Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the time limits are as follows: the Minister has 12 minutes, the proposer of the motion has eight minutes, other speakers also have eight minutes and the proposer has five minutes to reply.
Fishing Industry: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann commends the initiatives being taken by the Minister for the Marine to defend the fisheries conservation zone known as the Irish box, and to protect and promote the fishing industry.
It gives me great pleasure to move this motion. I speak from the heart in saying that I and many fishermen are very proud of the Minister and of what he has done recently to protect their interests at EU level. From speaking to them I know they are confident, and I am also confident, that he will continue to do so. I could praise the Minister for a half an hour. He has highlighted problems which had not been highlighted until now. His back is to the wall but I know he will continue fighting to protect the Irish Box. I send every good wishes to the Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, and hope he has a speedy recovery.
I know fishermen well. They are an unusual breed. It is hard to make them understand that conservation is necessary. Around 15 years ago it was difficult to get fishermen to agree to any cut backs or quotas. The herring fishing industry in the Celtic Sea was suffering badly. The Department took cognisance of this and brought in measures to conserve stocks. This conservation has led to a great herring fishing industry over the last four or five years. The Irish box was created to conserve fishing stocks and protect the indigenous Irish fishing industry. We have done our part but the EU will have to act responsibly as far as conservation, the Irish Box and the 200 mile limit are concerned.
It appears that certain EU countries, mainly Spain, could not care less and are breaking the rules. It is in their interests, and the interests of every EU country with fishing boats, that conservation in this box is protected. If there is conservation in an area, fish will spawn and develop and will spread out from that box. This is the reason for the creation of the Irish box. We are a small nation with a small fleet.
I was in La Coruna in Spain about three years ago. There were as many boats fishing from that port as there are in the whole of Ireland. The Spaniards have been blatant in breaking the rules. A friend of mine in La Coruna pointed out to me a 200 foot boat leaving for west of the Blasket Islands. He said it would be back the following day loaded with fish. I said this was impossible but he said there were two identical boats with the same name. One fished at sea while the other was in the port. One returned a day after the other went out. The two boats were operating under the same licence. The Department of the Marine is very strict and their laws are very stringent on Irish fishermen, but the Spanish and other Governments are not as strict on their people as we are on ours. This can be seen in La Coruna and other ports. The Irish box must be protected and the Minister will have to stand his ground and say that under no circumstances is he giving in on this. He has done this to date and I know he will continue to do so.
The fishing industry is worth £98 million. This has grown enormously in recent years. Serious mistakes were made in the past. Our gross tonnage at the moment is around 58,000. In 1985, when we were not in Government, the EC decided that every country had to provide a figure for the gross tonnage of their fleet. The Government at the time greatly underestimated our tonnage. I know that in the other countries anything that could float and a great deal of what could not float——
A percentage of nothing is nothing. This is the way we negotiated it and that is why we are in a wretched state at the moment.
We put in what was considered to be the live register at the time but there were another 50,000 tonnes lying at piers all over Ireland which were not included. The Minister will find tonight that the Opposition will point fingers at him, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party but the mistakes were made when they were in Government.
The Opposition can do it by mirrors.
What did the Minister say?
He did not say anything.
Of course he did; he just did not say anything naughty.
I am looking into my heart.
I have followed the fishing industry very closely since one of its first agreements, the London Convention agreement of 1964. I thought that I would go crazy when I heard what was happening: that a Spaniard or a Frenchman could fish lobsters off Slea Head, which I think is still the case today. The fate of the fishing industry is in the Minister's hands and I know he will not let them down.
I have many questions but there is not enough time to go through them. I read in the newspaper yesterday that the grain farmers are going to receive millions of pounds — to which they are entitled — because they could not grow their grain last year. The Donegal potato growers are getting money because there was a bad crop. What about the poor fishermen? What about the man who has to tie his boat to the pier and cannot go out fishing?
The inshore fleet cannot go out if there is a storm on Monday but if Tuesday is a fine day they can go out because they come back again that evening. This contrasts with those who go on long distance trips for ten, 12 or 14 days. It costs them between £6,000 and £10,000 to travel the 140 to 200 miles between fuel, ice and food. They will not head out 150 miles if bad weather is forecast but have to wait. There was a time when the big boats in Dingle did not go out for two months. There should be a scheme to compensate fishermen when they are prevented from going out due to bad weather. For example, if they are fishing for hake and the hake quota is filled in the middle of August, what can they do? It might be suggested that they should fish mackerel, but we do not tell the grain farmers to set potatoes or the potato farmers to do something else. Fishermen have no political clout. There are between 6,000 and 8,000 fishermen around our coast, which is not enough to elect one TD.
There are 15,000 people dependent on fishing.
That includes onshore activity which would be enough for two TDs. However, they cannot elect two TDs and say to them——
They might not be at home to vote.
They do not have the clout and are not as big as the IFA and so on.
They are looking for postal voting rights.
They have no clout and somebody has to speak for them. From the day the Minister took over this portfolio I had a gut feeling that he would do something for them, which he has. I want him to continue to do so, which is why we have tabled this motion.
With regard to the tragedy in Castletownbere over the weekend, it would be appropriate here to sympathise with all of the people involved — those whose relatives drowned and the whole community. I thank the Minister for the trouble he took in going down there to help out and do something for the unfortunates.
There was not much that I could do.
These tragedies will continue to happen no matter what laws we have. It gives me great pleasure to propose the motion. I hope the Minister continues the good work which he has started. The fishing industry is dependent on him and it knows that it can rely on him.
I am privileged to second this motion, which is proposed by a man who has considerable personal experience of the fishing industry. When the Government was reconstituted two years ago, understandably I had some misgivings about the consequences for myself. However, the blow was more than softened by the fact that the Minister for the Marine, who is in the House this evening, was appointed to the responsibility of Foreign Affairs, because in his attitude, experience and conviction he was uniquely qualified to represent the interests of Ireland in that role.
Why was he not left there?
His all too short period in that office demonstrated clearly the respect which he had won for us around the world. If I had a reservation about the change because of the status and nature of his achievement, I have to say that experience since has also softened that blow, because we never before had someone of such real political clout and status, at home and abroad, to vindicate and defend the interests of this important element of our economy. For that reason I am privileged this evening to second this motion, because this Minister has effectively and vigorously defended the interests of the Irish fishing industry since transferring from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Minister's political standing is there now to win us further respect in the role he is now pursuing on behalf of the Irish people. His clear and vigorous statements have impacted very positively on our fellow members of the European Union and, uniquely among Ministers for Fisheries of recent years, he has the support of the entire fishing industry in his efforts. His efforts to ensure the protection of the Irish box, particularly from the huge Spanish fishing fleet, is essential as the Spanish fleet constitutes over one third of the entire European Union fleet and has the capacity to grossly overfish in the very lucrative fishing grounds off the west and south west coast of Ireland. An influx of Spanish fishing vessels could have a devastating effect on stocks and on the coastal communities whose economies rely so heavily on the fishing industry, as has been underlined so clearly be our spokesman, Senator Fitzgerald.
This is where a problem arises, because under the terms of the Spanish accession Act, which predated this Minister's responsibility for the Marine, the Irish box is due to end after 1 January 1996. It is vital for Ireland that Spain is not allowed unlimited access to Irish waters from that date. The Minister has fought the Irish case so vigorously that while a review of the 1986 accession Act for Spain was due to be concluded by the end of 1993, negotiations were not concluded at the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 20 December 1993 because of his strong and effective opposition. In that sense, therefore, it was a blessing that he, with his political clout, took on a role which has not normally been assigned to someone with his political experience.
The capacity of the Spanish fleet is far greater than the stocks allocated to them in the exclusive economic zone for Ireland. As a result of this over-capacity, the level of illegal activity by the Spaniards in Irish waters has been extensive. While fewer than one-fifth of all boats boarded at sea by the Naval Service were Spanish vessels, every second one of them was arrested for major fishery offences. It is not acceptable that a country like Spain, which has such a bad record of compliance with European Union fishery regulations, coupled with the huge capacity of its fleet, should have further access to our waters where the precedent suggests that they would not adhere to regulations that would be introduced.
The Minister for the Marine has a difficult task, but he is correct when he expressed his dissatisfaction at the suggestion to remove the Irish box at this time. In fact, he is on firm ground when he argues that existing controls need to be strengthened rather than relaxed. Our fishing community, and people generally, are greatly indebted to the Minister for asserting his determination not to accept the proposals currently being put forward by the Commission and the Presidency of the European Union, as effectively it would entail a free-for-all for Spanish and Portuguese vessels in our waters. Ireland is not, and never has been, opposed to the full integration of Spain and Portugal into the Union, but it is insisting that before that can be implemented, the capacity of the Spanish fleet must be in line with the stocks allocated and the Spanish level of compliance with the European Union fisheries regulations is greatly improved.
Because of his immense experience as Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for the Marine is uniquely qualified to make every effort at diplomatic, political and technical levels to ensure a fair deal for the Irish. The Minister, not surprisingly, has been in constant contact with the Presidency, the Commission, other member states and the Spanish authorities to press upon them the importance of this issue for Ireland. I understand that in advance of the next Council meeting in April the Minister will have political discussions with the Greek European Union Presidency, as well as with fishery Ministers of a number of other member states. That is how one wins understanding, support and goodwill. We are fortunate to have a man of the Minister's standing and experience protecting our national interest in this vital area. This House is privileged to give its full and total endorsement for his vigorous and effective negotiation policy. For that reason, I am privileged to second this motion in support of that policy.
I also wish to give my appreciation to the positive response the Minister gave to the recent tragic events in Castletownbere. I am sure the fishing community are greatly heartened by the Minister's immediate and positive response. I am also sure the actions the Minister will take to follow up on that tragedy will be vigorously supported by them.
I move amendment No. 1:
To add to the motion: "and calls on the Minister:
(1) to implement an aid package for the Irish fishing fleet to stave off bankruptcy, create new jobs and safeguard existing livelihoods; and
(2) to outline the findings of the sea trout task force."
I, too, wish to be associated with the sentiments expressed with regard to the tragedy in Castletownbere.
Obviously, the Government Senators are not aware of the serious problems existing in the Irish fishing industry at present, especially those our fishermen are confronted with on a daily basis. Our fishing industry is currently facing an unprecedented crisis. Never have Irish fishing vessels been tied up for such a long and continuous period due to extreme weather conditions as during the winter of 1993-94. The Minister is well aware of this because he has had meetings with and representations from the Irish Fishermen's Organisation on this matter.
Apart from the large vessels, the rest of the fleet has been tied up at port for approximately 14 weeks. Where vessels did put to sea during a short break in the weather, the amount of fishing carried out could be disregarded as the prices subsequently secured were so low that they did not count. The end result is that there is a severe financial crisis among fishing personnel. It was interesting to note that the proposer of the motion, while praising the Minister for what he was doing for fishermen, also said that they did not have any political clout. It is no wonder we have got a little seasick from the ups and downs of those remarks. If the Minister has that clout, I hope he has been using it and will continue to use it.
It is imperative that the Government should seriously consider this matter with a view to providing proper financial assistance for the fishermen at this time of crisis. The Irish Fishermen's Organisation put proposals to the Government for an aid package of £13 million. The Government should seriously review its position and grant financial aid for the unusual events that have occurred over the past six months. It is easy for the Government to establish which vessels were tied up and for what period. There should be no difficulty in distributing financial aid accordingly.
The growing disparity that exists between the fishing industry and the type and level of assistance being given to the other sectors must be stopped. It is grossly unfair to expect our fishermen to compete successfully with French fishermen, who are getting cash support for the second successive year from their Government in the form of an aid package of £36 million.
I also wish to address the issue in relation to vessel categorisation. It raises the fundamental question of the right of Irish citizens to property. I suggest that the Minister would view this matter carefully. Our fishermen are extremely unhappy at the Department of the Marine's proposals relating to categorisation and have rejected them. Some of those concerns include:
The masters of community fishing vessels, fishing for a stalk or group of stalks, shall keep a log book of their operations, indicating particularly the quantities of each species caught and kept on board, the date and location of such catches and the type of gear used.
The master of a community fishing vessel who wishes to utilise landing locations in a member state other than the flagged member state must inform the competent authorities in that member state at least two hours in advance of the landing locations and estimated time of arrival there and the quantities of each species to be landed. Also, the master of each community fishing vessel, having an overall length equal to or more than ten metres, or his representative, shall after each trip and within 48 hours of landing, submit a declaration to the competent authorities of the member state where the landing takes place. The master shall be responsible for the accuracy of the declaration which shall indicate as a minimum, the quantities landed of each loggable species and the area where they were caught.
The Department has more flexibility and could use greater leeway in its interpretation of Union regulations, as they apply to this issue. Fishermen's rights should not be superseded by other rights. It is important that the Minister understands and respects the rights of fishermen.
As the Minister is aware, we have an old and substandard fleet which compares very poorly with our European competitors. The Government must provide assistance to the fishermen in the form of low interest rates, tax rebates and other incentives to encourage them to do the necessary work. The overwhelming majority are not in a position to make the necessary investment themselves and require some incentive. I hope that when the final proposals are drafted for implementing the commission in aid there will be full openness as to who qualifies and the reasons for it.
The record in the area of employment in the fishing industry leaves much to be desired. In 1988 a programme was lauched by BIM and the Government which promised 2,000 jobs by 1990. That did not happen either. It is a shame that the full potential of our fishing resource is not explored, thereby generating employment and establishing strong Government support for the fishing industry. I ask the Minister to formulate positive proposals in this area in the near future.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He now seems to be here on a regular basis. I second the amendment proposed by Senator Belton because the motion is ineffective without it. I appeal to the proposer of the motion to graciously accept the amendment from this side of the House which is proposed with the utmost spirit of goodwill and interest in the fishing industry. Senator Magner is quite amused by this, but I am sure the Minister appreciates that it is done strictly with the utmost of goodwill and concern for the fishing industry.
Save us your sincerity.
Senator Taylor-Quinn, I ask you to leave Senator Magner out of this and continue with your speech.
Christmas is gone. We could have some goodwill for St. Patrick's Day.
As Senator Fitzgerald was proposing the motion he could have been speaking from this side of the House. He managed, in presenting the motion, to move very ably from the Government side to the Opposition side. There were times when I thought he would make quite an effective Opposition spokesperson in the area because he was making the case very strongly about the ineffectiveness of the Department of the Marine in confronting many issues. In saying that I am not pointing the finger directly at the Minister, because Deputy Andrews has inherited quite a bag of problems in the Department of the Marine which were not of his making but that of many of his predecessors. Like other speakers, I know he has the diplomatic skill and confidence——
That is a real constituency barb.
——to do the best possible for the industry.
Senator Daly will not like that.
In the case of the fishing industry——
This is an attack on the innocent.
We will discuss Senator Daly presently——
I thought the Senator might.
——in his capacity as Minister for the Marine in the 1980s. Everybody recognises that there is a serious crisis in the Irish fishing industry. Senator Belton has properly outlined that the crisis has been compounded this year by the severe weather and sea conditions, which have resulted in boats being tied up for an average period of over 14 weeks. That is a long time for anyone to be out of work and out of pocket. The crews on the ships have suffered a serious loss of income, but the owners of the ships have also suffered serious loss of income. In many cases it has been extremely difficult for them to meet annual repayments on boats.
Given this unique situation, the area deserves special treatment. There is a crisis and many people may be forced out of business if some financial aid package is not provided. It is right that the fishing industry look for assistance. Other sectors have been provided with aid when unusual crises have occurred and it is quite normal that this group should be entitled to special assistance in these unusual circumstances. I join with Senator Belton in asking the Minister to seriously examine that situation and the individual position of a number of boat owners who need assistance at this time.
We have a fleet which is underdeveloped. It is generally recognised that it is substandard when compared with our European counterparts. There is a proposal about providing assistance to upgrade the fleet and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the maximum possible assistance is given to these people. Unless it is given, more people will go out of business and fewer people will be employed in the fishing industry.
Many of our difficulties may stem from what occurred when we entered the EEC and the agreements that were signed at the time. We got a bad deal and despite the fact that we are an island country, we seem to have few rights on our waters. This is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed and it can only be addressed at European Council level by the Minister and indeed by his colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In light of the fact that Deputy Andrews was also Minister for Foreign Affairs he has every knowledge and competence to deal with this area. There is a real need to sit down at this stage and put a special case in relation to Ireland's rights and the need to extend our current limit. It is unacceptable that we have such limited control over our own waters.
I wish to refer to the treatment to which our fisherman are being subjected, particularly by the Spanish fishermen in our waters. As the Minister is also Minister for Defence, he is in the unusual position of being able to use every opportunity and asset he has to ensure that the blackguarding of Irish fishermen by Spanish fishermen stops and that every action, including court action, is taken to ensure it stops. The Minister must, at European level, use every opportunity to highlight the conduct of members of the Spanish fishing fleet. They have superior boats and Irish fishermen's lives have been put at risk. It is an appalling and intolerable situation and does not warrant any lenient treatment. I ask the Minister not to be lenient because we have suffered at the hands of the Spanish fishermen for many years and it is time to call a halt.
Senator Belton already dealt with the issue of employment in the fishing industry. In 1988 — we now come to the then Minister, Senator Daly — there was a grand launch of a BIM plan where 2,000 jobs were to be created by the year 1990. We witnessed the greatest publicity and hype ever given to any launch. We hoped there would be great developments in the fishing industry but, unfortunately, we have not seen any additional employment generated either directly or indirectly in the fishing sector since then. It is necessary that we make the greatest possible use of our natural resource and develop it to its full potential to ensure both direct and indirect job creation. The Minister is in a position to bring together all the agencies and the personnel involved, to use them to the benefit of our fishing industry and for employment in general. I look forward to him doing something in that area in the near future.
I thank the Senators who contributed to this debate, particularly the Fianna Fáil spokesman. Senator Tom Fitzgerald, for his very kind opening remarks in proposing the motion. I am particularly touched by Senator O'Kennedy's remarks, which were deeply appreciated. Senator O'Kennedy and myself have been on the road a long time and he was a former Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is very gratifying to hear a predecessor in office make such complimentary remarks about a successor, in all the circumstances.
Senator Fitzgerald paid tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy O'Sullivan, and I, too, wish to once more send messages of goodwill and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to the Deputy who has made heroic efforts to return to the Department. We look forward to seeing him there very shortly.
Castletownbere has been mentioned. I represented the Government on two occasions there, on the Thursday night and on the Saturday. Once more I pay tribute to the relatives of the deceased and the local community for their composure and heroism in the face of a most appalling tragedy. In relation to the tragedy itself, it is of course something that can never be comprehended. Two investigations are ongoing at present, one conducted by the marine survey office of the Department of the Marine, headed by the deputy marine surveyor, Mr. Séamus McLoughlin, assisted by a couple of his associates. That investigation will be very thorough and transparent. I hope it will be completed in the not too distant future and that the results will be in the public domain, subject, of course, to whatever constraints are placed upon it by the Attorney General. I understand, too, that the Garda Síochána are taking an interest in the matter so there will be no whitewashing and no witch hunt. I wish to make that very clear.
In relation to the amendments, I will take them seriatim, I anticipated the first one in a sense. I realise that those working in the fishing industry, particularly between October and January, experience hazards and hardship from the elements. They are probably among the most courageous people in pursuit of a livelihood on this island or, indeed, any other island. In anticipation of the first amendment I have taken a number of steps, and if I may say with as much humility as politicians have at their disposal, I have taken quite a number of initiatives in the Department of the Marine since my arrival there. This initiative incorporates three elements. The first is in relation to the possibility of compensation for those fishermen who cannot fish because of the weather and I have been in touch with the Minister for Social Welfare to arrange all possible assistance to alleviate the hardship suffered by these fishermen.
In regard to the second element, I asked BIM to conduct an in-depth review of the problems arising because of the weather. I asked them to prepare a report which came to hand yesterday or the day before, and I am now addressing that report with a view to preparing a package for the Minister concerned to address this issue.
The third element in the package of proposals to address this issue is that I have written to the Commissioner with responsibility for Fisheries, Mr. Paleokrassas. Mr. Paleokrassas and I have had a very good relationship since I became Minister for the Marine and I have had an immediate response from him. He will investigate the possibility of putting together whatever elements are available to him in the context of the proposal addressed by this first amendment. While I am not suggesting that the Deputy withdraw the amendment, which is a matter entirely for himself, the issue is being addressed in a very thorough fashion.
In regard to the second amendment, the question of outlining the findings of the sea trout task force, I simply cannot do that, because the task force has yet to report in full. As the Senator will be aware, the interim report of the task force was published some months ago and is in the public domain. The task force met in October 1993 and the interim report was published in November. Quite a number of its proposals have already been acted upon. The task force will publish its findings shortly after Easter. Therefore, the amendment in its spirit has already been addressed. I understand that the task force's report will be published. I have seen part of it and those who are concerned about the survival of sea trout will be as happy as one can make them in the circumstances.
I want to pay tribute to Dr. T.K. Whitaker for accepting the chairmanship of the task force. I am deeply indebted to him for trying to solve this problem. He has given tremendous service to this country in the recent and distant past. He saw it as a duty to perform the function I asked him to perform and he willingly accepted the job. I deeply appreciate his chairmanship and leadership in this area. The two issues proposed in the amendments are in an embryonic state. If the Senator wishes to raise these matters again, I would be delighted to make myself available to him and to the Seanad to discuss them.
The debate comes at an opportune time. Our fishing industry faces serious issues at home and new challenges at European Union level. It is vital that we face up to these challenges. Through debates such as this and through every other means, it is important that we get across to everyone in this country the seriousness of the challenges we must face. This is an important industry which, as Senator Fitzgerald said, employs up to 15,000 people, mostly in the peripheral regions of our country.
I have made my determination clear at every opportunity and at every level in Europe to protect this sector and encourage its further development. We must get the best results for fisheries both at national and European level. However, as Senator Belton said, I need the united support of everyone involved if we are to achieve anything. That is why a debate such as this is welcome. It gives the Senators and the Oireachtas an opportunity to express a point of view, and it gives me as Minister for the Marine an opportunity to respond positively. I am grateful to the Senators who proposed the motion and I thank the Leader of the House for giving me the opportunity to respond to it.
The Irish box is an area of 70,000 square miles around our coast. It was defined in the Act of Accession of Spain and Portugal to the then European Community in 1986. The purpose of the Irish box is to conserve fish stocks and preserve the indigenous fishing industries along our coastline. It does this by providing for only limited access to the Irish box for Spanish and Portuguese fishing vessels. Under the Iberian Act of Accession, this box is due to lapse at the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996. That is how close we are to the problem we are now addressing.
The European Union had set the end of last year as the deadline for a review of the measures governing Spanish and Portuguese access to fisheries to see what measures might be necessary following the lapsing of the Irish box. The European Commission was proposing a free for all for Spain and Portugal in our waters from January 1996.
That is crazy.
Although legally Spain was entitled to a decision on this issue at last December's Fisheries Council in Brussels, I opposed an agreement because I was not satisfied with what was proposed for our country. The issue now comes before the next Fisheries Council in April. I commend the fishing industry for the unity they have shown and I look forward to that continuing, as I believe it will, in the run-up to the next Council meeting so that our fellow Europeans will understand that this time we are serious about protecting our fishing industry and the thousands of families who depend on that industry for their livelihood.
I opposed agreement on a free for all because the Spanish track record of compliance, so ably outlined by Senator O'Kennedy, is extremely poor. In 1992, for example, one in five of the vessels boarded by the Naval Service were Spanish. However, they accounted for more than half the detentions. In this context, I want to pay a heartfelt tribute to the courage and tenacity of our Naval Service in protecting these waters and to the professional support they receive from the Air Corps.
The capacity of the Spanish fleet is far greater than the fishing stocks allocated to them in the Irish economic zone and the fleet is poorly controlled by their authorities.
It is not controlled.
It is not properly controlled. As we know, the Spanish fleet is situated in north-west Spain, in Galicia. It appears that the Spanish Government has no control over that part of their country. I do not have any argument with the Spanish Government or the Spanish people, but with the manner in which the Spanish fishing fleet conducts its business. The Spanish and the Irish have been good friends for many centuries and long may that continue. I do intend to stop Spanish armadas, but I want to protect our vital national interest from threats by any country, for example, Spain and, to a lesser extent, Portugal.
Against that background, any proposals to drop the Irish box and discontinue special controls on Spanish vessels would make management and conservation impossible and fish stocks would be seriously threatened. I have consistently maintained Ireland's opposition to such proposals. At the Fisheries Council last November and December I took the unprecedented step of presenting the Presidency, the European Commission and my fellow Ministers with a dossier setting out in graphic form the level and persistence of Spanish infractions. They finally got the message that illegal Spanish fishing activity in our waters is not just an Irish problem, but a European Union problem as well.
I want to pay special tribute not only to the unity of the fishing industry, but to the unity of purpose by an unfairly criticised Department of the Marine. I have never seen such dedication from officials over the last number of months on this and other issues. They have been exceptionally professional and I am deeply grateful to them because they were a great help to me as I only had the portfolio for less than a year. I want to make it clear that I have not just been engaged in negative opposition or what I might call "spoiling" tactics at European level. On the contrary, I have consistently put forward a clear set of proposals that would protect Ireland's vital interests, be fair to Spain and Portugal, and would look after the European Union interest.
The Irish proposals call for the continuation of the Irish box until alternative and equivalent control and conservation measures have been agreed and put in place; acceptance of the full integration of Spain and Portugal into the Common Fisheries Policy management framework, provided that framework includes adequate controls; and an improvement in the Spanish level of compliance with EU fisheries regulations. In essence, we are arguing that the controls which currently exist need to be strengthened rather than relaxed. This issue requires vigilance.
As I said, I have argued Ireland's case on the Irish box within the European Council of Fisheries Ministers since I took office. I have met the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Paleokrassas, on the issue as well as the Danish and Belgian Ministers when they held the Presidency. The Danish and Belgian Ministers have a difference of emphasis and approach to ourselves. It is something we have to be careful of because we are in the European Union, a club, and are meant to accept the rules set down by the club. Sometimes I feel that we are far too communautaire, far too much into the club and too committed to clubism rather than nationalism and the national interest.
In advance of the April Fisheries Council it is likely that I will have bilateral meetings with ministerial colleagues in a number of other member states. It would be my intention to meet with the current President of the Council of Fisheries Ministers, my Greek colleague.
Last December, before I left for the Fisheries Council, I received the wholehearted support of my colleagues in Government for the stance I am taking. I think the House will appreciate that I am making every effort to resolve this issue by political and technical means within the Council of Ministers. I am also watching very carefully the legal basis which may be used to bring about any changes in the provisions of the Iberian Act of Accession and have inferred a very strong legal reserve. On this issue, nobody will be able to say that we have not tried every means to get a fair deal for Ireland and for its fishing communities.
The issue of illegal fishing in our waters is one that has underlined the merit of combining the portfolios of Marine and Defence, because the Naval Service and the Air Corps are at the cutting edge of the defence of our interests. As Minister, I am ensuring the maximum co-operation and synergy between the two Departments in tackling this issue. In this context I am pleased to tell the House that work is at an advanced stage on the drafting of a Fisheries (Amendment) Bill which will provide for greatly increased penalties on conviction for illegal fishing. The fines will be increased and we will close off a legal loophole which allowed vessels to escape confiscation until after their second offence or if ownership of the vessel has changed. My intention is that the offence should attach to the vessel itself, irrespective of changes of ownership, and that confiscation could apply even for a first serious offence. This is a very significant departure and is making new law to the advantage of the fishing industry. If all goes well, I hope to be going to Government fairly soon with the text of the Bill.
As regards the enlargement of the European Union, a number of countries are signing up for membership of the EU, including Finland, Austria, Sweden and Norway. By definition, the people who deal with enlargement negotiations on behalf of this country would be the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, and his Minister of State, Deputy Kitt. I would like to pay a warm tribute to these men for the manner in which they have conducted negotiations to date on the fisheries element of the enlargement negotiations. The Tánaiste has been in constant touch with me personally as has the Junior Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt. During the course of all the negotiations they have been in touch with me on the fisheries aspect. They have responded very positively to my attitude that when there is a vital national interest we should protect it, not at the cost of our membership of the EU but within the context of the rules and regulations which other countries operate very effectively and which we have been operating effectively under the leadership of these two gentlemen. I am grateful to both of them for what they have done, and will do. Finland, Austria and Sweden are effectively on board the European Union wagon, and Norway remains to be brought on board in the next number of days; they have a problem with fishing. We have a very good association and a close relationship with Norway. As an example of how a fishing nation should be run, Norway is a model. I do not think we will have any Spanishtype problems with the Norwegians because they control their fishing fleet in a very thorough way and with an integrity we must admire and appreciate.
Negotiations are continuing between the EU and Norway on the terms of its accession to the Union. The Irish Government strongly supports Norway's application to join the Union and, hopefully, an agreement can be wrapped up next week which will be ratified in due course by Norway. Norway is a powerful fisheries nation and the Norwegian fisheries industry is a major competitor of the Irish industry, particularly in the salmon, herring and mackerel markets. I foresee no threat to fish stocks in Irish waters from Norwegian entry to the Union as Norway's access will be strictly limited. Norway already had rights of access, including access to the Irish box, but we have never had any difficulties of an enforcement nature. Irish fishermen, particularly the mackerel fleet, have an interest in gaining access to Norwegian waters and ensuring a fair share out of the overall mackerel allowable catch — the TAC or total allowable catch — between the Union and Norway. These issues are still being pursued.
The major tariffs that apply at present to Norwegian fish exports will, of course, no longer exist once Norway has entered the Union. We are seeking appropriate transitional measures to ensure the orderly development of the markets. Once the negotiations are finalised the Department of the Marine will be working with the industry and the State agencies concerned to map out an appropriate strategy for the industry in the new situation. It is clear that I have been and — with the able assistance, on his return, of the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan — will continue to be extremely active in defence of our fishing interests in the Councils of the European Union. We will soon, hopefully, welcome new members into the Union. Ireland and Norway in particular share many common goals. Norway is a country to be admired for its commitment to its fishing interests. I would like to see more of that kind of approach on our part. Recognising the vital importance of fisheries to jobs and to a way of life in our coastal regions, maintaining our people in sound, well rewarded employment around our coasts and recognising the force for community welfare and cultural development that this entails, have been part of the political philosophy I have long espoused and pursued and will continue to pursue.
I welcome this debate as an earnest of our seriousness and unity in defending and promoting our fishing industry. The next step is to turn our words into action — to start acting like a maritime nation and not just talking like one.
Thank you, Minister. I am sure we all endorse your good wishes to Minister O'Sullivan. I call on Senator Magner.
With your permission, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I wish to share my time with Senator Calnan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Labour Party support this motion and join wholeheartedly in commending the Minister for Defence and the Marine, Deputy Andrews, for his stewardship of that portfolio. It is interesting that in the last line of his speech he says it is time Ireland started to act like a maritime nation instead of just talking like one. I suppose when the history of this island comes to be written, the lack of exploitation of our waters will probably be seen as the biggest mistake we ever made.
When Ireland's interests are at stake abroad there is no room for party politics or the normal ebb and flow of inter-party disagreements. Every Irish man and woman shares the same burden of responsibility in securing that interest. I have no doubt that the Minister's tactics when dealing with the Spaniards and defending Irish interests has paid off, and will pay off. The Spaniards consider our waters to be their waters in every sense of the word and they systematically set about plundering them. No other word can be used — it was sheer plunder. The value of the catch and gear confiscated in 1993 was £556,000. What amount of stock was taken from Irish waters in that period? We do not have the figures but it must have been huge.
It is not an act of a friendly nation when its nationals construct ships with secret holds. While the Minister must be diplomatic in his use of language by using the phrase "poor management", the Spanish Government must have been aware that these activities were taking place and that the landings at Spanish and other ports far exceeded the quotas permitted to Spanish fishermen. Much as one regrets saying so, the Spanish Government was, in a way, an accessory to this plunder.
I am glad the Minister envisages removing the first offence provisions — one was allowed one offence before one's vessel could conceivably be confiscated. That penalty will now be available for the first serious offence. That was inevitable. We tried to be decent but they took advantage and constructed the secret holds. They left us with no option. We would be slow to take possession of a person's livelihood by confiscating his vessel. However, they have left us with no choice but to act in this manner.
I understand — and I am open to correction — that when catches and gear are seized by the Irish authorities the gear is put up for auction. There is a type of gentleman's agreement that no one other than the original owner will bid for the gear. That is akin to rewarding the person. Why not destroy the gear if it is to be auctioned and nobody other than the original owner will bid for it? I have no doubt that we have sent Spanish vessels back to sea with the same gear that was auctioned in Bantry or Castletownbere. That makes no sense. If we do not achieve the market value of the gear and the offender can get it back with an offer of £100 or £200, there is no penalty to prevent the offence being repeated. If the gear is confiscated and we cannot realise its true value, which may be many thousands of pounds, can we destroy it? If we had done so in the past, skippers may have been dissuaded from raiding Irish waters. I agree with the Minister's actions on this issue and I wish him well in future negotiations.
I also welcome the establishment of a group to review the marketing strategy, requirements for the fleet and so forth. That is vital. On examining the allocation of Structural Funds I thought some allocations would have been better utilised in the Department of the Marine than in some other Departments to which they were allocated. The potential for employment in the Department of the Marine is probably far greater than in many other Departments. I told the Junior Minister at the time that I was disappointed because we would have got greater value from the funds if we had used them to deal seriously with the potential of the fishing and associated industries.
I join the Minister in sending greetings to the Minister of State, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan. The Minister of State has been singularly fortunate to work for somebody as understanding and supportive as Deputy Andrews. The Labour Party is happy to publicly acknowledge that fact. I also acknowledge the comfort the Minister gave to the people of Castletownbere through his presence there for two days. It was deeply appreciated. It is easy as politicians to be blasé and to believe that nothing counts; we can be so cynical that we believe nothing matters. However, some things matter and it mattered to that community — as my colleague Senator Calnan knows because it is his constituency — that the Minister was present on that sad occasion.
Thank you very much.
The Minister is as concerned as we are that a 40-foot vessel carrying people and goods was not licensed and I am sure that the Department will take steps to ensure that such an incident will not occur again. I commend the Minister on his work and support him in his defence of Irish fishermen.
Senator Magner used all his time. However, there is more time available and I will give Senator Calnan an opportunity to speak later.
I thought the Chair would indicate when I had used half of my time.
I thought the Senator was aware of the time.
I welcome the Minister and compliment him on his work. As Senator O'Kennedy said, the Minister's experience in the Department of Foreign Affairs has enhanced his negotiating skills with his counterparts in Europe. He deserves to be complimented on how he has protected our fishermen since his appointment. I also thank him for his response to the recent tragedy in Castletownbere. His presence in the area was greatly appreciated. I hope we will not see any other tragedies. We must keep an eye on our ferries to ensure that proper safety standards are implemented. I will put a motion to that effect in my local authority in Kerry to avoid similar tragedies. I sympathise with the families of Castletownbere who were affected by that tragedy.
The Minister told the House about the necessity of protecting the Irish box. Many people did not know what the Irish box was until recently when they saw from a map of the island what it entailed. It is a lifeline for the people in the fishing industry. The box was established in 1986 when Spain and Portugal acceded to the EU. There was a two-fold purpose for establishing the box: to conserve the fish stocks which were in grave danger and to protect the indigenous fishing industry.
I was delighted to hear the Minister admit that the fishing industry is vital to peripheral regions. We are currently debating the Developing the West Together report entitled A Crusade for Survival. If this is not a crusade for the survival of the west to save the 15,000 jobs in the fishing industry and the £98 million earned from that industry, we are only wasting our time. The Minister has grasped the issue with his introduction of new legislation to curtail those who continuously abuse our waters. The protection of our waters is necessary.
The Spanish fleet has been mentioned a number of times this evening. That fleet comprises over one third of the entire fleet of vessels in the EU and it grossly over fishes in the lucrative fishing grounds to the west. In 1985 I was on a number of European committees on fishing. The Spanish and other Europeans regularly spoke about the rich waters of west Kerry. Their fishermen would head for the south-west coast of Ireland and come back with their boats heavily laden. In half the cases of vessels being boarded the culprits seemed to be the Spanish; they seem to ignore the Irish authorities. The authorities have to be complimented for the work they are doing with existing resources and the Navy and the Air Corps also have to be complimented. Offenders will have to be taken to task, especially for catching undersized fish and the use of secret holds.
I compliment the Minister on his remarks about changing the legislation as it affects people who commit offences and the fishermen being able to buy back their gear at a knockdown price. Looking at the fines and closing off the legal loopholes is a good idea. Imposing the fine on the vessel rather than on the captain, or whoever operates the vessel, is the right approach.
Ireland needs to better develop its fishing industry and the entry of other countries, particularly Norway, into the EU will benefit Irish fishermen greatly. Due to developments over the years the Irish fishermen will be able to take advantage of this in slack times — for example when a quota is reached. Now they will be able to travel to other waters for their catches. Fishing is limited and depends on weather conditions; it can be dangerous on the high seas. Over the last few months our fisherman have not been able to use their vessels as they wished and compensation should be set aside for them. However, they might be well compensated by the new grounds they will be able to use if Norway enters the EU.
The tone of the Minister's speech has to be welcomed. It is time for us to start acting like a maritime nation and not just talk like one. Those words will go down in history because it is time for action. I compliment the Minister on the action he has taken, the way he has handled the portfolio and the way he has protected this important livelihood for the people of the west and the fishing industry as a whole.
I welcome the Minister to the House and support this motion regarding the conservation of the Irish box. I come from Cork South-West, a constituency which stretches the best part of 100 miles from Kinsale to the Dursey Sound, and taking into account all the inlets, harbours and islands, there would be a couple of hundred miles of coastline. Fishing is of the utmost importance to the people living in that area. In my constituency there is a lot of land set aside, there are poor, disadvantaged areas and quota restrictions on agricultural produce. The sea is of vital importance and we need to protect and promote the fishing industry not only for the fishermen but for the onshore jobs in areas riddled by unemployment and emigration.
On 1 January 1996, the European Union can abolish this protection of the Irish box and we could be left with a free for all. The Minister said that sometimes we do not think of ourselves as a maritime nation and we want to start acting as one. In the past particularly, there was as much interest in the sea in Switzerland, a land locked country, as there was in Ireland. That was unfortunate because of the enormous resource we have offshore.
I am aware from speaking to fishermen and councillors who live nearer to the sea than I — I live 14 miles from the sea and I am aware of the prevailing situation — that Irish vessels are sometimes pushed out of their own waters; they are virtually rammed by foreign vessels. That is unacceptable. For example, large Spanish vessels come up beside the Irish boats and, if they do not get out of the way, they could be sunk. This ongoing problem will have to be taken in hand. We will have to do something about it quickly at domestic or EU level. It is bad enough that overfishing and confiscations are taking place but there is a danger to the lives of Irish fishermen.
Fishing is a hard and dangerous life and dealing with the sea is a dangerous game. We saw that recently in Castletownbere. The grief felt by the whole community was heartfelt. My sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of Vincent and Treacy Moriarty of Castletownbere, of Patrick Maguire from Castletownshend and of Patrick O'Neill, an employee of Cork County Council of which I am a member. It is tragic when such an event happens in a small community and it is never forgotten.
I want to pay the deepest respect to the owner of the vessel, Colm Harrington, who has been most obliging and helpful to all in providing the ferry service from the mainland to the island. I have travelled on it on different occasions and he is especially helpful to all. There is no restriction, day or night, on his work. I am sorry for him that this tragic event should have happened and I know that every consideration will be given to him and his skippers. Unfortunately, accidents happen at sea; familiarity can breed contempt and lives are lost.
I compliment the Minister on his work for the marine and I join in the good wishes to the Minister of State, Deputy G. O'Sullivan, and hope he will be back in action in the not too distant future. Protecting and promoting fishing is of the utmost importance for employment because along the coast we have people directly involved in fishing, aquaculture and mariculture. We must not forget that there is a big link between fishing and tourism. Protecting our fishing and conserving stocks will lead to a development in tourism which is an important money spinner. Definite steps must be taken along our coast or some fish species will vanish, as they have in the North Sea. We have a duty to work on this. The Minister is doing his utmost in Europe in conjunction with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring.
No stone will be left unturned to achieve the objectives the Minister mentioned: the continuation of the Irish box until alternative and equivalent control and conservation measures have been agreed and put in place; acceptance of the integration of Spain and Portugal into the Common Fisheries Policy management framework; and that Spanish level of compliance with EU fishery regulations be improved.
The last objective is extremely important because if matters continue as they have been we will be returning to the days of the Jolly Roger with ramming, endangering of life and various acts of piracy from those who roam our seas. That must be stopped, and the sooner the better.
Like other Members, I welcome the vigour the Minister has brought to his portfolio since he became "the Minister for fish and ships", in his own eloquent phrase. His closing comments struck a resonant chord with me. It is extraordinary that we are the most maritime of European nations and yet we have a strange relationship with the sea. We have never seen it as a resource or a way to improve ourselves economically. We have never seen it for what it is; an untapped, rich potential source of employment and wealth for this nation.
It is astonishing that for many years this State was dependent on foreign vessels to carry the bulk of our cargo and that with the sad and reprehensible loss of Irish Shipping we descended back into that abysmal position for a period, that we as an island nation did not have the same traditions as the Greeks and did not develop small inshore fleets, out of which to grow large deep sea fleets; that until recent years we have had a primitive and underdeveloped fishing fleet and that only in recent times did we began to expand that fleet, when constraints had been imposed on the way we could use the fishing and maritime resources of our sea area.
It is equally amazing that we as a maritime nation have accepted what has been happening in Irish coastal waters, and particularly within the oddly named Irish box, the 70,000 square miles of sea we won in 1986 and retain until 1996. What has been happening in that area is criminal in every sense of the word. A member nation of the European Union has turned a collective blind eye on criminal activity which should not be acceptable in the civilised world. Whatever difficulties Spain may have in Galicia and with civil administration in the north east of the country, that nation assumed a responsibility when it joined the EC and it has failed abysmally in that responsibility.
Senator Magner put it well. Anyone who casts even a casual eye on the tonnage of landings in Spain must know that Spanish seamen and the owners of those vessels have behaved in a predatory and criminal manner in cynically ignoring the EU Common Fisheries Policy. The Minister referred to his stance, for which I commend him. I also commend him for the clear language he used tonight. The Spanish record of compliance is not just extremely poor, it is appalling and unacceptable and we should not be shy about saying so.
The Spanish fleet is far greater than the stocks allocated to them. Yet the full fleet is active and can only be active if it continues to operate on a criminal basis. The Minister rightly pointed this out and one wonders what the EU Commission is prepared to do about it. I am pleased to support the Minister when he says we will fight this issue as one of vital national importance. We will take this to the wire and not support the extraordinary proposals of the Commission.
It has been suggested that access to this vital area should be eased for Spanish fishermen as of January 1 1996. That is equivalent to saying that people who have been burgled should take the locks from their doors and welcome the burglars. The EU is supposed to be based on the observance and appliance of the rules of law; and the Commission has a responsibility, which every member swears to uphold, that it will operate in a way which supports the legal framework of the Union.
It would be a travesty and a disaster for the Irish economy if the Spaniards, predatory and criminal as they have been, were to be allowed untrammelled access to the waters currently in the Irish box area. It is time for the other member states to make clear to Spain that in addition to the considerable benefits that country assumed on joining the EC, it also assumed responsibilities. From this remove one has no way of knowing whether the Spaniards observe the other rules it signed in Europe. Be that as it may, they have shown disregard for the rules of fair play, legal behaviour and law of the sea in the way they have operated off our coasts.
The last speaker mentioned the danger not merely to the livelihoods of Irish seamen but to their lives. I was born and still live within sound of the sea; my car shows signs of my proximity to the shore. The Irish coasts are redolent with stories of unbelievable attitudes taken by Spanish crews and skippers. It is clear from these that Spanish fishermen have shown a blatant disregard for the lives and safety of other seamen and that is not tolerable.
We face a major threat. It is important that the House as a whole should show its unanimous support for the line the Minister and Government have taken. Senator Magner made two important points. First, he said we must penalise these criminals who have been bound, brought into our courts and found guilty of criminal activity. His suggestion that we should not allow the sale back of equipment and catch the criminals is a good one and should be followed. Second, a vital national interest such as this is above party politics. It is incumbent on everyone in political life to unite on this issue, because it is too important to let go by default.
I welcome the Minister, who is a colleague of mine in Dún Laoghaire. I support the amendment. Fishermen, the fishing fleet and related industries deserve our full support. I hope the Minister will not take any prisoners in negotiations, particularly at EU level. I also ask him to try to ensure that certain other nationalities do not write their own rules which would prevent the industry here benefiting as it should. We are aware of the importance and great potential of the fishing industry and related industries, such as fish processing, fish farms and other areas. Although these perhaps are not at the centre of this motion, I am sure the Minister will take some of my comments on board.
There is no doubt that the fishermen of this country did not receive the due attention they deserved down through the years. They have not obtained the same benefits as other sectors. There is need for improvement in the facilities that fishermen are entitled to and should receive. As the Minister mentioned, there is also the question of difficulties at certain times of the year.
I ask the Minister to take my comments on board. We support him in his endeavours. I ask him to try to ensure that the difficulties are minimised. In common with other Members, I extend my sympathy to the Castletownbere area and particularly to the bereaved families following the recent dreadful tragedy. I wish the Minister well in his endeavours in the coming months and I hope Irish fishermen will be the winners after his negotiations.
I have been most impressed by the debate and by the Minister's response. It is amazing that every contributor spoke of incursions by the Spanish fishing fleet and the way they conduct their business. The message to the Minister regarding his ongoing negotiations with the EU is clear. Incursions and law breaking by not only the Spanish fleet but by any other country will not be tolerated by this country from now on. I have no doubt that the Minister will receive great support on that.
Spanish boats are brought to task by the excellent fisheries protection role carried out by the Naval Service. The Minister praised this work and the Naval Service comes under his jurisdiction as Minister for Defence. They are out in all types of weather. I had an opportunity at one time to go on board for a short period to see how they conduct their activities at sea. Recently, the Minister was on board a navy vessel to see how it operated. The dangerous work they carry out in tough conditions of high seas and large swells is most impressive. It also became obvious in the debate that the Opposition agrees with what the Minister is doing.
Beware of Oppositions that agree with you. That is the eleventh commandment.
The Minister is around longer than I, but I trust this Opposition. I was delighted that the Minister spoke about getting a package in place that would help fishermen through some form of compensation. It is an important move by the Minister to introduce social welfare and to approach BIM to see what can be done in that regard. He has also gone to the EU to point out the difficulties of Irish fishermen and to request some form of compensation.
I am pleased with all of the Minister's responses. He has been positive throughout. The Minister is correct in stating that it is time we started acting as a maritime nation rather than just talking as one. Senator Roche also referred to this. We have said a lot about fishing and there are many books and reports, but we are still almost at square one. If one was to visit any small port tomorrow morning, one would see the same men in their oilskins and Wellington boots as they head out to sea. The technology of fishing has improved, but we have not improved at all on our way of thinking. Fishing is a good livelihood, although a dangerous one. Fishermen are tough. They have big, friendly hands; when they shake your hand you know there is friendship there. They are that type of people. We must protect them and ensure that both their rights and our rights are protected.
This is what the debate has been about. It is has been most positive and I am delighted with the Minister's response and with the action he proposes to take in the forthcoming Fisheries (Amendment) Bill regarding penalties and so on. Let us be honest, if the Minister includes a provision regarding the confiscation of boats on a first offence, there will be no need for confiscations. All people have to do is comply with a simple law. People will know there is a line and that that is where they can fish. There will be no more hiding of illegal fish in false holds or in funnels. In common with the Minister, I have friends in Spain, and there is nothing personal in this but they have to obey the law, as we must. I thank the Minister and I am sure that when the fishing community reads his response, they will look favourably on it.
I understand that Senator Belton wishes to move a further amendment.
I move the following amendment to amendment No. 1:
(2) to outline the findings of the sea trout task force."
It was indicated on the Order of Business that the Road Traffic Bill, 1993, Committee Stage, would resume at approximately 8.15 p.m. I understand the Minister is aware of this. I suggest a sos until 8.10 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.