One of the justifications for this Bill in connection with pelagic fish vouchsafed by the Minister was that persons engaged in canning, fishmeal manufacture and deep freeze fish might find themselves short of supplies. It is astonishing the way the world can be turned upside down for the purpose of argument. I find it hard to believe that the Minister for Lands is not familiar with the background to this situation.
The fishmeal factory was started by me in Killybegs. If the Minister wants to look up the discussions that led to it he will find them all recorded solemnly in the files of the Department. It was patently manifest to us that unless and until you had fishmeal manufacturing capacity you could not say to Irish fishermen: "Go out and catch all the herrings you can in the absolute certainty that, no matter what quantity you bring in, you will never again be asked to throw it back into the sea." The purpose of establishing the fishmeal factory was to enable us to say that to the fishermen The fishmeal factory was put np as a safeguard for the fishermen.
I know, and the Minister knows, that since that decision was taken the European situation with regard to the supply of herrings has radically changed. Three years ago there was a chronic condition of surplus. Now this mysterious disappearance of herring from the North Sea has transpired and temporarily, at least, we can sell all our herring in the fresh fish trade. There is no question of surplus. But the fact that there is no question of surplus should, I imagine, be raising entirely different considerations in the Minister's mind. Instead of announcing that he is going to authorise all and sundry to go out and fish for herring, he ought to ask himself: are the fellows to whom we gave boats using them to bring in herring in greater quantity? I do not believe that all the existing boats are being used 100 per cent.
If the Minister has any confidence in the continuance of the present herring situation, and if he believes that the existing boats are being used to the limit of their capacity, here is the glorious opportunity for which we have been waiting for years in order to multiply and increase the number of owner-fishermen on those parts of our coast where the herring fishing is abundant. Just imagine the desirability of doubling the number of fellows who own their boats on the Donegal coast, up around Burtonport and Killybegs, in Ring in Waterford, and in Dungarvan, where the herring appear to be abundant, and in every part of the coast where the herring are present.
We are now in a position to say to the fishermen: "Go now and take full advantage of the abundant market that there is for fresh fish with the assurance that, if the situation ever deteriorates in the herring market into the state in which it was in 1955, 1956 and 1957, we are building in Ireland fishmeal factories which will absorb any surplus herring in the future, albeit not at the price that the ‘fresh' market is in a position to pay."
I planned to build the fishmeal factory at Killybegs through An Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Department of Fisheries. Then there came along a German firm which expressed its desire to get the concession to build the fish meal factory there. I asked the Government to give them that permission, but I certainly would not have given that permission had there been any suggestion whatever that they would found on that permission a claim to operate trawlers themselves. I have no hesitation in saying to the Minister that, before putting his foot on that slippery slope, he should not hesitate to say to these people: "If you find yourselves in difficulty we will take the factory over from you." We want the factory there in order to put the herring fishing on a permanent basis. We probably want another factory of a smaller character somewhere in the South East, if experience teaches us that there is a chronic surplus of herring to be had. But we certainly should not allow the concessionaires in Killybegs to make any representation to this Parliament that the fact that they built a factory in Killybegs gives them any sort of prescriptive right to operate trawlers in order to bring in herring to supply themselves, because that was not the purpose for which the fishmeal factory was located there.
The whole thing is haywire, if you once allow companies to operate trawlers into this country. The whole price structure is founded on the proposition that fish will be landed here by owner-proprietor and, if you once depart from that, then the sensible thing to do is to do away with the whole system of a protected fish market in this country and, if you want to go in for manufacturing fishmeal, canning fish and industrial operations of that character, let these industrial operatives buy their raw material from the cheapest source of supply.
That is what has happened and I am warning Oireachtas Eireann but they will not listen to me for the time being until, probably, it is too late. This Government will get the bit between their teeth. Fishermen, farmers and everybody else whose livelihood is not based on an entirely industrial foundation will go down the drain in order that industrial considerations should prevail and, with that decision, a whole way of life will be shattered in this country which no subsequent administration can revive. It bewilders me that in a representative Parliament of this character a policy of that kind can possibly be foisted on our people. I look at the representatives of the western seaboard of this country who, a week ago, have seen the people of the undeveloped areas thrown overboard in the Undeveloped Areas Bill and now see the Government making ready to throw the fishermen overboard avowedly, according to the Minister for Lands, because he said that the canneries, the deep-freeze plants and the fishmeal plants are not assured of adequate supplies of fish.
I remember perfectly well fish canners coming to me when I was Minister for Fisheries and asking, if they set up a fish canning plant in Waterford, where would they get the herring? At that time, Bord Iascaigh Mhara did not deal with herring. They handled only demersal fish. I remember well saying in the Department: "We cannot as a Department of Fisheries, turn down a manufacturing enterprise based on fish on the ground that there will not be fish to supply them with and, whatever the cost to us, if these people are prepared to tell us that they want so many cran of herring per week, wherever we get them, we must provide the raw material." We did. It was not our failure to provide the raw material that brought the fish canning experiment to an end; it was the fact that they were unable economically to can fish. We insisted that the principle should be preserved that the importation of fish into this country, whether it was from the ocean deep or from external sources of supply, should be the exclusive prerogative of Bord Iascaigh Mhara representing the owner-fishermen of our own shores. If we depart from that principle, we will do an irremediable injury to that section of the community for which I understood the Department of Fisheries was established to cater. To think that this should be done at the instance of a group of wealthy fishmongers who are already addressing letters to the paper saying that the Minister is a Daniel come to judgment and that they, as the champions of the consumer, congratulate him most heartily on taking these measures to facilitate them in selling more fish!
I recollect no period—and I want this to be perfectly clear—during which the fishmongers of this country could not get all the fish that they were in a position to sell, except brief periods when weather conditions made it impossible to land fish here or in Great Britain, and I never saw a period of weather conditions of that character occur, when everybody who was associated with the fish trade knew perfectly well that there must be a temporary shortage of fish because either the boats were not able to put to sea or those at sea were not able to fish, that the fishmongers did not immediately raise a wail of woe that the scarcity of fish was due to the obscurantist policy of the Minister for Fisheries who was restricting free access of supply, they knowing perfectly well that, if they had all the freedom in the world at that time, they could not get fish because there was not any fish either in Great Britain or here. But, of course, as soon as the bad weather passed, fish supplies immediately became available again and there would be peace until there was another interlude of stormy weather and exactly the same hullabaloo started all over again. But, they never succeeded in bluffing our Government out of the sound position that the fish market of this country was the prerogative of our own fishermen.
This Bill has only one significant purpose and that is enshrined in Section 4 and Section 5. So certainly as we are in this Dáil, those two sections are designed to destroy the market of our inshore fishermen for the benefit of the fishmongers, wholesale and retail, in this country and it will be a wicked shame if Oireachtas Eireann allows this act of folly to be consummated.
I want to say that, in regard to Section 2, the Minister is, to put it mildly, disingenuous when he says that great significance is to be attached to the words, "substitution of £3,000,000 for £1,000,000." I never was conscious as long as I was Minister for Fisheries of the slightest difficulty in getting any money I wanted for providing boats and gear to fishermen on the hire purchase system. I never even adverted to the fact that the figure £1,000,000 occurred in any Statute and it would never have crossed my mind that there was any such unalterable limitation on our activities. So far as I was aware—and I believe I am undoubtedly right—we were authorised to go full steam ahead so far as equipping fishermen was concerned until we ultimately reached the stage in the Gaeltacht boat scheme that our problem was, not to supply boats, but to find skippers for them.
These things are so familiar to us who are connected with the Department of Fisheries that one gets weary of repeating them in Dáil Éireann. I remember the day dawning when we had two boats and nobody to operate them. We had more boats than skippers and we had to get an officer of the Naval Services to go down to Killybegs and take one of the boats to sea with a competent fisherman who was not competent to navigate the boat and stay with him for about nine months to teach him the elements of navigation in order to make it possible to send the boat to sea. So far as I know, the same had to be done in respect of the second boat.
We were eager to place boats on the Connemara shore. I could not get skippers. I got one skipper on the Connemara shore competent to take a boat. My recollection is that we could not get another. The problem was to train them to take the boats that were available. I have never known an application for gear to be turned down on the grounds that we had not the means to finance it. I do not believe that any case has ever arisen in which an application for a boat or gear has been turned down on the ground of scarcity of finance.
I do not believe that this Bill can pass without a man like Deputy J. Brennan having something to say about it. He lives near Killybegs. He knows the conditions there. I cannot believe that Deputy P.J. Burke, who is familiar with the conditions of the fishermen in Howth and in North County Dublin, would allow this Bill to pass without contributing to the debate.