Voice of Irish fishing industry for more than 40 years

Obituary: Joey Murrin dealt with 15 government ministers during his career, and was feared by several

Joey Murrin  on the quay at Killybegs, Co Donegal. Photograph: Eric Luke

Joey Murrin on the quay at Killybegs, Co Donegal. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Joey Murrin

Born: February 7th, 1937

Died: June 3rd, 2018

Joey Murrin, who has died in his home port of Killybegs, Co Donegal, at the age of 81, was a leading fish industry lobbyist and natural communicator with a unique ability to simplify the most complex issues.

A consummate negotiator, he dealt with 15 government ministers during his career, and was feared by several; even former taoiseach Charles J Haughey once expressing irritation at his popularity.

Born in Killybegs the youngest of four children, he began his career at sea in 1954 as a deckhand, fishing on the San Paulin owned by Tommy Watson.

Elected secretary of the then Killybegs Fishermen’s Association in 1958, he became its chairman in 1973. The following year, he was voted chairman of the Irish Fishermen’s Organisation and served for five years.

In 1979, he left to set up the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) as a producers’ body, at a time when the pelagic fleet was targeting the migratory mackerel stock – now a €1 billion annual fishery. He ran as a Fine Gael candidate in the European elections in 1984 at the behest of then taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald.

Though unsuccessful, he made serious inroads into a traditional Fianna Fáil fishermen’s vote, and maintained his criticism of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which had left Ireland with less than 4 per cent of the catch after signing over what amounted to 16 per cent of EU waters on accession.

One of the many phrases he coined was “paper fish”, as in fish promised at quota talks by politicians when there was no science to back up sustainable catches of same.

‘Terrible best’

As one former marine minister noted, one knew Murrin was at his “terrible best” when he would “dip the head and bend the eye”. Some politicians were fortunate to receive the benefit of a warning from Murrin before he would take to the airwaves to criticise them.

RTÉ Northern Ireland editor and close friend Tommie Gorman, who spoke at his funeral, observed how he had a “great knack for getting on with the permanent government”, as in the civil servants. Part of his communication skill was the fact that he had such an honest face, Gorman noted.

As the multimillion euro mackerel fleet grew in size – with the £24 million Veronica owned by his close friend, Kevin McHugh, becoming the flagship in 1995 – so did Murrin’s influence.

Donegal fish processor Tadhg Gallagher once recalled how he and Murrin did not often see eye to eye.

At one point, Gallagher suggested burying the hatchet.

“Yes, and I know where you’ve buried it – in my back,” Murrin quipped.

From 1995, he served again as director of BIM for three years, and was on the board of the Marine Institute from 1998 to 2008.

Fellow BIM board member and founding editor of The Irish Skipper Arthur Reynolds recalls that Murrin never lost his belief in the potential of the fishing industry and was particularly adept at communicating this to a wider public.

He championed safety at sea, and was a member of the West Coast Search and Rescue Action Committee, founded by Joan McGinley of Donegal in 1988 and including Aran island GP Dr Marion Broderick. The voluntary committee successfully campaigned for a State-funded search and rescue helicopter service on the Atlantic seaboard.

He was appointed chairman of the National Salmon Commission, and steered through the ban on drift netting for salmon from 2007 , which was highly unpopular in his home county of Donegal.

‘Guiding light’

A “guiding light, a rock for the industry” was how former BIM chief executive, Brendan O’Kelly, described him on his retirement, and the two men maintained a close friendship until Mr O’Kelly’s death last October.

Murrin was a keen golfer, but had a passion for football, having played for St Catherine’s football club and qualifying as a Football Association of Ireland referee. He was immensely proud of Killybegs native and Irish international soccer player Séamus Coleman, and one of Coleman’s jerseys presented to him on his 80th birthday was an offertory gift at his funeral.

Even after a recently diagnosed illness, he kept in touch with the fishing sector, and recently criticised Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and his own organisation, the KFO, over the handling of Brexit negotiations in relation to fishing.

Mr Murrin is survived by his wife, Betty, daughters Eilish and Edel, sons Malachy, Joseph and Alan, grandchildren and extended family.