I welcome the Minister, Deputy Creed, to the House. I note that if amendment No. 1 is agreed, amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, cannot be moved.
Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, lines 14 to 19, to delete all words from and including “, unless” in line 14 down to and including line 19 and substitute “(within the meaning of section 85), or is otherwise authorised by law to do so.”.
I have to say various Governments have had a very poor track record in fisheries. They have never really regarded it as a national resource for the people of Ireland. Over many years, I have listened to people talking about how much we got out of the European Union and so on, while neglecting the fact that about €200 billion of Irish fishing was handed out over the years to European Community fishing.
In this legislation, the Government is trying to push through new legislation which is aimed at reinstating what was determined to be an unlawful provision under which millions of pounds of Irish shellfish were taken out of Irish waters by British companies.
An upstanding Irish citizen, Paul Barlow from Dunmore East, who is a shellfish fisherman and three other shellfish farmers successfully challenged in the Supreme Court what had been happening. The practice of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of allowing some British vessels to fish inside an area specifically designated for Irish fishing vessels was undermining Irish sovereignty and taking away what amounted to Irish natural resources and putting local shellfish fishermen out of business. That is very serious.
The policy was to set aside the law and not prosecute fishing vessels particularly if they came from Britain or Northern Ireland. The policy was called voisinage, which with my limited schoolboy knowledge of French I take to amount to neighbourliness. It is not terribly good neighbourly behaviour to fish out local shellfish resources. Various Ministers responsible for the marine alienated marine natural resources on the absurd principle that these fish and shellfish species were not a natural resource and did not in some fashion belong to the State. The Supreme Court decided in favour of the shellfish fishermen and declared positively and specifically that marine shellfish were a natural resource and belonged to the Irish people. I remember the principles enunciated by a former Minister that Irish resources belong to the Irish people and should be treated as such and it is a pity we have departed from this principle.
During the 50 years and more of this practice, British vessels were in fact fishing illegally in Irish waters. Parliamentary questions were asked and misleading or inaccurate answers were given. A stock answer was that this arrangement existed under a 1964 convention, which was very misleading. After the Supreme Court judgment the Minister is trying to readjust the situation and bring back in the process that the Supreme Court determined to be illegal. He is frustrating a decision of the Supreme Court, which is wrong. The provision I am opposed to states:
Subject to section 9, a person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fishery limits, unless he or she—
(a) is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles ...
This once again provides for British vessels to fish up to the shores and all around the Irish coast and not be liable for prosecution for doing so. I think we are remarkably tolerant of all these invading species, not only the British and the Northern Irish but the Spanish, who have fished out their own waters and are coming in here. Our own record is appalling. I remember when we built the Celtic Dawn, the largest factory fishing vessel in the world. It was so devastating to fish stocks that it was banned from European waters. It went off to Africa and fished out the resources for local African people, putting the tribal fishermen out of business. They were jobless and came to Europe where they were described dismissively as economic migrants. It is perfectly legitimate to be an economic migrant. If the financial circumstances in one's country are so very bad and difficult it is perfectly natural to go somewhere where there are resources and jobs available.
This Bill provides for a British vessel to fish up to the shores all around the Irish coast and not be liable for prosecution. There is no clarity on what vessels will make use of this provision. Has there been an assessment of how this unqualified fishing will have an impact on the small national fleet that relies so heavily on this area or of the impact on fish stocks because we could be in danger of fishing out certain species? The four people who took this action risked their personal livelihoods to safeguard a national asset. We should salute them for so doing because they were extremely courageous in taking a case to the Supreme Court, which can be expensive and difficult if it goes against one. They were from Waterford, Donegal, Limerick and Wexford, which essentially covers the entire island. I will be pushing this amendment to delete the offending paragraph.
The Minister knows the Labour Party's position on this legislation. We rehearsed the arguments in some detail on Second Stage. I support the views expressed by Senator Norris. I am concerned that this Bill is being tabled without pre-legislative scrutiny. My amendment No. 2 seeks to make an unfair situation for the owners of Irish vessels slightly fairer. If the State is preparing to copperfasten in law access rights to the zero-to-six nautical mile limit, which gives a right to foreign vessels to fish our inshore, it is incumbent on us as public representatives and on the Minister to establish ways in which we can restrict and manage that access as best we can, and to lay down transparent qualifying criteria that can be understood by everybody. We have to police this arrangement properly and I am sometimes at a loss to understand how. If this legislation is to pass, and I would prefer if it did not, we do not want to hand an unfair advantage to our competitors for all of the reasons I outlined on Second Stage. Restricting the size of the vessel is one way to do that. I look forward to the Minister's response to that.
Related to my amendment is the idea of regulating vessels from Northern Ireland, as the Minister clearly is committed to legislating for this. Even if, in the spirit of genuine North-South co-operation we were to figure out a way to do this, it is not clear to me that we can in some way define what constitutes being owned and operated in Northern Ireland. To the best of my knowledge, and I have researched this extensively in recent weeks in co-operation with some vessel owners, we cannot be specific about what comprises a Northern Irish vessel. These vessels are registered in the United Kingdom. There is no clear Northern Irish designation. Can the Minister reassure me and the vessel owners to whom we are accountable in the Republic of Ireland that this can be done logically and in law?
He might address in his response any consideration he has given to an option I wish to see pursued, namely, the keeping of a register of vessels that would be open and accessible to members of the public, the citizens and vessel owners of the Irish Republic. That register could be compiled and made available and could be checked in real time to establish not just the whereabouts of foreign vessels, if I can use that phrase, but those that are qualified or otherwise to be here. We need to be clear about that. We need some reassurance about that. I am not convinced, from what I know about the registration of fishing vessels, that we can establish whether the vessels we are talking about are actually owned and operated in Northern Ireland or somewhere else. I have come across one case in particular in recent days of a vessel from across the water that is owned by a major Dutch company, is operating out of Belfast and was fishing and accessing mussel seed from beds on the Republic of Ireland inshore. In nobody's language is that a Northern Irish vessel. The Minister might try to reassure Members about how he can confirm and clarify the qualification criteria he will lay down for vessels that would be able to benefit from this legislation and, most importantly, whether that is feasible and possible in law.
I welcome the Minister. I am not going to try to portray myself as an expert on fisheries, even though the college I attended was originally set up as a fisheries school. I have real and serious concerns in this regard. I have said in the House on a previous occasion that I would have preferred to see this measure go through pre-legislative scrutiny, where we could have had proper discussion and an in-depth conversation about the impact this will have on the mussel beds on the east coast. The conversation is happening in a vacuum. We are trying to respond to this and I do not think any of us would claim that our amendments are 100% correct or that there are no unknown consequences relating to the amendments concerning the Common Fisheries Policy. However, I do not believe the Minister can provide any certainty either about the unknown consequences of putting this into legislation so quickly. I appeal to the Minister to take a week or two and put this back into a Dáil committee and allow interested bodies to give evidence - be they inshore fishermen or Northern Irish fishermen - where they can be given what I would call a fair hearing. I support Senator Norris's remarks about how brave the fishermen themselves were and how they put their own financial future at risk by taking this to the courts. That has to be applauded and praised. If we are to give this issue its fair dues and fair comment the least we could do is allow three or four hours in committee rooms and ask the fishermen to come in and present their evidence.
I do not think we are doing justice to them today by discussing this Bill in a vacuum and without having given them a fair hearing.
Senator Nash mentioned boats registering in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister give guarantees that Dutch mussel producers have not been registering vessels in Northern Ireland or registering holding companies in order to claim a legal right to fish in our zero-to-six-mile zone? Can the Minister give me an undertaking that this is not happening? The evidence that is being presented to many Members of the House is quite the opposite. Are we opening up this questionable legislation to the rape and pillage of our mussel beds along the east coast and making them financially unviable for our own fishermen?
Can the Minister reassure me that Northern Irish shellfish farmers were not allocated thousands of tonnes of mussel seed in the Republic of Ireland without a fishing licence or even a boat? What are the safeguards to prevent that from happening with regard to this legislation?
Senator Norris touched on the issue of invasive species. We already have invasive species in Belfast Lough. The slipper limpet has already smothered UK species. It has out-competed native species in many European countries and is in Belfast Lough. This is the very area where we are proposing to give licences for boats coming down from Northern Ireland to our mussel beds on the east coast. The Minister has said there are safeguards. Where are they? This has destroyed mussel seed beds right across Europe, yet we are now opening up our mussel seed beds without proper consideration.
I do not have enough knowledge to support this Bill. I believe it needs further consideration. We should have the good manners to allow people who earn their livelihood from this sector to come in and give evidence and then let us make an informed decision. I do not believe we will be making that informed decision today. Amendments have been tabled, including by my party, concerning the reduction of the size of boats. I am not necessarily 100% sure that it is the right way to go. We certainly could tease it out if we allowed the experts to come in and give evidence. Then perhaps we could do the right thing by our fishermen because for decades we have sold them out. Let us try and support a small group of fishermen who are engaged inside the six-mile zone. Let us support them and ensure that they get a fair hearing. Let them come before a Dáil committee for pre-legislative scrutiny and let us take this in good faith and see if we can progress it. Even if the amendments were accepted I would have to oppose this Bill today, because it is rushed, there has not been due consideration and the very people this will affect have not had an opportunity to make their case to the Minister or ourselves on Committee Stage. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider withdrawing for a couple of weeks to allow the experts to come in to give evidence and allow us to take a considered position on this issue and do our utmost to protect our Irish fishermen who actually depend on the nought-to-six-mile zone for their livelihood.
If we in Sinn Féin could be assured that those availing of this proposed legislation were Irish fishermen resident on the island of Ireland availing of an Irish natural resource we would support that, in line with our support for the Good Friday Agreement and North-South co-operation. My difficulty is that I see no evidence presented that can guarantee what I regard as loopholes under the voisinage exchange of letters. It should not be called an agreement because it has no legal status. In terms of the voisinage exchange of letters, if Sinn Féin could be reassured that the principle of those letters was for Irish fishermen resident in the island of Ireland to avail of an Irish natural resource in a sustainable and managed fashion, that would be fine. That is what the Supreme Court case was about. I understand that there are other pending court cases that have not been resolved which are connected to the Supreme Court case.
Everything that I see tells me, despite the Minister's personal good intentions, that it is premature. I would not support Senator Norris' amendment if I could be reassured about all of these matters, but I am not. That is why I think his amendment is probably the safest way to proceed in the absence of clarification.
The Minister knows that coastal communities believe Irish fishing waters have been given away to a large extent under European treaties and the Common Fisheries Policy. There is a real sense that we have not benefited from this immense resource as an island nation. The Supreme Court's decision which confirms that there is no legal basis whatsoever to voisinage offers an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and make sure the natural resource within the zero to six mile limit is protected and used for the benefit of coastal communities.
This legislation is premature and rushed. It should be agreed to on an all-Ireland basis. We should seek reassurance about the residency of people who could avail of that opportunity, that is, licence holders based in Northern Ireland. All of these matters are currently absent, which is why I support the proposition that we go back to the drawing board. Perhaps the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on which I serve, with several of my fellow Senators, might look at this matter in more detail and make recommendations to the Minister. Unfortunately, the legislation as presented is not in line with the Good Friday Agreement because it is open to exploitation. Its loopholes could be exploited by foreign multinationals, as they have done in recent times, to the detriment of coastal communities. I appeal to the Minister, even at this late moment, to consider withdrawing the legislation. I am sure everybody in this Chamber agrees that the Minister should announce that he is withdrawing the legislation for further consideration by an Oireachtas committee or him, subject to consultation with all stakeholders, particularly fishermen around the coast who have not been involved in this process so far. I reluctantly have to support Senator Norris's amendment and hope all colleagues can do the same in the absence of the legislation being withdrawn.
I thank Senator Norris for his amendment and Senators Nash, Humphreys and Mac Lochlainn for their contributions.
Senator Norris has proposed an amendment which seeks to remove section 10(1)(a) from the Bill. It would have the effect of removing the principle of access for sea fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland to fish in our zero to six nautical mile zone. In a way, I am perplexed by the Senator's approach to this matter-----
I am a Unionist.
-----as a self-described Southern Unionist, particularly considering that the authorities in Northern Ireland are continuing to allow reciprocal access for our boats.
It is far smaller. More fools them.
No. This is the point the Senator misses: under the voisinage arrangements, our boats can fish in Northern Ireland fishing waters on the exact same terms as Northern Irish boats. Until the Supreme Court ruling of 27 October, Northern Irish boats were entitled to fish in our fishing waters on the exact same terms.
Why does the Minister think the Supreme Court reached that decision?
I will come to that matter.
Let us remember that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's finding that the voisinage arrangements were not invalid but that, as they stood, they lacked sufficient legal legislative provision.
In other words, they are unconstitutional.
It never stated anything about the provisions being unconstitutional. It stated the arrangements which had been in place up to 27 October which were effectively a gentleman's agreement were not a sufficient legal framework, not that they were unconstitutional. I will come to a specific quotation from the judgment which might, if the Senator's mind is open to alternative facts-----
-----convince him of the Supreme Court's view.
The Bill seeks to address what the Supreme Court identified as being required - giving the arrangements a legal footing and cementing our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. For that reason, I cannot support the Senator's amendment.
In the Supreme Court judgment Mr. Justice O'Donnell called the cross-Border approach to fisheries "an important area of co-operation between the two jurisdictions" and said "there is much to applaud". He also noted that such co-operation was "arguably an implementation of the constitutional provisions which have been in place since 1999 which expressly contemplate cross-Border co-operation in a number of areas." The reciprocal arrangement has been in place since an agreement between Seán Lemass and Terence O'Neill was made in the early 1960s whereby they exchanged letters and as a consequence of which we had reciprocal access. Boats from Northern Ireland were entitled to come here and fish in the zero to six-mile zone in the exact same circumstances as Southern Irish boats. Our boats were entitled to fish in Northern Ireland fishing waters under the exact same arrangements that applied to Northern Irish boats in their jurisdiction. On 27 October the Supreme Court did not state this was illegal. rather it lauded it. It stated it was entirely appropriate and an important area of co-operation but that the exchange of letters was not a sufficient legal framework for it. To regulate an arrangement that had been in place for nearly 50 years there was a requirement to give it a legislative framework. This is not breaking new ground. It goes back to something that was in place on 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 October 2016, but on the 27 October the Supreme Court stated there was no legal framework. Our boats have continued to be entitled to fish in Northern Ireland fishing waters under the voisinage arrangements, but Northern Irish boats are not entitled to come here.
How many Irish boats fish in Northern Ireland fishing waters?
I will deal with all of the points raised.
An important point is that at the heart of this legislation is reciprocity. It is about mutual co-operation. When Senator David Norris said he saluted the people who had taken the Supreme Court case, against whom I bear no ill will, he said that because they were from Waterford, Limerick, Donegal and Wexford, it covered all of the island. Unfortunately, it does not. It is a partitionist view of what is a 32 county island. What we are-----
It is not yet a 32 county republic.
It is a 32 county island. This is saying there is enough that divides us. We can have areas of co-operation, which has continued since the 1960s. That is what the court stated. It stated it was good. It stated it was an appropriate area in which to have co-operation, as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement. Taking Senator Norris's Southern Unionist partitionist approach is baffling in this context. If his amendment is carried, it will be the death knell for the voisinage arrangements which might be considered good in some quarters. I passionately believe we should have good relationships with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, that we should continue the reciprocal arrangement and that, arising from the Supreme Court's judgment of 27 October, we should give the arrangements a legal framework.
It is not breaking new ground. As I said, this is something that has existed since the 1960s. It ran into a High Court challenge and a Supreme Court challenge, where it was ruled on. Elements of this case are still ongoing so I am constrained in certain respects. In respect of this issue, I am not constrained. It does not have the legal framework. It is a good thing. My response and the Government's response is that we should, as a gesture of goodwill, reinstate the fishing opportunity that is reciprocated for our boats that currently go to Northern Ireland to fish. Those are simply the facts of the matter.
The point has been raised about boats owned and operated, etc. Back in the 1960s, perhaps the world was a simpler place. A man owned his boat and fished in his lough or whatever. The world has moved on quite significantly. The Supreme Court acknowledged that it is a different world in its judgment. There are many corporate bodies. Corporates in the fishing world sue me on a regular basis. They are not all Dutch corporates or UK corporates.
I did not use such an example-----
No, but I make the point that the ownership model that may have been prevalent in the 1960s when this was envisaged has moved on very significantly. In the context of the European Union, for example, there is free movement of goods and services. Bear in mind, whether we like it or not, that there is an EU dimension to all of this. Our nearest neighbour is about to leave the European Union and in whose waters we fish-----
I would not bank on it.
Some 40% of the Irish fishing fleet's fishing endeavour comes from UK territorial waters. I am not talking about the zero to six nautical mile zone. I am talking about-----
The North Sea.
-----UK territorial waters. It makes up 40%. Among the most valuable of those species, pelagic fish, it is significantly more than 40%. With prawns, it is much higher than the average-----
One cannot get a Dublin Bay prawn in Ireland nowadays.
Why would it be prudent today, as we seek to negotiate the best possible outcome for the Irish fishing industry in the context of Brexit, effectively to give two fingers to our neighbours in Northern Ireland and say they are not coming into our nought to six nautical mile zone, though we can still go North and would like to hold on to what we catch in their UK waters? It just-----
It is a return to the 800 years of brutal British oppression.
In realpolitik, it is an illogical position to adopt. For many good reasons, primarily because this operated successfully for nearly 50 years, because it is the right thing to do for our neighbours in Northern Ireland, because it is not partitionist and is all-island, because it was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement and because it would be strategically and politically wise in the context of Brexit to do so, we should not say that they cannot come down any longer.
Voisinage was a good idea in the 1960s and it continues to be a good idea. As I said, the world in the 1960s was a much simpler place. Ownership was a much simpler structure. Under EU regulations, I can go to the UK, reside there and set up a business there. I can go to Germany and to Holland. That arrangement is reciprocal in the sense of their movement of goods and services. That is part of what we wholeheartedly embrace as members of the European Union. What the Senator wants to do now is simply to cherry-pick that and say that by this legislation we want to revert back in some way to the 1960s and ensure the man who owns and operates his boat and lives in Northern Ireland is the only person who is entitled to benefit under voisinage. That view of the world changed very significantly as the European Economic Community and the European Union evolved with the free movement of goods and services, establishment rights, residency rights, etc.
Points were made about the resource itself and invasive species and all that. I am getting drawn into a specific view of the world here that is dominated by mussel seed. This is not the only fishery that is affected by this legislation. Let us deal with it. We have a joint managerial approach North and South for the management of the mussel fishery. It involves regulations around gear, closed and open periods, consultation and co-operation between two jurisdictions. It is a template for how we could do greater things and have greater co-operation with Northern Ireland. Why would Senator Norris want to tear it up and walk away? I think that would be calamitous in terms of what we could do and achieve together. Yes, it needs to be regulated and managed as a resource. That has been the case all along. There is a management approach to this, as I said, that has closed periods and restrictions on gear. It operates on a North-South basis and I believe it operates pretty well.
On the issue of registration for mussel seed, there is a requirement for a secondary authorisation from the Northern Ireland authorities to operate specifically in the mussel fishery areas. One can register in the UK, but to be a part of the mussel fishery operation, which is one element of the voisinage fishing arrangements inside the zero to six nautical mile zone, there is a secondary authorisation required in Northern Ireland.
Senator Norris spoke with what I appreciate is a widely held view of the history of our fishing industry, the European Union and all that. I ask him to bear in mind that when we joined the European Economic Community back in the 1970s, the Irish fishing industry was a fraction of the industry we have today. We now catch 40% of that industry's effort in UK territorial waters. The access the EU has given to us means our industry is much bigger. I accept that we would like it to be even bigger still, but in the EU we share our resources. Part of the threat we face in our nearest neighbour leaving the EU are the resources it takes with it.
I cannot say what the landing spots are going to be in the context of those Brexit negotiations. Obviously, whether this legislation passes is in the gift of this House. I cannot determine whether this amendment or legislation will pass. At a later stage post Brexit, it may be opportune to revisit this when we see where those negotiations are. However, I think it would be folly in the extreme now to undermine gratuitously our negotiating position.
That aside and Brexit aside, on the basis of an all-island approach, it was right in the 1960s to have reciprocal arrangements and it is right to continue those today. I hope I have dealt with most of the issues that were raised on the amendment.
The Minister is all sweet reasonableness. I believe the record should show that he is completely in command of his brief. He spoke just now without reference to notes and without consulting his advisers. On this, I commend him. It is obvious he has a clear and deep knowledge of the situation. However, I am little bit alarmed that the Minister said that in the 1960s, our fishing fleet was only a fraction of what it is now. So what? We are not talking about the intensity of the fishing industry. We are talking about the giving away of natural resources.
If the Senator might yield-----
The point I was making was that when we joined the European Union, our industry was a fraction of the industry we have now.
That was in the 1960s. The point is irrelevant because the Common Fisheries Policy only came into existence several years after we initially joined the European Union.
Yes, but my point remains that it does not matter. Even if there were no fishing boats at all, it is still a natural resource belonging to the people of Ireland. I have to say I strongly support the Keating principles that the natural resources of this Republic belong to the citizens of the Republic.
Did the Senator vote to join the European Union?
I certainly did, yes, and I would still sustain that despite the fact the European Union and governments all over Europe and in the United States have betrayed the people by deciding their priority was to save the financial institutions and let the citizens go to hell. That is what has happened all over Europe and it is why there is such a rush to support people like Le Pen and Trump.
I am also a little alarmed that the Minister has almost indicated that it was free range for all the European countries under free movement of goods and services, and that any trawler from a European country could come in here and do what it liked with the fishing. That seemed to be the implication of what he said. I will yield to the Minister once again.
In practice, that has not been the case.
The Minister is saying it could be.
There is no evidence over 50 years that it is the case. There is a requirement for secondary approval-----
There is plenty of evidence of Spanish trawlers coming in all over the place.
The Senator should not confuse apples and oranges. The Spanish are not coming in under voisinage. Voisinage is-----
They are coming in anyway.
They are not coming in-----
They certainly are.
I ask the Senator to please understand that this legislation is entirely to do with the zero to six nautical mile limit, and the Spanish are not coming in there at all. He is confusing apples and oranges. There may be an issue where the fishing industry in its broader manifestation perceives that because we are in the EU, Spain takes fish out of what we perhaps traditionally consider "our" territorial waters. However, under voisinage this is absolutely and only an arrangement for Northern Ireland boats to come to our waters and for our boats to go to Northern Ireland waters on exactly the same terms as Northern Ireland fishermen fish in their waters. What we are seeking to do in this legislation is to provide that reciprocal arrangement, in other words, that they could fish in our zero to six nautical mile zone on exactly the same terms as our boats would fish in theirs. It has nothing to do with the broader Common Fisheries Policy or member states other than the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I thank the Minister. That was helpful. The Minister spoke about seeking the best provisions for the Irish fishing industry. In that case, perhaps he can explain to me why four named fishermen from different parts of the Republic of Ireland have decided it is in their professional interest to take this case to the Supreme Court? They obviously do not agree with the Minister that the Government is at the moment providing the best arrangements for the Irish fishing industry.
The Minister indicated in his speech, as I understand it, that he cannot guarantee that fishing boats registered in Northern Ireland are actually Northern Ireland-owned boats or boats with Northern Ireland personnel on them. Can the Minister give any information on what are the respective per annum tonnages of fish caught in this zone, shellfish in particular, for Republic of Ireland vessels fishing in Northern Ireland and for Northern Ireland vessels fishing in Southern waters? What are the respective tonnages and what is the level we are at? I am not sure if the Minister will be able to provide this information.
I will see if I can elicit that information but I do not have it off the top of my head.
I thank the Minister. It will be interesting to read that but the moment will have passed because we will be voting today on this Bill. I thank the Minister for his courtesy and his knowledge of the situation but I do not agree with him. I am alarmed that vessels registered in Northern Ireland may not actually be Northern Ireland vessels at all. That is a real problem.
The reverse also applies in so far as there may be boats registered here that are not-----
That should be countered as well. I think it outrageous.
In the context of the European Union and free movement of goods and services, it is entirely contrary to that principle.
I thank Senator Humphreys for attributing to me concerns about slippery kippers, or whatever they were.
I never mentioned that at all but I am very happy to take credit for whatever anybody else says in this House, as long as it is sensible and well informed.
The Senator will take the credit but not the blame.
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. He was here on 8 March when I said I had serious concerns about this Bill. I am fully in support of Senator Norris. I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the fact the island of Ireland has a coastline of about 7,500 km whereas Northern Ireland has a relatively small part of that coastline. We are talking about the history of this, whereas I would rather let the history go and talk about the future.
I am extremely concerned that this Bill is opening up the whole area from the cliff and the shoreline at Tramore right out to six nautical miles, or from the shoreline of Dublin or Donegal out to six nautical miles. It is being opened to Northern Ireland fishermen, which I can understand, and there is no doubt the Minister is passionate about this and really wants it to happen. He said that what is happening at the moment is illegal and he would like to legalise it, and I understand that also. However, as I said on 8 March, it is British-registered vessels which are operating out of Northern Ireland, which means the whole of the UK can potentially have access to the whole of Irish waters from the east coast of Northern Ireland right around the south, the west and on to the north. For me, we are giving away much too much in this situation.
I have spoken with fishermen and with different sectors of the fishing industry. The lobster fishermen of Dunmore East have done a lot in terms of working to earn an income for their families but they have also worked to conserve the lobster by using the notching method, so they are looking after the resource. A fisherman said to me that we could potentially have fishermen from Northern Ireland and perhaps from England, Scotland and Wales coming in right around that edge line of the Irish coast. I do not think it is a fair deal. I simply ask that we stop this Bill in its tracks - can we just stop it?
We have the Brexit negotiations coming up and we are putting the cart before the horse again. The Minister has not engaged enough with the public. He has engaged with some of the sectors but, having spoken to fishermen from different organisations, we know they feel there has not been sufficient consultation. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Norris. I think there is a principle here and I do not believe the Irish public are aware of what the Minister is planning to do. What he is planning to do at this stage is create a situation where that strip out to six nautical miles will be opened up. If we were to measure that zone right around the coastline, it would be clear we are handing away a huge amount of our resources. We might be talking about particular sectors here, such as mussel or lobster fishing, but there are other sectors that are also a resource. My heart is always in favour of share and care, and so on, but I believe we are not looking after the fishing industry and fishing families.
The Minister said the industry is doing better than ever, but for whom? Is it doing better for the big fishing vessels? What about the smaller fishing families to whom I have spoken? What about those in the middle? I might be out of order but I sense that some elements of the larger fishing sector are doing way better than the smaller fishing families. The Minister's Government keeps talking about supporting rural communities and so on, but this legislation actually rasps away at potential incomes. I appeal to him to put the Bill aside until he sits down at the Brexit negotiating table and the resources begin to be considered. At this point, I am afraid the implications of what he proposes are not being fully researched or considered and I believe, from speaking with the public, that there are concerns in this regard. I do not think the Minister has done his homework in informing the public. If we are to go forward as a democracy, empowering people to understand the natural resources we have, the Bill is an absolute disgrace. This statement might not make me popular, but the Bill before us, albeit concerning matters underwater, reminds me of the Heritage Bill. It is poorly put together. I therefore fully support what Senator Norris said and I hope the Minister will take time to consider what has been said here.
Tell them they can have this arrangement if there is a united Ireland.
I have read the Supreme Court judgment in great detail over the past few days. It says many things, and we can all selectively quote from it to back up our arguments. I am not necessarily accusing the Minister of doing so. The judgment ventilated the idea that laws must be made in public, by the elected Oireachtas, and promoted and mediated in public and that people need to be aware of what it is we are considering. I do not think we can say with sufficient confidence that the public at large is aware of the implications of what it is we are deciding upon here. For this reason, I support what my colleague, Senator Humphreys, said earlier, namely, that this should be delayed and that we should scrutinise in detail the provisions of the legislation and its impact on the fishing industry and coastal communities in this country.
I wish to make a further point directly related to one the Minister made in his earlier contribution when he referred to and quoted from the Supreme Court judgment, which makes very interesting reading. The Supreme Court judgment states that the voisinage agreement does not have any legal foundation. This decision was made for the right reasons, and I think everybody accepts that. However, the judgment does not instruct the Minister to make that agreement law. It is up to this Legislature to decide what becomes and does not become law in this country, and it is to the fishermen and their families who took the case that we are accountable - nobody else - and we need to be mindful of that. There is absolutely no requirement that the Minister give legislative foundation to the arrangements reflected in the voisinage agreement - and I use that term advisedly. Neither, from what I can establish, was there any degree of reciprocity. We can see here illustrated very clearly on a Marine Institute image from 2016 very limited activity around the Northern Irish coast. De facto, and from what I am told, there is no fishing - at least, very limited fishing - going on in this area by vessels registered in the Republic of Ireland.
From the image I see, though, I do not think the activity is occurring inside the zero to six nautical mile limit.
It looks damn close to me, to be perfectly frank.
It is not.
I am open to be advised on that-----
It is not.
-----but this image is from 2016, a period which mostly predates the Supreme Court judgment at the end of 2016, which stated quite clearly that this had no legislative foundation and that, therefore, from that date, any fishing by Northern Irish vessels in the Republic of Ireland's zero to six nautical mile zone was not lawful. It is a moot point whether there is any reciprocal arrangement in place now at all because once the arrangement is undermined and once it finishes, surely, by definition, the reciprocal arrangement falls as well. I am very concerned about the haste with which the Minister is moving to give this legislative foundation when there is absolutely no requirement to do so and the Supreme Court has not said there is a requirement to do so. The Supreme Court would never tell the Legislature, given the division of powers in the Constitution, that we must legislate in a certain way. It is a ministerial decision, an Executive decision, to propose legislation to this House, and this is legislation about which we are very concerned.
The point the Minister made earlier about the ownership model moving on is very interesting, and it has moved on from the 1960s. If the ownership model has moved on and is more complex now than it was in the 1960s, why are we seeking to legislate for an arrangement that was applied in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and so on? This is absolutely open to exploitation and abuse and is not in the interests of Irish fishing vessels and the Irish fishing industry. The system has moved on and we are trying now to legislate for an arrangement that was in place in the 1960s and reflects 1960s behaviour and a 1960s industry, not an industry dominated, as it is now, by large corporations. Those corporations have been active in Irish waters and have been foreign-owned. They may very well have had licences from the North. I remain to be convinced about that but I accept what the Minister says at face value and I accept his bona fides in that regard. It is very interesting that a vessel can be owned by a company in the United Kingdom but is required to get a mussel licence from Northern Ireland to access mussel seed in Republic of Ireland waters in that zero to six nautical mile zone. I am not convinced the Minister has answered my earlier question about reassuring me as to how we can have a proper registration system to establish the bona fides of Northern Irish vessels fishing down here. This confuses me. We are co-opting out management of this to another nation because we do not appear to be able ourselves to define what is Northern Irish-owned and operated and what is Northern Irish-registered. That will be someone else's problem, it appears to me, and that is no way to do business.
I will conclude by saying something I said the other day. It is absolutely bizarre and reckless, although the Minister clearly does not agree, that we would make and copper-fasten arrangements such as this in our legislation a matter of days or a week before the triggering of Article 50 and the Brexit negotiations. I do not support it.
We did not mean to imply in any way an anti-Six Counties or anti-UK sentiment earlier. As a matter of fact, I would say the thoughts and prayers of everybody in Ireland at the moment are probably with the citizens of London because of the atrocities that have taken place there this afternoon. Certainly, my thoughts and prayers are with them.
What Seán Lemass done with Terence O'Neill-----
I thank the Senator for his correction. I never got the opportunity to go to Trinity College.
I am sure my English would have been much better if I had gone there.
If the Senator had come to my lectures, his English would have been grammatically perfect.
Thankfully, there is now access to Trinity College for people from the inner city.
There is plenty of access. Senator Ruane is a splendid representative.
She is much younger than me. I am sorry I started that. I should not try to correct the Senator.
The agreement reached by Terence O'Neill and Seán Lemass was very much of its time. As the Minister has rightly pointed out, as a result of globalisation, it is now difficult to legislate and regulate. This attempt to move a good neighbour agreement reached in the 1960s into legislation will have untold and unintentional consequences. We have not had an opportunity to assess this. I would not compare this Bill to the Heritage Bill 2016. It is not quite as bad as that, but it is going in a similar direction. We have to protect the rights of our fishermen. We also have to protect the environment. The last time the Minister was in the House, he mentioned the Marine Stewardship Council's certificate. The first time it was introduced in relation to Irish bottom mussel seed production was in 2013. The source of the data for 2000 to 2060 values is Bord Iascaigh Mhara. We have seen a significant decrease since 2004 or 2005 and there has to be concern. The regulations were not being enforced and there was no sign of their enforcement. I have to return to that point and sincerely urge caution in that respect. I accept the good intentions of the Minister in pointing out that there are problems with Senator Norris's amendment. Members of this House have had to react to the Bill without having an opportunity to be properly informed on it. That is why I repeat that this legislation needs to go back to Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn's committee for indepth scrutiny. All Members of the House who are being fair will join me in urging the Minister to take a breath and allow time for a proper investigation before making an informed decision on the legislation he is proposing.
The Minister has challenged the veracity of the Marine Institute's map as it pertains to the zero to six-mile limit. What evidence has he presented for the scale of fishing by vessels registered in this state that has been ongoing in waters off the North of Ireland since the Supreme Court's decision? Does he have evidence of the scale of fishing taking place? He has made an argument about reciprocity. If he looks at the voisinage letters - I refuse to refer to an agreement because it is my view that an agreement should be grounded in law - he will see that it is clearly stated on the British side that this arrangement will apply as long as the authorities of the Republic of Ireland continue to accord to Northern Irish vessels the same treatment accorded to vessels of the Republic of Ireland in the waters around its coast. In their opinion, this arrangement, as they refer to it, is clearly based on its continuing to be adhered to by this side. Therefore, there is no arrangement. According to the letters to which the Minister is referring, there is no arrangement as we speak.
I query the issue of reciprocity, which is obviously fair to do. Of course, reciprocity is central to all-Ireland co-operation and the Good Friday Agreement. I ask what is happening. How many boats registered in this state are actually fishing in Northern waters at this time? How much fishing has been taking place since the Supreme Court's decision? According to the actual letters about which the Minister has spoken, the basis of the goodwill in this area, the arrangement ceases. That has to be the case following the Supreme Court's decision. Obviously, the Supreme Court's decision is sovereign and has to be respected by the Government. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution and laws. It is for that reason, based on the actual voisinage letters, I suggest this arrangement is null and void. It no longer applies. Therefore, we are back to the drawing board and if we are going back to it, that takes me to my next point.
The Minister quoted from the Supreme Court's decision on all-Ireland co-operation and suggested this was in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, that is positive. As I said in my earlier comments, if Irish fishermen resident on the island of Ireland were utilising the resource around the island of Ireland in a managed and sustainable fashion, surely the Minister would be positive about it. I will explain my frustration. The Minister referred to all-Ireland co-operation. I accept that point in so far as it relates to residents of the North of Ireland. The difficulty is that a glaring loophole in the licensed registration process in the North allows foreign multinationals to access a precious natural resource which is under profound pressure. The Minister can see the numbers. The reduction in the productivity of the bottom mussel seed industry, for example, in recent years is unchallenged. This natural resource is under serious pressure. As a result of the loophole I have mentioned, this resource which has immense potential to create jobs and prosperity in coastal communities is being handed to foreign multinationals. That is not in line with the Good Friday Agreement, rather it takes advantage of the goodwill of the Agreement.
This legislation is way too premature. If we are serious about the Good Friday Agreement and all-Ireland co-operation, we should make sure the Northern authorities are asked to ensure the registration process for their legislation guarantees that those who avail of these licences are resident on the island. I have no problem with the Minister receiving advice from his officials to enable him to respond to the points I am making and believe he is sincere. I accept that he believes in the all-Ireland markets provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. He is sincere in his appreciation of the importance of all-Ireland co-operation in ensuring the resources of this island benefit all of the people on the island. The difficulty is that there is a huge loophole that has yet to be closed fully. This legislation invites that loophole to be exploited yet again. The Supreme Court's decision closed that loophole, but this legislation provides for it to be reopened, which is not prudent. We should have engaged in negotiations and discussions with our Northern counterparts to ensure there would be a level playing pitch for all fishermen on the island. I refer, for example, to differences in licensing. It is not fair that one can obtain a licence in the North way cheaper than in this state. We should make sure those who avail of these licences are resident in Ireland and contributing to the economy on the island, in line with the Good Friday Agreement. I am not going to argue that they should have to be Irish citizens.
If ever there was legislation that should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, this is it. The Bill should have come through the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We should have been able to bring in the stakeholders - the fishermen around the coast - to make an argument about the reality for them versus that for those who will benefit from the Bill. I remind the Minister that the voisinage letters are very clear. There is no other way to interpret them. Following the Supreme Court's decision, the arrangement is null and void. Dr. Beamish is advising the Minister.
Following the Supreme Court decision, it is very clear the voisinage arrangement is null and void so we do not have a responsibility to legislate or to restore anything. It is a blank canvas. I believe the Minister's sincere objective is an all-Ireland fishery, which makes particular sense to a person such as me from Donegal, so let us commence negotiations. Let us bring the Northern departmental officials and all the fishing interests to the Oireachtas committee.
This is premature and smacks of senior Department officials, frustrated at the Supreme Court's decision, deciding to use taxpayers' money to defend their position and utilise these Houses to teach a lesson to the people who took the case. This is clearly rushed because the Minister is creating a loophole. The court cases are not concluded and certain matters have to go through the High Court.
The people involved took the case because of the exploitation of Irish natural resources by foreign multinationals. That is a laudable reason to take a case and I know of nobody in coastal communities from Donegal to Louth who feels we are getting full justice from Irish waters or from our huge resources as an island nation. I have no problem with coastal communities across the island of Ireland sharing our resources but in the zero to six km and zero to 12 km zones there is exploitation by foreign multinationals of an Irish natural resource. I will not stand for it because I do not believe we got a fair deal outside those limits. The Common Fisheries Policy has not given our fishing communities a fair deal.
When it commenced, many years ago, our fishing communities were not equipped, resourced or ready.
Or protected. The injustice of the Common Fisheries Policy is an argument for another day but today we have a blank canvas to protect an immense resource, particularly the bottom mussel industry. It should be a resource for Irish citizens. Natural resources are things we have to protect and the legislation the Minister is introducing brings back a loophole that can be exploited by foreign multinationals to plunder a natural resource belonging to the Irish people under the guise of all-Ireland co-operation. That is just wrong.
The voisinage letters of the British side state, "This arrangement will apply as long as the authorities in the Republic of Ireland continue to accord to Northern Irish vessels the same treatment as they would accord to vessels of the Republic of Ireland in the waters around the coast of the Republic." However, following the Supreme Court decision there is no voisinage arrangement any more. There is no issue of reciprocity and we have a blank canvas which we need to fill out in a fair way for all our fishermen around the coast of Ireland. I ask the Minister to withdraw this legislation and nobody would object if he did. He could withdraw it for a number of months to allow our committee to bring in the relevant stakeholders and to deal with the issue in a thoughtful way.
I am totally opposed to this Bill, particularly after meeting with some of the people who will be directly affected by its implementation. I want to be their voice as they feel their livelihoods are being threatened and that they will be forced to give up fishing and to give up the legacy to their families. I do not know if the Minister has seen the film "Atlantic" but I would encourage him to watch it because it shows what fishermen in coastal communities have to deal with. The Irish Fish Producers' Organisation has stated that there has been no consultation with it about the Bill and that it is a departure from the norm and a breach of the Common Fisheries Policy. I ask the Minister to enter into meaningful discussion with fishermen whose livelihoods will be impacted by the legislation. It is detrimental to them and the Minister should see for himself what it is like for them.
The Bill will decimate the inshore stocks and destroy local inshore fisheries which our coastal communities depend heavily on. My father comes from Rathlin Island, the only island in the Six Counties and I go there four or five times a year as we still have the old farmhouse there. I know all the fishermen and some members of my family are fishermen from the North. I am not opposed to them fishing in our waters. This is not about nationality but sustainability. These are relatively delicate areas that can only withstand certain amounts of extraction. The concerns of the fishermen were expressed to me by Gerard Kelly, who is in the Gallery, when he said:
I am also concerned on the disadvantage and inequality that the Minister will inflict on all Irish fishing vessels. Firstly on reciprocity, the six-county coast is about 16% of the coast of Ireland and usually they find an excuse to keep it to themselves. Why would any Irish fisherman wish to swap 84% for 16%? A Minister may get good relations but angry fishermen back at home. But the inequality is actually worse. If the Irish Minister introduces legislation to allow a six-county fisherman or fishing boat access to all the waters around Ireland then that six-county fishing boat will have access to all the fishing waters around the whole coast of the 32 counties and all the coast of the UK. At the same time the Irish fishermen, represented by their Irish Minister, are telling the 2,100 Irish fishing boats "you will have a UK fishing fleet in your foreshore and you 2,100 Irish vessels owners can have access to the coast of the six counties". Any six county or any foreign Minister would welcome a deal like this. Please let us not be duped again.
It would be very courageous on the part of the Minister to put this Bill off for a short period of time until we sit down and listen to the fishermen of our country tell us of the devastation this will cause to their lives, their families and coastal communities. I plead with the Minister not to go through with this.
I agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn. I would like to know why this Bill is now being pushed through. Article 50 is going to be triggered by the British Government soon. Would this not have been a useful bargaining tool during upcoming Brexit negotiations? The Minister is a very good man and is passionate about this but I ask him to listen to the fishermen. I urge him to have the courage to put it off for another month or two.
I will not speak at length because Senator Grace O'Sullivan spoke very eloquently about what it means for the marine and Senator Nash gave the legal context. I add my concern to their voices.
I am concerned in particular over the fact that the legislation seems to be extremely pre-emptive. It is coming at a time when we hear there are ongoing court cases, which is unusual. It is coming at a time when this Chamber is to begin its debates and discussions on Brexit. We know the negotiations on Brexit will be very intensive over the coming period. My key concern is that we do not have any indication as to how we can be assured in terms of legislation and where accountability will be if there are multinational corporations, which are the main concern, registered in the United Kingdom and operating out of Northern Ireland. How can we be assured? Where will prosecution take place when we are no longer protected by common EU policies on prosecution, for example, including in cases where ships are extracting within the waters around Galway, Clare and Waterford? What will be our mechanisms for ensuring accountability and culpability? How have they been thought through? Have they been thought through and are they adequate and workable in practice?
I have a concern regarding coastal communities and maintaining a relationship between them and the foreshore. I also have a serious environmental concern. In Ireland we are currently hearing about positive practices, such as notching in respect of lobster fishing. I have a concern and question in this regard. With regard to the gathering of seaweed, including kelp, and the foreshore-----
We have already sold that out.
That is an area that has become increasingly important also. I would like to understand exactly how we can ensure we are not damaging an industry of extreme importance along the west coast. I refer to sustainable practices in terms of food and the health benefits of seaweed. This is a huge area of concern. I am not confident and do not see how we can meaningfully regulate and be sure of regulation and meaningful accountability when we simply have a right to swoop in and move back, potentially to ports in the United Kingdom, for example, that will potentially be outside our jurisdiction and without even the protections, such as may exist, related to a common EU exchange. It seems that we are giving a hostage to fortune.
I refer to moving something from a context of an arrangement into a legally set piece of legislation. This is quite a significant step up. We are losing our discretion and flexibility. We are making ourselves vulnerable to potential lawsuits from multinational corporations that may happen to register themselves at a point of convenience. Unfortunately, both Ireland and the United Kingdom have had experiences in the past with the brass plate company, the registered corporation and the multinational company. It is very legitimate and reasonable to ask whether we are laying ourselves open in a new way to potential lawsuits from companies if we try to regulate in the future and impose limits.
I share the concerns expressed here. It is very reasonable to postpone, at least until after Easter, thus giving the Minister an opportunity to speak to others on this. It would give us a chance in this House to debate these very important issues as part of our wider discussion on Brexit. There needs to be much more clear guidance and consultation not only on how the law would be applied to the letter and on regulation but also on the practice and what will and will not be viable. A risk analysis is needed. I urge the Minister, at a minimum, to take the time to engage in consultation and engage in the risk analysis.