asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries whether with a view to popularising fish as a regular dietary item he will remove restrictions from imports of frozen fish fingers, supplies of which are at present almost wholly absorbed by supermarket chains leaving inadequate and irregular supplies available for rural retail distributors.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Importation of Fish Fingers.
The restriction on the import of frozen fish fingers is maintained to protect the home market for Irish fish. Supplies are imported under licence and the level of imports is kept constantly under review. In fact in 1968 the quantity licensed was increased by 50 per cent over 1967. The distribution of imported supplies as between the various types of retail outlets is a matter between the retailers and the importers.
Would the Minister not agree with me that the desirable thing is to popularise fish as an ordinary item of diet particularly in rural areas where the consumption of fish has been traditionally almost entirely confined to Friday? With the emergence of convenience foods would he not think that the longer-sighted policy would be to make this sort of commodity freely available so that as the market expands there would be a base for domestic production of a commodity of this kind which no domestic unit can afford to produce at present owing to the restricted market largely resulting from the quantitative controls which are being used by the supermarket chains effectively to withhold supplies of this comestible from rural areas?
The situation, as the Deputy probably understands, is that the licences are granted to—I think— three firms altogether and granted to them because of the fact that they are three firms who engage and have been engaged in the wholesale distribution of frozen home-landed fish. In other words it is tied to those with that qualification which, I think generally speaking, is quite a proper thing to do. As far as quantities are concerned, last year we increased the quantity licensed by 50 per cent over the previous year and so long as the quantities requested do not endanger the disposal of home landings then I am not constrained to restrict them unduly. I suggest that if there is complaint as to the manner in which the supplies imported are distributed it is a matter that could, perhaps, be taken up with the importers by trade organisations such as RGDATA or some similar body.
Perhaps the Minister would look into the aspect of the problem to which I have directed his attention, bearing in mind that the popularisation of fish generally benefits the whole industry?
I quite agree on that point.
Should it not be the aim to develop our Irish fisheries and thus obviate the necessity for the importation of fish fingers from abroad?
The Deputy is probably aware that quite substantial progress has been made in this direction particularly with the installation at a number of our ports, especially western ports, of ice plants and refrigerated storage. This is very much a prerequisite to any real effort at supplying in a regular way the needs and demands of our domestic markets. Certainly, as and when fish become available in the quantities and on the days on which it is needed I think with these installations and the greater availability of ice from these plants we can, and indeed we are making inroads on the market here and I hope this will continue to a greater degree as time goes on.