Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1959—Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

This Bill proposes to amend the Sea Fisheries Acts, 1952 to 1956, which form a separate body of legislation and are not included in the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act recently passed. The Act of 1952 is entitled an Act to provide for the improvement and regulation of the sea-fishing industry; it established An Bord Iascaigh Mhara to perform a wide variety of functions.

The main object of the Bill is to authorise the making of advances from the Central Fund to An Bord Iascaigh Mhara up to a limit of £3,000,000. A similar proposal came before the House just three years ago when the original limit of £500,000 was raised to £1,000,000. The present limit will soon be reached: a balance of only £14,867 remains and, when that amount is drawn, the Board would be unable to carry on their normal activities without additional funds. The advances are used in the main to finance the purchase of boats and gear. They are also applied to meet part of the cost of fish processing stations, ice making plants and other premises and equipment. Each advance is repayable by the Board with interest in equal half-yearly instalments over a period of twenty years.

The urgently required provision for advances is in Section 2 of the Bill. The opportunity is also taken—in Sections 3, 4 and 5—to amend the 1952 Act in some other respects.

An Bord Iascaigh Mhara consists of six members and their period of office is two years—a rather short time in which to become familiar with the complex business involved. Section 3 of the Bill extends the normal term of office to three years and introduces a system of retirement by rotation. When appointments are being made next year, two members are to be appointed for one year, two for two years and two for the full term of three years; thereafter two of the six members will complete their term each year. This provision should help to secure stability and continuity in the Board's policy—which is an important factor in the development of the sea-fishing industry.

Section 9 of the 1952 Act, although on the statute book, is not actually in operation. It provides machinery for the licensing of vessels for sea-fishing; this should not be confused with registration under the Merchant Shipping Acts which is necessary in any event. If Section 9 were in operation, no vessel exceeding thirty-five feet over all in length could be used for sea-fishing except under and in accordance with a licence under the section. There are almost 300 fishing boats above that size and the owners would be obliged to apply in the prescribed form for licences. In practice it might be quite unnecessary, initially at any rate, to go to the trouble and expense of licensing all vessels exceeding 35 feet; those desired to be brought under control might be only the larger vessels which are few in number. It would therefore make for the convenience both of the general body of fishermen and of the Department to introduce a flexible limit. This is the aim of Section 4 (1) of the Bill which makes it possible to-prescribe whatever length is considered appropriate in the prevailing circumstances; only vessels exceeding the prescribed length would then require licences.

As Section 9 of the 1952 Act stands, a vessel does not qualify for a licence unless it is owned by an Irish citizen or a company the whole of the share capital of which is held by Irish citizens. This reference to share capital could prove unduly restrictive in present circumstances because cases could arise in which an Irish vessel would not be eligible for a licence even though owned by an Irish company with its assets in this country, duly registered here and legally entitled to fish within our exclusive fishery limits. That position could be quite untenable—particularly if the company in question had been encouraged to put its capital into the canning or processing of fish or the production of fish meal and had found it necessary to acquire the vessel to provide raw material for its factory owing to lack of supplies from other sources. The investment of foreign capital in Irish industries is something that has found support on all sides and it is generally recognised that foreign connections are most useful in establishing export markets. Under the Mercantile Marine Act, 1955, a body corporate established under and subject to the law of the State and having its principal place of business in the State is qualified to own a ship registered here. Section 4 (2) of the Bill therefore substitutes that phrase for the reference to a company and its share capital.

Another restriction in Section 9 of the 1952 Act relates to vessels operated by persons directly engaged in either the wholesale or retail sale of fresh fish. If the section were in operation, the catches of such a vessel would have to be delivered for sale to An Bord Iascaigh Mhara or disposed of according to the directions of the Board. It has been represented that this is a deterrent to private interests who could appropriately be expected to invest in fishing vessels. Such a deterrent is out of place in present circumstances: there is urgent need for expansion of the fishing fleet to provide supplies for processing stations, etc., and it is desired to attract private capital for that purpose. The restriction is therefore being repealed by Section 5 of the Bill.

Perhaps it should here be made clear that extensive powers remain in Section 9 of the 1952 Act and can be brought into operation when needed: subsection (5) is not affected by the Bill and reads as follows:—

A licence may be granted subject to such conditions as the Minister thinks fit, including restrictions on sea-fishing either generally or in regard to methods of sea-fishing in particular places and as to disposal of the catches and the Minister may from time to time vary any conditions or impose new conditions.

Senators will appreciate that this Bill is in no sense inimical to the interests of our inshore fishermen. On the contrary, the fishermen stand to benefit from it under all heads—from the expenditure of the additional funds being made available for An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, from greater continuity in the Board's policy—as a result of less frequent and less extensive changes in membership of the Board—and from the modifications which will make the system more workable should it become necessary to introduce the licensing of fishing vessels.

In the past eight or nine months sea fisheries policy has received a good deal of publicity in the White Paper on theProgramme for Economic Expansion and supplementary statements. Only the week before last I circulated to Senators a memorandum clarifying various points in regard to the markets for fish and the scope for increased landings. Accordingly, I do not think that any detailed exposition is called for on this occasion. I look forward to constructive criticism from the House and, when replying, I shall be glad to deal as far as I can with the points raised.

I rise to make a few brief remarks which are, perhaps, only partly relevant to the Bill itself. This is a Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill which involves considerable expenditure of State money. It is the last of the six Bills with which we were presented last week. I think it right to say on this the last of the six Bills that the amount of money involved in the Bills which we got when the Dáil session ended and which we had no real opportunity to amend is certainly over £35 million or maybe nearer to £40 million. It is not easy to make an exact calculation.

While one wishes that all the money would be properly spent and while one hopes that all the Government expects to get for the country from these Bills will be realised, it is worth saying that the policy of simply spending internally State money for the purpose of development is one which is fraught with very great perils and difficulties. Those who, as some of us on this side of the House did, rise to ask questions and make observations on that particular policy should not be charged with opposing the development of industries or, in this case, the development of sea fisheries. We certainly wish they should be developed but it is, I think, quite foolish and presumptuous for people to say that if you do not agree with the expenditure of an immense sum of State money you are opposed to the development of the country. That is not so.

We are concluding this Bill this evening I hope. This is the conclusion of those six Bills and involves a certain sum of money. The six Bills between them involve a large sum of money, nearly £40,000,000. It is by no means certain that value will be got for that money. Anything that can be done here on the Government or Opposition side to ensure that public money of that kind will be spent on sound principles, will be properly spent and will give a sound return is, I think, an entirely praiseworthy thing and should be regarded as such. I have no objection to the passing of this Bill.

I scarcely think it necessary for me to commend this Bill to the House. I hope it will bring with it commensurate results in regard to sea fishing operations in the future. I rise especially to direct a query to the Minister. It may possibly be unfair. In the course of my travels on holidays last year I made inquiries in Schull in regard to the deep freeze store. It was not in operation at all. I spoke to a trawlerman who to my amazement spoke very sarcastically. He said: "You will never see any fish in that." Naturally, I was perturbed to think that we should have spent a considerable amount of money on such an establishment in a sea fishing port and find that in the opinion of a person operating a trawler we would never see any fish in it.

I avail of this opportunity to ask the Minister whether that is the position still or what further development has taken place to utilise a building like this which must have cost a considerable amount of money to erect. Perhaps the man was telling me some of these fishy stories one hears in relation to fishermen both on land as well as at sea. Naturally, at the time I was perturbed by the fact that such a thing could occur.

I understand that there are other deep freeze stations established along our coastline. I hope there is not any fall-down to the effect that these buildings will not be of use. That is all I wish to say. It may be unfair to the Minister for me to raise the matter now. It might be my fault that I did not bring this matter up for a year. But, as I mentioned on the Tourist Traffic Bill, it is part of our duty to raise on Bills coming before the Oireachtas the results of our observations through the country.

In regard to the statement made by Senator Ó Donnabháin, I want to tell the Minister that the plant at Schull is used for making ice for the fishermen in the locality. It is used extensively for that purpose. I should not like it to go from this House that it was built at Schull and has not been used. As the people of that area are very well aware, a very large amount of fish is brought into Schull harbour. It is stored in this ice-plant and it is sent to the Dublin market and to other markets throughout the country where it is sold immediately. These storage plants have been set up in other parts of the country besides Schull. They are very extensive, like the one in Galway. I heard they are much larger and cost much more money than the Schull plant and have not yet operated.

The plant in Schull is very useful in that area. While it is not used to store fish, it is used for making ice. The ice is taken by the Bantry fishermen, the Baltimore fishermen and the Castletownbere fishermen and the fish is stored overnight, or for a few days, in the storage which is available, before being transported to the Dublin market. While I should like to see it used more extensively, I think it is serving its purpose there.

That is the interpretation I put on it and that is why I raised it. The man told me that it was not being used.

I should like the Minister to make a statement on the position. He should know what it is.

I have been critical of most of the proposals contained in these six Bills but this is the only one which commends itself unreservedly to me. I do not know whether or not it will be successful but I do agree with the views expressed by the Minister from time to time that we must get away from the theory that you can build an industry on the inshore fishermen. Therefore I rise to support the Bill unreservedly.

I wish to thank Senators for their very helpful attitude in relation to this Bill. As far as I know the Schull ice plant is in use but a quick freeze plant is not in use yet. A very considerable part of the capital expended is for quick freeze to enable fish to be quickly frozen and stored for sale at times of scarcity. The same applies to the Galway processing plant and there is a fishmeal plant at Killybegs which is not in use yet. It is for that reason that I want to encourage private enterprise to procure trawlers that are capable of fishing further than inshore fishermen. I am quite satisfied we must reach the stage in our industry where at certain times there will be an adequate quantity of fish for purchase at prices suitable for quick freeze to enable Bord Iascaigh Mhara plants to go into operation.

As I already indicated in the White Paper, which has been circulated to Senators, the demand for fish has exceeded the supply constantly, at least during the past 12 months, and it is still rising. It will be in the interests of fishermen to ensure that new consumers will not be deterred from buying fish by suddenly seeing it disappear from the market at times because of bad weather or, worse still, by seeing fish which they were accustomed to purchase at reasonable prices suddenly rocketing because of an inadequate supply.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.