Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Fishing Box.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

37 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for the Marine the position he intends adopting to prevent the erosion of the protection given to Irish fishermen by the current status of the Irish Box.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

62 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Marine the position he intends to adopt at the forthcoming meeting of EU fisheries ministers which will consider a proposal to lift existing restrictions on access by Spain and Portugal to Irish waters after 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 62 together.

I am glad of this opportunity to inform Deputies of the progress of the ongoing review of the restrictions which apply to Spanish and Portuguese vessels under the terms of the Iberian Act of Accession.

As Deputies are aware, this matter was discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Fisheries Council and a new framework regulation was adopted. As I indicated to the House earlier, this deal does not give free rein to the Spanish fleet and there is no question that the final package to be adopted later this year will do so either.

We have achieved the maximum advantage from the negotiations to date and we have not conceded anything which could be prejudicial in the next stage of the review.

By way of background, I should point out that special rules have been applied to Spanish and Portuguese vessels fishing in Community waters since the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986. These restrictions include, in particular, the prohibition of Spanish and Portuguese vessels from fishing within the Irish Box which, under the Treaty of Accession, expires at the end of 1995. Thus, these vessels will have access like the vessels of all other member states within the present Irish Box from 1 January 1996. This matter was settled ten years ago and as a Treaty provision was not open for renegotiation. Our aim in the review has been to negotiate a new framework which would ensure that the activities of these fleets could be properly tracked and controlled.

Discussions on the review have been in progress for some time. The initial proposals tabled would have involved giving free rein to these vessels but these proposals were effectively withdrawn through strong opposition from a number of countries, including Ireland. I also succeeded at the December meeting of the Council of Ministers in blocking the proposals then on the table because they did not fully meet out concerns.

What the Council adopted yesterday was a framework regulation under which detailed measures will be implemented to follow those currently applicable to Spanish and Portuguese vessels under the Iberian Act of Accession.

The adoption of this framework regulation does not prejudice in any unfavourable way the content of the measures to be applied later this year. On the contrary the regulation contains a whole range of criteria which will be to Ireland's benefit in the ongoing negotiations.

I would highlight, in particular, the following elements: recognition that the Irish box is a highly sensitive zone which will require special measures and close monitoring of fishing effort and resources to preserve balance; recognition that account must be taken on a case by case basis of the individual requirements of regions where socio-economic development of the local populations is particularly dependent upon fishing and related industries, there must be compliance with the principle that there can be no increase in the levels of fishing effort set down in the Iberian Act of Accession the bringing of the Spanish fleet within the framework of the reductions which apply to the member state fleets generally. This reduction could be up to 20 per cent; and recognition of the need to establish sensitive zones, or boxes, where restrictions will apply. The question of boxes and sensitive zones is still under negotiation. The negotiation of these principles and provisions represents a considerable achievement and a considerable advance on what was on offer last December.

I also sought — but did not get agreement yesterday — on strong guarantees on the type of specific controls that should now be introduced. In particular, I sought assurances on real-time — immediate — monitoring and reporting to the coastal State. Therefore, and to give the strongest possible signal of the importance of what Ireland attaches to this matter, Ireland voted against the regulation. I also placed a legal reserve on the regulation and put on the formal record a clear statement of Ireland's requirements in regard to the detailed measures to be adopted later this year. Our declaration, which I converted into a unilateral declaration, may still be negotiated into the framework regulation. All is not lost.

It is clear that tough negotiation lies ahead of us in ensuring that the detailed implementing legislation which must be introduced later this year will best meet our objectives. I assure Deputies that we will continue to stand up for Ireland's interests as these negotiations progress. We have set the agenda in these discussions to date. We will continue to do so. We will not be overawed by the odds and we will not pull our punches because of the risk of being outvoted.

The Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 1994, which was discussed in this House earlier today provides for the strengthening of controls and penalties for illegal fishing and I see the imposition of these new measures as an important element in the ongoing effort to properly protect the fish stocks around our coast.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and particularly for his comments about what happened in Luxembourg yesterday. I am sure he is aware that the eyes of the country, particularly those of the fishing communities, were on the negotiations in Luxembourg. The Minister cannot conceal the fact that the vote of 11 to one yesterday against our interests will make a fundamental change in the status of the Irish box which protected the interests of our struggling fishing industry.

A question please, Deputy.

Will the Minister confirm that as a result of yesterday's negotiations the Spanish fishing fleet and others will have equal access to the area known as the Irish Box? In other words, will the Jóses and the Miguels have similar access to that box as the Pádraigs and the Tomáses have had so far?

The Deputy will be aware that the Iberian Act of Accession was negotiated in 1986 and that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Barry, and his assistant Minister of State, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, were among the principal negotiators. A former Fine Gael Minister for Fisheries, Paddy O'Toole, was also involved in negotiations. Since then the problem has deteriorated. Notwithstanding the Iberian Act of Accession, under the Common Fisheries Policy the Irish box will be abolished on 1 January 1996. At the Council meeting in December last I sought to stop full access or a free run for the Spaniards, and I achieved that. I can make available to the Deputy the framework regulation which contains much of what we sought to achieve.

What I was voting against last evening was that a part of what we sought to put into the framework regulation was not allowed. I sought to achieve that the coastal State — ourselves — would have complete control on a non-discriminatory basis over exit and entry of boats from other nations into a box or zone under our control and that we would note their catches and times of entries and exists, but I did not achieve that. On the basis that this is a framework regulation to be implemented before the end of this year, what I sought to include in that framework regulation is still achievable and negotiable.

During the past ten years I have asked questions about arrests made in the Irish Box and around our coast by our fishery protection vessels. The Spaniards represent more than 60 per cent of those who regularly breach fishing regulations. Those statistics apply to a period when they did not have the access to the Irish Box. They will have from 1 January 1996. The position will become intolerable and we will not be able adequately to patrol our coast. At present, they are fined for breaches of regulations but they come back to fish in our waters under a new name. Has the Minister any plans to ensure that they will abide by the regulations in 1996? They are fishing the smallest species. They have secret holds in their boats and they are violating regulations. Did the Minister's report of their consistent and flagrant breach of regulations make any impression in Luxembourg yesterday?

At the November Council meeting I made one of the strongest speeches on behalf of our fishing industry. I set outseriatim the information about over-fishing, quota hopping, secret holds on boats and so on. I exposed the Spaniards and I pursued a strong policy to ensure regulation and control of the Spanish fishing fleet when they have access from 1 January 1996. I intend to achieve control and regulation of the Spanish fishing fleet and those of other European Union nations who transgress fishery laws. The stand I took was a strong, vehement aggressive one on behalf of our sea fishing industry and I identified the serious transgressions of the Spanish fishing fleet. Yesterday, while the Spanish Minister gave a lecture on the ethics of fishing I almost became physically ill with the hypocritical nature of his comments in relation to the Spanish record and that of another nation, not Ireland.

While I sympathise with the Minister——

I want the Deputy's support, not his sympathy.

The Minister has my support. I have supported him since I became a Member of this House and since he became Minister for the Marine. How can the Minister prohibit a marauding fleet of Spanish trawlers from raping the fishing grounds in the Irish box from 1 January 1996 when for the past ten years those trawlers, which were banned from fishing there, have succeeded in splitting every plank in the box and fishing every metre of that zone? I am amazed the Minister stood alone in Luxembourg yesterday because at a meeting of the northern European fishermen's association, held in Aberdeen on 26 March, attended by fishing organisations from Holland, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain and Ireland, it was stated that while the principle of no increase in fishing efforts underpinned the proposals, there was no detail to satisfy the group that this would be the case. The Minister stated it was necessary to take account of the needs of highly sensitive zones but the proposals provide no protection for those zones. The Minister has stated repeatedly that he has won the initiative but he has lost the match and is playing in injury time. Unless he lobbies the Taoiseach to visit the heads of the European Union member states before the next Council meeting, the deathknell of our fishing industry will be sounded.

I am not as pessimistic as the Deputy. At yesterday's meeting we were consistent and stood our ground on an 11 : 1 basis.

They did not back the Minister yesterday.

I received indications during the meeting that one or two nations, whose officials may have attended the Aberdeen meeting, would have supported me, but that did not materialise. It is time we stood up for ourselves. Although the newspaper headlines read 11 : 1 defeat for Ireland I would not view that result as a defeat but as the beginning of a victory.

The Minister is playing in injury time.

I am winning in injury time.

I hope the Minister is successful and I will be the first to congratulate him if he is.

I ask the Deputy to bear with me until the end of the year. Much of what we have sought and achieved is contained in the draft framework regulation on sensitive areas, albeit on a biologically scientific measured basis. Another important point is that regulation stipulating a 20 per cent reduction in the size of the Spanish fleet which will be under the aegis and jurisdiction of the MAGP. The remaining achievement which I am confident we can negotiate, and the reason I voted against the draft regulation, is agreement on the need for a coastal state to control its fishery waters. The game is not over, it may be in injury time but that time extends to 31 December 1994.

I admire the Minister for his valiant efforts to turn defeat into victory and I hope they will be successful, but when the result is 11:1 that represents a defeat from any viewpoint. Will the Minister or the Taoiseach be able to exercise a power of veto to address the difficulties that have arisen? Will the Minister agree that we have no guarantee that the proposed sensitive areas will be to our advantage or that the minor reduction of the Spanish fleet, which is already large and has capacity to fish four times its quota, will greatly benefit us?

I agree with the Deputy that the size of the Spanish fleet and its unacceptable behaviour give rise to concern. Those matters will be observed in further negotiations before the draft regulation is finalised in 1994. The system of majority voting and not vetoes applies to Fishery Council meetings. A proposal may be blocked by a majority vote. To secure such a vote a country would need the support of one or two of the larger member states. We have a vote of three while the larger nations have a vote of ten. A blocking majority vote would require a vote of 23 and that is difficult to achieve. The national interests of large member states often do not coincide with ours.

I do not doubt the commitment of the Minister to pursue our interests. Would he agree that the worst fears of the Irish fishing industry were realised in Luxembourg yesterday and that a vital national resource will be under threat from 1 January 1996? Will the Minister give a commitment that yesterday's events will not be the last word on this and that he will continue his campaign to salvage some benefits for the struggling fishing industry, for future generations of Irish fishermen?

When I came back after the December Council meeting I was roundly applauded for what I did, without any help from certain elements in this House. I will continue on the basis of my proven record to be consistent and to fight as hard as I can for the fishing industry. Despite events in Luxembourg last evening, we are not looking at the death of an industry; the contrary is the case. For the first time I have given a standing to the fishing industry, which has been neglected by successive Governments since the foundation of the State. I will continue to do my best for that industry which has been left hanging out to dry by successive Governments.

Our treaty of accession left it hanging out to dry.

I accept that our Act of Accession did just that under the Coalition Government.

We discussed that matter earlier today.

It will run again like a long playing record.