Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Mar 2019

Vol. 264 No. 9

Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages

My apologies for delaying you somewhat, Minister. There was a delay for the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, as well and it had a knock-on effect.

I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 to 9, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Amendments Nos. 1 and 8 are consequential on amendment No. 7. Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 3.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 12, after “section 9” to insert “and subsection (2)”.

I remind the House that the Supreme Court upheld the High Court finding that the voisinage arrangements are valid but that, as it stands, there is insufficient provision for them in domestic law. The Bill seeks to address what the Supreme Court identified as required, that is, to give the arrangements a legal footing and to cement our ongoing relationship with Northern Ireland. The voisinage or neighbourhood agreement between Ireland and Northern Ireland has provided reciprocal fishing access for more than 50 years. These arrangements have allowed boats from Northern Ireland to fish in coastal waters in Ireland. They have also allowed, and continue to allow, Irish-registered fishing boats access to fish in coastal waters in Northern Ireland.

The Government approved the preparation of a legislative amendment, namely, this Bill, to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court judgment. The Bill was published in February 2017 with a view to restoring as expediently as possible the arrangements that have long being in existence to provide access for fishing.

The amendments I am introducing today will clarify some matters which were raised as concerns in previous debates. I welcome the support of the House in making progress with the Bill today.

Two weeks ago, I undertook to host a consultation session with fishing industry representatives. This session took place at the National Seafood Centre in Clonakilty last Thursday. Our discussions were detailed and considered. I agreed to provide further clarity in my statements here today and on the principles and policies behind the amendments. I also undertook to put on record the assurances received to date from the UK Government on its commitment to the voisinage arrangements for our boats and boats from Northern Ireland. I hope the House will indulge me in this regard.

The Bill sets out a proposed legislative amendment to address the issue of providing sufficient legal provision for Northern Ireland boats to resume reciprocal fishing access under the voisinage arrangements. Section 1 of the Bill proposes to do this by amending section 10 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. The proposed new section 10 continues to assert Ireland’s exclusive right to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the State by maintaining previous provisions. It also explicitly provides for access to fish by sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland within the area between zero and six nautical miles as measured from the baseline of the State’s exclusive fishery limits. Although the Bill proposes to restore access to Northern Ireland boats to fish, under the terms of the voisinage arrangements this access is subject to the same conditions that apply to Irish sea-fishing boats. This is consistent with the concept of reciprocity which is fundamental to the arrangements. My amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 7 to 9, inclusive, aim to specify 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 zero to six nautical mile zone. Amendment No. 7 is the main element of this as it proposes to insert new subsections (2) and (3) which provide the policies and principles necessary for applying equivalent conditions. Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 8 and 9 address drafting issues arising from the insertion of amendment No. 7.

In December 2018, I announced the introduction of restrictions on vessels over 18 m trawling inside six nautical miles to come into effect from 1 January 2020. Northern Irish vessels will be subject to these restrictions. This is in keeping with the basis on which the voisinage arrangements were formalised in the 1960s, continuing access subject to the usual regulations which apply to our own vessels. This is consistent with the Supreme Court judgment which has brought us all here.

Although there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change from what they were before. Northern Ireland boats will simply regain fishing access they have had for decades under the voisinage arrangements in the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats. The Bill is expressly to provide access for the purpose of the act of fishing.

While Northern Irish boats are being granted access to fish, I have been asked to clarify the issue of quota. Any Northern Irish boats wishing to avail of the voisinage arrangements to fish for quota species in the zero to six nautical mile area will need to have the necessary authorisation from their own fisheries administration to avail of the UK quota for the species in question. That has always been the case and will continue to be so. There is no question of vessels of other countries gaining access to the Irish zero to six nautical mile zone as a result of the Bill, a point which I was happy to clarify for the representatives from the fishing industry at our consultation session last week. The Bill clearly stipulates the boats which may avail of the access and the principle behind the proposed legislation is on public record. In layman's language, boats of any other nationality which are not specifically allowed into the relevant waters under the legislation will be subject to the full rigours of the law.

Two weeks ago, I stated in the House that our neighbours have exercised good grace while we have debated in this House whether or not to share with them that which we had been sharing with them for decades. We are here to re-establish the reciprocity on our side of these arrangements. I acknowledge and understand concerns that have arisen on the issue of long-term reciprocity, particularly given the sensitivities around access to fishing generally in UK waters with Brexit looming. For its part, the UK Government has set out a consistent position on the matter of the voisinage arrangements for Northern Ireland. On 5 July 2017, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Michael Gove, wrote to me on the matter of the withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention and expressly stated that the UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the voisinage agreement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The letter, dated 5 July 2017, states:

Dear Michael,

I am writing to inform you that as part of the wider process of becoming an independent Coastal State, we will be withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention 1964. We have today given the required two years notice, in accordance with Article 15 of the Convention.

This is a preliminary procedural step so that the UK is able to manage and control UK waters, in accordance with our international rights and obligations, when we leave the EU and that we have a clear starting point for negotiations on future fisheries agreements. The UK remains fully committed to acting as a responsible Coastal State. We are keen to work with you to agree a future fisheries deal that is both fair and guarantees the sustainable management of fish stocks.

As the Prime Minister has said, we are committed to protecting our strong, historic ties with Ireland and to finding a solution that works for Ireland and Northern Ireland. We also remain committed to the principles behind the voisinage agreement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I know that you have discussed this issue with George Eustice. Please be assured that we are keen to work with you to find a firm legal footing for this agreement as soon as possible.

My officials will be in contact with yours shortly to answer any questions you may have.

Best wishes,

Michael Gove MP

Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On 6 June 2018 I received a letter from the then UK Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. George Eustice, reaffirming the UK Government commitment to protecting and supporting continued co-operation between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The concern was expressed that the UK could not accept unequal application of the arrangements indefinitely. The letter stated:

Dear Michael,

I am writing to you to express my continuing concern about the Voisinage Agreement between the UK and Ireland, which allows for reciprocal access to the 0 to 6 nm zones for Ireland and Northern Ireland vessels.

As you are aware the agreement, which has been in place since 1965 and affects capture fisheries and the mussel sector on both the Irish and Northern Irish sides, has been suspended, in Ireland, following a decision by the Irish Supreme Court in 2016. As a result, fishing by Northern Ireland vessels within Ireland's 0 to 6 nm zone is not permitted. The UK has not to date suspended the operation of the Agreement but we are increasingly concerned about the asymmetric application of the agreement and the lack of progress to rectify the situation. I would like to reassure you that the UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the Voisinage Agreement and to protecting and supporting continued cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have continued to honour the agreement, however, we will not be able to accept this unequal application indefinitely.

I would welcome an update on the progress of the Bill and steps which you are taking to put the agreement on a firm legal footing. We are keen to explore possible solutions to make sure that the Agreement can be reinstated as quickly as possible and that it can benefit both Irish and Northern Irish fishers.

I look forward to working with you constructively on this matter.

George Eustice MP

In December 2018, the UK Government again reiterated its commitment in response to the fourth report of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, stating:

The UK Government remains committed to the principles behind the Voisinage Arrangement and to protecting and supporting continued cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have continued to honour the agreement. However, we will not be able to accept this unequal application indefinitely.

The Government has raised this with Minister Creed, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and will keep the situation under review.

In the meantime, we will continue to explore possible solutions to make sure that the arrangement can be reinstated as quickly as possible and that it can benefit fishers from both Northern Ireland and Ireland.

On March 18, I met the current UK Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. Robert Goodwill, while we were in Brussels. He reiterated the UK Government's commitment to the arrangements. In view of the findings of the Irish Supreme Court, I asked Minister Goodwill if the arrangement is legally sound on the UK side and he expressed confidence that it is.

It is important to be aware that the UK has demonstrated its commitment to the arrangements in continuing to allow Irish sea-fishing boats to benefit from access to the Northern Ireland zero to six nautical mile zone in circumstances of unequal application. It is time that we act to restore our side of this reciprocal arrangement. I ask the House to accept this amendment and to demonstrate that we are and will continue to be good neighbours with Northern Ireland.

I hope the Cathaoirleach will accept that, since virtually all of the amendments have been grouped together, we must be given some latitude to wander around a little. I will not be too long but I have certain things to say about the Bill. I am very concerned that this Government sees the beef deal as more important than fishing and I am very much afraid that, to some extent, fishing may be sold out again, as it always has been.

The voisinage agreement shows good neighbourliness but I cannot say the Northern Ireland trawlers that were caught plundering fish off the coast of Drogheda have been good neighbours. I understand their crews have been filmed declawing crabs that were under the size limits. I would not say they are terribly good neighbours. As for Michael Gove, who would believe the Lord's Prayer out of his pursed-up little mouth after his performance on Brexit? I would not trust a single word out of him.

This all comes about in the aftermath of a Supreme Court judgment to which I will briefly refer. On 27 October 2016, the Supreme Court issued a judgment in a case taken by a number of mussel seed fishermen which found that fishing by Northern Ireland boats within the nought to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State under the voisinage arrangements is not permitted by law.

Turning to the issues of mussels, eels, etc., I draw the Minister's attention to a correspondent of mine who had three commercial eel fishing licences, two in the north-west fishery region and one in the Galway fishery region. When the fishing ban was introduced, his fishing here became redundant. He is badly stuck. I understand that the Minister says that, in the current circumstances, there is no compelling legal case for compensation where the State makes ex gratia payments and so on. I ask him to take another look at this.

We have a situation whereby, within the nought to six mile nautical zone, the voisinage agreement is not permitted by law. The central aspect of this entire Bill is given to us in the explanatory and financial memorandum, which states:

Section 1 of the Bill amends section 10 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 to continue to assert Ireland's exclusive right to fish within the exclusive fishery limits of the State by maintaining previous provisions but also explicitly provides for access to fish by sea-fishing boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland within 0 - 6 nautical miles of the baseline of the State's exclusive fishery limits.

The Minister indicated that he had negotiations with some of the fisheries organisations but he certainly did not engage with all of them. My information is that there are sections of this industry with which he has not consulted at all. The Minister introduced this Bill in its previous incarnation two years ago and, since then, all the fishing organisations have presented serious objections about it to Oireachtas committees.

The Minister read letters from Mr. Eustice and Mr. Gove. I am very concerned about the withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy and the two-year withdrawal process from the London fisheries agreement because there is still a considerable risk that this opens up the Irish coastal fishing industry to exploitation by the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Belgians and boats from other European Union countries. I say that on the basis of the following evidence. The UK is a signatory to the London Fisheries Convention. Article 8, section 1 of that convention states:

Once a contracting party applies the regime described in articles 2 to 6, any right to fish which it may thereafter grant to a state not a contracting party shall extend automatically to the other contracting parties, whether or not they could claim this right by virtue of habitual fishing, to the extent that the state not a contracting party avails itself effectively and habitually of that right.

Section 2 states, "If a contracting party which has established the regime described in articles 2 to 6 should grant to another contracting party any right to fish which the latter cannot claim under articles 3 and 4, the same right shall extend automatically to all other contracting parties." The Minister has not persuaded me that this is not actually the situation. I would be very happy if he would.

If Senator Norris yields, I will try and explain.

Yes, as long as I can come back in again.

The Senator should be careful because he will not be allowed back in. I cannot break the rules.

Do not fall into that trap.

I know, this fellow is a cute hoor. No, he is not; he is blushing very modestly and becomingly.

I am obliged to be fair to everybody. A Senator is allowed back in on Report Stage if he or she is moving a motion but otherwise he or she has only one bite at the cherry.

I am speaking to amendment No. 4 in my name. Returning to Article 8, section 2 of the London Fisheries Convention, Northern Ireland and UK boats cannot claim a right to fish inside the nought to six nautical mile zone under Articles 3 and 4. These articles simply do not provide for anyone to claim such rights. They deal only with rights in the six to 12-mile belt. Therefore, if the Bill becomes law, the rights given to the UK as a contracted party automatically extend to all other contracted parties. This means that the French, Spanish, Dutch, Belgians and all the others to which I referred could possibly, at least, have access to our waters.

Despite the reservations I have outlined, I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved, to some degree, in a positive direction with these amendments. For example, Government amendment No. 3 is very close in feeling to my amendment No. 4. I hope that the arguments I made the last time we discussed the Bill, several months ago, had some impact.

I appreciate that amendment No. 7 introduces a level playing field. Previously, there was a situation whereby Irish boats above 18 feet in length were banned from fishing whereas Northern Irish boats of the same length were not. That was wrong and unfair. The Minister has now addressed this satisfactorily.

I will leave it at that but I have the right to come back briefly. I look forward with great interest to the Minister's explanation and justification. I am open to persuasion.

I must admonish Senator Norris. We are on Report Stage and, with the exception of amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Mac Lochlainn and others, Senators are only allowed to speak once because the amendments are grouped and already discussed. When we come to Senator Norris' amendment No. 4, it will already have been discussed.

Yes, but I only contributed once.

Yes, that is because the amendments are grouped. If Senator Norris wants to say something now on amendment No. 4, he can do so. The Chair will not let Senator Norris in again because his amendment has already been discussed, a fact that is written in my notes. We cannot discuss it a second time.

That is peculiar. I understood that, on Report Stage, I could come in twice. I do not know where I am. I think I will buzz off home and read what the Minister has to say. There is damn all I can do to influence him.

That is the Senator's prerogative.

Will there be a vote on the amendments?

I will stay then.

The Senator is aware of the procedure.

I did indicate my surprise that virtually the entire rake of amendments are being taken together. I would have strongly objected had I realised the implication that I would not be allowed in a second time. I am warned for the future.

We note Senator Norris' remarks. I call on Senator Mac Lochlainn, to be followed by Senators Marshall, Nash and Ó Domhnaill in that order.

I said on the last day when we debated this issue two weeks ago, that we had dealt with this legislation two years ago. It came to this House from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, which had hearings with all of the fishing representative organisations. Every one of them was in opposition to the legislation, as presented then, and hoped their concerns would be addressed.

The Minister chose to park the legislation. No efforts were made to engage with the range of fishing organisations over these two years about this legislation. There were no efforts to engage with other political parties to address our concerns, but more importantly, to address the concerns of the fishing organisations. Nothing has been done in two years. When this was queried from time to time, Brexit and the declaration of the British Government at the time of the London Fisheries Convention was held up as the reason for inaction.

We then hear the argument from the Minister that there was a great urgency and that he needs to proceed and has no time. Gladly, this House forced the Minister to engage in meaningful consultation. That is the reality. The Minister, and his senior officials, would have proceeded with this legislation if they had the numbers without any meaningful consultation with the various fisheries organisations.

That consultation has taken place. It was substantial. The Minister issued a press release afterwards. My understanding is that the Minister is arguing that all the organisations present are in agreement. It does not say in this statement that they are in agreement with the legislation or say that all of the fishing organisations are happy now for the Minister to proceed on the basis of what is here.

This evening I spoke with two very important organisations, namely, the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO, and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF. Both organisations are very clear. They still have substantial concerns with this legislation, how it will impact on them, and more importantly, on the people they represent. They acknowledge that some progress had been made in understanding the Government's position, but there are a range of issues that need to be addressed as to a level playing pitch and assurances about quota and how that will impact them. It is critical that the Minister engages in further dialogue in the next number of days and he cannot be certain that it will go through the Dáil on Thursday. He will need to engage in further dialogue, particularly with the IFPO and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum. This is the forum that represents all the inshore fishermen around the coast.

I want to put this on the record. The front page of The Skipper magazine has good news for the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, which acknowledges the Minister's role in this and helping them to develop their industry. It is completely perplexed as to why on the one hand he has a strategy for the next number of years to try to grow our inshore fishery potential at long last, while on the other hand he does not fully address the concerns that this sector has before he pushes this legislation forward.

I will also put on record that there is a man outside these Houses today, all day. His is name is Gerard Kelly who comes from a respected fishing family based in Greencastle in County Donegal. He has gone on hunger strike. He is a determined man. Do not underestimate Gerard Kelly's resolve. Gerard and the Kelly family submitted proposals that they believe can strike the right balance between the access that we support in this House for small trawlers based in the Six Counties to fish in Irish waters. There is that balance and then there is protecting a range of fisheries. Of particular concern to the Kelly family is the mussel fishery. I ask the Minister to seriously consider this appeal to him to meet with Gerard Kelly and his family in the next 24 hours and to listen to what they have to say. I acknowledge that the Minister has engaged in dialogue with the fishing organisations and that progress has been made but that we are not there yet. The Minister has the ability to address their concerns and to make this legislation work for everybody. What we want with this legislation is fairness for everybody. Voisinage, as it was envisioned, was right and proper for many years. It was about giving access to fisheries on the island of Ireland to small fishermen in particular sectors around our coast. It evolved, unfortunately, into the abuse that led to practically the decimation of the mussel industry, a precious natural resource. I am sure the Minister in his heart of hearts is aware of this.

I also wish to read into the record the conclusion of the High Court judgment of recent days. It states that:

[T]he fact remained that for many years the State permitted Northern Ireland-registered vessels to fish for mussel seed unlawfully to the detriment of the industry. Thus it cannot be said the plaintiff fishermen were well served by the State.

Even though they have not got compensation they have got vindication in those words. Fishermen had to take a case to the Supreme Court, at huge cost to themselves, to defend the natural resources of the Irish people. These fishermen, supported by many more fishermen around the coast, at the 11th hour are appealing to the Minister to meet with them. I am referring here to the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, the IFPO and the Kelly family. Will the Minister meet with these three parties to make one last effort to address their concerns? Does he appreciate the severity of the situation where Gerard Kelly, a very honourable man, is outside these Houses and is commencing a hunger strike? I know that man and I would ask the Minister not to take his actions lightly. They must be taken seriously. I appeal to the Minister's humanity to please meet with this family, the NIFF and the IFPO to address their remaining concerns. I acknowledge the Minister's efforts in the last fortnight. We have moved in the right direction. Let us get it to the right place where everybody can feel comfortable with this legislation. I will not be pressing the amendment on the 12 m limit if the Minister is proposing that all boats over 18 m are excluded and that all boats under that length across the island are permitted, and this is acceptable.

Finally, I will be seeking clarification on the issue of residency. It is really critical that the idea of fishermen from Kilkeel fishing in Irish waters is desirable. We want Irish fishermen to be able to fish in Irish waters, in managed fisheries. We want a level playing pitch for all fishermen. I hope the Minister would share those objectives. We would of course want to reinstate access for genuine Irish fishermen on the island of Ireland. What we want to remove is the potential for some corporate body, away from these islands, using an address in the North of Ireland to abuse the goodwill and the principle of good neighbourliness - which the Minister refers to - by using an address in the North as a flag of convenience to avail of access to precious Irish natural resources.

I am seeking clarification on that issue.

I appeal to the Minister to show humanity and confirm that he is willing, with his officials, to meet the Kelly family. There is no issue of sub judice now and nothing to prevent him from meeting the family to discuss their concerns, not in connection with the case but about this legislation. I also ask him to meet the NIFF once more and to meet the IFPO. Both organisations continue to have concerns.

I also ask the Minister to consider making available the Attorney General's advice. As he will be aware, legal advice being made available to the IFPO is different from the advice the Minister is being given. There is genuine concern, based on legal advice, that this could endanger the vulnerable inshore fisheries. I make that appeal to the Minister and hope he hears what is being said.

I suppose my circumstances are slightly different from those of other Senators in that I reside in the North and I perform a function as a Senator in this House. I am, therefore, aware of both sides of this argument.

Agreements made more than 60 years ago with a degree of vagueness and ambiguity present a number of concerns. However, if we consider that we trade in an all-island agrifood economy with all-island animal and plant health as our primary concern, voisinage must be about reciprocal arrangements. It is about fairness and transparency and an acceptance that an arrangement that gives access to one party while restricting the other is wholly unfair.

I do not believe this Bill is the biggest threat to the fishing industry. When we consider what the biggest threats are to this industry, we need to consider everything. The aquaculture licensing review group, in line with the recommendations in Food Wise 2025 and Ireland's national strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture development, indicated the threats most important to the bottom grown industry are the variation of seed stalk and invasive species. The group cites as contributing factors a "highly energetic" Irish Sea and predation concerns, especially by starfish. Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture indicated in 2015 that the downward trend in the occurrence, location and size of wild seed beds was due to natural variability and unsustainable weather conditions. Climate change is, therefore, potentially having an impact on the industry.

Subject to regulation and supervision, I would support the Bill. I stress the Northern Ireland component of this. Northern Ireland owned and registered vessels are small in number. It is not the case that a large flotilla or armada is coming in this direction. The issue is one of making legal provision for these individuals and ensuring they are subject to the same controls, direction and regulations as all Southern vessels. Furthermore, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast can and should work together to ensure the environment and all the coastal waters and marine ecology of this island are protected.

As a farmer, I understand the concern of the fishing industry and fishing organisations but I understand these concerns South and North. If we consider everything in the round, specifically proper regulation, adequate surveillance and controls, including timing and methods of fishing, and the current pressures on the industry, namely, climatic pressures on the stalks, and if the review process and scrutiny is upheld, I would support this Bill and move to ensure that reciprocal arrangements are in place.

This is about families and about businesses, in Southern Ireland but also in Northern Ireland. Protecting them and growing and developing the industry in a sustainable manner on an all-island basis must be paramount.

I regret that we are in this difficult situation. I do not believe we would be in this position if the opportunities outlined by Senator Mac Lochlainn had been taken up by the Minister and his officials in the past two years. We have had almost two years to reflect on this issue. The Cathaoirleach or the Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understand the matter dates back to the decision by the Minister in May 2017 to withdraw this legislation from the consideration of this House because agreement could not be reached at that time.

I acknowledge Senator Mac Lochlainn's point that the Minister has made some inroads in recent days in addressing some of the concerns of the major fish production organisation. The organisation in question iterated these concerns to each and every Member of this House two years ago when we were initially considering the legislation on Second Stage and, subsequently, on Committee Stage. Unfortunately, since May 2017, we have had nothing but radio silence from the Minister and Department. That time could have been used constructively to engage with us, as Members of this Parliament, and fishing communities and fishing representative organisations to address the concerns that we are again expressing this evening in relation to the application of this legislation, if it is to pass.

The Minister referred to letters and so forth that he has received from the British authorities. They are consistent in many ways in that they express the view that the British authorities would like to see the spirit and letter of the previous voisinage agreement provided for, respected and honoured. However, it is difficult for us to accept the bona fides of some of those expressions that voisinage may be honoured by both sides and there would be reciprocity in the absence of any commitment from the British Government to legislate to give effect to that. I ask the Minister to address that. Is it his view that primary legislation would be required in the UK to give effect to the voisinage agreement and reciprocity?

We are not living in normal times. In normal times, a commitment such as that set out in the letters the Minister read out a few moments ago would generally be enough to convince and persuade this Parliament to take a certain course of action. However, normal business has been suspended in the UK where the political situation is so fluid and unreal that we could be staring down the barrel of political anarchy in the UK over the next short period in the context of the ongoing Brexit farrago.

This issue arrived back on the agenda with a bang in recent weeks as a direct result of the detention of two Kilkeel fishers who were fishing in Dundalk Bay. Naturally at this sensitive time, such issues are magnified in the context of Brexit and delicate North-South and east-west relationships. As I have stated time and again, this has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with our right as a sovereign Parliament to legislate or not legislate in the interests of the people we represent, notwithstanding all of the valid concerns of everybody inside and outside this Chamber and across this island to generate, protect, promote and nurture positive relationships.

Our primary responsibility is to fishing communities in the Republic of Ireland. I represent Clogherhead while Senators Mac Lochlainn and Ó Domhnaill represent Donegal and my party colleague, Deputy Howlin, represents in Wexford - people who have really been at the front of this issue for many years. I agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn that we must take the action taken by Gerard Kelly very seriously indeed. He is, in my experience, an honourable man. He is a man of enormous integrity, and I am sure the Minister will agree with me on that, and a man who has taken considerable risks to protect his business, family and community and that is what we are trying to do here today. I do not say that in any pithy way. That is a fact and that is what we need to focus on, that is, what is in the interest of fishing communities in this Republic and what course of action should our sovereign Parliament take to protect their interests.

The reality is that we have no idea what the post-Brexit fishing or fisheries relationship is going to be. Even if someone were minded to legislate to give effect to the former voisinage agreement, it is ill-conceived, wrong-headed and poorly advised, in my opinion, to legislate at this point in time because we do not know what the Common Fisheries Policy arrangements are going to look like in the context of a post-Brexit scenario.

I ask the Minister to clarify something for me. He may have done so already and I apologise for being slightly late to the debate. There are many in this House who would like to be reassured that if we are to legislate, that access will only be provided to the Irish inshore for those vessels that are owned, managed and operated by those who reside in Northern Ireland, and have their business interests in Northern Ireland. I am not convinced that is possible for many reasons that we have discussed in the context of the meeting that we have had and the meeting with the Minister's officials. I am not convinced or persuaded in respect of issues that have arisen here time and again - for example, Dutch multinational corporation vessels with Northern Irish flags of convenience, which are in effect UK vessels fishing in the Irish inshore depleting our natural resources to the detriment of fishing communities. I do not believe that there is any way of ensuring that access can only be provided if one were minded to legislate for vessels that are exclusively from Northern Ireland to the exclusion, for example, of vessels that would be registered in England, Scotland and Wales because the reality is there is no such thing, in my opinion, as a Northern Irish vessel.

My advice is that we tread extremely carefully. It is unwise, at least at this point, to give effect to the old voisinage agreement in legislation. At the very least we should embark on a process of pre-legislative scrutiny to look under the bonnet of this legislation, and interrogate it very robustly which I do not think that we have managed to do in that two-year window that has been created since the withdrawal of this legislation from this House back in May of 2017. We should tread carefully and not just accept the goodwill and bona fides at face value of various statements from the UK Government in terms of what it would do because remember that it is withdrawing unilaterally from the London Fisheries Convention on 4 July of this year. Therefore, we could be staring down the barrel of a serious challenge for the Irish fishing industry and it would be very unwise, if I may use the language, to play this hand at this point in time even if this House is minded to legislate based on the principles that were expressed and espoused by my good colleague, Senator Marshall, and others.

We all want to see positive North-South relationships. As I said in the week before the St. Patrick's week break when we dealt with this issue previously, it is our responsibility, as the sovereign Parliament of the Republic of Ireland, to legislate in the interests of those we represent. This is the Legislature that they look to. I accept and appreciate that we need to promote, generate and nurture those good relationships but that needs to be done in an equitable fashion. We need to be reassured, and we need legal certainties and guarantees from the UK, that their side of the bargain will be fulfilled, and that would involve genuine reciprocity provided for in primary law in Westminster. It could be the case that what we need to do is to say that we will agree to legislate but only when the Houses of Parliament does so and in parallel with any action that the Houses of Parliament might take.

I want to briefly add to what has been said. I acknowledge and agree with much of what has been said by colleagues, particularly by Senators Norris, Mac Lochlainn, Nash and Senator Marshall who provided insight from a Northern perspective.

I acknowledge that last Thursday the Minister met representative organisations and had a discussion, presumably, on this Bill. However, notwithstanding that, concerns remain. The following is clear to me. When we adjourned our discussion of this Bill two weeks ago, there was a request for meaningful consultations to take place but from my perspective such consultations have not occurred. While I acknowledge that discussions took place with representative bodies, including the IFPO and the national forum, there were other requests to his Department and office from other fishermen and fishermen co-operatives, including, for example, the Dunany Lobster and Crab Association. I understand that a request on behalf of Mulroy Shellfish was submitted to the Minister's office seeking a meeting with him to discuss the legislation. What is the status of that request? Why has the meeting not been facilitated prior to today? I ask the Minister to clarify the matter.

The main groups of people affected by this legislation and with boats registered in the Republic of Ireland are mussel, crab and lobster fishermen. Other fishermen are affected but primarily it is the inshore fishermen in those categories who are affected. We are talking about people who have invested lifetimes of hard work and financial resources, time and commitment into establishing, developing and nurturing their businesses over the years. Their fear is that their enterprises and livelihoods will be wiped out as a result of this legislation. I fully appreciate the reciprocal nature of the voisinage agreement. Notwithstanding that, the Supreme Court ruled against the voisinage agreement giving a very clear and specific line around the constitutional protection that should be extended to the natural resources inside the six-mile limit. Yet, this legislation is being brought in now to, effectively, attack our Constitution and the protection referred to in the Supreme Court judgment.

If we accept that the reciprocal arrangements are mutually beneficial to both parties, that is fine. It is my understanding that the reciprocal arrangements are not mutually beneficial to both parties. One party has much more to lose than the other and one has much more to gain than the other. Therefore, that is not in keeping with the definition of a reciprocal arrangement. In fact, this is not only a reciprocal arrangement but it is also a binding bilateral commitment with reciprocal duties, rights and obligations attached to it. That is what we are talking about here. It is a binding bilateral commitment that we are offering here. The issue at stake here is much greater than the weight being given to it by the Department at this juncture.

I read carefully the 2017 letter from the British Minister with responsibility for environmental matters, Mr. Michael Gove. They were different times in 2017 and today things are very different in London. Whitehall is a different place and the British Parliament is a different place. The Ministers, including Mr. Gove, are effectively dancing with shadows over there. We should not be extending the courtesy of any deal in those sorts of circumstances.

This should not be rushed as this is crucial to livelihoods. I have absolutely no connection with any of the stakeholders involved but I only raise these matters out of pure concern. I know some of the fishermen from Senator Nash's area of Dundalk have spoken to me and their livelihoods will be wiped out. For example, they have spent in excess of 25 years in the v-notching programme for lobsters, trying to nurture and cultivate the stock. The same nurturing and cultivation of the stock, in my understanding, has not taken place in northern waters. As such, vessels in the North would benefit substantially from the great work of our fishermen in the Republic of Ireland, so this could not be defined as a reciprocal arrangement. There is no equality or parity of esteem here whatever. These are issues that should have been teased out more with our fishermen. Surely it is the job of a Department to listen to the concerns of stakeholders.

The Killybegs Fishermens Organisation, KFO, based in my area, is a representative body predominantly for the larger vessels or the pelagic fleet. I sometimes refer to the "small fishermen" as I would the "small farmer". The small farmer in west Donegal, Connemara or west Mayo does not always have his or her view necessarily represented by the Irish Farmers Association, which is why there are so many splinter groups of farming organisations being established and holding public meetings and demonstrations. I do not have the answer but I am not sure all the national platforms and fora of these organisations represent the views of these specific fishermen. That is why it is so important that the Minister should fulfil his obligations and meet the groups that have made specific requests to meet him. I am not suggesting he must agree with them but he should at least listen to their concerns and tease out the issues. Until that happens, I cannot support this legislation because I would be doing a disservice to ordinary fishermen in doing so. We cannot ride roughshod over small fishermen for the benefit of larger commercial operations. I get the distinct impression that it is happening in this instance and I do not like to see it happening.

Many other matters have been raised with me concerning this Bill. I know the Minister is genuine in his objectives and I do not doubt his sincerity for one moment; however, it is misplaced. The Minister should not rush this legislation through the Seanad this evening and he should certainly not put it through the Dáil on Thursday. He must afford that further space to meet the affected fishermen. I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague from Donegal, Senator Mac Lochlainn, as the Kelly family should be included. They were brave enough to bring that case to the Supreme Court and they were successful in that venture. Their livelihood is also at stake here.

There are far-reaching ramifications to this legislation and although the Minister might be of the view that those ramifications are not founded in fact, he may or may not be right. The fishermen affected by the legislation feel that the Bill will have a detrimental effect on their livelihood and they may or may not be right. They should be afforded the opportunity to meet the relevant Minister, who is in the Chamber this evening. I respectfully suggest that he should reach out to those people, respond to the request made of him and meet those people this week and certainly before the Bill is discussed in the Dáil. If the legislation is passed here this evening, so be it, although it is the wrong course of action, such is the extent of the damage that this Bill could do to some of our smaller fishermen along the coast. The timing is wrong and there should be further consultation.

I agree that there should have been pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, which would have allowed an Oireachtas committee to listen to all the key stakeholders and tease out some of the issues. It is the best way to formulate legislation anyway. We had two years in which that could have been done but, unfortunately, that did not happen. I certainly do not subscribe to the notion that just because Mr. Gove or the British Government wants to see this legislation introduced, we should jump to that tune. We should not do so but we should protect our own fishermen first before worrying about the consequences in London afterwards. I am not so sure there will even be a British Government in London in a few months and nobody knows the answer to that question. We can only speculate. A deal with any British Government or Minister now is a deal with a shadow as far as I am concerned. We should protect our own interests in the meantime before any legislation is brought before the House again. I appeal to the Minister even at this late stage to fulfil the request before him.

I also feel the timing around this legislation is wholly inadequate. Two years ago, when we discussed the legislation in the Seanad, we spoke about the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. One of the reasons for it being shelved was that process but now we are at the midnight hour, so it would seem appropriate to put this legislation on standby until we see what happens with the UK. That will have an impact on the legislation.

I echo some of the concerns raised this evening. In my area of Waterford and the south-east coast I have spoken to fishermen who are extremely concerned about the access that this legislation will grant to northern fishermen. Our mussel, crab and particularly lobster fishermen have been very innovative in conserving stocks in recent years in co-operation with the Minister, which is to be welcomed. It is a sign of supporting rural communities, enterprise and jobs. However, these fishermen have concerns about this legislation that should be considered without a doubt.

As a number of Senators have said this evening, there has been consultation but has it been truly meaningful? Have the fishermen who have contacted the Minister been involved in sufficient consultation? I echo the request of Senator Mac Lochlainn, who proposed that the Minister meet representatives of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum and the Kelly family. We are in the Seanad this evening while Mr. Gerard Kelly is outside on hunger strike because this is really important legislation for our fisheries. The timing is wrong, as I said, with respect to the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union.

As I have said, the timing is wrong with regard to the UK withdrawal and with regard to the consultation or lack of consultation. I urge the Minister to pause this legislation. As Senator Ó Domhnaill has said, this legislation has not been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny. This crucial time of Brexit negotiations - we are at the midnight hour - could be a good time to pause this legislation and enable pre-legislative scrutiny to take place. Perhaps the Bill could be taken forward once more after some weeks or months have passed. I know this is highly political for the Minister and the Government. That is why the Bill is being rushed through now. The fallout from this legislation will be extremely negative for fisheries around Ireland.

I would like to make a point about vessels that are registered in Northern Ireland. My understanding is that these vessels are registered and regulated in the UK. I would like clarification on that. The voisinage agreement is approximately 50 years old. Mussel seed fishing by boats from Northern Ireland has been going on since 2002. The plaintiffs in the recent cases maintained that this largely self-regulated industry has pretty much collapsed since then. How can we maintain a stable and healthy mussel stock if boats have little regard for this area and do not abide by our management practices? The Minister said the other day that this is all about access, but I remind him that we are talking about access to natural resources that need to be maintained, managed and regulated in a way that supports the fisheries sector, the fishing communities I mentioned earlier and rural communities, enterprises and jobs.

Are we sure that if regulations are imposed on vessels coming from Northern Ireland, we will have full legal authority to impose regulations on boats that are not from this jurisdiction? How will that work? What are the specific legal implications of Northern Ireland boats taking mussel, crab or lobster seed, for instance, for cultivation in Northern Ireland? Is this not an alienation of the Irish natural seed resource? How are we going to protect our natural resources? I suppose that is the central point. The Minister's remit is to protect our natural resources. His job is to ensure our people in our country can have reasonable livelihoods. Fisheries communities are really on the lower end of decent livelihoods. How does the Minister intend to protect their livelihoods and enterprises? How does he intend to protect our resources? That is his job. He has this gift in his hand. I understand all the lovely voisinage and neighbourhood agreements. They are all very well and good. Are we going to stand here today and hand away a resource without proper management and regulation for our own people here in the Republic of Ireland?

I welcome the opportunity to reply to the points that have been made. In his opening remarks, Senator Norris spoke about people in the UK who have not been good neighbours. Senator Nash suggested that we should be legislating in our own national interest. He said that this is not about Brexit, our relations with the UK or anything else. I accept his premise that our primary function here is to legislate for our citizens. However, it is important to be conscious that the context to this debate generally, including the historical context, is greater than the interests of our citizens. Regardless of our views on the specifics of this legislation, all of us have witnessed the consequences of poor North-South relations. Everything we do in the context of North-South relations should be about building confidence and relationships. That context to the debate must be considered when we are considering the overall Brexit context.

It is important, in the context of good neighbourliness and outside of the issue of voisinage, to put on the record some of the issues that arise in the context of the broader fishing industry. In the period between 2011 and 2015, Ireland caught an average of 84,850 tonnes of fish in the UK 200-mile zone. That catch has been valued at €83.83 million. In the same period, the UK caught an average of 62,381 tonnes of fish in the Irish 200-mile zone. That catch has been valued at €71.25 million. We must look at the bigger picture and the broader context. As I said the last time we debated this matter, I firmly believe - Brexit aside - that it is right to reinstate something that existed long before the London fisheries convention. The convention acknowledged its existence, but the convention is not the legal basis on which it exists. The consequences of the Supreme Court decision have brought us here. We need to put on a statutory footing something which the Supreme Court implicitly said was a good thing that needed to be legislated for. One does not need to be a constitutional expert to understand the context in which this was underpinned. If one casts one's mind back to the 1960s, one will recall that the constitutional status of Articles 2 and 3 gave rise to difficulties in legislating for something which, under our Constitution, we believed we owned anyway. Circumstances have changed since then.

Senator Norris and others have suggested that under the London fisheries convention, other contracting parties will consequently be able to access our waters on the basis of what we are doing. It is worth reading the specific provisions of this very short Bill. It states:

Subject to section 9, a person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fishery limits, unless he or she—

(a) is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles as measured from the baseline (within the meaning of section 85).

The Bill specifically provides that this entitlement will be enjoyed by Northern Ireland boats only. This means, ipso facto, that anyone who strays into the relevant zone will be in breach of the law, as envisaged by this legislation, and will be subject to the full rigours of the law. It is as simple as that outside the 6-mile zone. Any Northern Ireland fishing boats that will be within our 6-mile zone will only be there by legal permit under this legislation. It has been suggested that there is no Northern Ireland fishing register, but there is such a register. When a boat is registered, a port of operation and a region of operation must be designated. Therefore, there is a specific register for Northern Ireland boats. That is clearly the situation. The register is available for-----

They are British-flagged.

They are British-flagged, but there is a Northern Ireland register within that.

The port can be identified.

Obviously, they are UK-flagged.

There is a Northern Ireland register. It is not open to every UK boat. It is open to boats that are owned and operated in Northern Ireland.

Senator Mac Lochlainn made a point about inadequate consultation. I do not want to go over the history of this going back to 2016 and the Supreme Court decision and the number of meetings I have had with representatives of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO. In respect of the two organisations he specifically mentioned, the IFPO and NIFF, representatives of both bodies were in attendance and before we issued a press release arising from that consultation last Thursday, we cleared the draft press release with each of the representative bodies that were present. The specific ask of the IFPO and the other representatives there was to read in the specific assurances about other boats, other than the Northern Ireland vessels, being specifically excluded. They wanted the letters of the UK minister referenced and reference to the Northern Ireland committee in the House of Commons specifically read into the record. I believe what I have done so far is compliant with their wishes. I have not met individual interests, either companies or lobbyists, but I have met representative of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum on many occasions in recent times, not specifically about voisinage but we discussed it last Thursday with their chairperson. I have discussed it previously with them. I have been very engaged with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum because I believe the sector has significant potential. Let us leave aside this issue, which is a separate one. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum consists of all the Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums. They are all constituted around the table when I meet the National Inshore Fisheries Forum. We have discussed this previously as a collective and in detail with them through their representative last Thursday. The consultation has been substantial.

It is important to make the following point because there is conflation of access and management. Senator Marshall made the point about managing the resource. Of course, it is important to preface this by saying this is not species-specific. I know many Members are straying into a subset, a specific species area, and I am not going to do that because it is fraught with legal issues. Management of any one of these resources is important. I acknowledge the leadership position that the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF, has taken. Reference was made to V-notching and a host of other initiatives that it has been involved in that I have signed off on in terms of regulations, etc.

If one reads the Bill and the amendment, it is the case that anybody who is coming in will have access only under the same terms and conditions as our inshore sector. If there are regulations around size, weight and V-notching, they apply to those who are coming in as much as they apply to our inshore sector.

Senator Marshall made a very good point in terms of the resource and climate change. There are shifting sands in terms of these resources. I am fully committed to working with the NIFF and the stakeholders in terms of managing a sustainable resource, whether it is under the Common Fisheries Policy or within our zero to six nautical miles from shore in non-quota species. Management of a scarce resource is critical. We have management structures that are there, but let us not confuse management of these resources with the principle of access. Fundamentally this legislation is about the principle of access and reciprocity.

Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to the legislation and the attack on our Constitution. We cannot, by law, introduce legislation that is contrary to the Constitution. The advice we have is that the Bill is not contrary to the Constitution. In the context of who has more to lose, obviously the coastline in the South is larger than in the North. That is a geographical fact. I do not think that should be the determinant in terms of the arrangement, it is either a good thing to have a reciprocal neighbourhood arrangement or it is not. I happen to believe firmly that it is good for many reasons, some of which are shared. It is a good thing to have, but the important thing is that when we have it, that we manage the resource separately. Dealing with managing a resource is separate from the issue of the principle of access, which the Bill is about. The amendments deal very specifically with the terms and conditions under which boats from Northern Ireland would have access.

I do not want to avoid the point made by Senator Mac Lochlainn about meeting Mr. Gerard Kelly. I do not know the gentleman but I obviously know of him. I very much regret the course of action he is taking and I appeal to him not to pursue it but, of course, nobody can have, through such action, a vetoing effort on the course of the national Legislature. We obviously operate in terms of collective wisdom. It is, as Senator Mac Lochlainn knows, sub judice. The judgment is not perfected and it is to be perfected within a period of 28 days and it is then open to any party to appeal. I do not wish to stray into the details of that but it is not, as the Senator stated, an easy issue. If it were, it would not be an issue. My engagement with the inshore fisheries sector has been extensive for many reasons, not least because I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for it in the context of that resource being properly managed and shared in the context of voisinage. For those reasons, I am sure the Senator will understand that I cannot accede to that request.

Senator Nash made the point around being satisfied as to whether there is need for UK legislation. It is our side of the bargain that has fallen down. We have to mend our fences in that regard. We are still enjoying access. In the context of direct conversations I had on Monday, 18 March with the minister in the UK, Mr. Goodwill, MP, he said they were satisfied that the legal basis for voisinage continued to exist for it and that they were interested in continuing that arrangement. It is a truism that it is open to any sovereign government at any time to revisit, amend, or vary any legislation on the Statute Book. I find it difficult to envisage circumstances under which a Dublin Government would consider taking that action in the context of this Bill because we have to be generous, proactive, bridge building and good neighbours. It is open, in circumstances that we probably cannot envisage what may happen some time down the road that may lead us in that direction.

Senator Nash made the point that there is no such thing as a Northern Ireland register for vessels. I am assured by my officials that there is and obviously such a register would be available in the context of any prosecutions in terms of entitlement to fish in that area. Senator Grace O'Sullivan queried whether we had the legal authority to prosecute. I ask Members to cast their minds back a couple of weeks. It proves the legal authority we have to prosecute. Some boats from Northern Ireland in our zone were prosecuted. That is what has brought a degree of urgency to this. We do not want to stand accused in terms of not wanting hard borders either on land or on sea. That has crystallised what is at stake here, but it is abundantly clear we obviously have the power to prosecute.

Senator Ó Domhnaill made the point about riding roughshod over small fishermen. I ask him to meet the representatives of either the Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums or the National Inshore Fisheries Forum with whom I have engaged extensively in the context of a plan for that sector. I do not think any of those representatives would share his analysis. In fact, I think I have done more in a short period to promote their interests. It has not always been a comfortable journey to promote their interests, sometimes in the teeth of significant opposition from other representatives of the fishing industry.

I make no apologies for that. It is the right thing to do. It is a sector whose potential, for a long period of time, did not get significant recognition. I utterly reject the idea that my Department and I are in any way party to riding roughshod over the inshore sector or small vessels to the benefit of larger vessels. I ask the Senator to look at the decision we made last December to ring-fence the inshore sector for smaller boats. That decision has also been transposed into this legislation. I do not, therefore, accept the Senator's premise.

I have dealt with most of the issues raised. One can make this issue complex and tie it into Brexit. There are consequences from Brexit that spill over into the debate, but at its heart it is a simple argument. It is about reinstating something that existed up to October 2016. These arrangements have fallen down on our side but our industry continues to enjoy the right to fish in the zero to six nautical mile zone off the North. It is as simple as that. One can add layers of complexity onto it in the context of the shared history on the island of Ireland and the issue of Brexit. The matter of Brexit is very significant in the context of our access to the UK's waters generally. The kind of message we send out from here impacts on that, but at its heart it is a simple matter. Supporting the legislation is the right thing to do.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 12, after “boat” to insert “or a boat used for the purposes of aquaculture”.

The Minister can see the objective of this amendment. I would like to get clear clarification from him for the record.

Does the amendment have a seconder?

I second the amendment.

I want to get clarification from the Minister. The idea of allowing Irish boats access to Irish waters is accepted, but the issue of allocation of stocks is a concern. Will the Minister make it clear that his ability, or that of his Department, to allocate stocks is excluded from the legislation? Will he make it clear that this legislation does not facilitate the allocation of stocks? Will he make it clear that no additional quota comes with this access? Access is one thing if it is based on the existing quota of existing licence-holders, but will the Minister clarify that issue on the record?

I again appeal to the Minister with regard to this amendment and what I am trying to achieve. It is critical that he meet the Kelly family. He should not underestimate Gerard Kelly's resolve or sense of injustice. I make it absolutely clear that the issues the Kelly family wish to discuss with the Minister relate solely to this legislation. This is really important. Mr. Kelly presented to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He was one of those who contributed, on the record, to this legislation. He has been a participant in the consultation process. I ask the Minister to meet Mr. Kelly and his family in the next 24 hours solely in respect of their concerns about this legislation, and not about the matters before the courts. I want to be clear on that. That is not what I am requesting. I am asking that the Minister at least hear what the family have to say regarding their concerns about this legislation. They have submitted to me very constructive proposals which would address the wider concerns of inshore fishermen around the coast. These proposals are very constructive. I ask the Minister to keep an open mind and to have a look at what the Kelly family have to say and at their amendments. I ask him to give them a hearing and to see whether he can address some of those concerns. Those concerns and very constructive proposals align to the wider issues.

I will reiterate this because it will become a big issue in the next 24 hours. I am sure all of the political parties that are not in government wish the Minister would consult the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, NIFF. I acknowledge that he has been working with it positively in other regards. I put that on the record. The NIFF also acknowledges that, but it has real concerns. It released a press release tonight. It is on the social media of The Skipper. Its concerns are out in the public domain. I ask the Minister, who has a good relationship with the NIFF, to engage with it in the next 24 hours to see if his amendments address its concerns.

Finally, I will refer to the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, IFPO. I know the Minister respects the IFPO as a stakeholder and a key voice for fishermen around our coasts. It has concerns and I would like the Minister to engage more with it. That is the request of the political parties that are not in government.

I again ask the Minister not to assume that this legislation will go through these Houses on Thursday. Its passage will be conditional on further dialogue and the Minister's attempts in this regard. He has made progress and I acknowledge that. There have been talks but we are not there yet. To recap, I ask the Minister to meet the Kelly family solely about this legislation and not about anything to do with the issues before the courts; to look at their proposals and their intervention, which I think are very positive and substantial; and to engage with the NIFF and IFPO. That is critical. If the Minister can give me assurances on these issues, we will have the basis to proceed on to Thursday.

Is the Senator moving the amendment on aquaculture?

Yes, it has been moved, but I ask the Minister to address the issues I have raised rather than the amendment.

Amendment No. 2 was moved and seconded.

The amendment Senator Mac Lochlainn and his colleagues have proposed seeks to amend the text of section 10 to add to the description of a foreign sea-fishing boat. The Senators will wish to be aware that the Bill intends to amend Part 2 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, and so the definitions within that Part of the Act apply to terms or phrases used in this Bill. Within that Part, the definitions already address the Senator’s concern. I will read the definitions for information for 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;

The Senator’s amendment is therefore unnecessary as the definitions already encompass the elements the amendment seeks to include. Irish aquaculture boats are sea-fishing boats within the meaning of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 and are licensed accordingly. Irish aquaculture boats which engage in fishing for mussel seed must be licensed to do so and so it follows that Northern Ireland aquaculture boats must also be licensed appropriately by their own jurisdiction. I understand that the authorities in Northern Ireland license their vessels to fish for mussel seed and apply terms and conditions just as is the case for Irish sea-fishing boats which engage in the same form of fishing. I will quote from Mr. Justice O’Donnell’s judgment in the Supreme Court for the benefit of the House.

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 level of fishing means that if an Irish sea-fishing boat is permitted or restricted in a particular way, then the same must apply to a Northern Irish sea-fishing boat while fishing under the arrangements and vice versa. I am introducing amendments which set out the policies and principles which will apply to give assurance to those concerned that there is no question of preferential treatment for Northern Irish sea-fishing boats.

I wish to return to the point made by Senator Mac Lochlainn about consultation. I had extensive consultation with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum as recently as last Thursday. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum signed off on the press release issued in the context of the consultations we had, as did all the other principal officers in the room. That is simply the fact of the case. All of them signed off on the press statement that I issued subsequently.

I find myself in the regrettable position of having to decline the Senator's invitation to meet Mr. Kelly. A court case is ongoing. It is not possible to ring-fence the content of the first element of the case from what is currently before the courts. A judgment was issued last Friday. It remains to be perfected and there is entitlement to appeal it. Senators are possibly aware that the stakes of the court case are significant indeed. I do not propose to jeopardise the State's case in that litigation by engaging in bipartisan engagement with the litigants. That is simply not something to be countenanced and it would not be in the interests of the State's position. I very much regret Mr. Kelly's course of action and I recognise that he is a significant player and stakeholder in the industry generally. However, it cannot be that the Government, Seanad, Dáil or I would be held prisoner in terms of our objectives by the actions of any single stakeholder. What this legislation is about is what is perceived to be in the best interests of the Legislature and the country.

You can respond if you wish, Senator.

I wish to be clear - I have the press release in my hands now. There is nothing in this press release to suggest that everyone who was present at the meeting last Thursday was in agreement that they supported the legislation. That is not what it says. I spoke to the Irish Fish Producers Organisation and the National Inshore Fisheries Forum this evening before I came to the debate. They have made their positions clear to me. The press release states that the Minister will seek to address their concerns and that he is proceeding with the legislation – it is the Minister's right to do that. The Minister said that during the course of the forthcoming debate he intended to speak to many of the key issues articulated by those in the industry, including concerns raised. They were simply agreeing that the Minister would address their concerns. That is all. They were not saying that they supported the legislation.

I know the Minister appreciates this point and agrees with me on it. The IFPO and NIFF are serious and important stakeholders. They are making the case to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Independents in opposition. They are making it clear that they have remaining concerns and do not support the legislation as it currently stands.

The Minister engaged in dialogue and rang people prior to the last debate. I appeal to the Minister to reflect on this tonight. I believe there is space for the Minister to engage in further dialogue. It is critical that he engages with the IFPO and NIFF to see if he can assure them that the amendments and letters and so on can address their concerns. That is all I am asking. I believe it is a reasonable request.

I call on the Minister tonight to reconsider the issue of the Kelly family. The Minister could meet a representative of the family to listen to their proposal. I have read through the detailed proposals they have made. They are highly knowledgeable and respected throughout the industry. Could the Minister meet a representative of the family who was not party to the legal case? Is that something to which the Minister could agree? In that way the Minister would not be meeting the plaintiff - he is insisting that is an issue legally - but he could meet a member of the family who could articulate the concerns over the legislation. There are no grounds for refusing that.

Minister, do you wish to respond?

Can I say something?

We had the debate and the Senator was allowed to come back in as a responder to the debate. The only person I can really let in is the Minister.

It is my nature to be accommodating in all of these things, but in respect of meeting with individual stakeholders the list is endless. I have met the representative bodies. I am not putting words in the mouths of those representative bodies. I am merely saying that the press statement issued subsequently was issued with their approval and imprimatur. I am not going to interpret what it means for Senators but I was satisfied in the context of that consultation that the people I met understood that I was proceeding with the legislation. That much was clear. My clear understanding was that whereas the level of discomfort around it would vary from individual group to individual group none of them was opposing it. For that reason I regret I cannot meet the Senator's request.

I cannot be clear enough. The press statement does not say they have signed off on these amendments. It does not say that.

With all due respect, no one has a veto on it.

I am not referring to a veto.

Senator Mac Lochlainn, you have made that point already.

The principle those of us on this side of the House are seeking is for the Minister to engage in meaningful dialogue to attempt to address the concerns of these people. The Bill will be before the Dáil on Thursday. I know the Minister wants to get this legislation through. I think there are many positives around the legislation. We want to reinstate access for Irish boats of a certain size into Irish waters in a managed way – we are agreed on that point. However, there are still some concerns among two important stakeholders. I know the Minister will respect them. I appeal to the Minister to engage in the next 24 hours. Other parties will be making this request of the Minister. I am going to say it again: there is a man on hunger strike. I am appealing to the Minister's humanity in exceptional circumstances. I am not calling this a veto. All I am asking is that the Minister will hear what they have to say. I am not asking for vetoes. I am asking the Minister to hear what they have to say in the interests of humanity to see if we can convince Mr. Kelly of grounds not to proceed. He is a highly determined man, more than most people I have ever met in my life.

We are dealing with amendment No. 2.

Will the Minister respond?

I have little further to add. I believe in the context of the negotiations I had last Thursday and of the reassurances sought that I have put my views on the matter on the record. I have done so today.

There is one issue the Minister did not address. One issue the legislation does not permit is the allocation. It allows access but it does not increase quotas or give access to the Irish stocks for quota.

If a boat that is Northern-Ireland registered fishes in our zone from zero to 6 miles offshore, there is no question but that the quota will be UK quota. It will not come off Irish quota allocations.

Senator Mac Lochlainn, what do you want to do with amendment No. 2? Are you pressing it?

I will set out what I am going to do. I am willing to withdraw the amendment on the basis that the Minister will engage in further discussions in the coming days. The Minister is aware of where the amendment comes from and what the concern is. I call on the Minister to reflect on this at least. There will be conversations with other political parties in the coming days. This call will grow stronger in the next 24 hours. Even if the Minister indicates that he will reflect on it and that he is not absolutely saying "No", that would be enough to suggest we are making some progress tonight.

When I am not in the direct line of fire, I am always in reflective mode. However, I cannot see circumstances under which, in the context of the legal issues at stake, I can meet with the plaintiff in a substantial court case.

What about the others?

I have met the representative bodies. I believe that in the context of the issues they have raised, I have responded in a way that meets their concerns in the debate today.

The Minister is absolutely ruling out any further conversation. Is that correct?

The Minister said he is always willing to reflect and to be in reflective mode when he is not in the direct line of fire. It is clear that is what he said.

Will the Minister reflect on it?

I do not want to leave the House under any misapprehension.

If the Minister could even say he is reflecting on this, that would leave us open to more conversation tomorrow.

I heard the Minister say he was reflective when he was not in a direct line of fire. If that is good enough for Senator Mac Lochlainn, will he withdraw his amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 3, to delete lines 14 to 19 and substitute the following: “limits unless he or she is authorised by law to do so.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 3, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(2) A person who is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland may fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles as measured from the baseline (within the meaning of section 85) if, at that time, both the person and the boat comply with any obligation specified in subsection (3) which would apply in the same circumstances if the boat were an Irish seafishing boat.
(3) The obligations referred to in subsection (2) are the following:(a) an obligation under the Sea-Fisheries Acts 2003 to 2019 or regulations made under those Acts
(b) an obligation under the Fisheries Acts 1959 to 2019 or regulations made under those Acts;
(c) an obligation contained in regulations made under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972;
(d) an obligation under a provision of the treaties of the European Union, or a provision of an act adopted by an institution of the European Union, an institution of the European Communities or a body competent under those treaties;
(e) an obligation specified in a policy directive given by the Minister under section 3(2)(b) of the Act of 2003;
(f) such other obligation as the Minister may specify in regulations under section 3.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 3, line 20, to delete “(2) A person” and substitute “(4) A person”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 9:
In page 3, lines 20 to 23, to delete all words from and including “offence.” in line 20 down to and including line 23 and substitute the following:“offence.”.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration and passed.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 March 2019.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.52 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 March 2019.