During Question Time today, I asked the Minister for Finance if and when it is proposed to carry out an extension to the pier at Burtonport, County Donegal, as in the interests of the fishing industry such an extension was essential. The Parliamentary Secretary replied as follows:
Work on the clearance of the approach channel and dredging of berths was completed in December. The desirability of further works will be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.
That appears to be a very reasonable reply until I tell the Parliamentary Secretary that over the past 40 years the approach channel and the berths were dredged and on each occasion after and before dredging we were informed that the extension of the pier would be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.
Burtonport harbour is one of the premier harbours on the north-west coast of Donegal. It was so important even in the year 1798 that of all the inlets and harbours on the north-west coast it was the one selected by Napper Tandy to land, and in the middle of the 17th century — and this is going back some distance — Lord Rutland changed the name of one of the islands in the approach channel from Inishmacadora to Rutland Island and established there salt pans for the purpose of curing fish; and at the end of the last century the Donegal Fishing Company was formed and, as there was no harbour at Burtonport, the islands at the entrance to the harbour were utilised as ports at which fish were cured, salted and shipped to the various cross-Channel ports. Those islands in the approach channel to Burtonport were hives of industry at the turn of the century and then, in or about the year 1900, the railway was extended from Londonderry, as it was then known, to Burtonport and the seat of operations for the fishing industry changed from the islands to Burtonport harbour itself.
After a few years' experience of the use of the harbour and the pier there, it was felt, in 1911, that a survey should be carried out and, if necessary, extensions decided on to the pier at Burtonport. Before World War I certain extensions were agreed upon but the opening of hostilities in 1914 delayed the commencement of these extensions and it was only in 1919 that it was decided and definite plans were drawn up for the extension of Burtonport pier. Instead of beginning at the pier itself, it was decided to begin at the perimeter of the new extended pier or causeway. There a pier-head was built that later became known as a monument and the people, being charitable, never said to whom it was a monument but I could name him. Thousands of pounds were expended on that "monument" and then, with the Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State, extensions to Burtonport harbour ceased and down through the years since 1922, in this House and elsewhere, fishermen and those engaged in the fishing industry have made application to and have besought various Ministers for Fisheries and for Finance to extend the pier as originally planned by the old Congested Districts Board and supported by the Commissioners of Public Works prior to 1919. It is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary says, that the approaches to the channel have been drained but nothing has been done to extend the pier.
One would want to see this harbour at low water. The tide strips the berths there where ships are berthed and if fishing vessels are driven into the inner harbour during a storm or inclement weather they have to remain there on ground until such time as they get a spring tide to enable them to go out to the fishing ground.
The fishermen of Burtonport pay harbour dues and the fishing industry there consists of herring, white fish, salmon, and lobsters. To show how earnest the fishermen are and to show how interested they are in their industry and to ensure that salmon stocks will be sufficient to enable them to carry on their livelihood as drift net fishermen, they contribute £223 each year to the Letterkenny No. 14 Fishery Board of Conservators for the purpose of restocking the rivers. They are the only net fishermen in Ireland who make such a contribution to a board of conservators. I say this, merely to show theirbona fides and their earnestness in the fishing industry.
There are approximately 240 fishermen in Burtonport and on the mainland. When I say "Burtonport" I mean Burtonport island — the locality which uses the harbour at Burtonport — and there are approximately 100 people employed on the shore there in the fishing industry. Within the past two years three factories have been established at Burtonport and it is now a 12-month industry.
Up until last year eight seine net fishing boats were engaged in the fishing industry at Burtonport. During the coming year we will have 16 seine net fishing boats and 36 half-deckers. That is a considerable fleet but when one considers that only five boats can berth at the harbour at one time one appreciates the delay in discharging fish and in getting back to the fishing ground and the inconvenience caused to these fishermen.
Last year, the takings at Burtonport were £132,000. That is not counting white fish or flat fish. This year the takings have been £200,000 plus £50,000 worth of white fish. This means £¼ million worth of fish has been landed at the pier at Burtonport during the past 12 months. This fleet could be doubled or trebled, larger boats could be employed but unfortunately they cannot berth at the pier owing to the shortage of berthing space.
Many of the Burtonport fishermen who are now using the larger trawler of 70 and 75 feet are compelled to fish out of Killybegs and at least four of our native skippers from the Burtonport area can no longer berth in their own port harbour on account of the lack of berthing facilities.
These fishermen are making a genuine case for the extension of the harbour there. I know that large sums of money have been spent on harbours throughout the State, harbours which are mere dry land harbours, from which fishing fleets no longer go to sea. Burtonport is improving and it is one of the fishing ports which are improving and giving steady employment.
In order to show theirbona fides, the fishermen there are willing to contribute a sum of £1,000 towards the cost of extending the pier. They have made known to the Parliamentary Secretary — they have told him personally — that they are willing to contribute a sum of £1,000 towards the cost of the extension. All that is holding us up at the moment is money. The reply given to me today by the Parliamentary Secretary is not the reply he himself would give. He said: “The desirability of further works will be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.” The Parliamentary Secretary has had an opportunity to see those activities. I have given him the figures for the landings there. He is in a position to verify those figures. I can assure him that what I have said is correct.
During the years, one of the reasons why this scheme was held up was that there was a controversy in the Office of Public Works as to the type of extension that should be made to the harbour. The Parliamentary Secretary kindly came down there. He met the fishermen himself. They pointed out to him the type of extension they required and I must say that, speaking as a layman — and he qualified it by saying he was speaking as a layman — he agreed with what they said, subject to what his engineers would say about his consent to this extension.
I further understand that this engineers have now come around to the point of view of the fishermen and all those engaged in the fishing industry, namely, that the pier should be extended from the pier-head as it now exists to the famous or infamous monument 100 yards off the pier-head. It may be that money is the cause of this evil but it is a crying shame that, after so many years of self-government, work on this harbour is still held up and that it is landlocked through lack of funds.
I will not mention other harbours in Donegal on which large sums have been spent. Let me say that I agree with every penny that has been spent on Killybegs. It is one of the premier ports in the county but there are other harbours in Donegal where the fishing fleets are dwindling, where sea net fishing boats are actually up for sale, on which money has been and is being spent. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to clear whatever blowline may be choked between his section and the Department of Finance. If he requires any statistics to convince the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries that this case which I am making tonight is a genuine one, those statistics are available.
Within the past 18 months the fishermen have formed a co-operative society at Burtonport. It consists of the skippers of the fishing boats and the members of the crews. They have procured an overdraft of somewhere in the neighbourhood of £20,000 from the bank to build or renovate a co-operative store. They are now in the process of installing an ice plant. They have already installed a cold storage plant. Ninety per cent of the fish caught at Burtonport is exported to the Continent. Out of the remaining 10 per cent, at least 7 per cent is exported to Britain. Here we have one of the ideal sources of exports in the country. Of the fish caught there I would say that only 1 per cent is used for fish meal. Huge grants have been given by the Department for the establishment of fish meal plants throughout the country. There is one at Mornington where they cannot get enough fish to supply it. The fish caught at Burtonport are prime edible fish and suitable for exporting.
I know I am pushing an open door so far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned. If anything I have said sounded like criticism of him that is not my intention. I certainly do not want to criticise him. He listened patiently to the story of the fishermen. He has got the corroboration he sought. I want him to pass it on to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and to the Minister for Finance. If conduit pipes or the pipelines are clogged they should be cleared as soon as possible so that Burtonport can get the OK for an extension to its pier which has been sought since 1911.