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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 1963

Vol. 56 No. 16

Private Business. - Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1963 (Certified Money Bill) — Second Stage.

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

The Sea Fisheries Act, 1952, which established An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, provided for the making of repayable advances from the Central Fund to the Board for the purpose of enabling them to exercise or perform their functions. There is a limit on the aggregate amount that may be advanced but this limit has been increased to £3 million by amending Acts. The advances so far made total £1,522,563 and are being repaid with interest by means of half-yearly instalments of annuities which have been regularly met by the Board. The 1952 Act rigidly requires repayment of the advances regardless of any exceptional circumstances that may arise. The purpose of the present Bill is to introduce a degree of flexibility by enabling repayments by the Board to be waived where both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Lands consider that course desirable. Any amount repayment of which is waived under the Bill must, however, be made good out of voted moneys and thus be publicised in the Fisheries Estimate.

In explanation of the background to this measure I should say that, in the development of our sea fishing industry, it would be too much to hope that every item of expenditure would pay dividends; we must be, therefore, prepared to face some losses in the development of the industry. The bulk of the repayable advances made has been for the provision of boats and gear. It was important that as many boats as possible should be put into production and, in view of the very limited choice of competent fishing skippers, the element of risk involved in financing hire purchase transactions was inevitably high. This problem existed, of course, in the time of the Board's predecessor, the Sea Fisheries Association, and it became necessary to write off some of the advances that had been made to the Association before its dissolution in 1952. Provision for a deficit of £186,000 appeared in the Fisheries Vote for 1961-62. On that occasion special legislation was not necessary because the advances had been made from the Fisheries Vote and, unlike the advances made to the Board, there was no Act providing specifically for their repayment. The present Bill is necessary, however, before we can undertake a similar tidying up process in respect of the advances made to the Board in the past eleven years.

The difficulties encountered by fishermen in meeting their hire purchase commitments have been recognised by the Government and the Programme of Sea Fisheries Development published as a White Paper last year provided a new deal for the hire purchasers. Their repayment period was extended tby up to five years, the rate of interest payable by them was reduced to 4 per cent and they all started afresh on the basis of revised annuities from 1st April, 1962. As an additional incentive a refund of up to 10 per cent of the initial cost of his boat may be granted to a hire purchaser who completes his repayments in less than the extended period allowed. I may add that grants of 25 per cent of the cost of new boats and new engines are also available now and that An Bord Iascaigh Mhara are operating a fleet maintenance scheme which includes free inspection and should greatly reduce loss of fishing time due to break-down of engines and other machinery; other services provided by the Board now will help to improve fishing techniques and develop markets at home and abroad for fish and fishery products.

Before the introduction of the various incentives I have mentioned. the board had found it necessary to write off as irrecoverable over £100,000 due by hire purchasers and related to the advances made since 1952. As required by the 1952 Act, however, the board have continued to repay in full the advances received by them from the Central Fund. This Bill, which I recommend to the House, will enable us to allow appropriate relief to the board in respect of such advances.

I have nothing to say on this except to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us how much will be written off under this Bill when it comes into operation. According to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech here tonight, he will have to agree that there does not seem to be the same degree of prosperity in the fishing industry as the Parliamentary Secretary himself seems to indicate when he is speaking at other places. Could he give us any reason for this? I should like to know, if he could tell us, how much will be written off when this Bill becomes law.

Tá mo dhóithin eolais agamsa ar thionscal seo na h-iascaireachta, agus ní roshásta atáim leis an gcaoi atá sé ag forbairt agus ag fás. Tá tuairim agam nach bhfuil gléas feiliúnach fós ag na hiascairí chun obair dháirire mhór thorthúil a dhéanamh. Is dóigh liom nach a on mhaith a bheith ag brath ar na huiscí i bhfogas ár gcóstai féin chun an tionscal sin a chothú agus iasc a chur ar fáil gan bogadh amach ón gcósta cuid maith san Fhairrge Mhóir agus iascaireacht a dhéanamh ansin fé mar a dhéineann na Sasanaigh, na Frainncigh agus na Spáinnigh.

Tá ceist ann i dtaobh soláthar airgid chun báid nua a cheanach, agus tá saghas imní orm nach bhfuil an scéal chomh sásúil agus ba cheart dó a bheith chun go mbeadh na hiascairí seo indon báid a sholáthair dóibh fhéin. Ní heol dom go bhfuilimíd ag déanamh ar ndícheall chun an t-easnamh sin a líonadh. Is dóigh liom nach bhfuil. Is eol dom go bhfuil cuid mhaith airgid dhá chur ar fáil anois ag Bord Iascaigh Mhara thar mar a bhí ach tá a lán le déanamh go fóill sul a mbeidh ár n-iascairí indon iasc a chur ar fáil chun an t-easnamh a líonadh.

Ach sé bhúnús an ruda, is doigh liom, nach bhfuil gléas cumasach go leor, nó láidir go leor againn. Níl báid mhára go leor ann chun é sin a dhéanamh. Sé tá ag teastáil uainn ná gléas ceart iascaireachta a chur ar fáil chun ár n-iascairí a chur chun fairrge fé mar a dheineann na Sasanaigh, na Spáinnigh agus na Frainncigh. Níl aon fháth leis sin. Sin é an tuairim atá agamsa ar an scéal agus ni fheicim go bhfuil gléas fós againn chun an t-easnamh atá air, nó an laige atá ann, a leigheas.

I do not want to delay the Parliamentary Secretary too long. Personally, I do not like the principle of this Bill at all. The principle behind this Bill is to allow people who owe large sums of money to the State to go free and give no credit to those who have honoured their commitments and have paid them. Plenty of people in the country who are fishermen have paid their way all along and these people get no credit for that. There is no provision in the Bill to refund those people. There is something wrong with the fishing industry generally. It is almost an impossibility in the midlands to get what might be called fresh fish. The fact of the matter is that last Friday week, when the Houses sat, at least 30 people looked for fish in the Dáil restaurant and they could not get it. That is something which should not happen. If it happens in this House it will happen in Mullingar and in every town in the country.

Something should be done about marketing. I may be a bit out of order here but it is because there has not been a good market for fish that this Bill is before us today. Fish had to be destroyed and fishmeal made of it just because there was not a proper market. If that position is not improved, I think we will have other people in a few years' time wanting another Bill to relieve them of their responsibilities. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not have to bring in another such Bill. If people have boats and will not pay for them, their default should not be allowed to continue over a long period. If whoever is responsible for giving money is not satisfied that they will get back that money, I think the period for which they are in a position to refuse to pay their instalments should be reduced. When we see people not inclined to pay, the boats should be withdrawn from them and given to someone who will pay.

There appears to be some misconception about the purpose of this Bill on the part of Senator McAuliffe. This Bill is not designed to relieve hire purchasers of liabilities which they may have to the Board. The purpose of the Bill is to relieve An Bord Iascaigh Mhara in respect of advances made to them by the Exchequer over the years where the particular assets to which the advances related have been disposed of by the Board at a loss. It happened, not so much in recent times but over the period since the institution of the Board in 1952, that they had to engage in some unprofitable development activities in order to expand production. In some of these cases the fishermen who got boats were not successful with them and the Board, as Senator McAuliffe suggested, had to resume ownership of these boats and allocate them to other fishermen. A loss was incurred in respect of these resumed boats—on their resale second-hand. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, heretofore, by reason of the 1952 Act, have been obliged to repay the full instalments on the advances given to them from the Exchequer in respect of such resumed boats. The situation now is that well over £100,000 is due by the Board to the Exchequer in respect of assets which the Board no longer possess, that is, boats which have been resumed and resold at a loss and matters of that nature.

Section 3 envisages that in the future, where by reason of any development operation by the Board a similar loss occurs in the development of the industry, the Board may make, to the Minister for Lands and the Minister for Finance, the necessary request to be relieved of such liability. That is the purpose of the Bill. In other words, it is putting An Bord Iascaigh Mhara on a footing where they can request to be relieved of the financial obligation to the Exchequer in respect of assets they no longer have, and on a footing where they can better contribute to the development of the industry as envisaged in the Programme of Sea Fisheries Development published last year. We want to relieve them of the dead weight of debt which is around their necks, as it were, and which has accumulated since 1952, and give them a fresh start like the fresh start we gave to the hire purchasers in the White Paper published last year.

The whole purpose of the Programme of Sea Fisheries Development was to provide additional incentives so that in future hire purchasers will be able to meet their obligations. That is why we provided 25 per cent cash grants on the purchase of new boats. We extended the period of repayment to 15 years at a reduced rate of interest of 4 per cent, to facilitate prompt repayment. Where a fisherman pays for his boat in 10 years instead of the agreed 15 years we give a bonus of 10 per cent. Those are among a number of other incentives which are set out in the Programme. With the aid of those incentives and the new role of the Board as a development organisation, we hope to see the industry prosper in the future. There are some welcome signs that that prosperity is already on the way.

In the year to 31st March last landings of sea fish increased by 10 per cent on the previous year and exports of fish and fishery products reached a record level and increased by 36 per cent over the level of the previous year. One point I should like to emphasise is that there is no selling problem in regard to fish and fishery products at home or on the export market. The problem is not a problem of selling. The problem is on the catching side. We have to encourage acquisition of better boats, as was mentioned by An Seabhac, and we have to educate and train our fishermen in the most modern techniques. We have to ensure that there will be greater landings, and we have to increase the catching power of our fleet. The real problem lies in that direction. There is a growing home demand and world demand.

There is a problem about getting the fish.

The whole key to the problem lies in catching and landing enough fish for the market. At the moment, the Board are initiating an advisory scheme whereby fishery officials are to be appointed and located around the coast. They will be in a position to advise fishermen on up-to-date techniques and new methods of fishing. They will have all the modern information that is needed in regard to improving techniques. They will be located around the coast in the fishery ports, and they will be like the agricultural advisers who provide advisory services for farmers.

We have initiated a fleet inspection scheme to ensure that the boats are regularly inspected, and where servicing or engineering work is needed it will be provided. Where the boats are in need of repair they will be repaired by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara. We intend to ensure that the boats are regularly inspected, repaired and serviced, so that they will be in a better condition, and effective from the point of view of production in order to achieve the objective of increasing our landings per boat and our total landings, because it is in that direction the real key to the problem lies, and not on the selling side.

As I say, the Bill is intended to tidy up the financial situation of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara so that they will be in a better position to perform their role as a development organisation, to help the industry at all levels of production and to provide the necessary advisory services for fishermen and people in the trade who are selling, processing and exporting. In that role the board can play a very useful part in the future in promoting the well-being of the industry as a whole.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that he will not have to bring in another Bill in a few years' time?

The purpose of the Bill and of the Programme of Sea Fisheries Development is to provide the assistance and incentives and organisation to ensure that that will not happen again, in so far as it lies in our power.

If the Parliamentary Secretary has done that he has done a good day's work.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining Stages today.
Bill considered in Committee.
Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 2 stand part of the Bill."

This Section provides that the Minister for Finance may, at any time, on the recommendation of the Minister for Lands, waive the repayment by the Board. Will we have independent assessors who will make recommendations? I should also like to know if a decree is got in court against an individual will, or can, the Minister waive it? Will he finally dispose of all the deficiencies and defaulters under this Bill?

I am afraid that the Senator, like Senator McAuliffe, has got the wrong end of it. This Bill is not concerned with relieving the liability of hire purchasers. That situation continues as it has been. If there is considerable default in regard to repayments, the Board may proceed against a particular hire purchaser, resume his boat, and dispose of it to another fisherman who is considered more competent. This Bill is concerned with moneys owing to the Exchequer in respect of advances made by the Exchequer to the Board. Heretofore the difficulty of the Board has been that under Section 18 of the Principal Act, even if assets in respect of which advances were made were disposed of by the Board to someone else at a loss —such as in the case of the German trawlers which have been sold for some years now—the Board are still repaying to the Exchequer instalments on advances in respect of assets they no longer possess.

Boats have been seized on many occasions.

From time to time boats are resumed or seized. They are reconditioned and disposed of. They are sold to other fishermen.

The losses incurred are to be written off?

That is right.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 3 and 4 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.