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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 31 Jul 1935

Vol. 20 No. 11

Fisheries (Tidal Waters) (Amendment) Bill, 1935—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Early last year I came before the Seanad with a Bill which arose out of a decision of the Supreme Courts concerning the Erne fisheries, and particularly Co. Donegal. According to that decision, the estuary of the River Erne was declared a public fishery, which meant that anyone from Donegal, or any place else in the Free State, had a right to apply for a licence to fish there and was entitled to get it. It was felt by the Fisheries Department here that there was great danger that the River Erne would be over-fished. It was a very valuable fishery. It was felt that the conservators in the area would lose a considerable income, as up to that period they had been getting a considerable rate from the former owners, or, as the Court declared, those who claimed to own the fisheries. That income is gone, and, in order to remedy these matters, a Bill was brought in which gave power to the Minister for Fisheries to give local licences at an increased fee. In that way it was hoped to limit the number who would fish there and to raise an income for the conservators. That Act only dealt with a limited period. It was experimental, the idea, as far as I am aware, not having been tried here or in any other country. It worked satisfactorily and would expire on September 30th next. As the House is aware, a Commission has been sitting for some time dealing with inland fisheries. A report is being presented and is with the printers, but it may be some time before it is edited and ready for the public. It will certainly be some time before the report is considered by the Government. After it is considered, legislation will be prepared. I cannot say whether or not it will be on the lines of the report, but certainly some legislation will be prepared to deal with inland fisheries. It is, therefore, proposed to extend the provisions of this Bill for two years. I think I can promise that within two years, at least, comprehensive legislation dealing with inland fisheries will be brought before Parliament, and in that case there will probably be no necessity for a temporary Act any further. If it is found impossible to bring in a larger measure in the meantime, we will have to come before Parliament to get authority to continue the provisions of this Bill, dealing with tidal waters that are in the same position as the tidal waters of the River Erne.

This is an absolutely necessary Bill but there is just one matter on which I should like to get some information from the Minister. In addition to cases like the Erne case, where there has been a decision of the courts in favour of the public, as against an owner who had exercised the exclusive right of fishing, there is I understand another class of case in the Bill. That is the case of a private owner who had exercised the exclusive right of fishing but who did not wish to contest it any longer, as against the public, and who voluntarily gives up the exclusive right of fishing, when it becomes part of the tidal water fisheries managed by the Minister in the Act we are now amending. Have there been any number of cases of that kind? I am referring to persons who gave up the voluntary right they had been exercising all these years to the Minister. I know of one case in connection with the Ownea river in County Donegal. The Young family who, I think, live on the other side of the estuary exercised the exclusive right of fishing in the Ownea river and also the tidal waters in the estuary. Though they gave that up they continued to exercise a right which they had before they gave up the exclusive rights in the river and estuary. They had three bag nets in the estuary. They were very valuable, more valuable than the exclusive right of fishing. Having given up the exclusive right of fishing in the river and in the estuary it became illegal under an old Act of Parliament, made in 1842, to use a bag net. To some extent, they have been breaking the law. They were ignorant of the fact. The owners have now recognised that, and have given up using the bag nets. Some of the poor employees have been put out of employment and the owners have been deprived of a very valuable right. I should like to know if there has been any number of these cases, and if the Minister would say whether he would look sympathetically on a claim for compensation in cases of that kind.

Before the Minister replies, I venture to echo the suggestion of Senator Brown for sympathetic treatment of people placed in a somewhat similar position to the family that he referred to, but I respectfully suggest that it is hardly fair to ask the Minister to deal definitely now with the question put to him. As it is one that will have to be placed before the Executive Council for consideration it would be hardly fair to bind the Minister by any answer he might give. As the Senator knows, it is a very big question. I know something about the Erne Fisheries, and having regard to the opportunity that there will be when the report of the Fisheries Commission is available, perhaps it would be more prudent in the interests of these people, if the matter was allowed to remain over until then, if a promise was given by the Minister that he would recommend for sympathetic consideration the matters that have been referred to.

I expressly confined my remarks, not to cases like the Erne case, where there was a prolonged contest, but to cases where the right was voluntarily given up.

I merely stated that I knew something about that kind of case officially, having been engaged in the Erne case. These people were eventually affected by the decision in the Erne case.

As far as I know, there is only one case in the category mentioned by Senator Brown, where the owner voluntarily gave up his rights.

That is the Ownea case.

As the Senator knows, there is no legal liability on the State to pay compensation. In fact, it would be necessary to introduce legislation before compensation could be paid. That is one of the big questions arising out of the Fisheries Report, whether these privately-owned fisheries are to be taken over or owned by the State, or made public property, and also in what form, if any, compensation is to be paid. I think I can say—although it has not been considered—that the Government will be sympathetic towards some method of compensation in cases like the Young case. As Senator Lynch mentioned, the Erne case is on a different footing, and I would not like to express any opinion at the moment. I do not want to prejudice the matter in any way.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 1st August.