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of greater efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement effort – this is dealt with in section 21(1) – and increasing out-of-date penalties for certain serious offences, which is dealt with in sections 24 and 25.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from 25 November by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and those arrangements will be superseded in due course by the comprehensive statutory appeals process provided for in the Bill when enacted.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.