Dáil Éireann - Volume 325 - 10 December, 1980

Supplementary Estimates, 1980. - Vote 36: Fisheries (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £982,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1980, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, including sundry grants-in-aid.

—(Minister for Fisheries and Forestry.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Deasy is in possession and he has about 30 minutes left.

Mr. Deasy: I was referring to the subhead which deals with the money required for the hiring of boats for the carrying out of additional surveys of herring in the Celtic Sea and I raised the query as to what aid we are getting from the EEC to carry out such surveys. It is obvious that people are fishing to a very large extent in the Celtic Sea and, for that matter, in the seas right around our coasts. What are they putting back into the fishing industry in this country? Are they contributing to the cost of surveys such as the one referred to in the Estimate before us today? I seem to have a contradiction in this regard between Mr. Eamonn Gallagher in Brussels and the previous Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, Deputy Lenihan. Mr. Gallagher told me that assistance for surveys would be forthcoming if an application were made by the Irish Government, but the previous Minister said that he had never made such an application and had no [885] intention of doing so. Would the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry tell us if he has sought any EEC aid? Obviously we know very little about the potential of the fishery grounds within the 200-mile limit, particularly in the outer band of that extensive limit, and we would need very extensive finance to carry out the survey. It would be covering an enormous area.

I ask the Minister also if we have any data from the countries who at present are fishing those waters and who are also members of the EEC, specifically the French and the Dutch. I can add also the Spaniards who, although not members of the EEC, have traditional rights in our waters and those rights have not been extinguished, although I believe there is some talk that they may be eliminated completely. Have we been receiving data from the French, Dutch and Spanish as to what stocks we have and where those stocks are situated? As I have said, these people know more about the fishing grounds within our fishery limits and the species contained therein than we ourselves know because they have been fishing them for decades past, maybe generations past, and we, by our very nature, have been inshore fishermen and are not in a position to be conversant with what is available 50 or 100 miles out, especially off the south and south-west coast where these people operate.

The state of the herring stocks is a cause for great concern and we must face up to the fact that conversation measures will have to be taken in the Celtic Sea. However, what gripes the Irish fishermen at the moment is that, while there is a ban on herring fishing in the Celtic Sea, it is well known that the Dutch are catching enormous quantities of herring under the pretext of fishing for mackerel. It is all very well to carry out a survey and to know what stocks are there, but what is the point if these stocks are to be wiped out by Dutch trawlers fishing on a vast scale? When will a stop be put to this illegal fishing? This herring fishing is being done illegally not alone in the Celtic Sea but also in the North Sea. The heading on last Monday's Irish Independent reads. “EEC Powerless to Enforce Herring Laws”. That refers to the fact [886] that, while there is a herring ban in the North Sea also, the French fishing fleet are fishing out those stocks indiscriminately at the moment and they are being landed blatantly at French ports and no prosecution has been brought against the large French trawlers doing this fishing at present. What is the point in allowing this blatant breaking of EEC fishery laws? Why has Ireland not objected when we ourselves have prosecuted our own fishermen for breaking the herring ban in the Celtic Sea? A number of small boat fishermen on the south coast have been prosecuted within the past two years and those court cases are still pending. How in justice can we prosecute men who are fishing from boats as small as 15 and 20 feet long when French boats of 120 or 150 feet in length are fishing grounds where there is a herring ban in the North Sea? How can we justify that type of discrimination against our own fishermen? We were hauled before the European Court very quickly over the conservation measures we introduced in 1976, but now the French are breaking the rules on a much greater scale and no action has been taken. Why is the law not being enforced in an equitable manner?

There is no doubt that there should be a limited amount of herring fishing in the Celtic Sea by the small boat owners, the traditional drift net fishermen who have been doing this type of fishing for generations past, whose fishing effort is so limited that it is not affecting the stocks in any manner. Stocks of fish need a certain amount of fishing if they are to remain virile and strong and resistant to disease. They need to be fished to a certain extent. If you want an ailing, decadent fish stock, the thing to do is leave it there untouched and it will get every type of disease going. A certain amount of fishing is desirable and necessary and if it can be done without major damage to the fish stocks then it should be allowed. I am advocating that the inshore drift net fishermen on the south coast should be allowed to continue to drift net for herring in the Celtic Sea. I think that the Minister wants to support that idea but he has not got the assistance of his colleagues in the Council of Ministers. I ask [887] the Minister to keep on pressing for a limited opening of the Celtic Sea.

In my constituency I represent about 500 fishermen who are involved in this type of limited fishing, limited because drift netting by its very nature is relatively harmless in that you can catch only a very limited amount of fish. These people have no other source of income during the winter months. Their boats are not big enough to go trawling. I appeal to the Minister to allow them to fish on this scale, particularly as the French and Dutch are doing it on a much larger scale and they are getting away with it. I feel that these men are quite justified in pursuing the only livelihood they know. If they are to meet repayments on boats and gear they must fish whether they are breaking the law or not. Having said that about the survey referred to in the Estimate I should like to go back to the subsection which deals with Bord lascaigh Mhara under the heading administration and current development.

BIM was set up for a number of specific functions one of which was boat building. That function has been eliminated. Another one was marketing. In this area they have proved to be a colossal failure. What affects Irish fishing more than anything else at present is the state of the market. In many cases the market is nonexistent and, at times, fishermen have had to come back to port and dump their catch. In many cases they were prime species such as plaice and sole. What are BIM doing to allow fishermen to sell their catch?

Fishermen are getting as little as they got five or six years ago for their fish whereas the cost of fuel and gear and repayments on boats have soared. If the price of fish has not remained static it has actually gone down. In many cases fishermen cannot sell their fish. What are BIM doing to set up a proper marketing service? They seem to be failing badly in this regard. The Government have also failed in that fish imports are allowed into this country. It is likely that these are from third countries or, if not, they are illegally caught fish in the North Sea. Herring can hardly be sold here because [888] of the glut on the Continent and the reason for that is that fishing is taking place in the North Sea herring fishery illegally.

The Minister should address himself to the problem of marketing. It is the whole basis of any industry. What is the point in producing if one is not able to sell? There is a loss of confidence in the industry particularly where small boats are concerned. The Minister will say we are catching as much as ever and that the value of the catch went up in 1979 according to the BIM report issued today. That may be true to an extent but in real terms the value of the catch has not gone up. In the report we are told that the value of the catch in 1979 was £35.4 million in comparison with £32.8 million in 1978.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is now getting into policy matters as far as BIM are concerned. The additional money required here is to meet the cost of wage increases.

Mr. Begley: And administration.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should not try to tell the Chair how to do his job.

Mr. Begley: I am only being helpful.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The rules of the Chair through the years are here. Inclusion in supplementary estimates of provisions for salaries of civil servants does not permit widening the scope of debate to include policy and general administration. That is the ruling of the Chair.

Mr. Begley: Administration is mentioned in the Estimate.

Mr. Deasy: The value of the catch has barely increased and in real terms has decreased. It has decreased in tonnage. The catch for 1979 was 91,000 tons, a decrease of 17,000 over 1978, despite the fact that we now have a number of super trawlers in the Irish fishing fleet operating off the Donegal coast and catching huge volumes of mackerel.

[889] Mr. Power: They only came in this year. We are talking about last year.

Mr. Deasy: Some of them were there previously, for example, Kevin McHugh's boat was there for four or five years.

Mr. Power: The new one only came in this year.

Mr. Deasy: We had one prior to that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are only dealing with the Celtic Sea.

Mr. Deasy: If we remove the actual catch of mackerel from that total the real statistics of the fish catch for 1979 would make pretty miserable reading. That is due to the fact that BIM and successive Governments must take responsibility for failing in their efforts to develop the fishing industry along the right lines. They have failed in their marketing policies.

I know a man who set up a processing industry in Dunmore East last year. He was smoking mackerel and herring and it was just about the best product one ever tasted. BIM promised they would find markets for him on the continent. They never did and within a matter of months that concern had to close down.

Mr. Begley: Disgraceful.

Mr. Deasy: What are BIM doing to promote the sale of Irish fish abroad?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has told the Deputy that he cannot discuss policy matters under this subhead.

Mr. Deasy: It is time we had a complete overhaul of the board of BIM. Why are people appointed to that board? What qualifications have they got? Is it a fact that some are appointed on the basis of political patronage? Is it not time that the Irish fishing industry was the master of its own destiny and had a say in what was happening? Fishermen tell me they are given a very poor hearing when they go [890] to BIM to discuss a project, the purchase of a boat or a processing industry they wish to set up. They put this down to lack of acumen in fishery matters within the board. The fishermen want their representatives to be the main constituents of that board. The day of putting political hacks on boards should be long gone. Unfortunately this still continues. I should like to see those who catch fish, process and sell it represented on the the board of BIM. There should not be anybody else on it except those actively engaged in the industry.

Reference was made to inland fishery development. The additional sum required includes £50,000 for the purchase of two fishery patrol boats for use in the Kerry and Waterford fishery districts. I have the greatest sympathy with the staff of the boards of conservators because they have to work in dreadful conditions and under the worst possible terms of employment. Their jobs are neither pensionable nor permanent. The expenses they receive for using their own transport are pitiful and they are subject to all kinds of abuse and assaults as we read in the newspapers. Any assistance that can be given to these people by way of providing better equipment will have my full support. They are people who deserve a better deal. They were promised a better deal under the reconstituted boards of conservators, the regional boards as they have been called. Could the Minister say when these regional boards take effect? Have the 17 old boards of conservators actually been abolished and have the seven new regional boards been set up? Headquarters were named in various parts of the country for these new boards. Is the physical structure now there?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is nothing in this Supplementary Estimate for the boards.

Mr. Deasy: Are there actual headquarters? Have they been staffed? Have the existing boards been abolished or what stage has the Minister reached in setting up the new boards?

It is rather interesting that the Minister [891] should mention Kerry and Waterford fishery districts because those two areas are places that have been heavily discriminated against in inland fishery matters over the years. I do not think there is stricter surveillance in any district than in the Waterford district. One could not attempt to break the law there without being apprehended because the staff are on top of their job with the result that fishermen in that district are the most law-abiding in the state. If the Minister looks up the number of breaches of law that have have taken place over the years he will find there have been fewer in the Waterford district than in any other. I am appalled to find that an order made last week by the Minister reduced the number of drift net licences in the Waterford district by 38. The total over the whole country was reduced by 100 but why did he have to reduce the Waterford number by 38?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not relevant here; it is not covered by any heading in the Supplementary Estimate. There is nothing under inland fisheries except provision for two fishery boats. On a supplementary estimate a Deputy may not raise any matter only that which is provided for in the estimate.

Mr. Deasy: Drift net licences have been reduced by 38 and the number of draft net licences by three. The loss of these 41 licences would probably mean 100 or more put out of work. This is not fair. It obviously deprives that many people of the right to earn a living. That is disgraceful. I should like the Minister to re-examine the basis of his order if there is any basis for it. Licensed fishermen have been a credit to the industry. They are the people most concerned about conserving stocks and keeping the rules and invariably they do that. I have always objected to the fact that there is so much unlicensed fishing principally along the west coast by trawlers using five or six miles of net. This type of fishing is still going on.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair [892] must tell the Deputy that these matters should be kept for the Estimate proper.

Mr. Deasy: I shall not dwell on the point unduly but I must protest that Waterford has been dealt with unfairly in this matter in that the number of licences taken off is disproportionate to those in other districts.

We welcome of course any supplementary estimate but I cannot say that I am happy with the state of the fishing industry. There is money there to improve harbours and that is welcome. There is money for sea fisheries development, money for BIM, money for inland fishery development but overall the state of the fishery industry gives rise to considerable concern. I hope the Minister will refer to the high incidence of pollution in rivers which is causing so many fish kills and doing untold damage to large stretches of river such as the Funcheon and the Gradogue and the Suir as well as many lakes in the central and northern parts of the country. It was a great mistake, and I said so at the time in the Seanad, that when the Water Pollution Bill 1976 came into being its administration was left in the hands of local authorities. I maintain that the fishery boards should control that legislation because they are the natural people to look after our waterways. My contention at that time has proved correct.

It is not too late to change. There will never be proper control of water pollution unless it is connected with matters pertaining to fisheries. The Minister should give serious consideration to that point. The pollution of our rivers is continuous and increasing and until somebody with a vested interest gets into this field of operation the position will worsen. The only people with a vested interest and real concern are those making a living from fishing, those whose raw material are the salmon and trout going up those rivers, people who have representatives on the fishery boards. Control of waterways and of pollution should be under the aegis of these boards and nobody else. The local authorities that have been given control in this matter are themselves the greatest polluters.

[893] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That does not arise.

Mr. Deasy: I know that the estimate is very narrow and when one is travelling along a very narrow line one is apt to stray.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: On the general Estimate the Deputy will have an opportunity of raising all those points.

Mr. Deasy: We might not be here when that comes up. This might be our last chance to voice our opinion on fishery matters.

Mr. Power: The Deputy might get a chance to talk on this in the Seanad.

Mr. Deasy: Does the Minister think that I shall be Minister for Fisheries at that stage?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Let us not look forward to the next election now.

Mr. Deasy: Actually fishermen would much prefer to have a Minister from a maritime county——

Mr. Power: “O Lord, it's so hard to be humble.”

Mr. Deasy: It need not be myself; it could be Deputy Begley or any one of a dozen Deputies.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We shall appoint him later, please.

Mr. Power: You might even bring back Michael Pat.

Mr. Deasy: He is not running next time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has one minute left.

Mr. Deasy: I reiterate my point about the position in the Celtic Sea. Provision is made in the estimate for a survey to be carried out. The Minister may be muttering [894] and swearing under his breath but the fishermen on the south coast are swearing aloud——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Swearing is not in order in the House.

Mr. Deasy: They are swearing aloud. They are certainly not praying for the Minister at present and will not be praying for him. We feel that a little bit of muscle and political clout is necessary in fishery matters in particular at the Council of Ministers in Brussels and we feel that has not been forthcoming, with the result that the Irish fishing industry is going downhill; the small boat fishermen especially are getting a raw deal. We depend on the Minister for Fisheries to stand up for these people but unfortunately that has not happened. I am asking the Minister to acquaint himself with the problems, to go down to meet them and help them to solve their problems, to get markets for them, to stop imports from third countries which are ruining their livelihood. If these problems were tackled properly by the Minister he would ensure a prosperous future for people who work so hard.

Mr. Begley: The first point that must be made is that the fishing industry is in chaos. From a reply by the Minister to a parliamentary question on 26 November last I learned that 65 per cent of trawler owners are in arrears with payments to BIM. That is a shocking indictment of the way our fishermen are being treated. Everyone knows the enormous cost of diesel oil and the low prices for fish. Things are getting tougher and rougher for our fishermen. I hope the Minister will use all the muscle he has — and he has plenty of it — at Cabinet meetings to arrange for the payment of a subsidy on diesel oil for our fishermen to give them a chance once again——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This cannot arise on the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Begley: I am making my speech and if you think you are going to stifle me [895] you might as well adjourn the House. I am putting it to you like that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will Deputy Begley, like every other Deputy in the House——

Mr. Begley: I have things to say on the Supplementary Estimate and I will say them——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will not unless they are relevant to the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Begley: I will make my point on diesel oil and I will move away from it when I have finished.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will deal with the Supplementary Estimate and nothing else.

Mr. Begley: I will deal with the subhead on the administration of BIM. I will deal with the heading on sea fisheries development and as far as that is concerned, if a subsidy for diesel oil is not relevant, in the name of God what does it refer to?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It refers to herring surveys in the Celtic Sea and it does not refer to anything else.

Mr. Begley: Diesel oil must be used to carry out the surveys and it must be subsidised. It is as simple as that. I am surprised at you. I have been speaking exactly three minutes and you have cut in——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is under an obligation——

Mr. Begley: Are you under orders to stifle me?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is under an obligation to see that all Deputies will deal only with the Supplementary Estimate before the House. On the main Estimate the Deputy can raise any matter he likes.

[896] Mr. Begley: I will certainly raise matters here and if this House does not wish to hear me the House can put me out. It is as simple as that. I have very strong views on the state of the fishing industry. I have strong views on the fact that the Celtic Sea has been closed for so long. I have very strong views that Dutch factory ships can catch all the fish they like out there without being monitored in any way by officials of the Department of Fisheries or any other Department. The personnel of the monitoring staff have not got the clothing to go down into the deep freeze section of those factory ships and inspect the catches. I am concerned because our fishermen have not the right to land fish at all ports in their own country and I am concerned at the lack of control of imports of fish from third countries. This has caused 65 per cent of our trawler fishermen to be in arrears to BIM.

Coming from a seafaring county I am concerned that the Inland Fisheries Trust, which is dealt with in Subhead E and which will cost about £415,000, can allow one of the boards, in Galway, to meet and that the press were not allowed to attend the meeting. I am sure the Minister is concerned, because if decisions are to be taken concerning our inland fisheries it is only right that the press should be present to report the proceedings. It is very wrong that a board set up by the State can exclude the press from meetings. I hope this will be corrected immediately. Some of the board members are elected representatives.

I tabled a number of questions in recent weeks and I cannot understand how I could have been given so much inaccurate information. I am so concerned about the whole issue, particularly in relation to the sale of boatyards——

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Did the Minister say how much the boatyards made?

Mr. Begley: I am so concerned about the whole matter that I am demanding a public sworn inquiry into the sale of these boatyards.

[897] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It cannot be raised on the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Begley: The administration of BIM comes under it and I am speaking about that administration. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle can put me out of the House——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The additional amount in this Supplementary Estimate is required to meet the cost of pay increases due under the national understanding and that does not allow the Deputy to raise policy matters.

Mr. Begley: You are doing your level best to take up my time. I hope it is not deliberate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not deliberate. I am giving you the ruling of the Chair and I hope you will listen to it.

Mr. Begley: The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is so happy listening to himself that he has not time to listen to me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should not be arguing with the Chair.

Mr. Begley: I will argue with the Chair if I have to in order to expose a fraud that has taken place. I am now calling for a public sworn inquiry.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is entitled to raise such matters on the main Estimate.

Mr. Begley: I am raising the matters here because I was given misleading information. I am not saying the Minister gave it to me deliberately because I am sure the information he gave me had been given to him by BIM. I will now quote——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy move the adjournment of the debate?

Mr. Begley: Why should I move the [898] adjournment of the debate? I am surprised at you.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy move the adjournment of the debate? If he wishes to speak again he can do so.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: When will the debate be resumed?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It can be resumed later this evening, depending on the duration of the debate on the Social Welfare Supplementary Estimate.

Debate adjourned.