As the Deputy will be aware, in December 2018, following a public consultation process in which over 900 submissions were received, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that vessels over 18m would be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1st January 2020. A transition period of three years for vessels over 18m targeting sprat was allowed to enable adjustment for these vessels, as the sprat fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone. A Policy Directive was issued by the Minister to give effect to these changes.
A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen to the High Court challenging the validity of the Policy. On 6th October 2020, the Judge held, in summary, that the High Court’s final order should be, among other matters, a declaration that Policy Directive 1 of 2019 was made in breach of fair procedures and is void and/or of no legal effect. The breach of fair procedures as referenced above related to a failure with obligations to consult with the applicants in accordance with, and to the extent required by, the consultation process and in particular by failing to consult with them once a preferred option had been identified.
The High Court’s ruling has been appealed by the State to the Court of Appeal and a stay was sought on the orders granted therein. A stay on the orders was refused by the High Court on 10th December. At the Court of Appeal hearing regarding directions on 11th December, a hearing date of the 22nd and 23rd June 2021 was assigned to the case. Counsel sought a priority date and was advised that the June date was effectively a priority date given the current backlog before the Court. However, the case is on a waiting list and the State will be advised if an earlier date becomes available. Counsel have been instructed to draft the necessary legal papers to seek a stay on the High Court orders before the Court of Appeal.
As this matter is sub judice, I am not in a position to comment until the matter can be resolved before the Courts.
I should also advise the Deputy that the monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland’s Exclusive Fisheries Zone are matters for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, all operational issues of this nature concerning sea fisheries control are, as a matter of law, exclusively for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the Naval Service. As Minister I am precluded from getting involved in operational matters including in relation to law enforcement. I have accordingly referred the Deputy’s question to SFPA for attention and direct reply.
The monitoring and control by the control authorities of fishing vessels within Ireland's Exclusive Fisheries Zone will be managed from within existing funding allocations as published in the Revised Estimates for 2021.