As the Deputy will be aware, the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 318 of 2020) was signed into force on 26 August 2020 and fully meet the requirement of the relevant EU regulations insofar as sea fishing boat licence holders are concerned.
The 2009 EU Fisheries Control Regulation 1224//2009 and EU Commission Implementing Regulation 404/2011 introduced points systems for serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy committed by the licence holder of a fishing vessel and also separately the master. These are intended to complement sanctions and promote compliance and were required to be in place on 1st of January 2012.
Both of these EU regulations went through the ordinary legislative procedures at EU level which would have included widespread consultation with interested parties including the Member States, Advisory Councils, NGOs and the fishing industry. The matter has also been discussed at industry liaison meetings over the years. It should also be noted that the EU regulations are highly prescriptive in relation to licence holders, leaving little room for further amendment.
These new regulations are a requirement of EU law and have been since 2012. All other coastal member States have implemented this EU points system. Ireland is in breach of its EU legal obligations as a result of its failure to implement them up to now.
As a result, the EU Commission under Infringement proceedings issued a Reasoned Opinion to Ireland in July 2020 and has given Ireland three months to respond. The implementation of these regulations was already overdue, but their urgency has been amplified by the Reasoned Opinion.
In addition, the European Commission has formally suspended payment to Ireland of EU co-funding payments under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Operational Programme. This suspension will continue indefinitely until Ireland puts in place the necessary legislation and administrative systems to comply with the EU Points System. Unless the regulatory lacuna is addressed immediately, we face an increasing financial cost to taxpayers. EU funds for control and enforcement available to Ireland under the EMFF are €37.2m over the course of the Programme. As of September 2020, approximately €13.5m in payments due were withheld. These will likely rise to approximately €24.5m in 2020 and a total of €37.2m is at risk for the full period of the Programme.
The new S.I. takes on board in full the findings of the related 2017 Supreme Court judgement that the procedures followed are fair and in accordance with best practices. It involves a Determination panel comprising of 3 independent legal professionals nominated by the Attorney General and offers a licence holder the option of an oral hearing for the purposes of the determination. In addition, a decision may be appealed to an independent Appeals Officer nominated by the Attorney General and the licence holder has the option of seeking an oral hearing also at this stage.
The new SI includes a number of, but not all, amendments sought as a result of consultations with the industry. I am satisfied that the new arrangements are the minimum required to meet the tests of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness required under EU law. The adoption of this new SI is also in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government.
I am confident that the new enhanced points system will play a vital role in delivering on the Common Fisheries Policy objective of ensuring proportionate, effective and dissuasive penalties for serious infringements, and contribute to a level-playing field in fisheries control across Member States. The points system is necessary as an effective measure against the small number – either foreign or Irish - who break the rules. It is necessary to protect the vast majority of our law abiding fishermen from the small few who would incur repeated serious infringements and put in jeopardy the fish stocks for all of our law abiding fishermen and for future generations.
I am very aware of the concerns that have been raised by the sector and will meet representatives in due course and to listen to and discuss the rationale for this Statutory Instrument.