By way of explanation to the House, during the Committee Stage in the Dáil I acceded to the request of Members to look at certain amendments. In order to ensure that we had the best possible legislation I agreed to their request. I said I would have a look at the Bill and might be able to introduce amendments in the Seanad. The amendments related to section 3 but the advice I have received is that I will not be able to accept the amendments. Perhaps we could deal with this in greater detail on section 3.
Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1983: Committee and Final Stages.
In regard to the section will owners of small boats have to apply for and pay for these licences?
If the Senator found himself in my place, he would probably do the same as I am doing. It would be up to the Minister of the day to introduce a fee, but I have no intention of doing so and the section is not meant for that purpose. The Senator asked earlier if this would apply to all boats. Obviously, there are certain categories of boat to which it would be inappropriate to apply a licence. The idea of insisting on the owner of a currach having a licence is somewhat ludicrous. There are also boats which are used exclusively for angling and for facilitating holiday people, but we are talking here about boats engaged commercially. We will have to see what categories of boats can be exempted from the requirements. My intention is to have an annual licence, which the owner of a boat would fill in. There is nothing underhand about it. It is a question of prohibiting more unwelcome guests into our Irish fleet. Fishermen will be rather worried and complain, as anyone would, about filling in forms. It is not the greatest pastime. I hope to keep these forms as simple as possible, so that they will not be caused any great anxiety or agony.
Could I mention proposed amendment No. 6? I said I would look at this amendment and want it to be seen that I have kept my word. The amendment proposed in page 5 is to delete all words from and including "boat, or of" and including "specified". The basic proposal concerns the inclusion in the Bill that 75 per cent of the crew would have to be EEC nationals. I could not accept the format when on my feet in the Dáil. Draftsmen take an even more in-depth view of the formulation of words than a non-legal person like myself. Even if it were acceptable for inclusion in the Bill, I could not accept the wording without having it scrutinised by the officials in my Department and in the Attorney General's office. I have sought their advice on this and have been told that the amendment cannot be accepted. To specify a percentage would not permit the Minister the flexibility to cope with a situation which might arise afterwards.
Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that the EEC might, at some future date, take the matter in hand and possibly provide, by regulations, for a crewing requirement. To bring our legislation into line with such requirement would entail the lengthy procedure of an amending Act. A requirement by the EEC of 77 per cent — and indeed I would not be very surprised if they did not insist on a nice round figure of 76.4 per cent — would require amending legislation by us. The House can take it that, while my own view is that 75 per cent is suitable at the moment, we can reduce it by regulation and if that is found inadequate in any way, it can be regulated for again without the necessity for amending legislation.
The other suggestion which I promised to consider was the requirement that the skipper of a sea-fishing boat to which the conditions apply shall be an Irish citizen. Firstly, the amendment as put to me in the Dáil was turned down at the time on the basis of its presentation. I was subsequently told that it was legally incorrect and would be unworkable. The section provides that the regulations apply to fishing vessels of all nationalities. In the case of foreign vessels, it would be totally unreasonable to require that they be skippered by an Irish citizen or even an EEC national. To require that all vessels for fishing in our waters be skippered by Irish citizens would be discriminatory and would be unacceptable at EEC level. That situation is already well covered by the provision in subsection (2) in relation to crewing requirements. Therefore, the amendment could not be accepted, even if put in more legally acceptable terms. The practical and legal requirements are met in the Bill already.
I owe an explanation to the House in relation to this section. Within the EEC regulations under the EEC Common Fisheries Policy, salmon are not regarded as sea fish. Problems could, therefore, arise in relation to restrictions on salmon fishing. The Members will notice that the section says "other than seafishing". In other words this brings salmon into the overall regulations. That is the purpose of this section.
I referred in my contribution on Second Stage to big or small boats breaching this section. Is there jurisdiction in the local courts in regard to the confiscation of vessels over a value of £2,500? There is a danger that small boats might be discriminated against and big boats might escape prosecution.
There is a problem which is not of my making. It concerns the levels at which the District Courts operate. There are regional fisheries boards who operate through the District Courts. That kind of approach has one advantage in that you can get fairly quick results. Once you go up to the higher courts there are long delays, unreasonable delays in the view of many people. There could be a delay of a couple of years in having a case brought before the bench. That is unsatisfactory. I have to give the Senator the short answer that I am not responsible for the way the courts are run. It is not satisfactory from our point of view in the Department of Fisheries and from the point of view of our protection people, because of the restrictions and the delays when you have to go on to the higher courts.
I appreciate what the Minister has said. The owners of the smaller boats find themselves in an unfair position. They should not be involved in any fishing which would be in breach of the section, but the bigger boats have an advantage as the law stands.
They have not, as the law stands. The Senator is talking about the implementation of the law. That is a numbers game. There is the problem of the volume of work and the way the courts operate. I would not like to think they have an advantage in law. It is a matter of the delays because of the system we operate.