Ahern trying to meet Spanish marine minister


As anger mounts around the coast over the outcome of last week's EU fisheries council, Irish officials are trying to arrange an urgent meeting in the next week between the Minister for Communications, Marine and National Resources, Mr Ahern, and his Spanish counterpart, Mr Miguel Arias Cañete. The Labour Party has called on the Minister to state clearly that he has not "sold out" vital interests in the 50-mile Irish Box.

The Minister's failure to ensure that Irish legal opinion on retention of the box was accepted "poses a serious threat to the immediate future of the Irish fishing industry", the Labour Party marine spokesman, Mr Tommy Broughan, said yesterday. The Green Party has said it is "disappointed the conservation measures proposed by scientists have been so scaled back".

Its marine spokesman, Mr Eamon Ryan, said what was meant to be a radical review of EU fisheries policy had turned into "the usual annual haggling where expert scientific advice has been watered down for short-term political purposes". Fishing industry organisations have demanded immediate intervention, but the Minister has so far declined to meet the industry directly.

Meanwhile, the Spanish minister was reported in one north-west Spanish newspaper as stating that up to 200 boats could fish in the box from January 1st, but that Ireland had threatened to arrest them. "Reports of a Spanish armada of large trawlers waiting in port in northern Spain and Morocco for just such an uncertain outcome, are an ominous sign the Government has again failed to protect our key natural resource of fisheries," the Labour spokesman said.

"Minister Ahern failed completely to put across to conservation-minded countries like Germany and Sweden, that Ireland is the guardian of our fishery resources in the Irish Box.

"While details of the Brussels conclusions are still incomplete, there are some disturbing reports of an 'informal deal' with the Spanish and Minister Ahern must state clearly that he has not sold out any Irish vital interests in the 50-mile box," he added.

The unresolved Irish Box issue, and the new imposition of days at sea limitations on vessels in the west and north-west, prompted fishermen to meet in several ports yesterday.

The Minister has pledged to stand firm on the retention of the Irish Box, and to take it to the European Court of Justice.

"That is very welcome, but it could take two years at least, and we don't have two years left, nor do the fish stocks on those grounds," Mr Jason Whooley of the Irish South and West Fish Producers' Organisation said.

Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North-East, Ms Cecilia Keaveney, attended an angry meeting in Greencastle yesterday morning and told The Irish Times afterwards she had been in touch with the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Marine to set up a meeting early in the new year.