Dáil Éireann - Volume 32 - 14 November, 1929

Adjournment Debate. - Poaching Trawlers off Donegal Coast.

Mr. Carney: On Thursday last I put a question to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries in connection with the evacuation of the island of Inistrahull on the coast of Donegal. In that question I embodied a certain thing that I hold, and that the people concerned hold, was responsible for their having to leave the island, and that is the poaching by trawlers inside prohibited waters. It was such an important question that I felt compelled to raise the matter on the adjournment to-night. It does not alone apply to the people of Inistrahull but to the people of the whole seaboard. For the information of those Deputies who have remained for this debate, I should like to say that Inistrahull Island is situated six miles to the north-east of Malin Head. It is 114 acres in extent and it is one of the few places in this country where the population actually increased by almost 100 per cent. from 1881 to 1901. The people there earned their livelihood from the fishing industry. They had a school and they had a graveyard. Some weeks ago the people were compelled to evacuate the island en bloc; the school-house and the homes were deserted and the island was left practically derelict, except for a lightkeeper. I will give the Dáil a simile: It was Ireland on a small scale, though, as a matter of fact, it was in a far better position than the mainland, because the population had actually increased from 49 inhabitants to 65, while, owing to the famine, the population of Ireland [1417] had decreased by over fifty per cent. The people of the island were dependent for their livelihood on the fishing industry. They had very small boats for inshore fishing; they could line fish; and fish with nets during the herring season. Then the foreign trawlers came along. I am including in foreign trawlers Scotch and English trawlers and French fishing smacks. On the grounds where these people formerly could catch such fish as plaice, cod, herring, ling, halibut, turbot, salmon and lobster, in their different seasons, they now find it absolutely impossible to eke out the livelihood which they had been able to earn before the poaching by the trawlers came into operation.

In order to show how prolific were the spawning beds off the coast of Donegal I shall quote from a fishery commission report of the year 1837, which will also show the deterioration that has since taken place. In that year there were 6,613 fishermen recorded on the coast of Donegal operating in 1,272 boats. A Lieutenant Hamilton, in his evidence before the Commission, stated that a good row boat at that time, in the five or six weeks of the herring fishing season, could make from £30 to £50, which works out at from £6 to £10 per week per boat. That is 92 years ago, and at the present time there are not 6,613 men on the coast of Donegal, showing that we have not progressed. It has been retrogression all along the line. According to the Gaeltacht Commission's Report there are 12,000 fishermen along the whole sea-board of the Twenty-six Counties. There were half that number in Donegal alone 92 years ago. At the time that Lieutenant Hamilton gave his evidence before the Commission in 1837, herrings were sold at from 5/- to 10/- per thousand. There are better prices prevailing now, but there is not a fishing or a row boat in the Twenty-six Counties capable at present, even with increased prices, of earning from £6 to £10 per week per boat. Why? When the trawlers started illegal fishing all the beds inside the territorial waters [1418] of the Free State were swept to this extent, that in evidence given in a prosecution in Donegal it was stated —and this is authentic—that a trawl belonging to a foreign trawler—I am classing the British as foreign trawlers—sweeping inside the three-mile limit, or inside our territorial waters, lifted a dinner plate on which was the stamp of the Anchor Line Company. That dinner plate had evidently fallen overboard from an Anchor Line boat, and was actually lifted off the bottom of the sea by this trawler. I have seen myself a jack-knife lifted off the bottom by a trawl. These boats, which are capable of lifting a dinner plate or a jackknife off the bottom of the sea, are also capable of sweeping the spawning beds until the beds are made absolutely worthless.

The people of Inistrahull Island could shoot lines from a row boat When prices were low they could make a decent living. As Lieutenant Hamilton said, they could make from £6 to £10 per week at herring fishing —they could make a decent living shooting lines. But at the present time it takes a steamboat to go twenty miles off the coast of Donegal in halibut fishing to make a living, and the native fishermen cannot hope to do that. They have not got the facilities. No doubt the Minister for Fisheries is faced with a big job and there should be no impediments in his way. But there is an impediment, and a big one, and I want to point it out to the House. Eighteen months ago, and down to last week, questions have been asked of the Minister in regard to illegal fishing, and the Minister answered that he had no knowledge of illegal fishing: that he had had no complaints. I beg to differ. I have put it up to him. and I understand that even the inspectors of fisheries along the coast have put it up to him, that there was illegal trawling going on; and to bear out my statement I simply ask the Minister to obtain the log-book of the Helga and read the record of the captures that have been made by the Helga. Furthermore, I ask the Minister to produce the day book of [1419] the Civic Guard in Killybegs to prove that there have been certain foreign trawlers arrested for illegal fishing inside our territorial waters, and that there were fines imposed upon them but never collected. As an example, I give an instance that happened the third week in September off Malin Head.

A local fisherman had set his lobster-pots when there came along French smacks lobster fishing. The Minister may or may not know what these French smacks are doing. They have a certain draft and in the keels they have a grill and they have fresh sea water washing into a tank. They set their lobster pots inside our waters for lobster, crab and cray fish. When they get the fish they put them into the tank and feed them and they are able to keep on fishing for a week or a fortnight or three weeks, and when they return to France they bring these shell-fish with them in an absolutely perfect condition for the French market. Not alone that, but when they get immature shell-fish they bring them to the French coast and plant them there for future use. Not only are they robbing us at present but they are making provision for their own future. What have they done? Owing to certain circumstances they have got so bold that at Malinbeg, in the third week of September, they actually lifted lobster-pots belonging to an Irish fisherman and replaced them with their own pots and when the local fishermen went to remonstrate a French fisherman presented a gun at them and warned them off.

We spend upon the Civic Guard the sum of £1,558,582 per year. On the Army we spend £1,967,934 per year, and on the patrol boat £8,000 per year, bringing the whole up to the grand total of £3,534,516, and we cannot stop a Frenchman from presenting a rifle at the head of our native fishermen. We cannot do a thing. If the Minister considers that after spending three-and-a-half millions on the defence forces those forces are not capable of defending [1420] our own native fishermen and preventing their unemployment and preventing them going to America to obtain a livelihood, then I say to the Minister: “Hand over sufficient arms and ammunition to other people to do it and they will stop it and stop it damn quick.” If the Minister does not do it soon somebody else will do it and then, if you have any international status, you are going to have international complications continuously.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy continues much longer we will have Donegal complications because there are four other Donegal members present as well as the Deputy.

Mr. Carney: I know, but this is my question.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is already a quarter of an hour on that question.

Mr. Carney: I intend to continue five minutes more.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy say something about Inistrahull in that time?

Mr. Carney: My question and my whole complaint are based on illegal fishing. I made that provision. I am perhaps as wise as the next man. It is alleged that the Free State Government and the Minister concerned have no power to help either the people of Inistrahull or the people along the seaboard of Donegal by collecting fines imposed for poaching. It is alleged, and I say definitely, and with malice aforethought, that there has been an agreement arrived at or that we have sold or bartered away our rights to the territorial waters, and that fines imposed cannot be collected for the simple reason that neither the Minister nor the Government have a right to collect them, and unless this is disproved it will be held to be true. There is nobody going to convince the fishermen that the Minister has any power when a fine of £100 was imposed upon a trawler that was arrested by the Helga and [1421] brought to Killybegs, but was never collected. Nobody is going to convince the fishermen that the Minister has any power to collect it. The skipper was fined £100, but the simply laughed at it. He made £700 in the night, and, as I say, the £100 fine was never collected, and I say definitely that the Free State has no power to collect it. Let us be honest about it. If the Minister is in a quandary we will help him out, but why be dishonest about it, and pretend that he has powers when he really has no power at all?

If the Minister says here honestly that we have not got the power then the whole weight of our party will be thrown on his side, because if we can help it there is no country in the world going to make a laughing stock of this country. From Lerwick in the Shetlands to Yarmouth and from Yarmouth to the coast of France, we are a laughing stock. Our institutions are looked upon as comic opera and our middle name is mud. The sooner that ends the better. If we have the power to collect the fines let us collect them. I believe that we can stop foreign trawling and stop our fishermen from being penalised, and that we can also stop emigration along the seaboard. But if we have not got the power I say to the Minister, be honest and tell us that we have not got it and we will help you all we can.

Mr. Cassidy: Deputy Carney, in the course of his remarks, has pointed to the extent that foreign trawlers operate around the Donegal coast. He has also pointed to the havoc wrought amongst the fish and to the adverse effect that has on the fishermen in endeavouring to secure a livelihood. The Deputy pointed out that more protection is needed around the coast. I endorse every word that he has said. I should like to quote a few extracts from speeches made by the Minister for Fisheries on this subject. Speaking in the Dáil on the 18th January, 1923, the Minister said: “I wish to make it clear that even under the [1422] best conditions one fishery cruiser, having an all-Ireland beat of something like 2,000 miles, could not possibly cope effectively with this menace of illegal trawling.” Later the same day the Minister said: “I will come to the Dáil with a proposal for the provision of one or two additional cruisers.” It is more than six years since the Minister for Fisheries made that statement in the Dáil, but the Dáil has never been asked for a supplementary estimate to make the provision that the Minister then stated was necessary. On the 31st October, 1923, the Minister made a promise in the Dáil that additional patrol boats would be available in the near future. On the 13th June, 1924, the Minister for Fisheries made this statement in the Dáil: “I am quite satisfied one patrol boat is not sufficient.” Again on the 2nd July, 1924, the Minister stated: “We have not a sufficient number of patrol boats around the coast.” He also stated on the same date: “I agree that no effective patrol of the coast can be done unless we get at least one more patrol boat.” Later the same day the Minister said: “I am absolutely in agreement that the coast cannot be patrolled, and that fishing beds will be marauded as long as we have not at least one more fishing cruiser.” On the 30th April, 1925, the Minister said: “Last year I approached the Minister for Finance to secure sanction for a second cruiser.... I am disappointed to find that the Minister for Finance has not yet been satisfied as to the need for a second ship, and that he has consequently not made provision for it in the Estimates.”

I should like to ask why the Minister for Finance, as well as the Minister for Fisheries, is not here to answer to the House for what is going on around the Donegal coast. I believe that the Minister for Finance is sheltering himself behind the back of the Minister for Fisheries. I hold that he should be in the House with the Minister for Fisheries to answer the charges made [1423] here by Deputy Carney and myself. In the debates on the Estimates for 1926-27, the Minister for Fisheries stated here that he hoped to come before the House with an estimate for another protection vessel. On the 9th May, 1928, the Minister made this statement: “One cruiser is completely inadequate,” and again on the same day he said: “I have very considerable hopes that during the year we may be asking for a vote for a second cruiser.” A few weeks ago, when I raised this question again, I was told that it was still under consideration. Does the Minister think that he can continue to fool this House, as well as members of it and the fishermen around the coast of Donegal, in the way that he has been doing? He stated in this House more than six years ago that another protection vessel was needed. After all the promises that the Minister has made during that time nothing has yet been done to remedy the situation which exists. We now find that the inhabitants of one of the islands off the coast of Donegal have been obliged to leave it owing to the operations of these foreign trawlers, and to the fact that they are taking away what, if the necessary protection were afforded, would be a means of livelihood on the island for these people and their children.

Minister for Fisheries (Mr. Lynch): Is the Deputy quite sure that is the reason why these people have left the island?

Mr. Cassidy: During the past six years the Minister has been holding out promises to this House which have not been fulfilled. In the meantime, the fishermen around the coast of Donegal have been reduced to a state of the greatest poverty. I say that is due to the fact that the Department has failed to carry out its duty. I hold that until such time as the Department is forced to carry out its duties in a proper manner you will have poverty existing in that area. I believe that when dealing with a question like this the [1424] Minister for Finance, as well as the Minister for Fisheries, should be in his place in this House, and that he should not be sheltering himself behind the Minister for Fisheries.

Mr. Lynch: The Minister for Finance is not doing that, and I object to that kind of statement, just as I object to the statement that the Deputy made earlier that these people have left the island for the reason he stated.

Mr. Cassidy: The Minister may object, but according to the statements made by the Minister himself these people know very well that he asked for these cruisers, and that the Minister for Finance who is prepared to squander thousands and thousands of pounds in other ways will not give him a sufficient amount of money to enable him to provide the cruisers required.

Mr. Lynch: If there was anything that would make me not ask for a cruiser again it would be some of the statements made here this evening. I am in the unhappy position that apparently the Deputies who have spoken are in, that I do not know why these people left the island. I never got any information about their leaving the island. I had no complaints before they left the island, and I had no requisition for boats or gear or, in fact, any complaint that would lead me to believe that they were leaving the island for any particular reason. One can assume, if one likes, that they left because of the fact that illegal trawling had deprived the beds neighbouring Inistrahull of the fish that were available in days gone by. That may or may not be the case. I have a certain amount of reason to doubt that it is the case. In fact, just around that particular part of the coast at the moment, in the beds where they would normally be fishing, there is a considerable amount of fishing for the Glenagad fishermen and I understand that they are doing fairly well in the long line fishing to which Deputy Carney referred.

[1425] The people of Inistrahull have not, apparently, attempted to benefit by the fishing that is there at the moment and they cannot say that it is because they are not equipped. If they are not equipped, the position is that they have not taken the steps that fishermen normally take in order to get that equipment. They have not applied to the Department for loans or gear or otherwise to enable them to follow that fishing. If one liked to be interested in the people of Inistrahull, one could remind the Dáil of things that occurred here four or five years ago, when the question of illegal trawling was a fairly ripe question in that area, when it was alleged that the people of Inistrahull were getting a handover from the poachers and that signals were being given to the foreign trawlers—British trawlers—that the Helga or the Muirchu was in the vicinity. I may say that I never found that these allegations were entirely true, but such reports used to be commonly going about. The position anyhow is this, that the people of Inistrahull have left the island. I am not satisfied that they left the island entirely because of illegal trawling. In fact I am absolutely certain that that is not the case.

There never was a complaint to the Department before they left the island. They had reached the mainland and were on the mainland for some weeks before we heard about it. There has been no application for gear, and one does not really know what to do in a case like that. I have tried to gather as much information as I can in connection with them. I have received various reports. I received one report which was so fantastic, and in a sense one might say showed such hostility—or at least was inclined to ridicule the islanders—that I would not consider it. I have another report which is so uninformative that it is rather useless. I am trying to get some real information as to whether or not they have left the island for good, what is the position there with regard to the arable land in the island. [1426] whether they made use of it, whether there are any crops that could be taken off, whether it is a matter that could be dealt with by the Land Commission, and whether any inshore fishing they may do would help to solve the problem and take these people off the local rates. If they are destitute the obvious thing for them is to approach the home assistance officer.

I would like to feel that everything was being done to keep them from being a permanent charge on home assistance. I have, as I have said, received reports but I am not publishing them. I am trying to look for a true report of the position as far as these people are concerned. Deputy Carney and Deputy Cassidy raised the general question of illegal trawling. There was given, I think, an answer to the question, just as it was given in an answer by myself the week before, that this question is under examination. That may look like shelving the thing, but this is not such a very simple matter as may appear from the mere asking of questions here. You are dealing first of all with different areas. If I wished to shelve responsibility for collecting fines, in the sense that once my Department through the Fishery Board has caught a particular trawler offending, brought it before a court and has a fine imposed, there the responsibility of the Department ends. I do not want to shelve it in that way because things are not so easy as it may appear when there is a question of a boat fishing in the three mile limit and in the by-law limit, which is extra territorial in most cases. These things will eventually involve international agreement. Legal people are notoriously slow about coming to an agreement on these matters. They are so ticklish that one is not surprised there should be hesitation in coming to an agreement.

Mr. Cassidy: Does the Minister maintain he has not power to stop illegal trawling?

Mr. Lynch: It depends upon what the Deputy means.

[1427] Mr. Carney: Does the Minister say he has not power to arrest trawlers?

Mr. Lynch: The Minister has such power as he has by law and no more.

Mr. Cassidy: Did not the Minister admit in March, 1924, that there are certain legal questions affecting the Constitution of Saorstát Eireann which debar him from acting as he would desire?

Mr. Lynch: I do not remember making that particular statement, but if I did say it I said it for a very good reason. The question is almost entirely a legal one.

Mr. Carney: I would like to know whether the Minister, apart from the question of extra territorial waters, has power to collect fines for illegal fishing within territorial waters? If he would say yea or nay I have nothing further to say on the matter.

Mr. Lynch: That is a question of which I would like to have notice. There are some distinctions as between territorial waters as applied to the British at the moment and applied to foreigners. You can arrest, say, a foreign lobster or cray fish fishing boat in territorial waters. I am not quite sure whether that would apply to a British boat because the converse occurs. You cannot apply extra territorial by-laws to the French boat but you can to the British boat. In the past the by-laws of the British could not apply to persons who were not their nationals. They could only apply to the British and Irish boats. The by-laws apply extra territorially to British citizens, if you like. These by-laws apply to these same persons nowadays.

Mr. Carney: Have we then to consider ourselves still British citizens, and that the same laws must apply?

Mr. Lynch: I will not go into that. You cannot have it both ways. If the extra territorial by-laws apply to the British then there are certain places where the British are free [1428] even within the three mile limit. We are trying to have the old things apply as far as the fishery laws are concerned, for that would save our fishing ground from British trawlers.

Mr. Carney: Not inside territorial waters though extra territorial.

Mr. Lynch: Some by-laws apply well within the three mile limit and some up to twelve or fifteen miles, like the one off Dungarvan Harbour. As far as Inistrahull is concerned. I am in the same position as Deputy Carney and Deputy Cassidy. They do not know why the people in Inistrahull left the island, and I am not in the position to know why they did, but I am satisfied that it is not because of illegal trawling, for if it was due to something of that kind we should have heard of it in my Department. As I have said, we had no complaint before they left and no demand for anything in the nature of gear which would normally come from people who wanted help to enable them to fish.

Mr. de Valera: Does the Minister think he has done his duty when he has not sent down an inspector to find out the position there? Why should the Minister wait for a report to come to him in some strange way and depend on something happening? Surely it is his clear duty to send down an inspector. Also the Minister ought to tell us the state of the law as he is advised. These are questions we are anxious to have information on.

Mr. Lynch: I thought I had made it clear that I had got certain information that I did not accept, and that I was going to see I would get the information I required.

Mr. de Valera: Did the Minister send down an inspector?

Mr. Lynch: The Deputy can take it that what I said implies that.

Dr. Ward: Does the Minister think they have gone to America to see their friends?

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. to Wednesday, 27th November, 1929.