The row over a proposed €60 million fish farm for Galway Bay has taken a new twist, with Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív claiming that Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has compromised his position on the project.
Mr Ó Cuív says Mr Coveney asked him to garner support among Aran islanders for the 456-hectare aquaculture project, and indicated that he, as Minister, was “already in favour of” it.
Mr Coveney’s department is handling the application submitted by State sea fisheries development board Bord Iascaigh Mhara for the organic salmon farm at two sites north of the Aran island of Inis Oírr at the mouth of Galway Bay.
The Fianna Fáil Galway West TD says Mr Coveney approached him on the issue a year ago, and “made it clear that he supported the project in advance of the application being made to his department”.
Mr Ó Cuív believes the project application should be withdrawn by BIM for this reason.
He says the "application process is flawed", as a Government department will decide on a submission by a State agency, and two State bodies have divergent views on its impact.
"Inland Fisheries Ireland has disagreed with the Marine Institute on the impact of sea lice emanating from the fish farm on wild salmon stocks, and we need an independent evaluation of the scientific evidence on this," Mr Ó Cuív said.
He said he also feared the project would split the island community, and “be as divisive as the Corrib gas project in north Mayo”.
“In north Mayo, at least there was an excuse that the project was initiated by a private company, whereas there is no excuse for causing splits in a community over a project proposed by the State for State approval,”Mr Ó Cuív added.
He said he intended to raise the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday.
Mr Coveney told The Irish Times he did not wish to get into a political wrangle with Mr Ó Cuív and would not respond to his claims. Mr Coveney said the licensing decision would be made on the basis of "scientific advice and due process", and there was always recourse to appeal to the Aquaculture License Appeals Board.