Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 20 Jun 2017

Vol. 252 No. 6

Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, to the House. This debate is to adjourn no later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

I am very pleased to present the Bill for the consideration of the House. Its purpose is to confer an explicit power on Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for inland fisheries offences. It achieves this by amending Part 4 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 by the insertion of a specific provision providing IFI with the power to bring and prosecute summary proceedings under the specified Acts. It will ensure that IFI can fully enforce the Inland Fisheries Acts. The Bill also makes some additional corrections to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to ensure that minor omissions in the Act which might impact on IFI's prosecution powers are fully resolved.

I will set out some background information on the Bill. IFI is the State agency responsible for the protection, conservation, development and promotion of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea-angling resources. IFI was formed on 1 July 2010 following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and the seven regional fisheries boards into a single agency. Ireland has over 74,000 km of rivers and streams and 128,000 ha of lakes, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of IFI. IFI's jurisdiction also extends to the 12-mile limit around the coast.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment received advice from the Office of the Attorney General in February 2017 to the effect that IFI does not have a power to bring prosecutions under the Inland Fisheries Acts. It was advised that an explicit power to prosecute should be inserted into Part 4 of the 2010 Act as a matter of priority. The impact of the advice is that until the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 is amended, prosecutions brought by IFI for which proceedings have been initiated cannot proceed. There are approximately 150 cases which fall into this category. Cases which have already been finally disposed of by the courts are not affected. In light of the advice, the amendments to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 are being pursued as a matter of priority. The Bill has passed all five Stages in the Dáil without amendment.

The Bill is important because it impacts on the capacity of IFI to bring prosecutions and fully enforce the Inland Fisheries Acts. IFI needs these powers to effectively conserve and protect Ireland's inland fisheries and sea-angling resources. My intention is that amendments to the 2010 Act will be in place well before the expiry of the statutory six-month time limit for the initiation of proceedings following the date of the alleged offences. As the six-month period expires in early August, it is imperative to finalise the Bill as soon as possible to ensure that anyone who committing an offence will still be liable to prosecution. It is intended that there should be no period during which offences can be committed with impunity. All correct provisions and offences of the Inland Fisheries Acts continue in full force and effect.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his reappointment. I am sure he is delighted. It is nice to be reappointed to an office and he has retained his portfolio in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is a happy day for him and his family and a great honour. I know what it is like myself having had the personal experience of being reappointed in different Departments. I wish the Minister of State well in his office.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill in principle. It is a crucial and urgent amendment to confer an explicit power on Inland Fisheries Ireland to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for inland fisheries offences. IFI is the main body with responsibility for protecting Ireland's inland waterways and up to 12 nautical miles off the coast and the fish that inhabit them from illegal poaching or overfishing and other illegal activity. Prosecution is one of the main deterrents to illegal fishing activities in the long term but as of now the IFI's power to prosecute is open to challenge. This has been confirmed by the Office of the Attorney General which has asserted that the 2010 Act should be amended to more clearly state and affirm the powers of IFI to prosecute all summary offences. Clearly, we urgently need to address this situation.

The Minister of State knows that I have made a very strong issue of the treatment of fisheries in our area. I welcome his officials here today. We had a presentation from IFI in Buswell's Hotel and I have received other communications since then. However, nothing has really come from the Minister of State's Department as such. The general line has been that IFI was waiting for the Department to communicate with me in this particular regard. I have a letter from Dr. Ciaran Byrne, the chief executive officer, dated 3 February 2017. In the letter, he thanked me for taking the time to attend the briefing day for Oireachtas Members held on 25 January. He states that on the points I raised, he prepared a note for the Department and understood that it would communicate with me on it shortly. He states that as my point was raised at the briefing day, the Department was anxious to respond to me directly and says he would be happy to engage directly with me on this and any other matter once the Department had the chance to respond formally to my concerns. He trusts that I find that satisfactory and again thanks me for taking the time out of my busy schedule to come across to the open day.

Areas are not being treated equally. In his script, the Minister of State made it clear that there is one organisation now which comprises what were the Central Fisheries Board and several regional boards. That is so. What has happened is that the Government has discriminated against the midlands fisheries group where a permit is required. Anglers in the Shannon region must have a permit, which incurs a charge, to fish for trout, pike or to engage in coarse angling in the midlands fisheries group of controlled waters. This area comprises the River Suck and its tributaries, Lough O'Flynn, Lough Acalla, Hollygrove Lake, Stonehams Lake, which adjoins our land at Castlecoote in Roscommon, Lough Lung, and Blacks Lake, also in the townland of Castlecoote.

The restriction is there too. The area also comprises the River Inny and tributaries, the River Brosna and tributaries, the Little Brosna river and tributaries and the Camlin River and tributaries. In that regard, it means that a fisherman who comes from England will have to pay €45 for an adult annual permit. A senior citizen has to pay €25. A juvenile annual permit costs €20. An adult one-day permit costs €20. A juvenile one-day permit costs €10. A 21-day permit from the Midland Fisheries Group is €25 and a family day ticket is €20.

I will support the Bill today but I will do everything I can on this side of the House to prevent the passage of the Bill through Committee and Report Stages unless there is equity and fairness. I appeal to my colleagues in Sinn Féin, who I think would be very much in favour of fairness in this regard. How can the Minister of State discriminate against one area of Ireland and say a permit is required? This affects us and the jobs and tourism in our area. If the Minister of State wants to bring in charges, that is another issue which he will have to get through Government and the Oireachtas. I am not advocating it because, as the song goes, all our rivers run free, and that is the feeling. The trout fishers Bill was brought in and practically brought down a Government some years ago. Some of the same people who opposed it at the time seemingly slipped this in with regard to the Shannon fisheries area.

I am glad to get an opportunity today to make a good point for the people in the constituency of Roscommon-Galway who are affected by this situation. I appeal to all Members of this House to go along with me in this particular regard. I am making a request of the Minister of State and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten. I am putting pressure on the Minister in particular. He cannot allow this discrimination. It is just not on. One cannot justify it. It is inequitable. In fact, I would consider that someone could not be pursued for not having these permits because this does not apply to the Republic of Ireland but to a specific area only.

I cannot understand how the Minister of State has not reacted already. He is in the job and we spoke about this in January. I want a response from him. I also want to say that, whatever action I take, I will do everything in my power to stop this Bill going through. Let me be quite clear about it. Unless the Minister of State brings around fairness and equity, I will filibuster on Committee Stage, Report Stage and every other Stage. We accept this in principle. However, as an elected representative from Roscommon to Dáil Éireann 40 years ago last Friday, I for one could never stand by a discrimination against an area. This is affecting tourism, business and promotion.

How can we promote in Britain fishing in our area, where they will have to pay €45, while they can go down to parts of County Longford and pay nothing to fish on the River Shannon?

I make the case to the Minister of State to go back to Government to say that this situation must be rectified. I will go the whole way on this. I will pursue this in my party. We accept it in principle, but I will be lobbying at a parliamentary party level and every other level. The situation is simple. The same rules should be applied for all fishing in Ireland. It is as simple as that. I will accept that with a heart and a half.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his new post. We welcome the Bill and understand the purpose and need behind these changes in legislation. This is about giving effective and legally sound powers to protect against the pollution of our environment. Of course, it is something that we need to consider in general and not just for our inland waters. We have to consider the effect of powers for all regulatory bodies, not just in respect of the environment but also, for instance, in respect of consumer protection and white-collar crime, which has seen its weaknesses exposed recently.

The action we are currently debating only came about after a serious pollutant entered the River Tolka and in excess of 5,000 fish were killed. It was only when this occurred that questions were raised in regard to the powers of Inland Fisheries Ireland. The powers of regulatory bodies need to be sufficient to prevent pollution of our environment. This means that sanctions need to be high enough to deter and must also be high enough to match the damages caused. Alongside this, enforcement needs to be strong enough to ensure we take on those who pollute our environment.

Giving powers is only the first step. Regulating bodies may have powers in legislation but they are not worth the paper they are written on if they are never enforced. Giving proper, effective and strong functions and enforcement powers to regulators shows that we are taking the problems that are there seriously. We cannot deny that the problems exist. Globally, freshwater species alone declined by more than 81% since 1970. Once our environment is polluted, it is inflicted on aquatic environments. Once these species are gone, there is no return and there is no second chance. Such a decline in the numbers of these species is clear evidence that there is something radically wrong. Plans, consultations and discussions are not needed but action in legislation must be taken. Years of neglect by successive Governments have allowed for environmental protection to be seen as a threat rather than a great opportunity.

I acknowledge the ongoing work by angling clubs, farmers and volunteers in keeping many of our rivers, canals and lakes clean. They have picked up the slack on many occasions when Government and local authorities failed. This is often done at their own expense. The question of who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of rivers is one that urgently needs to be addressed. Why are so many of our rivers in private ownership and who benefits from them? This needs to be examined. The song lyrics that only our rivers run free belie the reality in terms of who owns our rivers, who benefits from them and who is affected by the negative externalities that come about. I am talking about farmers in particular. They have land behind rivers that is privately owned. They have to stand back and watch while their lands are flooded and ruined. This is their main factor of production but nothing is done about it because it is not possible to establish whether Inland Fisheries Ireland, the local authority or central government is responsible or exactly who is responsible.

An audit needs to be an carried out urgently of the ownership of and responsibility for rivers and how we get the community to maximise the benefits of our rivers and our natural resources. If I was not in this job and had the time - I intend to do it some day - I would do a proper investigation into the handover of our rivers, how they were kept in private ownership, how we as a State now have to pay for the upkeep of many of these rivers and how the benefits are kept within a very select few within this country. I ask that this be tackled in the lifetime of the Government. The Minister of State would certainly get our co-operation in doing it. In the meantime, we need to protect our environment and rivers and to ensure that the community benefits from our natural resources.

I welcome the Minister of State to this House and congratulate him on his very worthy appointment. I am sure that he will do an excellent job.

Today we are discussing legislation that is urgent in so many ways. We saw that last February the then Attorney General wanted to promote the legislation due to an anomaly she saw in the previous Bill. It is important that we move ahead, if we possibly can, and pass this legislation. There are roughly 150 cases pending and waiting on this legislation to be amended. That would be a positive step. I hope we move that step forward this evening in order that the good work being done by Inland Fisheries Ireland can be delivered on the ground. We must consider the work it does on the ground. It has an important role in ensuring that our rivers are protected.

We have had interesting contributions here today.

Senator Leyden mentioned something I was not aware of and I am sure the Minister of State will respond. It was a very interesting remark. We have also heard about the issue of the actual ownership of the rivers themselves. The ownership of rivers has been an issue that has been around for an awfully long time. I refer to my previous role in the local authorities where a former county engineer informed Cork County Council that most rivers in County Cork were owned by landowners and that the maintenance of those rivers was their responsibility. This was a huge burden on the landowners. The Cork local authority took the opportunity to inform them that the maintenance was their job. This created unfortunate division between the local authority and the landowners over the potential knock-on effect on the expense of this. There are issues surrounding the management of rivers that need to be clarified so that we know exactly when, where and how we are going with these issues.

Today's piece of legislation is important. It is important that this House move swiftly to ensure that we pass it so that the 150 cases that need to be looked at can be suitably addressed by the courts.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his re-appointment. I wish him well for the years ahead. I welcome this piece of legislation that is in effect closing a loophole that was left open when the other powers were transferred several years ago from the Central Fisheries Board to Inland Fisheries Ireland. I welcome the addressing of the issue of prosecutions as outlined by the Minister of State in his speech.

I have some questions for the Minister of State. A number of years ago we banned draft netting and drift net fishing because of the amount of salmon stock. The ban was meant to increase these stocks throughout the catchment areas. Has this ban been as effective as was hoped? I would also like to ask the Minister of State about the restocking of lakes. I know that Inland Fisheries Ireland has a restocking programme in place but it has been brought to my attention that some lakes that were restocked in the past were not restocked this year. Loch Lannagh outside Castlebar is one example. What will be the case in the future? Will there be a restocking programme on a rotational basis or what is the mechanism for this?

I would also like to congratulate the staff in Inland Fisheries Ireland for their great work in maintaining the rivers and lakes throughout the country. I also commend landowners on giving access to people to fish. We have a great product here but more could be done to promote Irish angling in Europe in particular because there is a clientele there for angling. We have great angling lakes and rivers and we could promote the whole area of our inland fisheries much more. Every fish that is caught on a rod, whether it is a salmon or a trout or whatever, is worth much more to the local economy than just the value of the fish, when we consider restaurants, bars, bed and breakfasts and hotels. This is an area then that we should give some thought to and promote.

If no other members are indicating to speak I will call on the Minister of State to conclude.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate today. As I have already stated, without a specific provision in the 2010 Act Inland Fisheries Ireland is hampered in effectively conserving and protecting the inland fisheries and sea angling resources and in fully enforcing the Inland Fisheries Acts. This and the timely enactment of the amendment Bill will ensure that there is no period during which offences can be committed with impunity. I reiterate that all current provisions on offences in the Inland Fisheries Acts continue in full force and effect and the powers of fisheries officers remain.

I thank Senator Leyden for his support, on this Stage at the very least, and for Fianna Fáil support in the Dáil in the passage of the Bill through its various Stages. The Senator raises questions that he has raised in the past about specific areas in his own constituency. I know that when he raised these previously at the IFI open day in Buswells Hotel, the Department asked IFI to respond and to set out the position on the midland permit to the Senator. I understand that this was completed. The Senator's office emailed the fisheries division and the division then responded by email. The big difference is that the waters in question are owned by the ESB. They are managed by IFI under agreement with the ESB. Part of the arrangement is that the funding of permits goes to the IFI in respect of management. This is a different scenario to what one would find on many other lakes that are fully under the control of the State. I would be happy to have senior officials engage with the Senator on this and I hope that this issue will not delay the passage of this very important Bill. Delay of this Bill, the Senator's very valid concerns notwithstanding, will undermine the protection of rivers and lakes all across the State. It is important that we acknowledge that.

The case raised by Senator Conway-Walsh was settled by the court. I am happy to report that, in addition to costs, reparation was also imposed by the court and the total cost to the defendant was approximately €37,000. The ownership and title of rivers is obviously a matter of property. In the context of updating the legislation covering inland fisheries, a detailed examination has been undertaken of titled rivers and rates payable. This is a very comprehensive piece of work. The Fisheries Act 1959 was itself a consolidation of Acts going back to the 1800s. The formation of the State and all that went with that must also be taken into account so there is a lot of work going on at the moment. This work is ongoing and will hopefully be brought to fruition in this Dáil and Seanad term.

Senators Lombard and Conway raised the issue of the management of our rivers and streams. Senator Lombard is right about the requirements. There are differences depending on private fisheries. No works can be done first of all without the consent of the local authorities. Where local authorities apply to Inland Fisheries Ireland work can then be consented to. One often gets the situation where county councils may decide very late in the day to clean a lake under a drainage scheme or under emergency works. They have to go through the process, however, of applying to IFI. I understand that there has never been a case where IFI has refused permission to a local authority to clean under a drainage or emergency scheme where funding might be provided. There are plenty of examples of this around the country.

Senator Paddy Burke mentioned the draft net fishing ban. The ban did not achieve what it was hoped it would achieve. It did in the first year, when there was an upsurge of returning numbers, but it has not had the desired impact since then. That is not to say that it has not worked because we do not know what situation we would be in today if this ban had not been imposed. We would be in a worse situation than we are now. There are a number of different theories as to what exactly has caused the decline in salmon stocks, be it global warming, large super trawlers scooping up all before them, or sea lice. We cannot exactly say. We do know that there is a reduction in numbers across the southern half of Europe in particular. As one goes further up, to the North of Scotland and up towards Norway, the level of decline is less serious. Clearly then the ban has not worked to the extent that we had hoped. That said, stocks in some rivers have increased or stabilised. In other areas, unfortunately, decline has continued.

On the issue of the development of our natural assets, resources and rivers, €2 million was invested under the national strategy for angling development in 50 community lead projects. There will be a roll-out of further projects this year. I agree with Senator Paddy Burke on the valuable work of the staff of Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI. I commend IFI on its very important work. Like all front-line staff, they are under pressure in terms of numbers and resources. I have continually raised that matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure we get adequate resources to meet the staff requirements and capital investment in equipment to carry out conservation work. The Senator is correct that angling and angling tourism is a valuable resource to many parts of the country. We are continuing to try to develop this sector and the national angling development fund will aid accessibility by the replacement of stiles and the improvement of walkways to allow lakes and rivers to become accessible. This ongoing work is community led in conjunction with Inland Fisheries Ireland and I want to see continued promotion of it.

I thank the Senators for their support of the Bill. I look forward to its timely passage through the Oireachtas. Let me repeat that I will engage with Senator Leyden on the issues he has raised.

Chairman, the fishing rights on the River Shannon are owned by the ESB, and the electricity board does not charge for fishing rights. The argument put forward by the Minister of State is very weak and does not hold water. I believe that agreement has lapsed. Somebody has been misinformed on this issue. I hope it is resolved because the Minister has the power to resolve it.

I congratulate Deputy Kyne on his appointment as Minister of State at the new Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Well done.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 27 June 2017.

I propose that we suspend until 5.50 p.m. as the Minister is not available until that time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 5.45 p.m. and resumed at 5.50 p.m.