Private Members' Business. - Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1989: First Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to repeal the Fisheries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1987.
—(Deputy Pattison.)

I will be calling on the mover of the motion, Deputy Séamus Pattison, I will also call on the spokespersons of the other parties to make a brief comment which shall not exceed five minutes and I shall call on the Minister for the Marine to reply at the end of the debate.

I am grateful to the House for this opportunity to briefly explain why I believe the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1989, should be read a Second Time. First I want to emphasise the consequences of any vote we take here tonight. If the House agrees to a Second Stage reading of this Bill the net effect will be that the Bill will be formally published and circulated to Members and will be debated if and when the Parliamentary Labour Party are in a position to allocate Private Members' Time to such a debate.

Given the very limited amount of time available to us this is unlikely to arise in the near future. Therefore by voting for the publication of the Bill Members are not being asked to commit themselves to the principles involved in the Bill nor to its details. Neither are they being asked to deprive the Government nor any other party of time to settle the dispute by negotiation, nor to pre-empt any effort at negotiations. Members would be doing one thing, of course, by voting for the publication of the Bill: they would be sending a direct and simple message to the Government who are answerable to this House, and that message would be this: "We want this dispute settled, we do not want to see any more damage done to our tourist industry, to the west of Ireland, indeed to any part of Ireland, or to the prospects for development of our inland waterways."

It has been suggested in the past by no less a person than the Taoiseach that any defeat on any matter connected with the rod licence dispute would be an occasion for a general election. I have to say on behalf of the Labour Party, and I hope on behalf of every Opposition Deputy, that it is completely unacceptable for the Taoiseach or any other Government Minister to attempt to coerce the Dáil with threats of any kind. The Dáil has both a right and a bounden obligation to consider issues where the common good is being threatened, and this is one such issue. The threat to a vital industry, tourism, including family tourism, caused by this dispute has the potential to cause very significant damage. No Government, and especially no minority Government, can be allowed to bully the Dáil into shirking an issue like this one.

We believe that the rod licence dispute must be settled by discussion and negotiation. The Government appear to take the view that for as long as the law establishing the licence is on the Statute Book their flexibility is limited. It appears that the underlying principle involved is that the law must be observed. Two points arise from this. First, the principle that the law must be observed did not prevent this Government from introducing a very generous tax amnesty for people who had flouted the law over many years, and there are many other examples of Government action in this area. Secondly, where the existence of a badly thought-out, ill-conceived Bill on the Statute Book is the problem there is a simple solution. The Bill whose publication we are seeking tonight is a very simple one which need not take more than half an hour of Dáil time. The effect of the passage of this Bill ultimately would be to remove the existing legislation from the Statute Book and to leave the way clear for flexible negotiations——

The Deputy might now bring his speech to a close.

——and for a permanent solution to this problem.

Statements have been reported in the media in the past couple of days to the effect that one of the Opposition parties would find themselves unable to support this Bill because we have not spelt out in detail the alternative solution we see to the dispute. I want to make two brief points in relation to this. First, we are not asking anyone to vote for the Bill as of this moment. As I stressed earlier we are merely seeking the permission of this House to have it published so as to add an important ingredient to the debate about this important controversy. Secondly, we have spelt out on many occasions the elements of a solution to this problem and we have made many public statements, including a public statement by our party Leader.

I am sorry Deputy Pattison, the time has come to call another speaker.

In conclusion I appeal to the Government and the Minister to accept this motion here tonight so that we can have a way open for settlement of the dispute.

The issue in this rod licence dispute is very clear — it is the extraordinary irresponsibility of the Fianna Fáil Government in not taking any positive action over the past 12 months to attempt to resolve this dispute. They have stood idly by and seen many jobs being lost in the tourism industry. Indeed the Minister for the Marine, the Minister for Tourism and Transport and many other Ministers have sat back and seen these jobs being lost without taking any type of constructive action. While they have sat back the Taoiseach has smugly gone around the world, in particular the US on St. Patrick's Day, and jokingly commented to reporters about the dispute in Ireland. It is very insensitive of the Taoiseach while in America to make jokes about the rod licence dispute and suggest that he would provide a gold licence for the President of the United States if he came here on an angling holiday. These comments are very insensitive to those people in the tourism industry whose livelihoods are going by the board and whose jobs have been lost.

The facts are that we in this party have had constructive and extensive negotiations with the various interested parties since this legislation was introduced. Fine Gael have put in place a formula which will bring this damaging dispute to an end. However, the Government must respond and act on that formula. Everyone is clearly aware that that formula basically proposes to replace the licence concept with the principle of a development contribution. The anglers have agreed to this formula. They did not disagree with making a contribution but they disagreed with the principle of the licence. All that remains for the Government to do is to follow this formula through by way of action rather than speeches. It would be far more fitting for the Government to put their energies and efforts into resolving this problem rather than intimidating and threatening people who are campaigning for a change in the legislation. Unfortunately Government interests have conducted that type of campaign over the past number of months in particular. At the same time certain members of the Government have gone with our formula to various interested parties and have attempted to resolve the problem through that formula. However, the Government in their overall wisdom have decided not to accept the initiatives taken by various members of the Cabinet.

The Labour Bill, however well intentioned, unfortunately would solve nothing. It would simply result in scrapping the legislation. There is no need for any further breathing space for negotiation because an acceptable formula has already been arrived at. It is now a matter for the Government to bring this dispute to an end and they should do so quickly in order to save jobs in this economy.

When the Minister introduced the Bill which brought in the rod licence he told the Dáil that the rod licence had the agreement of the angling clubs. The Opposition speakers accepted the Minister at his word on that occasion but alas, too late, the Minister's assurances were subsequently seen to be false. Anglers have not bought the rod licence and have sacrified their favourite sport and leisure pastime rather than participate in this State rod licensing system. This bad legislation has been rejected by anglers. The Government can only govern with the consent of the people and it is clear that anglers' consent is withheld in this case. The Minister's response is to force the legislation on the people through intimidating use of the security forces. How laughable it is to see armed gardaí mounting a ring of steel around a small number of anglers who agreed with the licence and who recently organised a fishing competition on the Corrib. The ring of steel was brought in to give the impression that there was some real threat to the lives of those few who support the idea of a rod licence. The truth is that the vast majority of anglers oppose the idea of a rod licence. They have refused to buy the licences and are, therefore, voluntarily denying themselves participation in their own favourite sport and pastime.

Last year the Progressive Democrats sought permission to introduce a Bill that would have suspended the rod licence for eight months to allow for an agreed funding system involving angling clubs' contributions to be introduced in time for the 1989 trout angling season. All Opposition Deputies except Fine Gael Members voted for that Bill. I think it was in September 1988, Deputy Doyle then Fine Gael's spokesperson on Fisheries said she had discussed and agreed with the angling association a system of club contributions and would introduce a Bill to implement the proposals. The Fine Gael Árd Fheis voted against the Government rod licence and supported the Fine Gael Bill proposal. Fine Gael Oireachtas Members spoke at protest meetings which were organised by the anti-rod licence campaign all over the country. The spokesperson we have heard tonight, Deputy Madeline Taylor-Quinn, became spokesperson on the Marine——

Deputy Taylor-Quinn.

——expressed her opposition to the rod licence and promised a Private Member's Bill. It is an astonishing act of treachery for Fine Gael to come in here now and announce that not alone have they not brought forward their Bill, or their watered down motion, but that they will not now even vote for another party's Bill which proposes the same thing. The Labour Party Bill should at least be allowed to come before the House for debate. If Fine Gael want to amend it they could propose their amendments when the Bill is being debated but to deliberately block any debate on the anti-rod licence dispute is an unbelievable act of treachery and is absolutely undemocratic. How can Deputy Madeline Taylor-Quinn continue as her party's spokesperson on the Marine remembering all she had to say on the recent "Today Tonight" programme?

(Interruptions.)

Order, please.

The credibility of Fine Gael has been shattered here tonight with the announcement that they will not vote for the Bill. The rules of this House were changed by Fine Gael with the concurrence of Fianna Fáil to deny smaller parties access to Private Members' Time.

(Interruptions.)

This, therefore, is the last chance by small parties to effect a change in the rod licence. Fine Gael have let us down. This betrayal will long be remembered in the angling areas. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are joining together to force the rod licence system on the great free lakes and rivers which were the unique and outstanding attraction of this country for our own countrymen and for foreign visitors. A Cheann Comhairle, things will never be the same again on the lakes and rivers of Ireland after this betrayal.

I am supporting the Labour Party Bill and even at this late stage I appeal to the Taoiseach and to the Minister to go back to those who have been mediating in this dispute and find another solution. Can the Taoiseach not see that in relation to the decision to impose the rod angling licence fees there was no consultation with any users whatsoever and that many traditional users of our rivers and lakes have been discomoded by the move. If Mr. Haughey was to show——

The Taoiseach.

——the same interest and compromising position as he did last year with the Dún Laoghaire harbour watch group I would think there would be a hope of finding a solution to the dispute. If the Taoiseach is not fully aware of the extent of the feeling created by these fees I can assure him there is unprecedented opposition in rural areas and that that opposition will not go away.

On Saturday of last week I listened to the President of the Munster Trout Anglers Association speaking to a very large audience of members and supporters in the Blackwater Valley in Mallow. He made the point that they are willing to talk but that the Minister has refused point blank to meet the six representatives who have been nominated by the trout anglers association. It is of vital importance that a compromise solution be found before permanent damage is done to the tourist industry. Clearly, tourists are being deterred by both the licence fees and the uncertainty surrounding the problem on many rivers and lakes. Recently the traditional coarse angling festival which was held in Fermoy, County Cork for many years was cancelled. This is a festival which would have brought £200,000 into Fermoy that weekend. It has to be cancelled because of the anti-rod licence campaign. The rod anglers are prepared to talk. The Taoiseach should now become involved with his Minister and reach a compromise.

The Government oppose the Bill here this evening on the basis that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to cancel out legislation which was enacted just over a year ago. This legislation was not rushed through the Dáil but was brought before the Dáil by agreement between the Whips. It was debated here and on that occasion when the opportunity presented itself not one single amendment was put forward from the Opposition side of the House.

We opposed it on Second Stage.

The sole purpose of the legislation was to find a way in which some finances could be found to adequately develop the inland fisheries of ireland which have been suffering for many years through lack of financial investment and through lack of the finances which are necessary to develop the resource to its maximum potential.

It is not happening.

Each and every Deputy here knows full well that one of the major obstacles to the development of inland fisheries has been the lack of financing and the necessity to put the financing of inland fisheries on a sound footing. Everybody here knows it is not the duty of the taxpayer to provide fully for this. Up to £30 million has been invested in the development of inland fisheries over the past five or six years. We believe it is reasonable to expect that a modest contribution would be made to help back up the State investment in this area and that the people involved in it should contribute a modest amount to enable us to develop fisheries to their fullest potential. I am amazed to hear a Deputy mention the President of the Munster Trout Anglers Federation and the speech he made at the weekend. I know, and so do many other people, that the President of the Munster Trout Anglers Federation fished all last summer all over Munster — he is a member of numerous angling clubs — with a salmon and white trout fishing licence.

He is a man of integrity and I am afraid the same cannot be said for you, Sir.

He does not object to the principle of a licence for salmon and white trout fishing but at the same time——

Deputy Sherlock has had his say.

——he objects to a licence for trout fishing. The fact is that the sole purpose of the legislation was to find a way in which a positive financial contribution could be made to help fund the State investment.

When this issue was debated previously in this House many years ago it was suggested, because of the opposition which came at that time also to the introduction of a licensing system, that if a voluntary system was put in operation it would be used and would be contributed to by the angling fraternity. They did not do that and when the £5 voluntary registration was substituted for the licence on that occasion nobody paid it. Last year when the western fisheries board spent over £250,000 in developing inland fisheries in the lakes, in Lough Corrib and Lough Mask and other areas of the western fisheries board area, the total amount which came by way of voluntary subscription was £181. It is useless for Deputies to come here and say that if we go back to a voluntary system of payment — unless something dramatic has changed in the last year — that the people who were not prepared to pay last year will pay now. Everybody knows that the voluntary system did not work, that it was not complied with, that if we are to do what needs to be done we have to have a statutory system in place——

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Molloy should restrain himself.

——for the funding of the inland fisheries, and that is what we are doing in this legislation. Deputy Molloy has been hysterical in some of the statements he has made over the past few months on this issue. I am aware of the speeches he made in Ennis, advocating the return of the boycott, going back to the 18th century.

That is an old Fianna Fáil concept.

The Deputy was trying to rake up some kind of hysteria when genuine decent people were willing to fund inland fisheries development because they know the only reason angling has been declining over the past number of years is that the quality of the fishing in many of our inland lakes and rivers is deteriorating through over-fishing, bad management, poaching and lack of investment. If there is one single issue that needs to be tackled, it is the question of financing inland fisheries and this can be dealt with in a reasonable way by supporting the legislation enacted at present. It is fair and reasonable and it does not——

And unacceptable to the body of anglers.

——create any undue hardship. We made an exception of the young and the old in that legislation. People up to the age of 18 years and people over the age of 65 years do not need a licence. All the revenue collected from the licence goes to develop the inland fisheries at local level. It does not go to the Government or anybody else. How can anybody reasonably object to such modest charges which are in the overall interests of developing a resource which for far too long has been allowed stagnate and has been left underdeveloped? The Deputies here this evening could ask people who have been misguided or misdirected in the past on this issue to at this stage fall into line with the vast majority of the angling community who know that this needs to be done.

When an independent survey was carried out by the ESRI at about the time I was introducing this legislation——

Has the Minister done any research since?

——it showed that 80 per cent of anglers interviewed indicated clearly that if a licensing system was introduced not only would they support it but they would buy the licence.

A Deputy

They are not doing it.

All of them know and recognise that licensing is necessary for the overall development of fisheries.

It was not very accurate, was it?

We are satisfied that the vast majority of anglers now believe that the decision made on that occasion on that legislation brought before the House about a year ago was the right course of action to take. Other alternatives which were put forward at numerous meetings with the representatives of the anglers could not find broad agreement among the anglers.

I, my advisers and my officials had meeting after meeting with the representatives of the anglers and with the representatives of the anti-rod licence campaign during which it was pointed out clearly to us that no system would be operated by them unless the licence system was abolished. We cannot and do not intend to do that. The only way forward is the way we have proposed. Not one single constructive proposal has been put forward here this evening by anybody from the Opposition benches as to how this problem can be resolved. The Opposition know that the only way this can be resolved is to get the full support of the angling community behind us——

(Interruptions.)

——in doing the work that each and every one of them knows needs to be done.

The Minister is blindfolded on this issue.

(Interruptions.)
Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 64.

  • Bell, Michael.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Donnellan, John.
  • Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McDowell, Michael Alexander.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Swift, Brian.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Howlin and Pattison; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Browne.
Question declared lost.