I wish to place on record the appreciation of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, ISWFPO, that the Bill has been introduced by Deputies Martin Kenny, Martin Ferris and Pearse Doherty and that the committee has taken up the Bill with a view to detailed scrutiny of its provisions. Insofar as the ISWFPO welcomes the Bill, we believe that significant amendment to it may be required to comply with Ireland’s obligations pursuant to the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, and to enable island and coastal fishers, who generally reside in very remote communities, to avail of the very considerable discretion afforded to the Minister and Legislature in regulating small-scale island and inshore fisheries, within and outside the structures of the CFP, and within the Irish constitutional and legislative provisions outside of the ambit of the CFP. I want to make clear it is possible for the committee and the Houses to construct a Bill that would enable island fishers to be granted specific rights to fish outside the ambit of the CFP and in waters that are not European waters, that is, in the inshore waters of the State inside the baseline.
To properly scrutinise the Bill, it is first necessary to understand the exact nature of what we, the Irish people, voted to pass regulatory control over to the then European Economic Community through referendum and Ireland's Treaty of Accession of 1972. The nature and extent of Ireland's maritime jurisdiction, specifically the extent to which Ireland ceded jurisdiction to the EU on sea fisheries within its maritime jurisdiction pursuant to the Treaty of Accession with the EU, must be understood to craft an Act that will underpin economic activity derived from the ocean and confer a modicum of prosperity upon the people who live along our coastline and on our islands.
In my written submission I set out in specific detail how it would be possible to construct a Bill in which the House could designate waters within which island and inshore fishermen could derive entitlements to fish that would be outside of the EU quota system. Once fish are inside a certain line, they are not European fish. When they are outside the baseline and in the exclusive fishery limits of the State, they are European fish. In the same way, if we go 200 miles offshore, fish inside the baseline are European fish and fish in the Atlantic are internationally owned fish. This is crucial for Members of the Houses to understand in constructing a Bill that confers a benefit on island fishers and, I hope, on coastal fishers also, some of whom live in equally remote communities as those on many of our islands. We also submitted an amended version of our submission, setting out the background and law as to how Ireland's maritime jurisdiction is constructed. I will deal with what we are asking the committee to consider in the context of the Bill.
In the event the committee proceeds with the Bill, regard should be had to the following matters.
All of Ireland's populated offshore islands lie in waters within the baseline and within the internal waters of the State with the sole exception, but I am open to correction, of Oileán Thoraí, which lies more than ten nautical miles off the north-west coast of Donegal, with all waters surrounding the island lying within the 12-mile zone limit and within the exclusive fishery limits of the State, subject to the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union. We believe that specific provision should be made for Oileán Thoraí in this Bill, and if necessary that the baseline outlined in the map we have attached to our written submission, and underpinned by the provisions of the Maritime Jurisdiction (Straight Baselines) Order 2016, which repeated the straight baselines order of 1959, would be amended by means of changing the baseline as it passes along the coast of Donegal, so it would pass outside the outer limits of Oileán Thoraí and bring the island into the inland waters of the State. This would place Oileán Thoraí within Ireland's inland waters and grant to the people of Oileán Thoraí very considerable waters within which to fish, with the distinct advantage that the fish caught and landed from within that zone would not be subject to the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy, nor would these waters be subject to the movement of enormous foreign-registered sea-fishing boats while conducting fishing operations. In certain circumstances, island fishermen would be entitled to avail of a special portion of Ireland's EU fishing quotas for catches made outside of the baseline and within the six-mile limit while concurrently being entitled to an almost unlimited access to fish resources in waters within the baseline, none of which will be subject to EU quotas.
Many fishermen living in remote villages and towns along the south-western seaboard, some in places more remote than the inhabited islands, will find themselves at a disadvantage insofar as, while they too will be entitled to fish for catch and land fish resources from waters within the baseline, they will be unable to avail of any special quotas for catches made for EU quota species in waters outside of the baseline and within the six-mile zone. If this committee is in any doubt it should seek independent legal advice with regard to the status of fish resources within the inland waters of the State and lying inside of the baseline. Having independent legal advice might be helpful to the committee.
I have set out a note in our written submission that in October and November 1976, during the so-called "Cod Wars" between Icelandic fishermen and the British, Danish, Dutch and German fishermen, following Iceland's unilateral extension of the limits of its exclusive fishing limits to 200 miles, and in advance of and during a summit of EEC leaders at the Hague, Ireland - together with France, Denmark, the UK and Germany - extended the outer limit of their exclusive fishing limits to 200 miles from 12 miles in a joint unilateral claim to the fish resources within the 200-mile zones, with a view to putting an end to Icelandic and Faroese pilfering of fish stocks in British waters. This event occurred six years before the entire international community finally agreed and signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, at Montego Bay. Ireland and the European Union purported to exercise exclusive rights to all fisheries resources within the waters between 12 miles from the baseline and 200 miles from the baseline on foot of this statutory instrument from November 1976 until 2016, when the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, revoked the 1976 statutory instrument and replaced it with another.
At all times since 1976, control over fisheries resources lying in Irish waters between 12 miles and 200 miles from the baseline has been exercised by the European Union on the basis of these two statutory instruments. This was applicable up until the Treaty of Maastricht when Ireland ceded control to the European Union in relation to conservation, but not in respect of anything else.
We in the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation question the legal and constitutional basis for the transfer of jurisdiction over these fish resources and those waters to the EU through the sole means of a statutory instrument and the consequent grant to give enormous wealth from our waters to the peoples of other EU member states. I cannot emphasise this enough. I do not know what is the total value of the fish resources caught within Ireland's marginal jurisdiction but it certainly is a multiple of the value of the fish resources that Irish fishermen derive from those waters. It could be less than one tenth of the total value of the fish resources that are taken out of our waters every year. In light of what I have outlined to the committee I ask that members consider the fact that since 1976, the European Union has exercised control over waters from 12 miles to 200 miles but the people of Ireland never voted on this and the Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann have never voted on this. Nobody has voted on it. It was simply a statutory instrument done with the stroke of a pen, in a hurry, and in advance of the summit held in the Hague when Ireland, the UK, Germany, France and the rest of them wanted to shove out their borders to 200 miles to stop the Icelanders and the Faroese taking the fish. I respectfully submit to the committee that this single hole in Irish fisheries law has not been repaired.
With regard to the fish that is within the baseline that island fishermen and inshore fishermen catch, and continue to catch every day, most of this fish is declared against Irish quotas and is subtracted from Irish quotas. It is taken into account when quotas are being granted to fishing boats. The fish caught inside the baseline is not European fish. It is not quota fish. At the very least, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation calls for Ireland to seek a rebate from the European Union in respect of over-declaration of fish resources taken from these inland waters.
The other issue around the waters from 12 miles to 200 miles is a far larger question that requires considerable, serious thought on a different day.