€6m EU funding for Irish fishing suspended in ‘hostile’ row

EU Commission to take infringement proceedings against Ireland on fishery penalties

The long-running dispute  has pitted the Government against the fishing industry, Fianna Fáil and most of the Opposition. File photograph: Annie Sakkab/Bloomberg

The long-running dispute has pitted the Government against the fishing industry, Fianna Fáil and most of the Opposition. File photograph: Annie Sakkab/Bloomberg

 

Some €6 million in EU funding for the Irish fishing sector has been suspended by the European Commission because of the failure to establish a penalty points system for serious breaches of fisheries rules.

The commission has also given notice of its intention to take infringement proceedings against Ireland in a long-running dispute that has pitted the Government against the fishing industry, Fianna Fáil and most of the Opposition.

Minister for the Marine Michael Creed blamed Fianna Fáil whose private member’s motion last year annulled a set of regulations issued by him which would have applied penalty points in cases of boats landing illegal catches, failing to declare catches and illegally altering fishing logbooks.

It was the first time in the history of the State that a statutory instrument had been overturned by the Oireachtas.

Leas Cheann Comhairle and Fianna Fáil TD Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, who brought the motion, said his party was not against penalty points in principle but that Mr Creed’s measures would not grant a right of appeal or the removal of penalty points if a fisherman is cleared in court.

He likened this to a motorist receiving penalty points before being declared innocent in court and traffic authorities still putting the points on their licence. He accused the Minister of using the EU funding as a “threat” to force the Opposition and fishermen to comply with unfair rules.

Mr Creed, who briefed the Cabinet on Thursday about the warning from the Commission, held a meeting described as “hostile” with fishing industry representatives that evening about proposed new regulations.

‘Groundhog day’

Francis O’Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, who was among those at the meeting, accused Mr Creed of “putting himself above the courts”. He said there had been various incarnations of these regulations including a set in 2016 that were overturned by the High Court.

He said they were back to “groundhog day” on this and the fishermen could not let this injustice go.

He said Mr Creed had “pledged since his appointment that he would talk to the fishermen but there has been absolutely no discussion until last night when he presented us with a fait accompli”.

A department source said the withdrawal of the EU fishing funds, which are not dissimilar to what farmers receive under the Common Agricultural Policy, “is real. It’s a fact”. It is used for investment in infrastructure and vessels and provides funding to the Irish Sea Fisheries Protection Authority which has responsibility for enforcement.

Mr Creed is now on a fourth set of regulations and the department said these regulations take account of some of the recommendations from the Dáil debate last year. But fishermen have been warned that if the Oireachtas overturns this one, the Minister will be forced to activate the regulations still on the statute books, which have been described as “less palatable”.