I welcome the Minister of State. I am raising an issue relating to eel fishermen, with which he is familiar. The depletion of eel stocks has rightly been a cause of concern for a number of years. The fact that the European eel stock is outside of safe biological limits proves there is a need for co-ordinated action to preserve the species. However, many Irish anglers have been without a vital source of income since a total ban on eel fishing was introduced in 2009. While there is no doubt about the need to increase eel stocks, there has been an increasing sense that an outright ban without accompanying Government efforts to improve stock or offer compensation to affected Irish fishermen is unfair. The European Commission confirmed to my colleague, Mr. Matt Carthy, MEP, that while the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, could have been used to compensate for temporary cessation of fishing activities, the Government opted not to include this as a form of support in its operational programme. This was in stark contrast to other governments in the EU, who chose this avenue. It was a grossly unfair decision by the Government. Eel fishermen found their equipment had been rendered worthless overnight and that their entire livelihood had been wiped out. Eight years on, they have not received one cent in compensation. The Commission also confirmed to Mr. Carthy, MEP, that it would be possible for the Government to give aid of up to €30,000 to affected businesses under an exception to state aid rules. He wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine asking for this to be done.
There has been talk of a hardship fund for a number of years. I welcome Mr. Brendan Cuffe to the Chamber whom I believe the Minister of State knows. He met the former Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, on 4 April 2015, who promised a hardship fund would be set up. The Minister of State also said the documentation was on the desk of the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, waiting to be signed. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, met Mr. Cuffe outside the Dáil a few weeks ago and he said, "The hardship fund is there. I am waiting for clarification from Europe". These fishermen have been left waiting nine years for compensation. Mr. Cuffe is 78 years old and his colleague from Galway, Mr. Seán Creaven, a man I was delighted to meet outside the Dáil three years ago, is now 87 years old. I am not looking to treat this issue like a political football. All of us recognise that these men deserve compensation and the Government has indicated a fund will be set up. When will that happen? I hope that the Minister of State can give the House a firm indication of a date and that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has signed off on the funding for this. The Minister of State will not disagree that these men have been waiting too long. Let us do the right thing.