Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Questions (114)

Pádraig MacLochlainn


114. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the implementation group of the inshore fisheries sector strategy last met; his plans for future meetings to implement the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23768/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I referred earlier to the Irish inshore fisheries sector strategy which was launched in January of last year. In dialogue I have had with the inshore fisheries sector, questions are being asked as to when the implementation group last met and the plans to implement the strategy.

The Strategy for the Inshore Fisheries Sector 2019-2023 is an industry-led strategy, the first of its kind for the Irish inshore fisheries sector. The national inshore fisheries forum finalised the strategy at the start of last year, following what I understand was an extensive development process that also involved the six regional inshore fisheries forums and a steering group with industry and State partners. 

Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, is leading the implementation of the strategy, in partnership with the national inshore fisheries forum. BIM has advised my Department that the implementation group met last year and identified priority actions under the strategy. The last full meeting of the group was held on 25 November. BIM advises that plans for a subsequent meeting at the end of March were overtaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, like many other things, and it has not proved possible to convene a meeting of the group since then, as the industry has been focused on dealing with the impacts of the pandemic which have been significant. Despite this challenge, BIM has confirmed that work to progress the identified priority actions has continued and it anticipates a meeting of the group may be arranged in the coming months.

In the meantime, the chair of the national inshore fisheries forum has formally written to invite me to meet the forum. The programme for Government contains many actions that I would like to hear directly from the sector on and I look forward to meeting the forum at the earliest mutually convenient opportunity.

I am sure the Minister will agree that it is absolutely stunning that the last time the implementation group met was November 2019. The whole country has gotten used to conducting meetings online. We have all conducted countless meetings online every day. Could this group not have met online?

The aforementioned report refers to an industry-led approach, which was really welcome and which was in stark contrast to the approach adopted 20 years ago. The last time there was a major report like this, the industry was not consulted or involved in its design. Inshore fishing and coastal communities all across this State, which comprise the inshore fishing industry, believe in this report and its potential but they are absolutely struggling. I appeal to the Minister to get a grip on this situation and insist that the group meets as soon as possible to provide him with an implementation plan for this report.

The important thing to note is that the implementation of the agreed priorities under the strategy has been continuing and it is crucial that it continues. It will certainly be important that a meeting be held promptly to follow on from and to co-ordinate that. It is a very welcome approach. It has been greatly welcomed by the inshore fishermen that this is being led by themselves and that they have had such a stakeholder and leadership role.

I take the Deputy’s point that a meeting would be useful in the near future. It is important to note that the work has been continuing despite the fact that, due to Covid, there have not been meetings. We can see that work continue but I would certainly welcome a meeting in the near future. I also very much look forward to meeting them myself to discuss progress to date.

I ask that the Minister would include in his diary for the upcoming period a meeting with the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association, NIFA. I met them online in recent weeks and they raised a wide range of issues with me. They feel utterly abandoned by the Government with regard to supports during the Covid crisis and the price of produce. I cannot stress enough that they are in crisis. The recent deal between the EU and the US on lobster tariffs is another threat, so there is a range of issues.

There is a sense that they signed up to a partnership in this strategy or plan and we hear, one year on, that there have not been meetings of the implementation group and there is no evidence that this report is being implemented. The sector feels abandoned. I ask the Minister again to meet NIFA as soon as possible to listen to their concerns and then act on them.

It certainly will be a priority of mine to meet with them and I have engaged with them previously. The approach they have taken in terms of leading this strategy has been a credit to themselves and it is important that it bears fruit. It is important to the Government and to me, as Minister, that the important contribution they make to our economy is recognised and that jobs in the inshore fisheries sector are supported. As Minister with responsibility for the marine, that is something I will do and I look forward to meeting them in the very near future.

Questions Nos. 115 and 116 replied to with Written Answers.