Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

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

The Bill is designed to extend and strengthen the sea fisheries legislation in a number of important respects. It provides for the establishment of an independent statutory appeals process for sea-fishing boat licensing to give effect to a commitment in the programme for Government. Part 2 and Schedule 1 contain the detailed provisions in the matter.

It enables Ireland to give effect to the 1995 United Nations agreement concerning the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, which are generally in the high seas, are vulnerable to over-fishing and require concerted international efforts to protect them properly. Part 3 contains the detailed implementation provisions required. For ease of reference Schedule 2 sets out the text of the agreement and Schedule 3 lists the highly migratory fish species requiring protection.

The opportunity is being taken to strengthen some existing sea fisheries enforcement legislation, notably by including additional Naval Service ranks, from sergeant and petty officer down to and including corporal and leading rating, and Air Corps ranks down to and including the rank of corporal, among sea fisheries protection officers in the interests of greater efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement effort – this is dealt with in section 21(1) – and increasing out-of-date penalties for certain serious offences, which is dealt with in sections 24 and 25.

Other penalties will be comprehensively reviewed early next year in the Sea Fisheries (Consolidation) Bill which is being prepared to consolidate and update in a convenient accessible form sea fisheries legislation spread over many Acts starting with the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, which has been amended many times.

I draw attention to the detailed explanatory and financial memorandum published with the Bill, especially the appendix to the memorandum which sets out in a convenient consolidated form the current legislation for sea-fishing boat licensing. I will now deal with the background to the Bill and related policy issues.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent appeals process for sea-fishing boat licensing. An interim non-statutory appeals process is being established with effect from 25 November by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and those arrangements will be superseded in due course by the comprehensive statutory appeals process provided for in the Bill when enacted.

In essence, the non-statutory appeals arrangements will allow appeals, made by licence applicants against proposed licensing decisions notified on or after 25 November 2002, to be considered by an independent lawyer nominated by the Attorney General. Details of how to make an appeal will be notified to licence applicants with each proposed decision. If the licence applicant confirms in writing that he or she does not wish to appeal, or if no appeal is made within one month after such notification, the proposed decision will automatically become final. If an appeal is made within one month after such notification, the licensing authority will have regard to the outcome of the appeals process when making a final decision on the application in question, in accordance with the law as it stands.

Under Part 2 of the Bill, when enacted, applicants for sea-fishing boat licences, licensees and third parties will be entitled to appeal licensing decisions and the final decision on such licensing will be made by the independent appeals officer, who will be a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer with a minimum of five years practice. He or she will determine the appeal, subject only to determination being in conformity with the law then in force, including the legal obligations of the State arising under any EU or other international instruments; such policy directives in relation to sea-fishing boat licensing as the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources may give in writing from time to time – the Minister cannot intervene in any particular appeals case as section 3(4) specifically provides; and judicial review by the High Court if application is made thereto within three months after that determination is made in accordance with section 14 of Bill.

As part and parcel of the transparent independent statutory appeals process being provided in Part 2 of the Bill for sea-fishing boat licensing applications made to the licensing authority for sea-fishing boat licences from the operative date, decisions on those applications by the licensing authority, appeals duly made against those decisions to the appeals officer, and decisions by the appeals officer on those appeals, and an explanation of those decisions, will all be publicly available electronically to the public, on an appropriate website.

The current programme for Government also promised a fundamental review of sea-fishing boat licensing policy which has been under way for some months. The review group's remit extends to a review of the current licensing law referred to. The review group, comprising experts from the Department, the Office of the Attorney General, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Marine Institute and the sea-fishing industry, aims to report to the Minister early next year. A key factor concerning the group's deliberations and the basis of its report will be the outcome of the renegotiation of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, now at a crucial stage. I am sure all Senators will join with me in supporting the Minister in his difficult task to achieve a proper outcome for Ireland.

The review group has already made an interim recommendation to the Minister which he accepted, namely, that polyvalent fishing boats which do not fish for herring and or mackerel in 2002, principally for stock conservation reasons, will not be considered to have broken their required "active pelagic" track record of at least 16 weeks in each of four successive years. The review group will examine the "active pelagic" requirement, along with all other pelagic related issues and will revert to the Minister with its considered recommendations in due course. The review group may decide to report earlier on further separate issues on which it may consider that urgent decisions are required of the Minister.

The modalities for detailed implementation of the United Nations agreement referred to are a matter for the party states and other parties to the agreement to decide from time to time, in light of conservation and management imperatives and best use of available surveillance and enforcement resources. Concerted international action in implementing the agreement should serve as a strong deterrent to over-fishing and so help minimise enforcement costs for Ireland. Enactment of this Bill is a prerequisite to enabling Ireland to ratify the agreement and become a party state thereto.

The EU is anxious to secure complete ratification of the agreement by the EU and all 15 member statesen bloc as early as possible so as to signal its commitment to sustainable fishing on the high seas and elsewhere. It has requested Ireland to make the necessary arrangements to progress the legislation and other measures required to enable it to ratify the agreement. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has advised EU Commissioner Fischler of his intention to seek the assistance of this House and Dáil Éireann for enactment of the necessary legislation in 2002. Only two other EU member states, apart from Ireland, now have to complete the necessary steps for ratification of the agreement and they are expected to do so shortly. We are therefore most grateful to this House for agreeing to early consideration of the Bill.

In the expectation of early enactment of the Bill, it is proposed to amend section 1(3) of the Bill on Committee Stage, to dispense with the need for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to commence provisions of the Bill by order or orders. Thus, the provisions of the Bill would be automatically operable immediately on its enactment, that is, on its signature into law by the President after being passed by this House and Dáil Éireann, without the need for any commencement order to be made by the Minister.

I welcome this Bill which has had a long gestation. Some years ago I asked the Minister in the Dáil to introduce a system of this nature in the interests of openness and transparency. For many years there have been question marks with regard to the dispensing of licences. We remember from the past a situation where some were classified as "Dingle licences" as a result of a previous Taoiseach, Mr. C.J. Haughey, dispensing licences to people around Dingle. It took a few years for that situation to be resolved and for further areas where these people could fish to be opened up. I welcome this being taken from the hands of the Department and politicians and the setting up of this independent appeals type system.

The Minister's visit to the House is timely. Yesterday many of us participated in an interesting discussion with the various fishing organisations and Bord Iascaigh Mhara. We discussed in particular the implications of the forthcoming review of the Common Fisheries Policy and the December discussions. December is the traditional time of the year for our almost ritual annual review. Ministers go to Brussels, declining fish stocks are flagged in advance, cuts in projected allowances are magnified and then the Ministers return and claim a victory because things are not as bad as anticipated. This happens every year.

There has been no coherent strategy with regard to long-term use of this resource. An example I gave yesterday illustrates this. In the previous medium term and common fisheries review, under the able stewardship of Dr. Whitaker, he maintained that the greatest problem for the fishing industry was the high level of discards or juvenile fish caught. He made that statement in 1991, yet ten years later we heard at the discussion yesterday that the level of discards is as high as 70%. On the other hand we have all the leading scientific experts say that fish stocks are declining on an ongoing basis and that there is a lack of conservation.

I applaud Ireland's limited attempts at conservation to preserve our fishing stocks. Our greatest difficulty is that there is a lack of uniformity in conservation at EU level. Although we have 18% of the territorial waters we have only a small percentage of the overall fish catch in contrast to some of our European neighbours, Spain in particular. In the context of the forthcoming talks I am concerned that pressure will be exerted, particularly by other countries, to retain quotas despite declining stocks.

A further worry arises now in the context of thePrestige which has gone down off the coast of Spain. Television reports have informed us that fish stocks and the shellfish industry will be decimated in the area. In that context I am sure that in December the Spanish will make impassioned pleas, not alone to retain their quotas but to extend them. That means we will have an extra difficult fight on our hands. I wish the Minister well, as always, when he goes into these talks.

I was surprised to hear yesterday that about 40% of the Irish fleet has been targeted to be taken out of circulation, although there seems to be no definitive information to prove it. If that is true, the Minister need not worry about any vessel licensing because the fleet would be totally depleted. I assume that is an exaggeration, but it is likely that Ireland along with its other European Union counterparts will be asked to reduce its fleet. Where is the coherent strategy for the fishing industry? We appear to have anad hoc approach. A person has specifically said that 40% of the Irish fleet are targeted. However, a few years ago the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, had a defined brief, confined exclusively to the marine and natural resources. Over a period of years there were progressive improvements in the white fish fishing fleet. Every week there seemed to be launches of vessels in Killybegs, Dingle or Galway. At that time we were upgrading our fishing vessels, which was most desirable and the then Minister, Deputy Woods, rightly got considerable kudos from the fishing industry. The Marine Times, which is circulated out of Killybegs, called him “our hero”. This emphasises my point about the lack of a coherent policy. Having upgraded our fishing vessels with the support of European funding, we are now talking about reducing by 40%. It does not make sense.

I wonder how serious we are about conservation. The most vital area around the Irish coastline for Irish fisherman is the one classified as Area 7. Some 91% of our naval vessel activity is confined to that area. Following inspections, how often have we seen Irish fishermen brought ashore and treated almost as criminals? Yet over many years there has been an abuse of European Union fishing policy which has been tolerated. I am talking about the ships sailing under flags of different countries. Because of the high quota levels given to France, people from Spain are buying French vessels and fish under the French flag in order to absorb that quota, but in reality they are Spanish vessels. According to European Union legislation, this issue cannot be confronted.

Much of yesterday's debate focused on the threat to the Irish Box, which is an important area about 50 miles off our coastline that is vital to Ireland. It is also vital to conservation because it is a very effective spawning ground. The fears are justified. The Minister has legal advice indicating the Spanish and Portuguese, despite what was agreed on their accession, do not have automatic rights to this fishing ground in 2003. That is likely to be hotly disputed by the Spanish and Portuguese. Some 40 Spanish vessels along with Irish and British vessels already have access to the Irish Box. If that is opened up extensively, there will be a rape of the Irish fishery just as happened off the African coast where there has been irresponsible fishing by many countries with minimal compensation to African states resulting in the elimination of fish life from those areas. Where there is a threatened species and a high number of vessels, inevitably the fish stocks will decline.

A Chathaoirligh, you and I along with others had a very interesting trip some time ago in another capacity to Norway. Both of us were impressed by the commitment shown there to the fishing industry. Norway stayed out of the European Union because of its sovereignty. It also wanted to protect its fishing rights and its oil and gas gave it the financial independence that allowed it to stay out. That country's attempts at conservation are impressive.

At European Union level, we only pay lip service to the idea of conservation. If we tolerate a level of discard of 70% that is tangible proof that we merely pay lip service. Why do we not confront the issue by changing mesh sizes or carrying out trials to ensure that what are classified as juvenile fish are not caught in the nets? In many cases, ghost nets are set out over nearly 100 miles and left there. Fishermen later come along and claim whatever is in those nets. What hope do we have if those activities continue? Is it any wonder our fishing vessels are pressured into fishing further away for what are classed as deep sea fish, which are not well known to the Irish consumer, such as orange roughy, scabbard and grenadier, but are now being tried in Irish restaurants. That is the type of pressure our fishing fleet is experiencing.

The ports out of which our fishing fleet operates, places like Killybegs, Castletownbere, Dingle or villages in Galway, are areas with high levels of unemployment and in many cases would be classified as economically disadvantaged. The fishing and related industries form a vital component of the economy of those areas. We must express concerns in the context of the common fisheries talks that will take place in December. The Minister has a major challenge. When he left our meeting last night he was going to Norway. While he is there, I hope he will look at what they do in the research centre at Bergen and look that country's attitude to conservation. Maybe we in the European Union can learn from that.

I do not decry the inspection role of the Naval Service. However if 91% of its activity is confined to Area 7 of the south coast and Haulbowline is on that coast, could it not extend its remit further out in order to board many more vessels and ensure illegal fishing is not happening? There are six fisheries inspectors based in Castletownbere. Although I stand to be corrected on this, in Spain there are ten fisheries inspectors based in Madrid. Fishing is vital to the Spanish coastline and everybody is involved. I am sure a blind eye is often turned to what is happening. Undersized fish are landed at fishing ports on a regular basis along with ordinary sized fish. Some undersize fish are regarded as a delicacy in Spain. Why are there not more inspectors to give a level playing pitch? If we are extra vigilant in this country with small resources, why is the same not true in Spain where fishing is an important component of its economy, which it guards and protects?

It is a small element to our overall economy but it is vital to the areas I mentioned and has a right to the same kind of protection. I would like to know the level to which the inspectoral system operates in other countries. Is it fair that France has such an artificially high level of quotas for different fish species, which the French never catch? Is it fair for them to preserve those fish quotas when it comes to subsequent talks? They then trade them off to other countries when they cannot absorb their own fish.

I wish the Minister of State luck in December. We must not be blinded by the issue of the Irish Box. It is important, but we must not merely conclude the meeting by declaring a triumph in retaining it. There are other important results the Minister of State must achieve at the talks regarding our total tonnage capacity and the preservation of quotas. I will watch closely to see what happens.

I welcome my good friend and colleague from the south east, Deputy John Browne, Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to the Seanad as well as the introduction of this Bill which is timely. I look forward to a constructive debate on the measures proposed.

This Bill is intended to give statutory effect to the implementation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to conservation and management matters. Most of my contribution will be in relation to conservation measures, particularly in the light of recent proposals to eliminate the 50 mile box, which is so important to Irish fisheries.

The new appeal procedures in relation to the issuing of sea fishing boat licences are an area in which I have some experience and expertise having been a witness in a High Court case concerning the issuing of such a licence. At best, the Department's handling of the issuing of licences in the past has been haphazard with no consistency visible in what they it previously. I particularly welcome section 3 and subsequent sections which provide for the appointment of an independent appeals officer to review decisions made by the Department. Unfortunately, this will arrive too late for some.

It seems that certain areas have been treated better and more generously than others in the issuing of licences. Unfortunately, the fishing ports in County Waterford were not beneficiaries. At one stage licences were issued with the promise of extra tonnage replacement which was never given. This is where tonnage is taken out of the fleet in order to provide for a new boat, but, unfortunately, commitments given and promises made were never delivered upon. I am particularly pleased with the appeals provisions for refusals, but is a third party appeal mechanism provided for? I am thinking particularly of a person who is a multiple licence holder and applies for and gets a further licence at the expense of the small operator. It is only right that that individual should have the right of appeal against what would be properly perceived as an injustice. This could easily happen in a case where perhaps a quota of 50 tonnes would be available, which could not sustain an individual in full-time employment and would be passed on to a current licence holder. It could, however, be the start of a livelihood for a potential fisherman or a member of the next generation who might like to follow in a parent's footsteps. The appeals procedure could be of major benefit if it is properly provided for and operated judiciously when introduced. I hope it will be transparent and that any decisions made by the new appeals officer will be explained to all.

Conservation of fish stocks is particularly relevant. My knowledge is based on my experience of talking to fishermen in the south east in general and the port of Dunmore East in particular. This is also relevant to the rest of the coastal fisheries. I carried out research in the run-up to the introduction of this measure and have spoken to fishermen about it. I was pleasantly surprised at their very positive views on conservation. They have taken the view that the fishermen of today have to provide for the fishermen of tomorrow, many of whom will be members of their own families. If we do not conserve stocks, they say, their sons and daughters cannot have a future on the sea. This is a healthy attitude and perhaps a change of thinking on the subject in respect of at least some. I hope that, when it comes to the application of any new conservation measures introduced, they will be applied fairly and equitably across the board. International co-operation is also vital because Ireland cannot implement a realistic programme of conservation in isolation. That co-operation and realism do not appear to be widespread in Europe and the policing of our waters leaves a lot to be desired.

This is not intended to be a reflection on the Naval Service which is doing a fine job with the resources and ships it has available. The problem lies more in our failure to implement a proper recording system for catches – one which will bear scrutiny and audit – because the present system is scrappy, haphazard and wide open to abuse. If we knew what was landed at every port and the whole procedure was above board and properly regulated, everything would be fine, but it is not. The truth is that no one knows who is catching what species, in what amounts and where it is being landed. This is as a result of a failure on our part to properly resource the inspectorate and have it available at the proper times and places.

I have no difficulty in our implementing the law and suitably punishing those who transgress, but that will happen in isolation. Other countries will not be as committed to conservation, nor will they implement it with the same vigour as Ireland. This is not a situation which arose yesterday or last week – for decades we have seen fishermen from other European countries openly flout the law by fishing where they should not, catching prohibited species and invariably exceeding their quotas. Do these Europeans know what a quota is or if it exists at all? Anyone involved in the business knows that boats are landing illegally sized fish in Spanish ports, to which a blind eye is being turned.

Does the Minister of State know what the proposals are in regard to the 50 mile box? Will it apply to the whole of our coast or just part of it? It has been suggested to me that foreign boats should have to stay west of the 8º longitude line. If the entire fishery is opened up, particularly to the Spaniards – who seem to be the villains of the piece – then we can forget about conservation. There does not seem to be a word equivalent to "conservation" in the Spanish dictionary. Our waters could be fished out within a year, in the same way the waters around Morocco and Mauritania and other parts of North Africa were. As they cannot fish in the North Sea or the English Channel, where else are they to go other than to Irish waters? Even if we do open up our waters – I urge the Minister of State to resist this suggestion – will they be properly policed and patrolled? While there have been assurances that they will be, the past would suggest otherwise. Any promise of change will not be believed because every fisherman will recount the current abuses.

Why have there been so few arrests of foreign boats in the recent past? The circumstances have not changed, nor have the abuses, but there have been far fewer prosecutions and arrests in 2002 than heretofore and fewer than necessary. Foreign fishermen are shooting unmarked nets into the water with dire consequences for other ocean users, particularly our fishermen. Without buoys, these nets are virtually invisible in the water and can be tens of miles long. Not alone is this greedy and illegal, it is also dangerous for others working the area. The nets are left for days before being checked and recovered with the result that Irish fishermen have to either trawl around them or risk having their own gear fouled by them. They are both plundering our stocks indiscriminately and without any thought for legality let alone conservation and at the same time depriving Irish boats of a livelihood for at least some of the time.

The Spanish particularly are guilty and seem to be amenable to no law. It is impossible to monitor how many are fishing here illegally, what their catch is and what species they are landing. They are buying up British and French boats and a small number of Irish boats and operating them under flags of convenience. These boats are supposed to be in a port of their flag state for a certain number of days each year, but no one is monitoring the situation. The arrangement on policing is very loose with no apparent will or desire to tackle it, which seems to suit the bigger states. The overall situation is set to become much worse unless there is a concerted effort on the part of our law enforcement services and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to change it.

I suggest that we look more closely at the Norwegian model. They operate a quota system which is logical and beneficial to stocks and conservation. Unlike us, when the Norwegians catch fish for which they do not have a current quota, they do not dump it uselessly back into the sea. Instead, they set the excess catch against a different species for which there is quota remaining. The value of each fish species is different, but there is a weighting system which indicates the relative value of the catches. In our case, catch without a quota is dumped uselessly in the sea and is of no value to anyone. That may be in accordance with some obscure economic law, but it makes no sense to me, nor could I justify it.

Until the fishing organisations came to speak to the marine committee yesterday, I did not realise how bad the situation is. The Norwegians had difficulties in regard to conservation but they brought in tough measures, implemented them and restored their fisheries. They patrolled, recorded and monitored and have reaped the benefits accordingly. It would appear that our fishermen would be willing to accept the same but would have to be assured that any new measures would be applied equally and fairly across the board.

Our monitoring onshore is equally inefficient. A catch of cod can be reported as whatever species is acceptable at any given time and there is no one to inspect it or dispute the claim. This is packed on a lorry and leaves the country without any realistic check. This will have to stop and realistic measures must be introduced and applied to ensure our stocks are not being plundered and that we are not party to such flouting of regulations. The only way to fully monitor catches is to ban all foreign landings at weekends. The Department claims it cannot afford to pay officers to work weekends to carry out the necessary inspections. In that case, it may be necessary to ban landings outside of normal office hours as well, but that may be extreme. I understand this is happening in Scotland and we already have a situation where herrings cannot be landed at weekends. Therefore, what I am proposing is only a logical extension of this.

It is also suggested that Irish boats are monitored more than Spanish boats. Is this a fact and if so, why? Is there pressure coming from somewhere to go easy on the Spanish and, if so, from where? In relation to our 12 mile territorial waters, only Irish fishermen and those foreign boats with historical rights are allowed in at the moment. That situation should be phased out over a period of time and even if we have to forego some rights that we have elsewhere, it would be worth it to protect our own waters. This is not a narrow minded view but an absolute requirement of our own fishing industry. Huge boats, grant aided for deep sea fishing, are plundering our waters. There should be a limit of 450 kilowatts or 600 horsepower applied within the 12 mile limit.

There is an internal difficulty, however, in that the Irish Fishermen's' Organisation has become an ineffectual body, though I know it would dispute that. The Killybegs Fishermen's Association and the South and West Fishermen's Organisation are recognised by the Department and are looking after the interests of fishermen in their respective areas. A new body, the Irish Fishermen's South and East Organisation, caters for fishermen from Mine Head to Clogher Head. That is a huge stretch of coastline where fishermen claim they have had no representation and that this new organisation is being set up to look to their needs. The Department, however, has not recognised this organisation, even though it is proving to be a very responsible body and is even recommending a closed area to assist conservation. It quite rightly points out, however, that there is no point in Irish fishermen staying out if foreign boats have free rein in an area. There is no point in our conserving stocks only to have our EU neighbours come in and clean us out. I hope the Department will give the new organisation due recognition sooner rather than later. I ask the Minister to look closely at this.

I also ask the Minister to look at the port of Dunmore East, one of the premier fishing ports in the country, with a view to generating development there. Dunmore East has been left behind in terms of development grants and that must be redressed. In doing this, he need only act on the directive which his predecessor, the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Frank Fahey, gave to the Department to the effect that Dunmore East should be developed.

A ludicrous situation arose last year when the South and West Fishermen's Organisation forced the closure of the fishing grounds off the south east coast. The Department confirmed to me that the recommendation came from that organisation. The worst consequence was that the south and east coast fishermen had to land their catch at Cobh and not at their home port of Dunmore. This was crazy given that they had caught their herring legally in an open area and it put a large and unnecessary burden on them. I suggest that, in future, there should not be a total closure of any fishery. That has never worked in the past but limited and controlled fishing is the answer. If a fishery is closed there is no supply and markets are lost, perhaps never to be regained.

I wish the Minister well in what is a difficult portfolio. I know he will strive for the best deal possible for our fishermen and I believe he will have the full support of the Seanad in his task.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this Bill which my party supports in principle and I look forward to its expeditious passage through the House. It contains some very important provisions which need to be up and running as soon as possible as I believe the Department intends. It is incumbent on us to give all possible support in that regard.

In my new capacity as party spokesperson on the fisheries area, I attended the first full session yesterday of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications and the Marine at which there was a series of submissions on the review of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. This Bill has emerged at a critical stage in the evolution of the CFP. In reviewing the past 20 years of the CFP, one cannot avoid the conclusion that it has been an abject failure in relation to the Irish fishing industry. One would hope that the current talks at EU level will yield a better result but that is not the impression which comes across at the moment. There is little indication of any significantly better outcome for the Irish fishing industry and that is most regrettable.

When Ireland's entry to the EU was originally negotiated, the fishing industry was the poor relation. An excellent deal was negotiated for the farming sector, to the extent that the former farm leader, the late T.J. Maher, described it as a "bonzana". It did indeed bring extraordinarily beneficial effects for Irish agriculture and farm incomes. It allowed the development of our agriculture industry to enable it to compete at European level to its own great benefit and that of the national economy. In relation to our fisheries, however, considering our island status and our coastline, one must ask why there has been such abject failure to develop the potential of our fishing industry and whether any change for the better can be expected. I see little indication of hope in that direction. Perhaps, as a matter of public policy, we should have a far more in-depth review of our own management of this issue.

One of the many points made to the joint committee yesterday was that, in fisheries sectors six and seven off the Irish coast, although Ireland has 42% of the marine area, we only have 6% of the quota. While those figures have their origins in the situation of the 1970s, we appear to have cut off our noses to spite our faces. I am prepared to defer to colleagues, such as Senator Kenneally who is far more knowledgeable than I on this matter. However, on the basis of his speech just now, one would have to express concerns about the current and future state of Irish fisheries. That situation requires serious consideration by the joint committee and this House.

I wish the Minister and the Irish negotiating team in the review of the Common Fisheries Policy the best of good luck and our full support will go with them. The protection of the Irish Box is of national interest and should be treated and negotiated as such. The state of health, or otherwise, of some of our fishing organisations should also be looked at in terms of public policy and the support which State agencies can give to make sure that they are fully representative and able to carry out the work which their members and the State require.

This is the background to the legislation. I specifically welcome the establishment of the independent statutory appeals process. In a conversation about the legislation earlier this week with one of the fishing organisations I was told that it mirrors the agricultural appeals process. I am very familiar with that legislation because it was initiated and passed through this House. It had a very good airing and we made some valuable amendments. I hope the same broad-minded attitude will be taken to this appeals process as was taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the agricultural appeals process. It should be independent as far as possible and have the confidence of the sector. It should seen by someone with a grievance as somewhere to go for an objective and independent hearing. They should be able to have full confidence in the outcome of the hearing, whether or not it goes their way.

It is no longer tolerated or acceptable that the Minister, although he is an elected representative and represents the Department, has the power to make these decisions. We have gone beyond the thinking which gave rise to that kind of measure and we see the importance of transparency. We also see that there should also be an independent appeals mechanism separate from the Department, which is caught up in the day to day operation of policy and decision making. The Department is effectively one of the major players in the policy and decision-making areas. In this context an independent appeals mechanism is extremely important and I welcome it. We may have some minor amendments to its operation. I hope that the Minister of State will take them in the spirit in which they are intended, which is a positive one.

The giving effect to the United Nations Agreement on the conservation and management of certain fish stocks is also to be welcomed. I hope the Minister of State will see my welcome in the context of my earlier remarks on the current state of the Irish fishing industry and the deep sense of unfairness and inequality about its operation, particularly in the wider European context.

I wish the Government well in the negotiations which will take place in the coming weeks. The Minister of State might clarify the legal underpinning of the policy which originally established the Irish Box. What is our position on that and our proposals concerning it? I am also interested to know the Government's specific proposals, in so far as the Minister of State can say, about targets for our share of the quota. May we have an indication of what the Government considers desirable or achievable?

The issue of enforcement and of Spanish vessels operating in our waters is adding to the sense of unfairness and victimisation felt by the Irish industry. While we are very good at regulating our end of the situation, the Spanish are not. They turn a blind eye to regulation. Are we undermining our industry? Are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? What will we do to change this?

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. There is no doubt that agriculture and marine resources have been an important part of the economy over many decades. In particular, they have been vitally important to our coastal communities and responsible for no less than 20,000 jobs nationwide. We need a debate on the current developments within the Irish and European fisheries sector.

I welcome the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2002 . I am especially pleased with the rationale behind the Bill and believe that the instruments in it will ensure a more fair and equitable fishing environment and a more sustainable industry.

The Bill fulfils a number of important functions. One of the most important aspects is the establishment of an independent statutory appeals process for the licensing of sea fishing boats. Previous legislation in this area includes the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997, which provided comprehensive new licensing procedure for aquaculture activities and the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1999, which brought significant changes to the structure, management and organisation of the Irish fishing industry. The provisions of the Bill are a welcome addition as they represent a streamlined and more accessible version of these Acts.

The Minister has introduced genuine improvements in licensing procedures. Proper licensing is essential in any industry and this Bill ensures that the system remains fair to all. People with genuine cases which might have been rejected now have an opportunity to appeal such decisions. This is a welcome development and one which is consistent with the wishes of the industry and the promises made in the programme for Government.

The appeals system is modelled on the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. In this way the fishing industry is provided with an example from which it can learn, but one hopes that it will operate more effectively and efficiently than the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, with adequate representation of the various fishing organisations. The Bill sets out the principles of the provisions for making appeals, including the co-ordination of written submissions and oral hearings and an advanced system of public notification, including electronic publication. Overall, I am certain that such a system will benefit all involved as it ensures the efficient and cost effective management of a fair appeals process.

Another very important function of the Bill is to give effect to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Ireland became a party in 1996. The objective of this convention is to ensure the long-term cultivation of sustainable fishing stocks. It establishes national sovereignty over marine resources lying within coastal waters in the hope that by establishing such property rights countries will be encouraged and even obligated to protect and preserve the surrounding marine environment and regulate national fishing industries. This agreement is noted for its comprehensive coverage of marine resource issues, especially for its binding procedures for settling disputes over national resources lying outside sovereign waters.

Sustainable fish stocks are essential if the Irish fishing industry is to have any future. I welcome the Bill as it aims to conserve our fish stocks, while at the same time establishing a fair enforcement system. This Bill aims to grant to the relevant authorities the powers to board and search all fishing boats, both Irish and international. Nobody can deny that, given the number of non-Irish sea fishing boats in our waters, such powers would be invaluable in ensuring that catch levels are not exceeding European quotas. The penalties proposed for breaches of regulations are justified and fair. Fines, forfeitures of boats and fishing gear and even convictions are warranted. These penalties are necessary to guarantee that such breaches will no longer occur.

The major challenge facing the global fisheries sector today is the conservation and management of the rapidly depleting marine resources. The key test for any fisheries policy is whether it aims to strike a balance between available marine resource and the means employed to fish them. This Bill attempts to do exactly that. The combination of bolstering a sea fishing boat licence procedure with an efficient appeals procedure and extra legislation for the preservation of fish stocks makes for excellent legislation which will help to ensure the sustainablity of the industry.

Much still needs to be done within the industry if everyone involved is to be satisfied. I say this now because I know that within the next year much reform is planned for our fisheries policy, especially within the context of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. The next six weeks will be the most important in the history of the fishing industry. The present Common Fisheries Policy is not working and badly in need of reform. Although there is general agreement that changes are needed, disputes continue to arise as to the type of reform that should be enacted. I understand the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is fighting Ireland's cause in these disputes and I fully support him in his endeavours. I am certain that his recent meeting with the Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Franz Fischler, was invaluable for Ireland's case. The areas where Ireland could and should benefit were specifically highlighted during the meeting.

As negotiations for the new CFP commence in the coming days, a number of matters of critical importance will have to be monitored. The extension and protection of the existing controls in the Irish Box are fundamental for many reasons. The Irish Box is a biologically sensitive and highly productive area, in which some very important spawning grounds are found, as well as three important recovery programmes. Above all, it is vital for the sustainability of our coastal communities and the 25,000 who work in the fishing and related industries.

The allocation of resources is of huge importance in the context of the CFP reforms. The criteria for the allocation of quotas are fundamentally flawed, in that they do not take into account the marginalised state of the fishing industry in terms of infrastructure. The Hague preferences were critical in this regard, in that they provided for additional allocations in certain quotas. It is imperative that they are maintained. Similarly, I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to seek to build alliances with our EU partners to ensure future quota allocations reflect Ireland's proximity to stock resources, take cognisance of the socio-economic dependency of certain areas on those resources and, most importantly, respect the needs of the communities on the basis of relative potential rather than historic activity levels. Furthermore, it is crucial that Ireland is allowed to maintain the size of its fishing fleet. The proposal that there should be cuts of up to 40% in the whitefish fleet is unacceptable. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure everything is done to maintain the size of the fleet.

The three issues I have mentioned are of serious importance for Ireland in the context of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The forthcoming negotiations represent Ireland's last chance to right the previous wrong as regards resource allocation criteria in particular, as well as preserve the Hague preferences and the restrictions in the Irish Box. I advise the Minister of State to be cautious during the negotiations; it is vitally important that we do not allow any one of the three matters I have outlined to be used as currency, or for one to played off against another. The three concerns are of equal importance and we must seek to gain ground on each of them. CFP reforms must safeguard the future of fragile and remote coastal communities which depend on fishing.

I welcome the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill for which I express my full support. I wish the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources well, with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in their endeavours to secure the best possible deal for Ireland in the CFP negotiations.

I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and wish him strength in the negotiations that he and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will have to undertake on our behalf. It is very important that we safeguard the vital national resource of our fish stocks. I must put my hands up and admit that I do not speak as an expert on this matter, as I have no great knowledge of the fishing industry. For that reason, I greatly regret the absence from the House of our distinguished colleague, former Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I am glad, however, to have listened to the excellent speeches from both sides of the House, particularly from the Government side, especially from Senator Kenneally. If I may say so, Senators are lucky to have as a colleague someone with such a clear and developed knowledge of the fishing industry. I learned a great deal from Senator Kenneally.

I also extend my compliments to Senator MacSharry for his clearly researched speech on this Bill. My contribution will not be informed by such an expert knowledge, but nonetheless I feel very strongly about the matter. It is important that city boys should make it clear that we are also concerned about our natural resources and that we will not stand idly by and allow those who engage in fishing to be left stranded. It is clear that a disaster in our fishing industry has been in the making for a long time. I am not very impressed by Mr. Fischler, despite the apparent appropriateness of his name. He seems to be subject to dithering and ambiguity; he says one thing here and something else somewhere else. The situation in the industry is so clear that even someone like myself can understand it. I have raised this issue on the Order of Business on a number of occasions.

Traditionally, Irish people have not been enthusiastic about fish. It is an extraordinary irony that although we are surrounded by wonderfully rich fishing grounds, for cultural and historic reasons an interest in fishing has been shown by only certain small communities. Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm to which I refer results from the religious tradition of eating fish on Fridays as a form of penance. People did not really bother with fish on other days of the week. It remains a mystery to me that people living in coastal towns during the famine did not go to the seasen masse to harvest their resources. Irish people have been traditionally reluctant to eat fish despite the fact that we have had the most wonderful resources. Equally, we have lacked the capacity to prepare fish properly. Many of the immense advances in Irish cuisine during the last 20 or 30 years can be attributed to the marvellous work of the college at Cathal Brugha Street. Our superb restaurants can withstand comparison with those anywhere else in Europe or the world.

We have the raw materials in the form of fish and the capacity and skill to prepare, cook and present seafood dishes. This is a vital element in the fortunes of our tourism industry. Casual observers like me have seen species of fish disappear from menus; they are not available in chip shops orcordon bleu restaurants. The scarcity of particular species of fish, including that most wonderful of all fish, the cod, is clearly noticeable. This has had a detrimental impact on tourism.

There have been considerable increases in the level of employment in the fishing industry in recent years. I recently read a well researched article by Ed Power inThe Irish Times and would like to quote some of the statistics mentioned in it, although they may already be on the record of the House:

Direct employment in fishing increased from 15,470 to 15,832 between 1993 and 1997, while exports rose by 23 per cent from €236 million to €289 million. With a further 10,000 working in spin-off industries such as fish processing, the importance of the sector to coastal communities otherwise devoid of investment cannot be understated.

The increases mentioned have had a very particular impact in certain disadvantaged areas. I know Senator Kenneally comes from County Waterford, but the fishing industry is particularly important along the west coast, in places like County Donegal. The industry is under threat despite the traditional resourcefulness and bravery of our fishermen.

We have to accept that, as politicians, we are responsible for the problems in the sector as we agreed a political trade-off at EU level. We gave away our fish in return for concessions in areas like the Common Agricultural Policy. We did not value or have any meas on our fish stocks, but instead found it convenient to trade them. We sold our birthright for a mess of potage by tolerating the activities of Spanish fishermen. I hope I do not sound racist when I say that I make no apologies for pointing out that it is perfectly clear that Spanish fishermen have been brigands. The reports of problems off our coast I have heard over many years have invariably mentioned Spanish trawlers, or trawlers from other countries with Spanish crews. There is a voracious appetite for fish in Spain, a country which has wonderful seafood recipes. Spanish fishermen do not give a damn about what they have to do to get fish. When our seas were closed to them, they constantly moved into our waters anyway.

I am worried as a result of today's confirmation that we do not have sufficient offshore personnel. Perhaps this Bill will go some way to amending that situation, although I doubt it. I do not think we have anything like the naval resources needed to police our seas. May I make a suggestion to the Minister of State? It may seem naive, but naive ideas sometimes work. Now that we have joined the idiotic nonsense that is the Partnership for Peace, why should there not be an equivalent arrangement in the naval sphere? If the European Union claims that it can protect our fishing stocks and guarantee that certain regulations and stipulations will be obeyed, perhaps it should be responsible for ensuring vessels and other services are provided. The European Union should ensure its laws are upheld, or at least directly fund the expansion of the Naval Service. If we have to suffer the intrusions of marauding groups of Spanish fishermen, the European Union should pay us to help protect our resources.

The editorial in theIrish Examiner of Tuesday, 12 November, stated:

Giving Spanish fishermen unrestricted access to Irish waters would have disastrous repercussions, not only upon rapidly dwindling fish stocks but primarily on the livelihoods of thousands of people in maritime communities around Ireland's coastline.

The deeply held fears of Irish fishermen, evidenced in protest blockades at several ports, are well founded given the intense pressure being applied by Spain for unfettered access for all foreign trawlers to the so-called Irish Box.

Having lost their traditional fishing grounds off Africa, the Spaniards are fighting to gain a bigger slice of Ireland's resources.

We all know the Irish Box was established to keep the Spanish out because they never behaved themselves, and we are now opening it up to them. We are not blameless in this and we must accept some of the pain. It is absolutely daft to argue to exclude the Spanish, on the one hand, while on the other hand we want to expand our catches. If we are serious we must become involved in conservation. The irony is redoubled here because if we go for conservation and then let the Spanish in, having suffered ourselves, it will be complete madness.

I am sure the Minister will recall that I was one of the people who supported the Canadians some years ago when they got into legal difficulties trying to exclude these people. They excluded them, using their naval vessels, from the Newfoundland banks where they were protecting their cod resources. In my opinion they were perfectly correct to do so and Ireland should take similar action.

The Spanish have successfully fished out Mauritania and Morocco. They will be kicked out of these waters when the agreements terminate, and rightly so. I would like to point out one aspect to the Minister of State. We helped to fund and build one of these super trawlers, Mr. McHugh's boat, theAtlantic Dawn, which is an ecological disaster. It hoovers up fish indiscriminately off the bed of the ocean, much of which is used as fish meal and so on. Why did we do this? When the boat was not allowed fish in European waters it fished off the coast of Africa, putting the tribal coastal fishermen out of business. When these unfortunate villagers come here we get snotty with them and call them economic migrants. We helped to make them economic migrants.

The redoubled irony is that we have recently been arguing, I understand successfully, to get a derogation of the protocol so that this boat can fish in our waters and do more damage. Let us have a bit of consistency. We must understand that if we want the fishing industry to survive and to protect fish stocks, we must accept some pain in the hope of long-term gain and then fight to protect the resources that exist. There is no point having a mixed and ambiguous response like Mr. Fischler.

Pressure from the Spaniards will be absolutely redoubled in its intensity after the sinking of thePrestige, which will wreak havoc on the existing Spanish fishing waters. I feel very sorry for these courageous shoreline shell fisherman in Spain. My heart goes out to them but they should go for their own Government. The Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps other Governments, were grossly irresponsible in refusing to allow the Prestige to be brought in towards the shore where the damage would have been less. They insisted in a mean spirited, not in my back yard, attitude in having the tanker dragged further and further out into Atlantic waters where it will do enormous damage. This was utterly stupid. I would like the Minister to fight for international regulations in this issue so that there will be some degree of compulsion. I heard a wonderful Dutch salvage expert speaking on radio yesterday who said it was a disgrace that the incident was not handled as a salvage or fishing operation but as a political problem. The political leaders kicked it around from country to country until the disaster was multiplied. We must learn to avoid this happening. The Spaniards will redouble their efforts in the wake of this incident, and one cannot blame them.

What are we doing about these leaky old tubs which are floating around the place with 70,000 tonnes or 200 million gallons of heavy crude oil in single hull vessels, travelling through some of the most storm tossed waters in this part of the world and registered in some banana republic? We should require vessels travelling through our waters to be properly registered and properly insured. I understand insurance cover in this instance might be in the region of €1 million. That will do a lot of good. There is an international insurance fund amounting to approximately €1 billion. When that is cleaned out there will be no more money left when the next incident occurs. No doubt there will be another incident because of the blatant idiocy and blindness of saying we will not rule out these tankers until 2017. That means another 13 years for these types of accidents to occur. Thirteen is an unlucky number for some and it is likely to be unlucky for us.

Mr. Fischler spoke about the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Does he care about it? He does not seem to take its advice. He will call for reports until the cows come home but it has proposed a complete moratorium on catching cod in the Irish Sea, the Eastern Channel, Skagerrak, the North Sea and the west of Scotland. This is the scientific advice Mr. Fischler has yet he dithers. Afterwards he called for a zero attack on cod and then changed his mind again.

I have great admiration and sympathy for fishermen who risk their lives to provide this wonderful resource which is significant both culturally and economically. However, we are threatened by the Spanish, in particular, since thePrestige disaster. While we must do something about this issue, we must be coherent, consistent and be prepared to accept a little pain. I will quote a decent man from the Aran Islands, Mr. Fitzpatrick. Since my mother was Fitzpatrick, I take pride and joy in his good sense and clarity of thought. He said, “They must think we are right idiots. They talk to us about conservation but these deals are just about votes and politics, nothing more and nothing less.” He is one of a handful of people who stayed on the Aran Islands. The rest of the fishing community have moved to Rossaveal. It is being put up to us as politicians by people like Mr. Fitzpatrick to have a coherent policy.

I welcome the Bill but I think we have a long voyage to travel in choppy waters. We must be absolutely resolute if there is to be any fish in fish and chip shops and good restaurants for people to enjoy. It can be done but only if we are prudent, abandon narrow political interests and fight the Spanish brigands to the death.

I welcome the Bill and the Minister of State. The Bill, which is very important for the industry, will afford us an opportunity to comment on the current issues which are of concern to the fishing industry. There is one aspect of the Bill which needs to be dealt with but we might have more time to deal with it on Committee Stage. A matter of concern to many fishermen, in particular young fisherman, who want to get into the business is that of tonnage, including the availability and cost. I am not certain that this is dealt with in the Bill. The licensing appeals system is welcome, although it is long overdue.

There is widespread concern within the industry about the availability of fish. The previous speaker mentioned stock pressures, especially on the whitefish species that have traditionally been commercially fished – cod, haddock, plaice, whiting, mackerel and so on. Contrary to what Senator Norris – who admitted he was not familiar with the industry – may feel, the reality is that unless serious measures are taken to conserve stocks, there will be no stocks for anybody.

Our involvement in the EEC has been strongly criticised, but when we joined in 1973 we had no fishing industry. We had a very small inshore fleet with bad boats and no management of fisheries. The value of seafish landings when we joined the Community was about £5 million. The mackerel fishery had almost collapsed and we were depending on sales to Africa, where the people could not pay. The herring fishery in the Celtic Sea had collapsed totally and had been closed for a number of years before we joined because the stocks had been fished out of existence, not by Spanish or Danish boats but by Irish boats. In 1973 we had no real, historic fishing industry. We had small, inshore boats fishing mostly for mackerel and herring, which constituted 80% of the total catch at that time. We had no mackerel market and the herring fishery was in a state of collapse.

Fishermen, because of the increase in inflation and interest rates, could not pay their way. Most fishermen were bankrupt at the time. Soon after we joined the Community, a rescue package was brought in to try to save the industry from extinction. The people who say we sold out to the EEC should know that this is the reality. We got derogations for ten years because of the policies operated by the Community at the time we joined. In addition, the Irish quotas were based on the traditional pattern of fishing. Under the Hague agreement, mentioned by Senator MacSharry, we got an acknowledgment from the Community of the need to take special measures to double the Irish catch. The EEC put £50 million into the Irish fishing industry within the first ten years. Those people who glibly criticise the EU should study the history of Irish fishing and see the contribution made by the EEC in management, conservation, protection of stocks and funding for development of harbours and piers.

As I mentioned recently, I was in the fisheries Department in 1982 when most of the piers and harbours had fallen into the sea. There was no pier in Dingle, in Rossaveal, in Clare. The piers and harbours we had were built under famine relief schemes and had not been funded by any Governments for 20 or 30 years. The history is there for anyone who wants to read it. There was a small, inshore fleet operating on a shoestring, depending mainly on mackerel and herring, both of which species were under threat. What happened when we joined the EEC? There was a transformation. Protection was given, including the Irish Box and the 12 mile limit around the coast, which enabled our fleet to consolidate, develop and prosper. The catch in 2000, the last year for which I have numbers, had a value of nearly €200 million compared to a catch worth less than £5 million in 1972.

I am not saying that the EEC has solved all our problems, but it has operated a policy designed specifically to be of benefit to the fishing industry and especially fishermen. Funding was received for harbour investment, training, management and processing, which I will not go into because it is a whole new development. Thousands of people – a total of 25,000 was mentioned earlier – are involved in an industry which employed very few and was bankrupt when we joined the EEC. People who make glib comments in the House about selling out our resources to the EU, the Spaniards or anyone else ought to keep in mind the traditional pattern of fishing we had here, based on the old London Convention. I was involved in the final negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy in 1982. It had not been completed when I left but it was finalised by Mr. Paddy O'Toole, who succeeded me as Minister for Fisheries and Forestry. The CFP is being reviewed this year.

As spelled out the other night by people from the industry, it is critically important that we have very strict management and conservation regime because if we do not, we will regress very quickly to how we were in 1972 when our fisheries had to be closed. In fact, although the herring fishery had to be closed, it did replenish in a very short time allowing Irish boats to fish there again very lucratively. This is because it had the opportunity of replenishing. The same applies to cod, plaice and haddock in the Irish Sea. If the fisheries get the chance to replenish themselves they will do so, but they must be managed in an effective way. That management must come, not from the Minister for Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources, the Government or the EU, but from the industry itself. After all, it is the fishermen who have the most to lose if they do not take these initiatives that are so important to the survival and development of their own industry.

The traditional species we have been fishing over the last 20 to 40 years are now all under pressure from stock depletion. Unless serious action is taken by the EU and by ourselves, especially our fishermen, the industry will return to the state it was in when we joined the EEC in 1972 – the industry devastated, people unable to pay their loans and boats being seized every day by Bord Iascaigh Mhara. It is worth while for people who are interested in this business to consider the contrast between what we have now and what we had in 1972. There is no easy solution to the current problems.

Unless the industry itself recognises the necessity for urgent conservation measures to protect its members livelihoods in the long term, it is heading into a cul de sac and will not recover. I do not believe that fishermen are that shortsighted. The fears we have at present include changes in the rules regarding the Irish Box, which must be protected during the renegotiations of the CFP. We must protect stocks as a conservation measure, as Senator MacSharry said. Conservation measures are essential at a time when stocks are threatened. Management and development of the industry must come from within the industry or it will pay the price later.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, a friend and colleague from the south east. We have soldiered together for many a year attending to the needs of the south east and I wish him well in his current position. The debate so far has been worthwhile and contributions from speakers have been enlightening. I learned much about the fishing industry from Senator Daly.

This Bill is welcome, particularly the provision for reform of the Naval Service and Air Corps, the unsung heroes of fishery protection and conservation. It is easy to criticise them as they carry out their duties, with people saying they should be in one place, not another and that they should be out catching the Spanish when they bring in an Irish boat. They are doing their duty and it is all too easy to oppose the protection they ensure. They need resources because all they are doing is upholding Irish and EU law.

I agree with the updating of the penalties and welcome the fact that the Sea Fisheries (Consolidation) Bill is being prepared to gather together and update all legislation relating to fisheries. The licensing of boats has been a bone of contention for many years and the appeals system envisaged in the Bill is important. A transparent and independent statutory appeals process should be seen to be in operation.

If the Irish Box is opened up to other countries, there will be severe implications for Irish fisheries. Fishermen from all over the country have told me that it will spell disaster for communities from Dunmore East to Killybegs, Ros a' Mhíl to Howth. It would be a disaster for them.

I agree with Senator Kenneally about the plans that have been in place for the development of Dunmore East Harbour for many years. I ask the Minister of State to act on these plans because Dunmore East has long been one of the country's major fishery ports and it is of paramount importance that it is developed to its maximum potential as soon as possible.

Irish fishermen agree that conservation measures are necessary. I hope fishermen in other EU countries have similar views on conservation, although I have my doubts. The Spanish have been rightly castigated because of their record in fisheries. There has been more lip service than action when it comes to conservation from many countries. Our stocks have been plundered for decades by boats operating under flags of convenience. This cannot be allowed to continue.

The resources for fishery protection should be increased and I hope the book of Estimates will not lead to cut-backs. There is no point in saying stocks should be conserved and that fishery vessels should be enforcing the legislation if we do not provide the resources for them to do so. The cut-backs in the Estimates should not expand to fishery protection.

I wish the Minister of State well in the negotiations. It is always a difficult area and we support his efforts to protect the livelihood of those involved in fisheries.

I congratulate the Minister of State and the Department on introducing this Bill. It is appropriate in this debate to look back at the history of the fishing industry. The whole community, including the trade union movement and the political parties, should take responsibility for ignoring the industry and treating it as a low level employer. It is the only area of Irish industry which was not dealt with in any of the economic plans put together by Whitaker and Lemass in the 1950s and 1960s. That is where the mistake was originally made. When I discussed this with Dr. Whitaker many years later, he immediately conceded that this was a mistake. He said that while considering development at the time, it was disregarded.

I was born and raised in a fishing town and saw the devastation that happened as a result of the lack of planning for fisheries. Half of my class in school were from fishermen's families and they were all poor. There was no market for or interest in their product. Fish was seen as a penance to be eaten on Friday in the community, and it would be mad to eat it at any other time. My image of the Dingle fishing industry then was seeing fishermen coming back in from the sea for days in all weathers and dealing with a very poor market.

There is a great contrast between the market then and now. I can remember the fishermen bringing home the fish they could not sell and those fish are at the top of the menu of sea food restaurants now. Back then no one would buy john dory or red gurnard. At the time rock salmon, as it now called, were called dog fish and they were not even landed, they were dumped overboard. It is hard to believe now that it was impossible then to sell monkfish. The only people who ate monkfish were fishermen's families and the only reason they ate them was because they could not sell them.

I admire Bord Iascaigh Mhara and do not want to criticise it, but I have few childhood memories as poignant as seeing fishermen's boats being repossessed. The children of those employed in the industry left school at 13, not because they were not bright, but because they could not afford to stay there. They did not have the experience of learning beyond that age. A few years later they were given responsibility for a boat costing hundreds of thousands of pounds with huge bank repayments in an industry which was totally weather dependent. They had never learned how to budget. They were still working on the basis of the old co-operative method of fishing where there were ten shares – one share for the boat, two shares for the skipper, and so on. They tried to run modern boats in exactly the same way. It was completely wrong. Many of the decent, hard working men were devastated and never recovered from the shame of being unable to make the necessary repayments and their boats being taken from them by a sheriff. When it came to paying back the loans nobody explained to them the importance budgeting over a period of a year. That is a difficult thing to do.

It is hard to convince fishermen on the issue of conservation. They agree with it but when there is a choice between getting paid this month or not fishing because of some decision in Brussels, it is hard for them to be disciplined enough to accept that. It is hard for people who, for generations, have lived from hand to mouth on the basis of whether the fish are running this week or the weather is good enough to go out. There is a list of conditions over which they have no control and they have always had to make hay while the sun shone. Fishermen need support and they have never got it. The points made in regard to the piers, infrastructure and the fleet are relevant. We have not invested in them.

The threat to the Irish Box by the intrusion of the Spanish fishing industry is outrageous. Given that the fishing industry was underdeveloped in 1973 when we joined Europe it is true to say that that was when it took off. Unfortunately, the industry was so small that on day one our bargaining position, the platform on which we based our negotiations for a deal, was far too low. That is the way it was and that is what was inherited. This is not a criticism of successive Ministers for the Marine because I have watched all shades go out and do their best. Consequently Irish fishermen have never had available to them fishing rights in proportion to the amount of coastline or fishing area which would be described as "Irish". That is the problem.

The Minister of State could argue that if we want to proceed in a proportional manner the funds received in the past were in the other direction. That is why this will never be properly resolved. What needs to be done is to put the boot in hard in terms of those who break European law in this area. We need to be merciless. We need to create an international image that it is dangerous to go into the Irish Box, to over-fish, not to comply with EU law and so on.

Just before the election I spoke here on a related matter – flags of convenience and unsafe ships. We saw what happened this week with the break-up of thePrestige on the Iberian coastline. Those of us who know people living around the coast will say it is almost impossible to find out who owns a boat. It is bought in one place, registered in another, fishing elsewhere and the crew could be from anywhere. People talk about the fishing industry they knew in Kilmore, Killybegs, Dingle or wherever where they knew who owned the boat. The Rossbawn was Paddy Bawn's, the Elsie Mabel was somebody else's and so on. We knew all the boats and all the families. The boats and their names went from family to family. That day is gone and there is not the same control any more. This is a European industry and there is a need for European legislation. In the main we need to be supportive of European rules because their approach is correct.

The legislation before the House is directly in line with what is required in Europe. Nobody who has a commitment to or is supportive of the fishing industry could oppose it. There may be a line here or there with which one would have a difficulty but the thrust of the Bill has to be supported. We need it. The requirement that things have to be landed in a certain port makes sense if one is sitting in Brussels. If you are the skipper of a fishing boat off the west coast of Ireland and your registered landing place is Dingle and you are suddenly hit by a gale force north western and you hit into Fenit to land, that should not be a problem but it is a huge problem. People have been brought to court on such issues. There is a need for flexibility in its exact meaning and flexibility in its implementation to make sure we are getting to the spirit of what was intended and to recognise the pressures imposed on people.

I will tell a little story to lighten the debate. I listened carefully to Senator Daly speak about the need to invest in infrastructure and piers here and there and how little was done. He is correct. It was like the drainage of the Shannon; every Government said it would do it. There was a famous Minister of State, whose name I will not mention except to say that his two sons are prominent in Galway football, and he told me when he was moved forcibly from one side of his county to another and was elected for Galway West, the big issue in the fishing area was the pier at Rossaveal. He spent all his time as Minister of State endeavouring to have it built. He said that having gone in there as a rookie from east Galway not knowing anyone, having got a few votes in Rossaveal the previous time, the box would be overflowing with Donnellan votes the next time round. He was looking forward to the opening of the box. He turned to me and said, "Joe, do you know what? I will tell you the difference it made when I got the pier – my vote halved."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and wish him well in his portfolio. In his contribution the Minister of State said we are one of three countries which has not ratified this agreement. Is this agreement being rushed or is there some reason the other countries have agreed it? Do they consider they are getting more from it than we are?

As most speakers have said, conservation measures are necessary. Senator Kenneally said it is clear when conservation measures are adopted and one stops fishing, the stocks return fairly rapidly. Most Senators would agree with that. I support the Bill and wish it a quick passage through the House.

It is important to maintain the size of the Irish fleet. Senator Norris referred to the massive ships which act like hoovers, taking up fish stocks which are processed on the boat. Do we need that type of fishing in the European market? Would we not be better off, as Senator Norris said, with smaller fishing fleets where there would be more jobs, more boats and more employed? He posed a good question. While it is important to maintain the size of the Irish fishing fleet, it will not be easy because some of it is uneconomic.

Senator Daly made a very important point about tonnage. The Minister of State should explain to Members, although perhaps not today, the issues relating to tonnage, which are a bone of contention among the majority of fishermen. Perhaps he will elaborate on this when summing up. Every Senator agrees that it is essential to maintain the Irish Box. I agree with Senator Daly that when we entered the Common Market, fishing was a very small industry here. Senator O'Toole alluded to the fact – it has always mystified me – that during the Famine so many people died right around the coastline when the sea was full of fish. In Achill and all along the west coast there are deserted villages which date from Famine times, and it amazes me that they could not or did not fish to save themselves from starvation.

Our entry into the European Union resulted in a lot of money being pumped into the fishing business with the building of harbours and piers, which it is essential to maintain. We need more funding for this. EU membership has provided the necessary funding to provide quite a number of facilities the length and breadth of our coastline which have helped fishermen enormously. Some ports, such as Rossaveal and Killybegs, are difficult to access because of the condition of the roads, about which something should be done. While much has been done, there is more to do, to use the Fianna Fáil slogan.

I welcome the Bill. However, I would like to know from the Minister of State when he intends to tell us about the availability of tonnage because many fishermen are waiting for this to be done.

I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate and also their good wishes to me.

This is an important Bill. However, we have had a very wide-ranging debate on the fishing industry in Ireland, its importance to fishermen and the economy, which is to be welcomed. The Bill is needed to implement the current programme for Government commitment to establish an independent statutory appeals process for sea fishing boat licensing to enable Ireland to ratify and take part in the EU international implementation of the 1995 United Nations agreement and strengthen some existing fishery enforcement legislation in the interests of better enforcement and deterrents against illegal fishing.

The non-statutory appeals officer is Mr. Niall Beirne, barrister at law, c/o the Law Library. He isin situ and will operate in that position until it is put on a statutory basis. The appeals process will not apply to past decisions which have review mechanisms which include the courts. If everything goes well and the legislation is passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas, the appeals process will apply to decisions from 1 January 2003.

Senator Kenneally raised the issue of the right of appeal by a third party. The Bill allows for such a right. The Senator pointed out that there are people who want the chance to get involved in sea fishing but who cannot if limited opportunities are confined to a few. All licence applications for sea fishing boats will be publicly available for observation and there will be a right of appeal thereafter for any third party.

All of the Senators involved today, Senators Finucane, Cummins, O'Toole, Daly, Meara and MacSharry, who was making his maiden speech – I wish him all the best in the future – raised the key issues of the Irish Box and the CFP negotiations. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, coming from a coastal county, is very much aware of concerns in this area. He has visited a number of EU states in recent weeks meeting fishery Ministers to express concern about what Commissioner Fischler might have in mind and the concerns of the industry about the implications of tampering with the Irish Box, impressing upon like-minded Ministers the need for support in December when the Council of Ministers meets.

Some Senators referred to legal interpretations. We have our own legal view which states Ireland's position on the Irish Box. The European Union and Commissioner Fischler have a different legal interpretation, but that does not surprise anyone. Legal jargon can have different interpretations depending on where one is coming from. We have our own legal advice, to which we will be sticking in the negotiations.

The issue of enforcement was mentioned. Every time I visit fishermen in the south east, including Wexford, they tell me that enforcement works against Irish fishermen. However, experience in the Department does not bear this out. Statistics show that more than half of the boardings conducted by Naval Service inspection vessels relate to nationalities other than Irish. We must have enforcement. The European Union and a number of individuals, including Senator Norris and others, are asking for more EU involvement in enforcement. The European Union is giving particular attention to the enforcement of sea fishery rules throughout the Union and targeting weaknesses in its findings. It may also become involved in surveillance and enforcement operations with the services of member states in joint actions. It is looking very seriously at this issue. The enforcement regulations might be strict, but the European Union is looking at other member states and targeting weaknesses and considering how it can have very much stricter enforcement regulations in the future.

Senator Finucane mentioned that naval vessels were spending too much time in particular areas of sea fishing. However, there would be no point in having scarce resources in areas where no fishing is taking place. We cannot just send them off on a wild goose chase. We can take it, therefore, that they will be operating. We are looking at a proposed increased service in conjunction with the Department of Defence and for additional enforcement activity in 2003. Enforcement is very high on our agenda and that of the European Union. There will be no lessening of enforcement in the months and years ahead.

Senators Cummins and Kenneally mentioned Dunmore East. I jokingly asked Senator Kenneally about Kilmore Quay. Both harbours are very important to the south east. There has been significant expenditure in Kilmore Quay in recent times and there are plans to develop it further. An engineering report commissioned in 2001 in relation to Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East on development for the future is almost complete. It is not yet clear that it will present a definitive answer in terms of development at one port rather than the other. Development costs approaching £20 million at each port will be needed for the future. I will keep the House posted when the report is finalised and take on board the issues that have been raised and the importance of Dunmore East. I am sure Senators Cummins and Kenneally will continue to fly the flag of Dunmore East and Waterford in the House.

The question of the number of licences issued in any one year was raised. An average year would see the issue of approximately 125 licences following detailed consideration of applications from owners, and about 25 to 30 licences are renewed each year. There will be plenty of work for the new appeals board.

It is important that the appeals board operates publicly and that will be the case. The board will have to fully explain its decisions. Too often when boards like this were set up decisions were made without the public, applicants or licensees being aware of the reasons for them. It is important that all decisions with regard to appeals are made in public and fully explained.

On the question of fees for appeals, €390 will payable by the applicant for a licence or a licensee, and €152.37 will be payable by any other applicant. An additional €76.18 will be payable if an oral hearing is requested. These charges are reasonable and will allow people to participate.

I thank Senators for their contributions. I will pass on to the Minister the issues raised with regard to the Irish Box. The Minister is in Norway today and will meet Ministers from other EU states in the coming weeks to explain the Irish position. I will convey to the Minister the strong support of the House for his activities and for Irish fishing. I hope he will take on board all the matters raised.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 27 November 2002.
Sitting suspended at 1.05 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.

I propose that the House suspend for 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 1.50 p.m.