A leading fishing industry representative has said he sees no conflict of interest between his role as a national negotiator and his directorship of a French company which has vessels fishing in Irish waters.
Sean O'Donoghue, the chief executive of Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation (KFO), is part of an Irish consortium which bought a French fishing company, La Houle Holding, in Penmarc'h, Finistère, in 2016.
The Breton company has a fleet of 11 fishing vessels, a number of which target whitefish in several areas off this coast and land into Irish ports.
In an interview with the newspaper Ouest-France in January 2018, the company's French manager said its vessels intend to "re-exploit" a zone on the Porcupine Bank which had been "abandoned by the French" for a number of years.
The Porcupine Bank, to the west and south of Ireland, is a strategic fishing ground for Irish whitefish vessels, including those working on the €15 million prawn fishery, and home to cold-water corals.
Part of the Porcupine was closed temporarily to Irish prawn vessels last year to protect stocks.
Mr O'Donoghue and several Irish colleagues are directors in Celtic Consortium Ltd, which has a 100 per cent shareholding in La Houle Holding, registered in Saint Guénolé, France, and listed as involved in fishing, fish processing and vessels.
Mr O'Donoghue is also a director of Bord Iascaigh Mhara and represents his members at national fish quota management talks convened by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.
Quota swaps with other EU member states, including France, are discussed at the meetings, which involve the four main fishery producer organisations and fish processors, the inshore sector, and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.
Mr O'Donoghue told The Irish Times that he had no requirement to date to declare his interest in the company at the quota management advisory committee, as it is not a statutory body, and he did "not see the relevance" of his involvement with the French company.
He said a voluntary system of disclosure of interests was being introduced this month, and it was a “matter for him” as to what he would declare.
“Any State bodies I am involved in or have been involved in are declared,”he added. “I facilitate the industry and department in trying to get quota swaps from other EU member states, but my role is a facilitator and people can check the records.”
The Green Party's marine spokeswoman, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, said she was concerned about a potential conflict of interest. Minister for the Marine Michael Creed and his department needed to ensure "full transparency" where there may be a potential conflict which would have an impact on other people's livelihoods, she said.
Mr O’Donoghue is a director of five companies, including KFO Investments Ltd and Bio-Marine Ingredients Ireland Ltd.
Celtic Consortium Ltd improved profitability in the year ended June 30th, 2017, the most recent period for which accounts are available. The company recorded a €12,311 profit for the year, leaving its profit and loss account still in the red at -€25,055. The company’s investments of €12.88 million were unchanged year-on-year. The La Houle Holding subsidiary lost €181,211 for the year.
After filing company results it lodged claims valued at €1.2 million against the vendor of La Houle for breaches of landlord obligations under the terms of a property lease. In the accounts filed for Celtic Consortium Ltd, the directors noted they were “confident” that the claims would be successful.
Creditors for the company were limited to shareholders, who were owed €10.6 million from the company. Bord Iascaigh Mhara has confirmed that Celtic Consortium Ltd received grant assistance in December 2014 of just over €50,000 under the seafood category management scheme of a business development innovation programme.
A spokesman for Mr Creed said the Minister could not comment on the issue. Mr Creed’s department confirmed that a policy on conflict of interest for the monthly quota management committee has been introduced this month.
Members have been asked to return the voluntary declaration of interest form before the next meeting, later this month.
The policy states that “should a standing member or stand-in representative only become aware of any actual or potential conflict of interest during the course of the meeting, they must revert to the status of an observer for that portion of the meeting and their views will not be brought to the attention of the Minister”.
“The individual is not required to disclose details of the conflict of interest at the meeting but must indicate to the chairperson that a conflict exists,” it says, and must inform the chairperson afterwards if the matter relates to a “sensitive business issue”.