Dáil Éireann - Volume 686 - 30 June, 2009

Priority Questions. - Fisheries Industry Development.

Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress made in tackling the delays in delivering the Operational Programme for Fisheries arising out of difficulties with Natura 2000; the recent discussions he has had with the Department of the [261] Environment, Heritage and Local Government and with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources with regard to their concerns; the deadline for the final resolution of these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26300/09]

  Deputy Tony Killeen: The seafood development measure contained in the National Development Plan 2007-13 is divided between the EU co-funded operational programme, OP, and the national seafood development operational programme. The EU co-funded OP has already commenced and has funded the 2008 decommissioning scheme which has allowed 46 boats to be decommissioned with grant aid totalling €36.6 million already paid or in the process of being paid over 2008 and 2009.

The national seafood development operational programme 2007-13 was advertised for public consultation in October 2008. Following this consultation process issues were raised by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on behalf of the Central Fisheries Board regarding the grant-aiding of projects where environmental issues arise relating to compliance with the EU birds and habitats directives and sea lice control on salmon farms.

This Department with its agencies working with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government developed a plan to deliver compliance with the EU birds and habitat directives for wild fisheries and aquaculture over a determined timeframe. This plan was submitted to DG Environment for consideration. A meeting between this Department, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Government agencies and DG Environment took place in Brussels on 13 May 2009 to discuss the plan — with a view to securing DG Environment’s support for the approach set down in the plan.

DG Environment advised that it was, in principle, favourably disposed towards Ireland’s plan subject to a positive response to the issues raised and further clarifications from the Irish authorities on the details of the plan. Additional material has now been forwarded to DG Environment where it is being examined. When these matters have been satisfactorily addressed, DG Environment expects to be in a position to formally respond on the plan at an early date.

A meeting at ministerial level was held last week between my Department and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources at which I advised on the significant progress made in managing sea lice levels on salmon farms and the concerns of the fisheries boards were also set down. I am hopeful that there is a better understanding of the issues involved from both Departments’ perspectives and that on this basis we can find a satisfactory resolution to the concerns raised.

It is noteworthy that the delay in the launch of the national seafood development operating programme has not held up grant aiding aquaculture developments in 2009 as the European Commission has agreed to the continuation of grant aid under the 2000-06 OP until 30 June 2009. A provision of €5 million has been made for aquaculture development in the Agriculture Vote for 2009 and I have approved the spending of €4.5 million of this for aquaculture projects in both the BMW and the south and east regions under the 2000-06 OP which will assist the continued operation of aquaculture projects in these areas and the employment that they support.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: From the outset, this operational programme has been delayed 20 months. If that is not a definition of incompetence, I do not know what is. The Minister of State has just said it has not held up funding, but that is incorrect. I have been contacted by fishermen from Dungarvan and Sneem who applied for grants which were approved, but they will not get funding until the operational programme is in place. It is clear that issues need to [262] be addressed in terms of the Minister of State’s Cabinet colleagues and their objections. The industry needs to know urgently how long it will take to resolve those issues.

The Minister of State referred to a meeting he had with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, but has he a timescale or a deadline in mind as regards getting the operational programme up and running? What is the situation in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regarding the sea lice? There was a meeting last week, but what is the up to date position? We want this resolved so that it does not hold up proceedings at a later date.

  Deputy Tony Killeen: The reality is that €5 million was provided in grant aid for this year and €4.5 million has been allocated. The projects referred to by the Deputy are more than likely in Natura 2000 sites where grant aid cannot be paid until the issues outstanding have been addressed. Consultants were commissioned to prepare an environmental impact assessment. Subsequent to that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, through the Central Fisheries Board and the other Department through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, had reservations about elements of the assessment which was carried out and raised these. Until they are dealt with it will be impossible to have the operational programme activated. However, following the meeting on 13 May, most of the outstanding issues have been addressed with the European Commission. At this stage I am satisfied that when that process has been completed we will be able to deal with the outstanding issues involving the other Departments.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: Europe is not the problem, neither has it been over the past 20 months. The problem lies within the Cabinet between the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the other two relevant Ministers. There are real environmental concerns at stake, but it must be recognised that this programme has been stalled for 20 months and needs to be activated.

On another issue, in previous times the vast majority of funding for the operational programmes came from Europe. This time only €42 million of the €126 million will come from Brussels and most of this has been committed to decommissioning. Will the Minister of State say if there is a question as to whether the funds will be made available in the current climate? As I have said the problem is not with Europe, but within the Cabinet and there are hundreds of jobs at stake. I plead with the Minister of State, on behalf of the fishermen around the country, and urge him to act on this. It is 20 months late, and that is a definition of incompetence.

  Deputy Tony Killeen: The inherent difficulties, for example as regards sea lice in salmon, considerably pre-date the present Government and in fact were an issue when the marine element of the Department, including those elements now with the Departments of Communications and Natural Resources and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were within the same Department. In fact, that debate and all the issues surrounding it long pre-date the present Administration.

I agree strongly with the Deputy that Europe is not the problem. We frequently congratulate ourselves on being enormously compliant Europeans, but as regards the directives in question in this instance, concerning the Natura 2000 sites, we had about 12 to 14 years to implement them and have not done so. Ultimately, a European Court of Justice judgment in December 2007 was successfully prosecuted against Ireland and that is the nub of the difficulty in getting over these issues.

[263] On funding, €4.5 million of the €5 million provided for this year has been allocated and the question of funding for future years is clearly contingent on budgetary considerations.