I propose to take Questions Nos. 1225 to 1228, inclusive, together.
The National Inland Fisheries Forum is concerned with all inland fisheries matters and is not exclusive to angling.
As referred to in question no. 229 of 27 March 2019, there has been continued pattern of very poor attendance since the Forum was reconstituted in October 2017 when 16 of the 44 members attended the first meeting. Twenty three members and 1 non-member attended the January 2018 meeting. The April 2018 meeting was again very poorly attended with only 14 of the 44 members in attendance. The average attendance was 40%. Before the revised Forum met, not all of the nominations available were taken up by the angling organisations, nor were the remaining positions open to other sectors taken up despite a thorough appointment process by the Public Appointments Service.
The pattern of low attendance has been an ongoing concern since the original Forum was established in late 2011. There were 9 meetings during the first period of the Forum’s operation and the average attendance rate was 39%, with only one of those meetings reaching a quorum. This has too often led to sub-optimal delivery on the Forum’s business due to a consistent failure to achieve a quorum to underpin its deliberations. The review of the Forum’s operation sought to address this issue but the low attendance pattern persisted following the reconstitution of the Forum in 2017. In that context, the value of meetings has been severely undermined and the effectiveness of the Forum itself, in its current construction, is open to question.
All meetings of the Forum have been independently chaired and Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) attended Forum meetings to provide technical and administrative support to the Chair. IFI has no function in relation to the acceptance or otherwise of inputs which is exclusively a matter for the Chair and the Forum members. I am advised that all views and observations from Forum members have been considered at all meetings under the direction and leadership of the independent Chair who also reported the outcome of Forum meetings directly and impartially to the Board of IFI.
As I have confirmed, there has been a consistently poor attendance level since the Forum was first inaugurated and not a decrease in attendance. Assertions that failure to accept inputs to the Forum contributed to a decrease in attendance are misinformed. They are also not borne out by the recorded attendance records, the established independence of the Chair, the sequence of events around the establishment and review of the Forum or its modus operandi within its terms of reference. In addition, they are not reflected in the discussions I have had with the former independent Chair.
IFI engages with stakeholders at all levels of the organisation from local and regional fisheries staff, project co-ordinators for the National Strategy for Angling Development, researchers and scientific staff up to senior managers. This is indicative of a very high level of engagement with stakeholders. Claims of a lack of consultation appear incompatible with the very poor stakeholder attendance at the statutorily established consultation Forum, the deliberations of which are reported directly to and considered by the Board of IFI.
I am conscious, however, that there is a need for productive engagement based on mutually considerate participation to support harmony, cooperation and unity across all the component disciplines within angling. In that regard, I am taking a lead role in relation to high level strategic engagement with angling stakeholders and intend to meet all established angling federations in the coming weeks together with senior officials of my Department and IFI. I have already met with two of the Federations and intend to meet with the others shortly. I am keen to draw together all strands of the representative angling stakeholder base for positive, inclusive and consensual discussions for the benefit of the entire sector acting in a cohesive manner for the good of angling.
This is the level of engagement which I intend to lead. The establishment of a consultative mechanism or Forum is a matter for IFI under section 7 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010. My role under the Act relates to the appointment of the independent Chair and it would not be appropriate for me to chair the Forum. While that process is under consideration, the appointment of a new Chair will not address the fundamental operational challenges caused by an absence of adequate stakeholder attendance and there is, therefore, merit in re-examining in parallel the construction and functioning of the Forum.
In that context, the profile and potential timetable for a review of the Forum can be discussed, and an effort made to establish a concentrated and focussed consultative mechanism to which I would expect stakeholders to give a constructive and supportive commitment and full and regular participation for the benefit of the entire sector.