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Fishing Vessel Licences

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 13 February 2018

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Questions (37)

Pat the Cope Gallagher


37. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline the position regarding the penalty points statutory instrument as previously drafted in view of the fact that a written Supreme Court judgment has found the draft instrument to be flawed and invalid; if a new attempt to draft a statutory instrument will make provision for the Supreme Court judgement particularly to comply with the fair procedures aspect in the judgement; the timeframe for its introduction; if he has engaged with the fishing sector since the Supreme Court judgement issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6757/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I thank Deputy McConalogue, the Minister and the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me. This question relates to the penalty points system and the Supreme Court's decision on the statutory instrument, and asks the Minister for his position now that the Supreme Court has deemed the statutory instrument to be invalid due to a lack of fairness and the right to appeal for the fishermen affected.

I thank Deputy Gallagher for his question. As he will be aware, the Supreme Court judgments on the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2014 - SI 3 of 2014 - were delivered on 12 December. This statutory instrument established a points system to apply to the licence-holder of a sea-fishing boat when a serious infringement of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy was detected. My Department is examining the implications of the judgments on an urgent basis. I expect this process to be completed shortly, and thereafter I intend to sign a new statutory instrument to revoke the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2016, SI 125 of 2016.

Regarding stakeholder consultation, on 20 October I discussed with industry representatives at the sea-fisheries liaison group meeting my plans to introduce a new statutory instrument and explained some key amendments that I was planning and the justification for same. I informed the meeting that pilot infringement proceedings by the European Commission for non-implementation of the EU points system had been taken against Ireland. It remains an option for the Commission to proceed to formal infringement proceedings in respect of the licence-holders system.

I also indicated at the meeting that there were serious implications for the release of funding under the European maritime and fisheries fund, EMFF. The early enactment of legislation for the points system is essential to ensure the continued contribution by the EU to the costs of investment by the control authorities under Ireland's EMFF programme in infrastructure, equipment and skills to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of measures to enforce the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission is at this time poised to suspend EMFF payments to Ireland relating to control and enforcement because of delays in enacting legislation for the points system. This legislation is a condition of the EMFF regulation and EU funding is tied to compliance with this condition.

I assure the Deputy that the contents of the new instrument will, to the extent possible, take on board issues of concern relating to procedures and processes highlighted in the Supreme Court judgments and provide for appropriate procedures to ensure fairness in any relevant provision. Having an effective, proportionate and dissuasive system of points for all fishing vessels, Irish and non-Irish, operating in our 200 mile zone is beneficial to maintaining the sustainability of fish stocks on which our seafood sector is dependent. The points system is equally applicable to foreign and Irish vessels fishing in our 200 mile zone. This system will ensure that the majority of our law-abiding fishermen are able to compete effectively and look forward to a sustainable future in the industry.

I must highlight the Minister's statement that he had consulted with the industry on 20 October. We did not have the Supreme Court judgments until December, though. If the Minister discussed the matter with the industry in October, then it is vital that he enter into consultation with it post the judgments of December. Consultation is essential.

Furthermore, I presume that, while preparing the statutory instrument, the Minister will take into consideration affording fishermen a full right of appeal. It will not be sufficient to say that they may appeal on legal grounds. They must have a full right of appeal. Unless that right is inserted into the new statutory instrument, the Government will not be compliant with the Supreme Court judgments. The burden of proof must be removed from the accused and placed on the State when a charge is applied, which is in keeping with common law, the legal system found in Ireland and Malta.

I appreciate that pressure is being exerted on the Minister by the Commission in light of the EMFF, but the Commission must recognise the jurisdiction of this country and the decisions of the Supreme Court. The prospect of withdrawing funds is nothing short of blackmail. I am confident that the Minister will fight the Commission.

We will await the Minister's draft and I will reserve our party's judgment on signing it until we see it.

I appreciate the Deputy's long-standing interest in this matter. I assure him that there has been a long and extensive consultation with the industry on it. Most recently, I engaged with the industry in October. The industry was a party to the Supreme Court ruling, which was issued in December.

The findings of the Supreme Court were published during the December Council meeting in Brussels. The new statutory instrument will reflect entirely the findings of the Supreme Court. It would be remiss of us and illegal not to act within the framework of the judgment and we will take on board all the findings. That is why it is the subject of detailed legal examination. I intend to move on this issue at the earliest possible date after that adjudication process is completed. The industry would be the first to acknowledge there has been widespread, longstanding and protracted engagement on this issue, particularly with my predecessor. We are now at the last chapter of this. We need an statutory instrument to ensure compliance and access to EMFF funding. Infringement proceedings have also been initiated at EU level. I am very anxious to make progress on this issue at the earliest possible date.

It can be brought to a conclusion. It is in the Minister's hands to bring it to a conclusion provided he ensures that the statutory instrument reflects the Supreme Court judgment and that there will be a full right of appeal and that furthermore penalty points would not be attached to licences until such time as the appeal is heard. If the Minister does that, he will have no great difficulty but in the interim he should have a meeting with industry and consult before he takes a final decision. We, in our party, will then take our decision.

The statutory instrument will fully reflect the Supreme Court ruling.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.