Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 13, after “boat” where it firstly occurs to insert “or a boat used for the purposes of aquaculture”.

The Minister outlined his reasons for dealing with all Stages of this Bill quickly. I note that he was quick to point out that this Bill is concerned with the broader principle, that it is not concerned with the day-to-day management of our sea-fisheries, and that there will be opportunities to talk about such management in the future. The problem is that there will not be such opportunities. We will not get another opportunity so we must deal with them in this legislation. Unfortunately, the only way that this House can deal with these issues is to deal with them now because they will not be dealt with at a later stage. That is the main problem.

While this Bill is about putting on a legal footing arrangements that were previously in place, it arises from companies around the coast taking cases to assert their rights. They fought the Government the whole way along the line to vindicate their rights and practically bankrupted themselves in doing so. Mr. Gerard Kelly is on hunger strike and is outside Leinster House today protesting against these arrangements. In the period since this Bill was first introduced in 2017, these issues could have been dealt with and resolved. This could have been done in a way that would have satisfied everyone and made everybody happy.

However, the Minister has chosen not to do so but to go down this route, which is fair enough. The amendments we have brought forward are an attempt to deal with the issue. I believe they do so and that they should be accepted.

Deputy Clare Daly's amendment proposes to amend the text of section 10 to add to the description of a foreign sea-fishing boat. The Deputy will wish to be aware that the Bill intends to amend Part 2 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. Therefore, the definitions within that Part of the Act apply to terms or phrases used in the Bill. Within that Part the definitions already address the Deputy’s concerns. I will read the definitions for the information of the House: “sea-fishing” means fishing for or taking fish or sea fish; “sea-fishing boat” means any ship, boat or other vessel of whatsoever kind used for sea fishing and includes any vessel or boat used for the treatment of fish or partly or wholly for the transport of fish. Aquaculture boats are sea fishing boats within the meaning of the Act. Therefore, the Deputy’s amendment can be considered to be tautology as the definitions already encompass the elements it seeks to include.

Deputy Pringle’s amendment has the appearance of seeking to exclude mussel seed from the scope of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. I cannot accept the amendment as the Act is the primary legislation used to regulate sea fishing and manage and conserve sea fish resources within the State, including mussels and their seed. The Act is intended to give national expression to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy that relate to marine biological resources and do not make any distinction such as the Deputy proposes.

I must stress that the Bill should not be seen as an opportunity to regulate individual fishing activities or manage any particular species. It is about the principle of access. The regulation and management of fishing activities are a complicated business, one in which I engage regularly with the fishing industry and experts from the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, as I do with other stakeholders.

I will quote again from Mr. Justice O’Donnell’s judgment in the Supreme Court, as I did earlier in responding to Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher's query:

In particular I agree that reciprocity is only required at the general level of fishing, and is not required at the level of each species. I also accept that the arrangement must be a flexible one if it is to permit the fishing now carried out. The corollary is however that the present fishing is not within the precise terms of the 1965 correspondence.

Reciprocity at the general level of fishing means that if an Irish sea fishing boat is permitted or restricted in a particular way, the same must apply to a Northern Irish sea fishing boat while fishing under the arrangements and vice versa.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

“(2) Fishing for mussel seed will be excluded from the activities pertaining to fishing within this Act and will be considered a resource fixed to the sea bed thereby categorically differentiated from mobile fish stocks.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, line 16, to delete “owned and operated” and substitute “of which the beneficial owner(s) are person(s) resident”.

This amendment goes to the core of the issue of "owned and operated" as stated on line 16. The amendment proposes to delete the words "owned and operated" and substitute “of which the beneficial owner(s) are person(s) resident”. It is about ensuring the provision is only for people resident on the island of Ireland. It gets to the point, to which the Minister referred, of keeping others out. It is not meant in a selfish way, yet in a way it is selfish. We need to ensure those involved in the inland fisheries sector will feel protected by the Bill as much as they will be accommodated by it.

I also commend to the House amendment No. 4 which is very similar and makes the same point. I ask the Minister to accept the two amendments.

The Minister referred to the owner of a vessel being resident in the Six Counties, but there is a lot of concern about ownership being compromised by outside interests. The amendment provides for the inclusion of the words "beneficial owner(s)" which would address this concern. That is the reason for proposing the inclusion of the wording.

How would ownership and residency in Northern Ireland be established?

That is exactly the point I want to address and the purpose of the amendments. There is a big difficulty in that it is almost impossible to define accurately what constitutes being "owned and operated" in Northern Ireland. We cannot be specific about what is a Northern Irish vessel. As the vessels are registered in the United Kingdom, there is no clear Northern Irish designation. Leaving aside the issue of Dutch vessels, on which we touched, even without a flag of convenience there is huge scope for the exploitation of Ireland's inshore waters by English, Scottish and Welsh boats, for example. It is incredibly messy. It is unhelpful in that sense. Many of the arguments made by the Minister are actually arguments for why Ireland should not rush this Bill through with haste. Nobody has given a good reason as to why we need to act with such haste. The amendments try to tidy up various elements a little.

My amendment would provide that only boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland by persons resident in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland would be allowed to fish within the six-mile zone. We have included a proviso in respect of persons resident in the Republic of Ireland who own Northern Irish vessels because we know that this happens on occasion. The amendment would have the effect of only allowing our neighbours to exploit our inshore resources. Only those who live on the island would be allowed to fish in our coastal waters. To me, there would be nothing wrong with this. It is good and we should be doing it. It is eminently fair. If that is the purpose of the Bill, as the Minister sort of says it is, why not do it? What other European country has opened up its six-mile zone to fishermen from any other country in Europe? The United Kingdom has not done it; why, therefore, would Ireland do it now? Why are we considering doing it when our arrangements are totally unclear because of Brexit? I was sorry earlier, but I am even sorrier now that we are ramming the Bill through, given that Brexit has been delayed. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, on which I have not heard satisfactory answers so far.

I wish to reiterate some of the points made by previous speakers. The amendment is vitally important and goes to the heart of the matter. It also shows the mismanagement of the coastline by the Government. The Minister has said clearly that the matter must be dealt with through regulations and procedures that will be introduced afterwards, but that will not happen. That is why the issue is being raised and dealt with here. Nothing will happen afterwards. This legislation sat on the shelf for two years, during which nothing was done. All of a sudden it appeared and is being dealt with now. The Minister thinks he is going to regulate these issues and deal with them now, but he could have been doing so all along. It is not happening.

There is also the issue of the costs associated with many boats around the coast. When a person wants to become involved in fishing, perhaps because it has been a tradition in the family, because of the way the capacity licence system has been built in Ireland, he or she has to buy a boat at a cost of €50,000. A person living in the North can buy a boat on a far more cost effective basis. This has led to a situation which the Minister and the Department have allowed to develop over time where Northern Ireland registered boats are being operated all along the coastline by local people who are trying to get into a business in which their families may already have been involved. They are, however, prevented from doing so owing to the costs involved. The amendment would entitle them to develop their business, as well as keeping others out, which is vitally important.

Irish fishermen are not allowed to go to the North Sea to fish because they are stopped by Europe, England and everyone else. They have been restricted in that regard from the day we joined yet we are opening Irish waters to everyone. We are allowing everything to happen here because that is just the way things go on. We are such good Europeans that we will do it. We need to protect the fishermen who have tried genuinely to make a living for themselves as best they can. It is the inaction of the Department that has allowed this situation to arise. Fishermen have been caught up in that, which is unfair.

I referred earlier to UK and European citizens coming who are not resident in either Northern Ireland or Ireland and I asked the Minister whether there was any loophole whereby they could get licences. In fairness, I felt the Minister brushed me off and started to talk about management and everything else. I maintain that the people who know best are the fishermen themselves. They have asked to meet the Minister on numerous occasions but he has refused to do so. How many times do we have to ask? Are there any loopholes? Are UK and EU citizens going to come in and start to take over the whole area from zero to six nautical miles off Dundalk Bay?

While I understand and accept that boats must be owned and operated in both jurisdictions, can someone come in, set up a company in Northern Ireland, register a boat and avail of that reciprocity? I noted in my contribution that while the Minister keeps talking about management, it would surely be sensible to limit it to currently registered boats owned and operated in both jurisdiction until we have the famous management plan committed to as part of the passing of the legislation. We will also have the Marine Institute's capacity study as part of this. I know it cannot be part of the Bill, but it makes sense that we should stick with currently registered boats until such time as we are satisfied that there is additional capacity over and above what is being done, following the necessary ecological and management studies of the stocks. I can only refer to those I have been dealing with along the coast.

I ask the Minister to respond to a practical question. We speak all the time about "owned and operated" but some are referring to "residency". If someone is living in Northern Ireland and operating a licensed boat in Coleraine, for example, I worry about residency if the person decides to move to Donegal or Louth. Are the appropriate words then "owned and operated"? Is there any reference in the amendment the Minister introduced in the Seanad to "residency"? I believe it would be discrimination.

I thank colleagues. Deputies have proposed an amendment to impose residency requirements on the owners of Northern Irish sea-fishing boats. At the time of confirming the voisinage arrangements in the 1960s, reference was also made to the requirement to be permanently resident in the Six Counties. With the passage of time, however, we must acknowledge the changed realities within which we operate. Not least of these changes is the fact that citizens of EU member states, including Ireland, have the right to reside in any part of the European Union. Freedom of movement and residence for persons within the European Union is the cornerstone of Union citizenship established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. The Deputies' proposed amendment is also not compatible with the reality of corporate ownership of sea-fishing boats. As stipulated in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and reinforced by the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services guarantees mobility for businesses within the European Union. I cannot accept an amendment which proposes the imposition of illegal provisions. If we were to exclude corporate ownership as a principle for access to the zero to six nautical mile zone, it would also impact on our own sector, perhaps to a greater extent. Some of the allegedly foreign owners of Northern flags of convenience could well be Irish investors, an issue I recall one Senator alluding to on Committee Stage in the Seanad.

I will read to the House excerpts from the High Court judgment of Mr. Justice Birmingham, which are of direct relevance to this issue. He said:

The structure of the fishing industry in Europe and indeed in Ireland has evolved in the half century since the exchange of letters occurred.

He went on to say:

It may well have been the case that in 1964 boats were owned and operated by individuals and that it was realistic to think in terms of permanently resident individual fishermen. However, almost 50 years on, where vessels are larger and more sophisticated, corporate ownership is now the norm, as is illustrated by the fact that the corporate plaintiffs are each the owners of a vessel. It seems to me that the arrangement entered into is robust enough and flexible enough to deal with the structures of an industry which like other industries can be expected to evolve over time.

The Supreme Court accepted the High Court's analysis of the arrangement. The following is a quotation from Mr. Justice O'Donnell's judgment:

In particular I agree that reciprocity is only required at the general level of fishing, and is not required at the level of each species. I also accept that the arrangement must be a flexible one if it is to permit the fishing now carried out.

We must remember that the Bill is about reinstating arrangements under existing neighbourhood relations. We can still go North and, by virtue of the Supreme Court decision, they cannot come South. Equally, they have not changed the rules for us when we go North. No particular restrictions have been imposed on Irish sea-fishing boats for corporate owners or in relation to residency or otherwise. We are only looking to restore that which existed prior to October 2016. Regardless of Brexit or anything else in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and in the context of harmonious relationships North and South, it is only right and proper that we would restore that reciprocal arrangement. "Restore" means just that. That is what the Bill is for, not any other purpose.

Deputy Clare Daly raised the point about a Northern Ireland or UK register open to boats from Scotland, Wales or England. That is not in fact the case. We have been informed by the Northern Ireland authorities that there is a Northern Ireland register. When a boat is registered, the owner must indicate a port to which the boat is attached and a region within which it operates. There is a specific Northern Ireland register, which is important in the context of capacity to enforce and so on. A point I read out alludes to something Deputy Pringle said. If we were to accept the amendment he proposes, it would equally adversely impact on our own boats in the context of corporate ownership, apart at all from the fact that it would be illegal to do so in the context of European law. The judgments reflect the fact that things have moved on substantially from the 1960s and we have different shades of ownership now. We have interests in both the register we operate and, according to the commentary I have from Members, interests in the Northern Ireland register which, if they were DNA tested, may not be of entirely Irish origin. That is part of the European family we are in and it involves freedom of movement, freedom to deliver services and freedom of establishment. To impose a restriction as proposed, in particular when no reciprocal restriction is placed on our boats going North, would be counterproductive. The cross-ownership point to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred in the Seanad regarding a boat leaving Donegal and finding that by virtue of that, it could not turn right out of Lough Foyle, brings that home. There are numerous persons we are aware of who are resident down here and who have registered boats in Northern Ireland. The law of unintended consequences applies, quite apart from the fact that it is illegal to accept the proposal under EU law.

Can I take it that residency is not an issue or is not included in the Minister's amendment? It makes sense. Who is to be resident? Is it the skipper, the owner or the crew? It makes sense.

We are not making anyone resident.

Will the Minister go into more detail about the issue of registration in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland register? He indicated that to be registered in Northern Ireland one must be assigned to a port there. What does that mean for a boat from the Six Counties in terms of its access to British waters or the six mile zone there? Obviously, the overall number of licences registered in the UK is very high compared with the number registered in the Republic, the North or both. How easy is it for a British registered boat to simply register in a Northern Ireland port and then have access? This would mean that there would be capacity for boats with UK licences, not just those in the Six Counties, to also have access to the six-mile zone. Will the Minister tease that out and explain it a little further? It is an issue that has been raised.

The issue I wish to raise is company or corporate ownership and corporate residency. The legislation refers to a person and persons but, as the Minister said, in many cases companies own these vessels. My understanding is that a company must be resident somewhere and pay tax somewhere. If it is resident somewhere, that location must be on the island of Ireland and it must pay its taxes on the island of Ireland. That goes to the core of this matter. One could then consider the majority ownership of a company. If six people are the joint owners of a company and four of them live on the island of Ireland and two of them live on the Continent, what would be the position? We must get to the nub of that because it relates to the issue we are discussing.

The Minister stated that he thinks there is a register and that they have told him-----

I did not say "I think". There is.

Okay, but the key point is that there is nothing to stop a Scottish boat putting Coleraine down as a port on the register. What level of detail has the Minister seen from the Northern Ireland register? This is a fundamental point. We do not know what we are being asked to open ourselves up to here or what might be the levels of exploitation. Why are we rushing this legislation through when we do not even know whether there will be a reciprocal arrangement from Britain? This is bizarre when our relationship with Britain is up in the air. The Minister must respond with these details.

I asked the Minister earlier if Dundalk Bay can sustain more boats. He indicated that is to do with management and has nothing to do with this legislation. However, would the Minister not put management in place before the Bill? There is no point in it if the six-mile zone is not capable of facilitating the boats. Was nothing done to check this out? Is the Minister stating that no management is in place to look after who is coming in and so forth? That makes no sense. It is like putting the horse before the cart.

I am surprised that Deputy Fitzpatrick accuses me of not engaging or consulting. I have met more delegations of fishermen for the Deputy than for most others during my three years in office. I should also point out that it is more difficult to have engagement when a group of fishermen puts a solicitor on notice when we are trying to engage with the Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum, RIFF, in that region. This Bill is about access, not management. We made efforts to manage and to engage, but it is not made easier when those who wish to conserve do not engage and appoint a solicitor to do so on their behalf. Engagement is a complex arrangement that takes multiple factors into account and it is not made easier by having solicitors on notice and seeking to have what we have always considered in this State to be a public asset made private.

Deputy Clare Daly stated that we do not know what reciprocal arrangement we will have with the UK. If I am not mistaken, the Deputy is conflating two issues. We have reciprocal access to the UK's zero to six-mile zone at present. I believe she is referring to Brexit and what access we will have outside the inshore sector. When we are seeking to get continued access in the Brexit negotiations, it does not help our case if we put up barriers to our inshore sector and state that there can be no boats from Northern Ireland. We have reciprocal access at present in the context of voisinage, which only deals with the zero to six mile zone. The broader and bigger picture for the fishing industry is undoubtedly the economic impact of future access in the context of Brexit - what access we may have to those waters in the future and what will be the consequences of that. Certainly, there is a Brexit context to this debate and we should not put up barriers to the inshore when we are seeking to ensure our continued access to the UK's 200-mile zone.

Deputy Clare Daly and Deputy McConalogue referred to the Northern Ireland register. We must look at what the custom and practice have been for more than the last 60 years. Has there been a headlong rush of boats from Wales, England and Scotland to the Northern Ireland register? There has not, and there is nothing to suggest that it would happen. To do so the boats would have to forgo the investment they have made in the regions and industry where they are currently and the species they catch. What would be the purpose? There is nothing in the custom and practice of this operation for as long as it has existed, and that is since long before the London Fisheries Convention in the 1960s, to suggest that these people will suddenly drop tools in Grimsby, Yarmouth or the fishing ports of Scotland and head like an armada to our zero to six mile zone. They did not do it previously and they have not sought to register in great numbers on the Northern Ireland register.

Regarding who can be on the Northern Ireland register, Deputy McConalogue can look at the profile of the two people who were arrested and tried. That is what we are talking about, by and large. It would be the overwhelming majority. As I said earlier, let us not get bogged down in a species-specific argument. This is about the inshore sector in all its manifestations. The register is just a Northern Ireland register that is part of an overall UK register. One registers one's boat where one operates it, and it is as simple as that. It is a specific Northern Ireland register. There is nothing to suggest that there was an influx of people onto that register over the last 60 or 70 years, and there is nothing to suggest that it will happen in the future either.

Deputy Martin Kenny is asking me to comment on areas of company law. Obviously, companies register in a location and pay their taxes there. The Deputy is making a species-specific inquiry. No company can take mussel seed outside of this jurisdiction or Northern Ireland. Regardless of what companies are involved in that industry, they must use the seed in mussel farms either in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

I have a quick question. If this Bill is not enacted before Brexit, which was due to happen tomorrow and which accounts for the urgency relating to the legislation, what will be the consequences? Do we lose control?

The Deputy has raised a very salient point. If the UK leaves and becomes a third country, it is quite feasible that we would lose authority to negotiate a voisinage arrangement with it because that would then be seen as a new engagement with a third country. While the UK remains a member state, we can have a neighbourhood arrangement with it. If it is a third country, however, the negotiation is taken out of our hands and could be a function of the European Union under the Common Fisheries Policy. In the context of being in control of our arrangements with our neighbours, it is preferable that we do it here rather than lose control in a situation where the UK becomes a third country.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 65; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanton, David.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Martin Kenny and Martin Ferris; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, line 17, after “Ireland” to insert “by persons resident in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, are related and form a composite proposal. They may be discussed together. I remind Members that the order of the House is that we have one hour for Committee Stage. There are 12 minutes remaining and I will then be obliged to put the question.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, line 17, after “may” to insert “not”.

The Minister spoke about my namesake from west Cork and stated that he would turn in his grave because I have been shutting doors. I ask the Minister not to insult the name of General Michael Collins in this Dáil. The Minister shut the door for two years when he was asleep at the wheel in respect of this Bill. The Minister had the door shut solid on this and there was no chance of discussion for me or any of my colleagues on this issue. Do not go there. It was the Minister who shut the doors, not me.

I am trying to protect Irish fishermen and their rights. Maybe I am wrong in some of the issues which are concerning me but we need more time to discuss the issue and that is what I have pleading for all along. A proper discussion is the least that should happen. This Bill should be allowed to go through pre-legislative scrutiny where the real facts as to where we are going could be found out.

When he was asked about legalities on the Northern Irish side in the Seanad, the Minister stated that the Minister of State at the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Robert Goodwill, MP, stated that he is confident that the legal side in the UK is okay. Confidence is not legally binding to the best of my knowledge. Mr. Goodwill surely has the resources to give the Minister a clear answer as to whether the situation is 100% legally binding or not. The Minister is ramming this Bill through on the basis of Mr. Goodwill saying he is confident. Having watched politics in England over the past two years, I have very little confidence in what is going on there. The Minister seems to have more confidence than I have. I ask the Minister to sideline this Bill at least until the Brexit negotiations are over. That is the most important thing because we do not know what rights we will have.

The Minister also mentioned Mr. Michael Gove in the Seanad. In 2017, Mr. Gove brought forward a Bill in the UK that he said created powers to build a sustainable and profitable UK fishing industry with new protections for precious marine environment. A press release at the time stated that, "For the first time since 1973, the Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control who may fish in our waters and on what terms." I find it very clear where the UK is going although the Minister does not. Mr. Gove stated, in 2017, that, for the first time in 50 years and due to Brexit, the UK could control its own waters. At the time, the Minister described that statement on behalf of the UK Government as unwelcome and unhelpful.

Today, however, the Minister has informed me that I am on the wrong side of the debate. I ask him to allow the Bill to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny and that we be given the time needed to discuss it properly. The Bill was sitting in his Department for two years but we have only had it for a couple of weeks.

I find it astonishing that Members have stated that the Seanad delayed the Bill - I cannot argue with them on that score - and that Senators asked the Minister to meet fishing groups before they made a decision. He met groups in west Cork. It is always important to acknowledge any Minister who meets any groups. The fishing groups in question greatly appreciated meeting him. I have heard, however, that other groups did not have the opportunity to meet him. The meeting with the Minister was held last Thursday but I received notice of it only this morning, despite the debate on the issue being scheduled to take place in the House today. The Minister must have pre-empted the debate, therefore, or else it must have been decided, behind the scenes and without our knowledge, that there would be an agreement today. The Bill would not have made it through the Seanad if the fishing groups did not agree and it could not have come here for debate, yet here we are discussing it. I stand over my concerns and the amendment.

The amendments would remove the principle of access for sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland to fish in our zero to six-mile zone. The amendment is utterly perplexing, particularly considering that the authorities in Northern Ireland are continuing to allow access to Irish sea-fishing boats to fish in their equivalent zone. The Deputy spoke about Mr. Goodwill and his view of politics in the UK, but he should judge those politicians not by their words but by their deeds. We have access to the UK's six-mile zone but it does not have access to ours.

On my consultation with the fishing industry, to which the Deputy referred, I asked my office to check how many consultations I have had since I was appointed as Minister and there appear to have been more than 40 occasions. The matter has been discussed on a number of occasions, most recently last Thursday, as the Deputy noted. It was conveyed to me that, overall, the industry supports the principle behind the voisinage arrangement and co-operation with our neighbours in Northern Ireland. The amendment, however, does not support either the principle or the practice. While there were concerns about the lack of a level playing field, the principle of the arrangements was acceded to. Let us remember that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court finding that the voisinage arrangements are not invalid but that, as it stands, there is insufficient provision for them in domestic law. In Justice O’Donnell's judgment at the Supreme Court, he stated that, for reasons which it would be necessary to set out at some length, he had concluded that the current practice of fishing or harvesting of mussel seed by Northern Ireland-registered boats in the territorial waters of this State is not lawful as it constitutes the exploitation of a natural resource which must, according to Article 10 of the Constitution, be provided for by means of a law enacted by the Oireachtas. He went on to state that he concluded there is no such law at present but that it follows from this conclusion that there is no insuperable constitutional objection to making provision by law for such fishing, which is the intention behind the Bill.

The Bill seeks to address what the Supreme Court identified is required, namely, to give the arrangements a legal footing and cement our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. The voisinage, or neighbourhood, arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided reciprocal fishing access for more than 50 years. These arrangements have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in our coastal waters. They have also allowed, and continue to allow, Irish-registered fishing boats access to coastal waters in Northern Ireland. While the Bill proposes to restore access to Northern Ireland boats to fish under the terms of the voisinage arrangement, this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. The Bill specifies this conditionality of access to give further assurance to the House that there is no question of preferential treatment for Northern Ireland vessels while fishing in our six-mile zone. While there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change from what they were previously. Northern Ireland boats will simply regain the reciprocal access they have had for decades under the voisinage arrangement in the zero to six-nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will also continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats. I ask the House to reject the Deputies' amendments.

Inserting the word "not", to the effect that fishing boats from the North may not fish, effectively guts the entire voisinage agreement and removes it from law. While Deputy Michael Collins seeks to protect the inshore fishing sector and so on, it should be borne in mind that the inshore fishing sector also operates north of the Border. The Bill seeks to accommodate fishing everywhere within the six-mile zone all around the island of Ireland and recognise the island as one unit, which is what has been done through a gentleman's agreement that we know can be open to interpretation or even a little bit of stretching, to say the least. The agreement has nonetheless been in place and has worked for decades. Whatever abuses may have happened relate to issues of management or mismanagement. To table an amendment which seeks to set aside the agreement and remove it altogether is utterly inappropriate and wrong.

While I understand that the Deputy's intention in tabling the amendments is to delay the process and allow for more discussion and debate, as he has indicated, we are at the 11th hour. Although Brexit may not happen in the next number of days or weeks - we do not know how the matter will develop - we are in an uncertain situation. A number of months ago, we did not expect to be where are now. We all thought there would be an agreement and that it would have been resolved. That has not happened, however, and now we are in a situation where we are a matter of days away from a position where the State will not be able to negotiate this type of arrangement in future if we do not put in place now or very soon. The amendments are inappropriate and I recommend that they should not be supported.

The amendments are partitionist in the extreme, given that they seek to preclude a basic right from people of our country to fish in our territorial waters around the island. I am surprised that Deputy Michael Collins, a man from rebel-held west Cork, would be as partitionist as the amendments suggest. I am also surprised there was a verbal attack from Deputy Mattie McGrath, who stormed out the door and has not even returned to contribute in respect of his amendments. What kind of carry-on is that? In fairness, Deputies Clare Daly and Pringle and we were present to move their amendments and argue their point of view. It is disgraceful that some Deputies put their names to amendments but do not even have the decency or respect to turn up and argue their case. If they were more acquainted with the situation, they might know that there are decent fishermen in this part of our island who have licences in the Six Counties, and vice versa. It is very wrong that a person with a licence in the Six Counties and living in Arklow cannot fish in the South. We are preventing that. Restoring the voisinage agreement and trying to get everything right, in order that people will be comfortable with the outcome, is what we are trying to do.

As the time has elapsed, I must stop the Deputy.

I think all of us would concur with the Deputy's sentiments.

In accordance with an order of the Dáil of 26 March 2019, I am now required to put the following question: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 8; Staon, 0.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Stanton, David.

Níl

  • Collins, Michael.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin; Níl, Deputies Michael Collins and Peter Fitzpatrick.
Question declared carried.