Fish farms a breeding ground for tensions over job creation

Events out west cut to heart of a flaw in the environment versus development debate

The Minister’s plan to get Éamon Ó Cuív on board didn’t succeed. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

The Minister’s plan to get Éamon Ó Cuív on board didn’t succeed. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Something interesting has happened out west. For the best part of two years Bord Iascaigh Mhara has been trying to reboot the the Irish salmon farming industry. The plan centres around very large farms, with one planned for Galway Bay and another earmarked for Inishturk off Co Mayo.

The projects have met opposition from various interest groups who have joined forces in Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages. They claim to have the support of a majority of the members of the newly elected Galway County Council and Irish members of the European Parliament.

They have argued the salmon farms present significant environmental risks. These include damage to wild salmon stocks and the substantial tourism industry built around salmon angling. The arguments are many, complex and inconclusive, with all sides able to produce “evidence” to support their assessment.

As is often the case – think Corrib gas or the pylon controversy in the midlands – the opponents of the project seem better organised on the ground than the project’s proponents and are able to garner the support of local politicians.The result is often stalemate, with politicians actively opposing Government policies being implemented by State agencies.

The mess usually ends up sitting on some minister’s desk; in the case of the salmon farms it is Simon Coveney’s desk. One imagines that dealing with it has all the appeal of eating a three-week-old ham sandwich. His attempts last year to get Éamon Ó Cuív to help him get support for the Aran island project backfired.

Ó Cuív, a local TD and Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman, accused Coveney of having made up his mind about the project, which set him at odds with the environmental lobby. A study of the other “environment versus development” controversies mentioned above would tell you that is not where you want to be if you are a politician.

But things may be different this time. The residents of Inishturk seem to have woken up to the fact that the best hope in a generation of a sustainable economic foundation being built for the island may be about to be washed away in a tide of anti-fish farm lobbying. As the island manager on Inishturk, Mary Catherine Heanue puts it: “We desperately need job-creation opportunities. The development will give us a great boost.” Interestingly, given the events of last year, she seemed to take Ó Cuív’s support for granted, telling the Connaught Telegraph that “he has been our rock”.

Petition

HarvestConnaught Tribune

The company wants to construct a temporary fresh water pipeline to one of its sites as it needs the water to treat a disease affecting the fish. The whole thing has become embroiled in the planning process and the locals appear to have made it clear where they stand on the issue – in favour of jobs.

Campaign of opposition

Ireland

It will be interesting to see how Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages’ support among country councillors and MEPs holds up in the face of all this. Likewise Ó Cuív may also want to finesse his position.

The events out west cut to the heart of one of the flaws in the environment versus development debate in Ireland – and probably everywhere. The economic interest of the local people can get lost once outsiders – even those with the best of motives – get involved.

The fact that local people in Connemara and the offshore island seem to have woken up to this may of course have something to do with lobbying work on the ground by BIM, Marine Harvest and others, but is significant nonetheless.

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