Controversial legislation on fishing access to Irish waters would deliver an "open back door" to EU vessels and undermine Ireland's position during Brexit talks, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.
The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) is one of a number of groups opposed to the Sea Fisheries Amendment Bill 2017.
It says the legislation will allow Northern Ireland and other UK registered boats access to the six mile territorial waters of the Republic even though post-Brexit reciprocal access to British waters is under threat.
Addressing a Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, IFPO chief executive Francis O'Donnell said the Bill would merely see Ireland "giving away its poker chips before the game even commenced", and has asked for more stakeholder input.
“If this Bill is passed, any vessel registered in the UK whether owned by an individual or conglomerate from any EU member state can avail of access inside our exclusive six mile limit,” Mr O’Donnell told the Committee. “The Bill as presented is devoid of any safeguards.”
Ahead of the hearing, the IFPO had written to raise its concerns with both the Committee and the Attorney General. In particular, it believes the legislation would go further than the previous arrangement between Ireland and Northern Ireland from 1965.
Then it was agreed that vessels not exceeding 75 feet, owned and operated by fishermen permanently resident in Northern Ireland could fish in Irish territorial waters. A reciprocal arrangement was in place for boats from the Republic.
Apart from being an “open door” to all EU operators, the IFPO fear new laws would give too much away to UK interests despite uncertainty around equivalent future Irish fishing activity in British territory.
“As most of you are aware Ireland fishes approximately 40 per cent of its fisheries quota in UK waters and retaining that access will be critical,” Mr O’Donnell said.
“Ireland and other EU member states may be excluded from accessing much needed fishing opportunities in UK waters in just a couple of years. This, if it happens will have massive economic consequences for Irish coastal communities and businesses.”
Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said they were not consulted ahead of the Bill’s publication in February. “We don’t see any urgency to pass this new Bill,” he said.
Hugo Boyle, chief executive of the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation warned that opening up the six mile limit could lead to extreme over fishing and that large UK vessels could access grounds unavailable to Irish boats with a "major environmental impact".
Sinn Fein Senator Padraig MacLochlainn said he was alarmed the legislation was drafted without any stakeholder consultation despite the "profound" implications for the fishing community.