In December 2018, following a public consultation process in which over 900 submissions were received, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that vessels over 18m will be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1 January 2020. A transition period of three years for vessels over 18m targeting sprat was allowed to enable adjustment for these vessels, as the sprat fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone.
A Policy Directive was issued by the Minister to the independent Licensing Authority for Sea Fishing Boats under Statute and was intended to give effect to the measures announced by the then Minister. As stated above, this Policy Directive provided that vessels over 18m LOA (Length Overall) will be excluded from trawling activity inside six nautical miles, including inside the baselines, from 1 January 2020. The Policy Directive directed the Licensing Authority to insert a condition to this effect into the licences of affected vessels.
A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen challenging the validity of the Policy. An unapproved judgement was issued on 31 July 2020 and the key points to come out of that Judgement is that while the applicants did not succeed on four of the five grounds of challenge, the challenge was made against the entire Policy Directive 1 of 2019 and was successful.
The findings on the grounds of challenge were:
1. The Policy Directive 1 of 2019 was not ultra vires,
2. The Directive did not impinge the applicants constitutional rights.
3. Given the impact on the applicants there was a particular duty on the Minister to provide a fuller explanation and engage in further talks with the applicants. On this ground the applicants succeeded.
4. The policy directive was not disproportionate to what was to be achieved.
5. The Policy directive did not breach EU law.
On 6 October 2020, the Judge held in summary that the Court’s final order should be, among other matters, a declaration that Policy Directive 1 of 2019 was made in breach of fair procedures and is void and/or of no legal effect.
The breach of fair procedures as referenced above related to a failure with obligations to consult with the applicants in accordance with, and to the extent required by, the consultation process and in particular by failing to consult with them once a preferred option had been identified.
I am currently considering, on an urgent basis, the implications of the judgment in consultation with my legal advisors.
I should advise the Deputy that I am committed to the sustainability of fishing in Irish waters and the commitment made in our Programme for Government that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and pair trawling be prohibited inside the six-mile limit.