for domestic and tourist angling and the depopulated rural communities that are ever more reliant on sustainable home-grown jobs.
IFI is currently completing its second five-year corporate plan for presentation to the Minister. IFI recognises and appreciates that if it is to deliver the vision I have outlined, it will need to change its current modus operandi. Business as usual will not do. The 2010-2015 corporate plan outlines in detail the main roles of IFI under five specific headings - fish, habitat, stakeholders, staff and corporate management. Specifically, the plan envisages considerable change in the way it proposes to assist stakeholders in the process of securing funds from various agencies to carry out developmental work. Communication and education are the other areas that will require change and improvement to meet the needs and expectations of our stakeholders and deliver on our vision for increased participation and employment.
IFI does not currently have the staff or funding to engage in the number or scale of development projects that will be necessary to provide the kind of boost that the tourism angling measure, TAM, project delivered. However, we need that type of habitat and infrastructural development if we are to achieve the targets envisaged in NSAD. We demonstrated that we could work smarter by using technology in our surveillance and protection work. We now need to enter a constructive partnership with locally based groups and be similarly creative and innovative in our approach to development.
At the start of this statement I provided some contextual information in relation to the changes in staff numbers and the budget of IFI during the past five years. We have now reached, I hope, a plateau, and can continue the development of the organisation from this base level. I, as chairman designate, and the board generally are resolute in our focus on improving the ability of the staff of IFI to deliver service in an effective and efficient manner. With extremely demanding and often dangerous work being the norm for IFI staff, the age profile of the operational personnel is a serious concern. We have virtually no staff under the age of 30 and in the coming three years, significant numbers of senior operational staff will reach retirement age, leading to commensurate loss of corporate memory and experience. The current corporate plan takes account of this situation.
IFI is currently operating under legislation that is extremely outdated. We urgently need up to date and fit for purpose fisheries legislation. The principal Act under which the service operates is the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, which, as its name suggests, is actually a consolidation of previous fisheries Acts, some of which go back to the 1920s. We look pleadingly to Dáil Éireann in the hope and anticipation that game-changing, modernising legislation will be provided.
Aquatic invasive species, AIS, have the potential to be environmental wreckers in the short to medium term. Ireland has yet to work out a clear policy response to this threat. The increasing mobility of our people and the increased number of visitors to this country will only serve to accelerate the rate of introduction and spread of AIS if appropriate border controls and regulation are not introduced. This can only be achieved with robust implementation of effective legislation. If and when Dáil Éireann provides the legislation, IFI will be an active and willing participant in the co-ordinated response to the threat posed by aquatic invasive species. The good news is, angling is uniquely placed to deliver benefits across the less-developed areas of the country. Just imagine what can be achieved with a little further investment targeted at the areas envisaged in the NSAD.
I realise that the primary function of this hearing is to assess my suitability for the role of chairman of IFI. In that context, I wish to provide to the committee information on my background and the credentials that I hope will prove useful in successfully fulfilling my role. I have been a public servant for almost 40 years. I retired from my position as principal of the national school in Cong, County Mayo, in September 2014.
My career as a public servant gives me a deep understanding of the ethos and governance requirements of public benefit entities and my role as a teacher and principal helped me to develop the vital people and managerial skills necessary to develop and lead a successful team. It is impossible to live in Cong without having a sense of fishing but my interest in fisheries is more from the perspective of ecology, heritage, history, amenity and economic value, associated flora and fauna and the outdoor healthy recreational value.
I have been privileged and honoured to serve on the board of IFI since Sept 2013. I have attended and fully participated in all board meetings and also serve on the development sub-committee, as well as chairman of the audit committee until my appointment as chairman designate. I have actively participated in the extensive consultation process with angling clubs and federations in regard to the soon to be launched national angling development plan. I attended all meetings of the national inland fisheries forum where participants avail of the opportunity to outline their concerns and desires to the board and executive of IFI. During my time on the board I have participated in a number of courses and briefings on governance and, as a member of the audit committee, I have interacted directly with the Comptroller and Auditor General and IFI's internal auditors on matters such as the audit plan, the annual accounts and the findings of various internal audits which have been undertaken. In this regard, I believe I have a good understanding of the governance requirements involved in chairing the board of a State agency and ensuring it is run in accordance with the principles set out in the revised code of practice for the governance of State agencies.
During the past few months, the main focus of the board and executive has been on the production and delivery of the 2010–2015 corporate plan and the national strategy for angling development, NSAD. Given my interest in and input into both of these documents, it would be fair to say they represent a major part of my vision for IFI over the coming years. I believe that having a strong link between the development of the corporate plan and the national strategy, as a board member and delivering on it as Chairman, will be of significant benefit to IFI in terms of driving the agency forward and enabling it to reach its potential.
I retired from my position as principal of the local primary school in 2014 and I am now in a position to devote all the time that is needed to effectively carry out the demanding role of chairman of Inland Fisheries Ireland. I feel confident that I have the knowledge, energy, commitment, enthusiasm and necessary skills to effectively advance the strategic core objectives of the board in the interest of all involved in Inland Fisheries Ireland. My active participation and involvement in board policy development, as outlined, affords me the knowledge and insight to seamlessly continue the policies, strategies and working relationships that have proved so beneficial to the organization since its inception. I am pleased and honoured to be nominated as chairman designate of IFI and I hope that this committee will, having considered my submission, be in a position to endorse my appointment. Go raibh maith agaibh.