Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Questions (3)

Pat the Cope Gallagher


3. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made in redrafting an acceptable system for penalty points for serious fishing infringements since a previous statutory instrument was revoked by Dáil Éireann in May 2018; the extent of consultations he has had with the fishing sector, Opposition parties and other interested bodies since May 2018 on the matter; the timeline for dealing with the matter in partnership with all interested parties to meet Ireland's EU obligations on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5899/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this question with the Minister, which goes back to 29 May when this House rescinded the statutory instrument placed before the Dáil by the Minister. Since that time, which is 253 days ago, there has been no political engagement whatsoever by the Minister, despite the fact that, on that evening, he was presented with an alternative which I believe would have been acceptable to the European Union. There has been no engagement with the sector or with the spokespersons in this House, with only an interview with a national newspaper trying to apportion blame.

As the Deputy is aware, on 20 March 2018, I signed into force the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2018, SI 89 of 2018. However, SI 89 was annulled by Dáil Eireann on 29 May 2018. SI 89 would appear to be the first SI to be annulled in the history of the State. Given this complex situation and combined with the infringement proceedings taken against Ireland by the European Commission, I requested legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter. This advice has been received and I am considering the next steps with my legal advisers.

The EU Fisheries Control Regulation 1224/2009 and the European Commission Implementing Regulation 404/2011 introduced points systems for serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, committed by the licenceholder of a fishing vessel and, separately, the master. These are intended to complement sanctions and promote compliance and were required to be in place on 1 January 2012. Both regulations went through the ordinary legislative procedures at EU level, which would have included widespread consultation with interested parties, including the member states, advisory councils, NGOs and the fishing industry. The matter has also been discussed at industry liaison meetings over the years. The EU regulations are highly prescriptive in relation to licenceholders, leaving little room for further negotiation.

Ireland is facing EU infringement proceedings for non-implementation of the required EU points system. In addition, the European Commission has formally notified that all or part of the EU interim payments related to control and enforcement, worth €37.2 million in EU funding, may have to be suspended indefinitely until Ireland complies with the requirements of the control regulation and implements the required EU points systems. I am fully committed to delivering on Ireland's legal obligations in this regard at the earliest possible date.

Will the Minister state in his reply when he got advice from the Attorney General? There has been no consultation, despite what he is saying. The Minister must show respect for the Members of this House whose support he needs to ensure we get a statutory instrument. He made no response in his reply, despite the fact that in his interview with a national newspaper he said he was going to introduce primary legislation. Threats from the European Union or from the Minister do not work. The fact is that he and his predecessor had to go to the Supreme Court, and we know what happens there. We do not have enough time to discuss that.

We want to ensure that the case is proven beyond reasonable doubt and that the individual has a right of appeal. That was not allowed for, despite what the Minister may say. I ask him to consult the spokespersons and other Members of this House. I wish to make it very clear that there is no Member of this House, in particular in my party, who does not want to put either the 2009 or the 2011 regulation into effect, but we must ensure that it is fair and equitable and that there is a right of appeal. It cannot be bulldozed through this House.

We hear that there is a problem with €37 million. That is the very money that the European Union and the Commission want to put into an emergency fund and to suck it out of it. The Minister has to protect the industry and the fishermen. He should let us know when he got the advice from the Attorney General and should not hide behind him.

I do not hide behind anybody. The purpose of this statutory instrument is to deal with serious infringement. It is not an issue, as the Deputy knows, that should be a concern to the industry as a whole. As he undoubtedly also knows, serious infringements are not widespread in the industry.

We are working with the Attorney General's advice, which was received in late 2018, and it is under consideration. The Deputy will also be aware that the choices are to activate the 2016 statutory instrument, which has been approved by this House, or a variation of the 2018 statutory instrument. They are the matters that are under consideration.

I point out to the Minister that we have no difficulty with a penalty points system. There is the issue of common courtesy, and I was first elected to this House in 1981. Not once did the Minister's office even acknowledge that it had received what we describe as the amended statutory instrument which would be acceptable. This failure to provide an acknowledgement is a total insult to me and to other Members of this House. In saying that this was the first time a statutory instrument was annulled, does that mean it was wrong, that we did not go along with the common statutory instruments being placed before the House for 21 days? We are in new politics and we are representing the interests of those, but the Minister is prepared to bring in legislation that does not give a right of appeal to the individuals and does not go to prove an issue beyond reasonable doubt.

I have asked the Minister to state the date on which he received the advice and the position on the primary legislation he was going to introduce.

The points system is for serious infringements. I received the Attorney General's advice in late 2018 and it is under consideration. We have consulted extensively. The Deputy knows, although it may not suit his purpose in the Chamber, that there has been considerable engagement with him and the Fianna Fáil Party leader on this matter.

The Minister has not consulted. He should not try to suggest to the House that he did. I came with the facts.