Minister orders inquiry into net `sabotage'


THE Department of the Marine is to investigate reported sabotage involving up to £1 million damage to a salmon farm near Clifden, Co Galway, which lost its entire stock for 1997 at the weekend.

The Minister of State at the Department, Mr Eamon Gilmore, confirmed that a separate inquiry from the Garda investigation would be undertaken in view of the damage to a fish farming operation.

"I have already received a report on the damage," he said yesterday. "There will be an investigation within the Department and we will be liaising with the Garda. I take a very serious view of it. It is suggested that it was caused maliciously. If so, it was an appalling act of vandalism that will have to be dealt with forcefully by the Garda and through the courts."

Meanwhile, the Irish Salmon Growers Association (ISGA) said the damage done to sea cages belonging to Mannin Bay Salmon Company was equivalent to burning down a significant factory. While the 250,000 smolts were worth about £250,000, they would be worth four times that at maturity, according to an ISGA spokesman, Mr Richie Flynn.

Speaking in Clifden after he had surveyed the damage Mr Flynn said the Irish aquaculture industry was shocked by "the viciousness of this crime".

He wished to underline the need for an exhaustive investigation involving the Department, the Garda and the Western Regional Fisheries Board. The owners have confirmed that there were environmental objections to the farm but not to any greater extent than associated with other salmon farms.

The farm was effectively out of commission for the rest of the year, Mr Flynn said. "In terms of investment by the company, it has all been undone in one night. It is a cruel and cowardly blow."

What had occurred was "a calculated attack, aimed at not only damaging the farm but also the local community", 24 of whom were employed by the company. The ISGA wanted those responsible to be dealt with vigorously to prevent a recurrence elsewhere.