As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, will realise, the Irish seafood industry is critical to rural coastal communities, providing 11,500 jobs in such peripheral areas. Some 2,100 fishing vessels throughout the country are dependent on the industry. That industry and those people are dependent on an effective Common Fisheries Policy to sustain their livelihoods and their communities.
Last week I met representatives of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation and the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, IFO. I met both organisations together and was surprised that they were angry, annoyed, disillusioned and disappointed in the Minister in regard to the outcome of the Common Fisheries Policy review, in particular with regard to the lack of consultation between the Minister and them in the past while in the lead-up to the agreement which was ultimately reached. They felt they had not been consulted in any cohesive way on the current round of negotiations, the outcome of which has, in their words, "the potential to place the majority of our members out of business". That was a different kind of picture and perspective I received last Friday from the horse's mouth, from those who work in the industry. Afterwards, there was a presentation of press releases and a general media treatment of the deal. In particular, the representatives believe the discard compromise is unworkable from the point of view of the Irish whitefish industry, given the mixed nature of the fisheries in which the majority of whitefish vessels operate.
The implications for rural coastal communities would be adverse, particularly in places like Castletownbere, Union Hall and Baltimore. The Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation has also been highly critical of the proposal.
Why did the Minister fail to persuade his colleagues to directly enshrine the Hague preferences in the deal? I am aware that Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP tabled an amendment at the trilogue to include the Hague preferences in the recitals, which means they are now subject to annual negotiations when it comes to the allocation of quotas. However, while due regard will now have to be paid to the preferences, they were not directly included in the deal itself.
Four young fishermen who accompanied the group told me that young Irish people will no longer go into fishing. They would prefer to emigrate than fish in Ireland. They pointed out that crews now comprise Filipinos, Egyptians and eastern Europeans. What does that say about the absence of an overall plan for the development of a sustainable fishing industry? I was left with that thought as I departed west Cork last Friday and I ask the Minister about the lack of consultation, the workability of discards - I know the policy is being phased in over ten years - the Hague preferences and the future for young people in fishing.