At this stage it is impossible to say with certainty what effect Brexit will have on the Irish fishing industry. We don't know yet what changes the UK may seek to the current arrangements.
What we do know is that there is a strong desire and expectation from parts of the UK fishing industry to ensure that non-UK fishermen will no longer have access to the UK Zone.
In theory, the UK could indeed restrict access to their waters and/or seek to gain larger quota shares at the expense of others. However, that could only happen if the UK were content to ignore the potential repercussions that would certainly arise from the EU side.
In a worst case scenario, an extreme 'hard Brexit' outcome would be a fundamental threat to the well-being of the seafood sector. On average, 36% of the Irish landings are currently taken from UK waters. However, for some of our most important stocks the figures are even higher.
Limitations on access and, more worryingly, any attempt by the UK to increase its current quota share at the expense of Ireland and others must, and will be, be resisted strenuously. These twin threats, on access and quota, could also lead to increased activity by other EU vessels in the waters around Ireland threatening the long term sustainability of our stocks.
Now that Article 50 has been invoked, the UK will cease to be a Member State of the EU from March 2019, unless an extension is sought and granted. The EU itself will continue, as will the Common Fisheries Policy.
We must now concentrate all our efforts on the Brexit negotiations at this time to safeguard our interests. The discussion on the post Brexit CFP will undoubtedly occur in earnest once the Brexit arrangements are clear and I do not intend to pre-empt the outcome of negotiations at this early stage.
In February, I hosted a dedicated Civic Dialogue on the potential impacts of Brexit for the seafood sector as whole. This was very well attended by stakeholders from across the industry and gave a clear insight into the real dangers that a 'hard' Brexit presents for our fishing communities.
I will remain in close contact with fisheries stakeholders as the issues develop and work with them and my fellow fisheries Ministers in the EU to ensure that we are all fully prepared for what are likely to be extremely complex negotiations.
I have recently held a further series of meetings with key fisheries Ministers and am coordinating a like minded group of 8 Member States to ensure that fisheries remains a top priority in the negotiations to come. Protecting existing shares will be a top priority for that group. As both I and An Taoiseach have stated before, we intend to ensure that fisheries remains high on the Brexit agenda in the EU and that Ireland obtains the best possible outcome from the negotiations.
In conclusion, I would like to assure the Deputy that I will be unequivocal in opposing any dilution of our existing EU quota shares, including protecting the benefit to Ireland of the Hague Preferences, and any limitations on our existing rights of access.