Dáil Éireann - Volume 212 - 05 November, 1964
Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Bill, 1964—Second Stage.
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Aiken) Frank Aiken
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Aiken): I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
One of the principal purposes of the Bill is to make it possible for the Government to implement and ratify  the Fisheries Convention concluded in London along with three associated Agreements and Protocol, on 9th March this year. The Convention, Agreements and Protocol were signed by the Taoiseach on 18th March. Copies have been laid before both Houses for the information of Deputies and members of the Seanad.
We are not concerned in this Bill with the territorial seas but only with the exclusive fishery limits of the State, and I wish to emphasise that the breadth of the territorial seas of the State remains at three miles, in accordance with section 3 of the Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 1959.
I need hardly say that we were very glad indeed to accept the invitation to take part in the Conference on Fisheries which assembled in London on the initiative of the British Government. The outcome of that conference —the Convention which is now before the Dáil—is the welcome culmination of persistent efforts by the Government for a number of years to secure the extension of our exclusive fishery limits. Since 1958 my Department and the Department of Fisheries have taken part in several international conferences and have been in constant diplomatic contact with many Governments with a view to getting acceptance of an appropriate world-wide international agreement on this problem. I am happy to say that although we failed to obtain the world-wide agreement we sought we have at least succeeded in getting the extension of exclusive fishery limits with the goodwill of our neighbouring countries.
Deputies may recollect that, despite the great measure of international approval for the Canadian and United States proposals at the First Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1958 and for the joint United States/Canadian proposals at the Second Geneva Conference in 1960 in favour of extending exclusive fishery zones beyond the territorial seas, no further progress in this matter was made until the conclusion of the London Fisheries Convention this year. This Convention is a regional agreement only, but is in conformity with  the growing tendency in all parts of the world, accelerated since the 1958 and 1960 conferences, to recognise the right of States to exclusive fishery limits extending beyond the territorial seas. The tendency may perhaps be attributed to a gradual recognition in international law of the priority rights of fishermen of the coastal state to exploit the waters within a reasonable distance of their own coasts even though those waters are not within their territorial seas. The tendency may also be described as an obvious practical means of ensuring the conservation of fishery resources around the coastal state and their development primarily for the use of the local population.
The London Convention provides that a party to it may, without objection from other parties, extend its fishery limits to a distance of 12 miles from the coast or straight baselines, as the case may be. Within the outer six miles of that 12-mile belt, a right to fish is recognised to States which have habitually fished there between January, 1953, and December, 1962. We propose to designate such States by order under section 3 (1) of the Bill.
The Convention also provides in Article 9 that States parties which have habitually fished within the 3 to 6-mile belt should be allowed a reasonable period of time to adapt themselves to their exclusion from that belt. The implementation of this provision of the Convention has been effected by one of the associated Agreements between the Government of Ireland, on the one hand and the Governments of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain on the other, and in section 3 (2) of this Bill we take power to implement the provisions of this associated Agreement. Under subsection 3 (2), the Government propose to designate Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, thereby giving the fishermen of those countries a right to fish in the appropriate areas within the 3 to 6-mile belt up to December, 1965, where the baseline is low water mark, and up to  December, 1966, in areas measured from straight baselines.
The effect of the Bill, therefore, will be that when it comes into operation, the vessels of the countries which I have indicated may continue to fish in the appropriate areas of the 3 to 6-mile zone until the end of 1965 along most of the east coast and where no straight baselines have been drawn, and until the end of 1966 around the rest of the coast; but after those dates, the vessels of those countries will be permitted to fish only in appropriate areas outside the six mile limit. Vessels of all other states will be excluded from the 12-mile belt from the coming into operation of the Bill.
Mr. D. Costello Mr. D. Costello
Mr. D. Costello: The Fine Gael Party support this measure. We express regret that agreement at the international conference to which the Minister referred was not reached and that it has become necessary to approach the problem of the rights of fishermen on a regional basis. This development has been rendered necessary and it particularly concerns a country such as Ireland where the fishermen form an important part of our community with rights which it is important for us to safeguard and where the fishing industry is an important aspect of our economic life. I should point out that the Bill gives effect to the suggestion which Deputies of this Party made some time ago in the Dáil when legislation to that effect was moved by members of the Fine Gael Party. Accordingly we welcome this piece of legislation, which, as the Minister said, is to give effect to the Convention already signed by a number of Governments, including ours.
There are certain aspects of the way in which this Bill will be worked out in practice to which I should like the Minister to make reference. I refer in particular to the enforcement of this legislation. We are all aware of the considerable difficulties that exist at present for the enforcement service in endeavouring to secure the rights of our fishermen within the three mile limit. I do not think I can be accused of giving any information to poaching trawlermen if I say that our resources  are far from adequate to ensure that the effect of this Bill is realised in practice. I would be happier with this measure if I were certain its provisions could be given effect to fully in practice.
In this connection I should be interested to know the number of vessels available at present to protect these rights, and it would be of interest to know how many are in actual commission at present. I believe the number is extremely small, and this Bill might end up as a dead letter unless steps are taken to ensure that situation is remedied.
There is one matter of detail on which I should like some information from the Minister when he is replying. Will he indicate what countries will be subject to the order under section 3 (1)? It is not quite clear to me from the Minister's remarks whether all the countries which he has mentioned are included under the order in section 3 (1). I should be glad if he would indicate what countries he considers will get the benefit of that order which will give those countries the right to fish in the outer six mile belt.
Mr. Corish Mr. Corish
Mr. Corish: Everybody welcomes the extension of our fishery limits. All Parties in the country or at least within the House can claim credit over a long period of years for the extension of the fishery limits. We should also welcome the fact that there was this conference on fisheries which has resulted in the signing of certain agreements between this country and other countries. On occasions here in the House, when the Minister was questioned as to whether or not we should extend our fishery limits, he has invariably replied over the past few years that he was waiting for an international convention of a bigger size than the one referred to here so that there could be more or less a wider agreement with a bigger number of nations. In any case, I think that the nations that have signed this convention are the only nations with which we would be concerned as far as our fishery limits go.
On occasions, there have been complaints by Irish fishermen that certain  other nations fished within the three mile limit as we have now. We had reports and evidence to the effect that Russian fishermen were fishing off the south and south-east coasts of this country. I do not say that the Minister should have or could have come to any agreement with the Russians. I merely point it out to show that we still may be subject to incursions by fishermen of other nations. In any case, it is satisfactory that we have this agreement with the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgians. If the convention is strictly adhered to, we have more or less the type of fishery limits we have advocated here for some time.
Of course, this is not the end of the problem as far as the fishing industry is concerned. It does not necessarily mean that by the extension of fishery limits we will have far bigger catches and that the fishing industry will go ahead by leaps and bounds. This is one step and a very desirable step but, in the ultimate, if we are to make progress in the fishing industry there must be vigorous action not by the Minister for External Affairs but by other Ministers concerned. First, as has been referred to by Deputy Costello, there is the question of the protection of our fishery limits. Nobody will contradict me when I say that even now, with the three mile fishery limit, we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to protect the fishing waters within that limit. How much more difficult, then, will it be to protect the fishing waters within six or twelve miles? The Government should take steps to ensure that our fishery protection vessels will be increased in number so that our fishermen will feel assured that the Government are doing everything they can in order to reserve these fishing grounds to our Irish fishermen.
Another problem, which is not at all the responsibility of the Minister for External Affairs—it is the responsibility of the Government—is the equipping of our fishermen in a far better way than they are now. I think that only a very small portion of our fishing fleet will be able to take advantage of  this extension. Many of our boats are certainly not equipped nor are they of the size to extend their fishing up to the 12 mile fishery limit which is provided for in the convention, a copy of which the Minister has kindly circulated to us.
I do not want to appear to be too controversial or to cause any trouble and for that reason I shall mention this matter very briefly. I notice that this agreement has been signed by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government of Ireland and, on the other hand, by the representatives of the Governments of Belgium, the French Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have had some difficulty in recent years with regard to the right of the fishermen of the Six Counties to fish within the three mile limit we had up to the present time. Would the Minister be in a position, today, to state the rights of the fishermen from the Six Counties and what will be the rights of the fishermen of the Six Counties from 1965 and 1966? I raise this matter particularly because I note that one of the signatures to this convention is on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I should like to know if the fishermen of the Six Counties are to be placed in the same category as the fishermen from the island of Great Britain.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: There are two points in this measure to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister. It is not a controversial measure from our point of view. We are glad that the fishery limits are now extended to six miles and the user limits to a distance of 12 miles. There are two points on which I think we ought to consult and advise together. One is the matter mentioned by Deputy Corish. I am not quite sure if he is conscious of the full implication of the matter to which he has referred. The constitutional position of Ireland is that the coastal waters of this island belong to us. So far as I know, nobody has ever said by statute or otherwise that the administration of  Northern Ireland extends beyond the land territory of the Six Counties of north-east Ireland.
Mr. Corish Mr. Corish
Mr. Corish: I accept that. I raised the matter because the convention describes the Government as the Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: It has never been our practice to stand on meticulous detail of that kind. In the negotiations for international agreement, we describe ourselves as “Ireland”: we are—nobody can alter that fact. But the Constitution in fact remains and it or the relevant statutes are studied.
Mr. Corish Mr. Corish
Mr. Corish: In other agreements with Great Britain do we refer to the Government of Great Britain or to the Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: That is a matter on which I would not be able to give a considered reply without reference to documents. I think the Minister is right in participating in this international convention whether, for instance, the Federal Republic of Germany wants to describe itself as “Germany” or “the Federal Republic of Germany” or whatever cognomen it may elect to attach to itself. We know well that when the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany signs an international instrument it refers to that part of Germany over which he presides though he may have reservations that he should be recognised as Chancellor of the United Germany. However, this is not an occasion on which it seems to me appropriate to argue these high constitutional principles.
At the same time, from our point of view, it is important that we should bear in mind that nobody has ever claimed, in any of the long chapter of statutes regulating relations between ourselves and Great Britain, that the Northern Ireland administration was erected or established for any purpose other than to control the land territory represented by the six north-eastern counties of Ireland. It is necessary to recall that fact and to recall that the  territorial waters of Ireland are the responsibility of the Government of Ireland.
There is also a practical conclusion to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister for External Affairs which, doubtless, he has had an opportunity of considering and perhaps he could give us the fruits of his reflection on it when concluding the debate. We now have three categories of protected waters. We have the old three-mile limit as qualified by the new definition of the base lines; we have the second category which is the new six-mile limit within which we may exercise exclusive fishery prerogatives for our own nation; and then we have a 12-mile limit in which we have the right to fish but are joined in that right by certain other nations who have traditionally fished in these waters. And there is provision in the agreement to determine the identity of the nations that have traditionally fished in these waters.
So far as our exclusive fishery limit is concerned, our protection task is simple, that is, to notify any trespassing foreign vessel that it must withdraw, or arrest the vessel and bring it before the appropriate court and impose the appropriate penalties prescribed by our law. But when we get into the outer six miles, we have a much more complex problem because now the responsibility devolves on the Government of Ireland not only of protecting the rights of our own fishermen in the outer six miles but also of protecting the rights of those who, under the agreement, are recognised as traditional fishermen in that area.
Here we are up against a fundamental difficulty. To equip ourselves effectively to protect the three-mile limit was a formidable burden on our resources, naval, military and air force. To accept responsibility for the effective protection of a six-mile exclusive fishery area is going to create a further formidable burden on those limited resources, which, remember, consist of three corvettes which are now a quarter of a century old and which, in our experience, I think, nearly always have one of their number in port for  repair and maintenance. To protect a six-mile exclusive fishery area with two corvettes and the helicopter is a task which will bring very serious problems. I imagine the Army authorities will press upon the Minister that if the job is to be faithfully done new equipment will have to be made available in the form of patrol vessels of different pattern and of far higher speed than the existing corvettes are capable of.
I do not think I exaggerate when I say it is common experience that a fishery protection vessel, to deal with trawlers, requires a maximum speed capability of 27 knots. I think the corvettes have a maximum speed capability of about 14 knots and nothing is worse. It is bad enough if our limited resources do not permit of effective protection of Irish sea fisheries but to have an Irish fishing protection vessel on the scene and unable to function effectively is worse, if the foreign trawler can simply cock its tail and disappear over the horizon, leaving the corvette to plough a lonely furrow in its wake and watch the trawler vanish. It has no course open to it but to open fire with possible danger to life, something nobody wants to be involved in.
The desirable thing is to have a fishery protection vessel which can outstrip any trawler, rapidly overhaul it and board it. Sometimes it is necessary to fire a shot across its bows but that is merely to fix them clearly with notice that they have been observed and are called upon to stand and render an account of themselves.
There is a much more complex problem emerging now which I shall try to illustrate for the House. In the outer six miles you have British trawlers, perhaps, recognised as traditional fishermen in that area and they call upon our fishery protection service saying: “We are being harassed by other foreign vessels who do not enjoy the status of traditional fishermen in this area and we call upon the Irish Government to afford us the protection in these exclusive fishery waters which traditional fishermen are entitled to expect.” What are we going to do?  Suppose we have not the means effectively to reach the point of foreign trespass to the detriment of a permitted foreign fisherman, shall we be confronted with a situation in which the foreign permitted vessel says: “If you will not protect us, we shall apply to our own Government”? What if that Government say: “You have an obligation under the Convention you signed to protect our fishery vessels in the outer six miles of this fishery area but repeatedly our vessels have called for help when unauthorised foreign vessels have trespassed in these waters to the detriment of our fishermen and you have repeatedly and signally failed. If you cannot afford the vessels the protection they ask for and to which they are manifestly entitled under the Convention, we ask you now can we send one of our fishery protection vessels with our fishermen?” What are we going to reply? Shall we say: “No, we will not agree and we will not provide protection ourselves.”
That is a dilemma of some difficulty but it is one that I think I must present to the attention of the Minister. I think it will be the most embarrassing problem that will confront him. So far as any inadequacy in the protection of our own vessels is concerned, it is something we can raise in Dáil Éireann and argue about ourselves and make the Government responsible for. That is a matter between ourselves. But if a second or third nation come into it and successfully claim from us the protection that under the Convention we have undertaken to provide and then say: “We quite understand your difficulty in facing this vast additional burden of protection that the new area has thrown upon you but if you cannot patrol the area effectively and fulfil your obligation to our trawlers, can we send in our own patrol boats?”
I ask the Minister when concluding this debate to give us his view as to how this problem is to be surmounted or perhaps give us an indication of the Government's intention to equip themselves with more up-to-date fishery patrol vessels of which I think we would want not fewer than four. If you bear in mind substituting four modern  fishery protection vessels for the two or three existing ones, while the capital costs would be formidable, I admit, there would be a saving in the running expenses. I understand the existing corvettes require a large crew, whereas more modern fishery protection vessels are smaller in size and, with their increased speed and superior arms, can be used more successfully than can our existing vessels. In addition to this, I understand that the draught of the existing vessels is such that they can be stationed only at certain points of the coast, whereas modern fishery protection vessels, drawing much less water, can be very much more extensively based than the vessels which we are at present using.
While we welcome the principle of this agreement and are glad of the new base line and of the fishery limit which this agreement provides us with, we do not think it would be right for us to pass this Bill without taking a responsible view of the implications of it and the additional responsibilities which we accepted in signing the Convention. I am anxious to see this country accept the liabilities of the Convention which has been negotiated and not renege its responsibilities, with the subsequent embarrassment of having to say to our traditional fishermen fishing in the outside six miles: “We cannot protect your rights and we will not let you provide protection for yourself.” It is the Minister's duty to propose some solution. Unless and until he does, we must view this new development with qualified enthusiasm, whereas we would very much prefer to give it our unqualified approval, enthusiasm and endorsement.
Mr. T. Lynch Mr. T. Lynch
Mr. T. Lynch: I remember being invited to the Minister's office when he gave myself and some of my colleagues the courtesy of showing us what plans his Department had for the setting up of the base lines. I appreciate that very much. I will give the Minister the credit that when we asked him Parliamentary Questions regarding this matter of whether negotiations were going on, he paid us the courtesy of giving us adequate replies.
 Now we have reached the summit of our ambitions and, having extended the limit from three to 12 miles, as both Deputy Corish and Deputy Dillon pointed out, we are not in a position to protect this 12 mile limit. We are not in a position to protect one inch of our fishing waters. As far as I know, we have only one corvette actually in commission. Another corvette has been cannibalised for spare parts for the other two. These vessels are useless and I want to point out to the Minister that he must bring pressure on his Government in order that pressure may be brought on his colleague, the Minister for Defence. This must be done and it must be done quickly. Surely the Minister for Defence must have known, if he was paying attention to the affairs of this House, what the Minister for External Affairs was doing and he should have been making preparations accordingly. We have got most unsatisfactory answers from him and I should like to take this opportunity of pointing out that the proper method of protection of our fisheries is not with large corvettes but with a small type of vessel known in the USA as coastal cutters. They can go out in all seas and they have a normal cruising speed of 12 to 14 knots. Their top speed is up to 30 knots.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Cormac Breslin
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The provision of vessels would seem to be a matter for another Minister and it may not be argued on this Bill.
Mr. T. Lynch Mr. T. Lynch
Mr. T. Lynch: I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the enormously valuable asset he has brought in for this State in having the overall 12 mile limit established. When we have this enormous asset and when the Minister for External Affairs comes back from a conference and succeeds in bringing that home, it is up to us to point out to him that this asset must be protected. We have information from people who have experience in fishing the coastal waters of many countries that the proper type of vessel to use to protect what the Minister for External Affairs has found for us is the coastal cutter.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Cormac Breslin
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The protection of fisheries is the responsibility of another Minister. The Minister for External Affairs has no responsibility for that particular facet of fisheries.
Mr. T. Lynch Mr. T. Lynch
Mr. T. Lynch: We had the three mile limit. Even though we had that three mile limit, ships were coming in from behind the Iron Curtain and fishing off the coasts of Waterford and Wexford in the richest fisheries around this country. I should like to point out to the House that one of these ships is geared up to catch more fish in one night than is caught in any of the small harbours in a whole season. I am endeavouring to point out to the House what could be done with our new fishing territory. If an armada came in, they could take away in a night what would be caught by practically all the fishing boats of Ireland.
We should deal with this problem very promptly. We should be conscious of it and we are not conscious of it from what has happened over the years. Our fishing waters are the fishing waters of Ireland and are therefore under the control of the Government of this State. It is open, as far as I know, to our fellow-countrymen in Northern Ireland to come and fish in any of our waters. The actual quarrel, the actual dispute which has taken place is not in relation to their right to fish. As a matter of fact, they are welcome to fish as far as I know, but they will not fish in southern waters or in the waters around our coast because there is objection by our fishermen. That is the problem.
I respectfully say I am in order in this. The Minister says that he proposes to designate Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, thereby giving the fishermen of those countries a right to fish in the appropriate areas within the three to six-mile belt up to December, 1965. If we are not in a position to protect the belt between the six and the 12 mile limit, representations will be made from those countries to the Minister for External Affairs, to the Government or to the Minister for Defence asking for protection. As I said before,  the Armada from the Iron Curtain will be standing by. I have said in this House before—it was a matter of great merriment the second time I said it for some people on the Fianna Fáil benches who were never near the sea except to put their toes in it—that there was an armada standing outside the three-mile limit. I saw the lights of this fleet. They were like the lights of a long road on a clear night over the sea. They were standing by waiting to come in and sweep all the fish that were there—enormous shoals of fish to be robbed in one night. I am sure the Minister for External Affairs will pay attention to what I am saying and that he will make representations to his colleagues in the Government.
I notice the Minister will not enforce this until December 1966. That is reasonable, and it is right, because it will have to be made known to the fishermen of various countries that they cannot come in and fish up to our three-mile limit in the future. I am glad this Irish delegation brought home the bacon, as the saying is, and I hope the delegation in London today will have the same measure of success.
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Aiken) Frank Aiken
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Aiken): I am glad that even Deputy T. Lynch is pleased with this particular Bill. I think we can all congratulate ourselves that the efforts made over the years to get a reasonable extension of our fishery limits have been finally successful with the goodwill and agreement of our neighbours. It was very important that it should be done with the agreement and goodwill of our neighbours because we hope not only to catch fish, and more fish, but also to sell more fish at home and abroad. The goodwill of the countries to which we want to sell fish is of the utmost importance for the progress of the fishing industry.
It is true to say that we have only one fishery protection vessel in operation. I do not want to go into the fishery protection question because that belongs to the Minister for Defence. Whereas it might have been uneconomic to apply more of our national resources  to protect the fishery rights, I hope, with the extention of our fishery limits, it will become profitable to expend whatever money is necessary to see that the rights which we have secured are protected and that the rights which our fishermen have to exclusive fishing in certain waters will be guaranteed to them.
Deputy Dillon raised a constitutional question, and Deputy Corish was concerned about the use in this agreement by the British Government of the title —the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British Government have used that in many international agreements which have been signed by all the Governments in power here over the years. That is the term they use. After all, they described their sovereign as “King of Great Britain, Ireland and France” at one time. We hope the addition of “Northern Ireland” to their rightful title will also fade out over the years. The Bill before the Dáil effects no change in the constitutional position or constitutional claims over territorial waters.
I emphasised at the beginning that the territorial waters will remain after the passage of this Bill as they were before it and as they have been over the years. It provides, however, for the first time in international law, that countries have been given by international agreement a right to exclude foreign fishermen from certain areas that are not within their territorial waters. We have good reasons of our own, which were discussed here before when we had the Bill measuring our territorial waters from a straight baseline, for deciding that we do not want to extend our territorial waters beyond three miles. We have always wanted to extend our exclusive fishery limits and we have done so.
Deputy Dillon raised the point as to whether, when we give certain States, that are neighbours of ours and that have traditionally fished, a right to continue to fish in the six to 12 miles limits, we have, in fact, undertaken an obligation to see that nobody will ever put the bow of a ship across the 12-mile limit in order to fish in our  waters. The agreement gives rights to other countries to fish in these waters, and we still retain the right under the agreement to extend the rights we have already given to a limited number of countries to other parties. We have no intention of doing so. We give this group of designated countries the right to fish within that belt just as we give it to our own fishermen, and we will afford them as much protection as we can reasonably give. We would not be expected to do anything more than that.
I think I have dealt with the points that have been raised and I am very glad, indeed, that the Dáil has welcomed this particular agreement.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: Is the Minister satisfied we have the necessary means of protection?
Mr. Aiken Mr. Aiken
Mr. Aiken: I have dealt with that point. It is a matter for the Minister for Defence.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: The Minister has not dealt with it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Cormac Breslin
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is a matter for another Minister.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Dáil Éireann 212 Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Bill, 1964—Second Stage.