Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Aid for Fishermen.

P. J. Sheehan

Ceist:

9 Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for the Marine when he will make a decision on the submission from the Irish Fishermen's Organisation for a £13 million aid package to enable Irish fishing vessels and crews survive the weather and sea conditions of the past four months.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

39 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for the Marine whether he has been succesful in securing assistance for fishermen who have experienced difficulties because of bad weather conditions in recent months; if so, if he will give details of such assistance; the way in which it may be claimed by boat owners and crew members; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

John Bruton

Ceist:

40 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Marine if he has considered the plight of the crews of the Irish fishing fleet as a result of the unprecedented weather and sea conditions during the winter; and if he will provide a Government aid package.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

53 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for the Marine whether he has assessed the case made by Irish fishermen that compensation should be available where their livelihood has been affected by weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Austin Deasy

Ceist:

70 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Marine the response, if any, he has had from the European Commission concerning aid for fishermen who have suffered financial difficulties over the past four months due to weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 39, 40, 53 and 70 together.

As I announced recently, following discussions with the Minister for Finance, I have secured agreement in principle, for the introduction of an emergency aid scheme for the fishing industry. The scheme is intended to alleviate the exceptional and unique difficulties which have been experienced by the catching sector over recent months and especially by fishing vessel crew members many of whom have not had any employment during this period.

The aims of the scheme, which will be administered by BIM, are to deal with genuine hardships and to secure the ongoing viability of the industry through ensuring that crews continue to be available to work in the industry.

The precise details of the scheme are at present being finalised in consultation with other relevant Departments. I expect, however, to be in a position to make a more detailed announcement on the matter shortly.

With regard to the possibility of Community aid to help address the hardship experienced by fishermen, I regret to say that the initial response from the Commission has not been encouraging. The Commission took the view that current Community regulations do not provide for the kind of financial assistance required in this instance.

I have, nevertheless, continued to pursue the matter of Community aid, both in bilateral discussions with the Commissioner for Fisheries, Mr. Paleokrassas, and at the Council of Ministers where I raised the matter yesterday. While there are no funds earmarked for aid of this nature, the Commission will consider further in discussions with the Department of the Marine if any basis for Union aid can be found.

I am disappointed that the Minister did not stipulate the amount of the package.

It is £5 million.

That falls far short of the £13 million envisaged by the IFO. Following the decision in Luxembourg yesterday would the Minister not consider increasing this to £10 million to ensure compensation is paid to fishermen who cannot make ends meet and are threatened with repossession for defaulting on loan repayments?

I will not be offering £10 million. The money on offer is reasonable. This is a scheme which I suggested and on which I was pursued by Deputy Deasy. The figure of £5 million on offer from the Minister for Finance is generous and substantial. The figure of £13 million was a negotiating one which was plucked out of the air; it could just as well have been £130 million. In the circumstances £5 million is a substantial achievement. It is a recognition of the hardship suffered by the industry from October-November to January-February. I appreciate that in some cases boats did not put to sea at all and in other cases they could only fish for four days. We should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

A brief question, please. I am anxious to dispose of the remaining questions before the time expires.

I appreciate the Minister's efforts but fishermen did not make one shilling since last September.

A question please.

Will this money be paid directly to the owners of the vessels or to the crew members? Will both be compensated alike? Will BIM operate the scheme?

I understand that BIM will operate the scheme and while details have yet to be finalised it is envisaged it will cover hardship payments to the crew of fishing vessels and it will provide aid towards servicing boat loans which have fallen into arrears in recent months and replacing gear, particularly pots, damaged during the winter months.

Question No. 10.

Will maritime culture benefit? It too suffered storm damage.

Anything that was affected by the weather will benefit.