On Thursday last I put a question to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries in connection with the evacuation of the island of Inistrahull on the coast of Donegal. In that question I embodied a certain thing that I hold, and that the people concerned hold, was responsible for their having to leave the island, and that is the poaching by trawlers inside prohibited waters. It was such an important question that I felt compelled to raise the matter on the adjournment to-night. It does not alone apply to the people of Inistrahull but to the people of the whole seaboard. For the information of those Deputies who have remained for this debate, I should like to say that Inistrahull Island is situated six miles to the north-east of Malin Head. It is 114 acres in extent and it is one of the few places in this country where the population actually increased by almost 100 per cent. from 1881 to 1901. The people there earned their livelihood from the fishing industry. They had a school and they had a graveyard. Some weeks ago the people were compelled to evacuate the islanden bloc; the school-house and the homes were deserted and the island was left practically derelict, except for a lightkeeper. I will give the Dáil a simile: It was Ireland on a small scale, though, as a matter of fact, it was in a far better position than the mainland, because the population had actually increased from 49 inhabitants to 65, while, owing to the famine, the population of Ireland had decreased by over fifty per cent. The people of the island were dependent for their livelihood on the fishing industry. They had very small boats for inshore fishing; they could line fish; and fish with nets during the herring season. Then the foreign trawlers came along. I am including in foreign trawlers Scotch and English trawlers and French fishing smacks. On the grounds where these people formerly could catch such fish as plaice, cod, herring, ling, halibut, turbot, salmon and lobster, in their different seasons, they now find it absolutely impossible to eke out the livelihood which they had been able to earn before the poaching by the trawlers came into operation.
In order to show how prolific were the spawning beds off the coast of Donegal I shall quote from a fishery commission report of the year 1837, which will also show the deterioration that has since taken place. In that year there were 6,613 fishermen recorded on the coast of Donegal operating in 1,272 boats. A Lieutenant Hamilton, in his evidence before the Commission, stated that a good row boat at that time, in the five or six weeks of the herring fishing season, could make from £30 to £50, which works out at from £6 to £10 per week per boat. That is 92 years ago, and at the present time there are not 6,613 men on the coast of Donegal, showing that we have not progressed. It has been retrogression all along the line. According to the Gaeltacht Commission's Report there are 12,000 fishermen along the whole sea-board of the Twenty-six Counties. There were half that number in Donegal alone 92 years ago. At the time that Lieutenant Hamilton gave his evidence before the Commission in 1837, herrings were sold at from 5/- to 10/- per thousand. There are better prices prevailing now, but there is not a fishing or a row boat in the Twenty-six Counties capable at present, even with increased prices, of earning from £6 to £10 per week per boat. Why? When the trawlers started illegal fishing all the beds inside the territorial waters of the Free State were swept to this extent, that in evidence given in a prosecution in Donegal it was stated —and this is authentic—that a trawl belonging to a foreign trawler—I am classing the British as foreign trawlers—sweeping inside the three-mile limit, or inside our territorial waters, lifted a dinner plate on which was the stamp of the Anchor Line Company. That dinner plate had evidently fallen overboard from an Anchor Line boat, and was actually lifted off the bottom of the sea by this trawler. I have seen myself a jack-knife lifted off the bottom by a trawl. These boats, which are capable of lifting a dinner plate or a jackknife off the bottom of the sea, are also capable of sweeping the spawning beds until the beds are made absolutely worthless.
The people of Inistrahull Island could shoot lines from a row boat When prices were low they could make a decent living. As Lieutenant Hamilton said, they could make from £6 to £10 per week at herring fishing —they could make a decent living shooting lines. But at the present time it takes a steamboat to go twenty miles off the coast of Donegal in halibut fishing to make a living, and the native fishermen cannot hope to do that. They have not got the facilities. No doubt the Minister for Fisheries is faced with a big job and there should be no impediments in his way. But there is an impediment, and a big one, and I want to point it out to the House. Eighteen months ago, and down to last week, questions have been asked of the Minister in regard to illegal fishing, and the Minister answered that he had no knowledge of illegal fishing: that he had had no complaints. I beg to differ. I have put it up to him. and I understand that even the inspectors of fisheries along the coast have put it up to him, that there was illegal trawling going on; and to bear out my statement I simply ask the Minister to obtain the log-book of the Helga and read the record of the captures that have been made by the Helga. Furthermore, I ask the Minister to produce the day book of the Civic Guard in Killybegs to prove that there have been certain foreign trawlers arrested for illegal fishing inside our territorial waters, and that there were fines imposed upon them but never collected. As an example, I give an instance that happened the third week in September off Malin Head.
A local fisherman had set his lobster-pots when there came along French smacks lobster fishing. The Minister may or may not know what these French smacks are doing. They have a certain draft and in the keels they have a grill and they have fresh sea water washing into a tank. They set their lobster pots inside our waters for lobster, crab and cray fish. When they get the fish they put them into the tank and feed them and they are able to keep on fishing for a week or a fortnight or three weeks, and when they return to France they bring these shell-fish with them in an absolutely perfect condition for the French market. Not alone that, but when they get immature shell-fish they bring them to the French coast and plant them there for future use. Not only are they robbing us at present but they are making provision for their own future. What have they done? Owing to certain circumstances they have got so bold that at Malinbeg, in the third week of September, they actually lifted lobster-pots belonging to an Irish fisherman and replaced them with their own pots and when the local fishermen went to remonstrate a French fisherman presented a gun at them and warned them off.
We spend upon the Civic Guard the sum of £1,558,582 per year. On the Army we spend £1,967,934 per year, and on the patrol boat £8,000 per year, bringing the whole up to the grand total of £3,534,516, and we cannot stop a Frenchman from presenting a rifle at the head of our native fishermen. We cannot do a thing. If the Minister considers that after spending three-and-a-half millions on the defence forces those forces are not capable of defending our own native fishermen and preventing their unemployment and preventing them going to America to obtain a livelihood, then I say to the Minister: "Hand over sufficient arms and ammunition to other people to do it and they will stop it and stop it damn quick." If the Minister does not do it soon somebody else will do it and then, if you have any international status, you are going to have international complications continuously.