Brexit: minister criticised over negotiations on fisheries

Joey Murrin says comments by Theresa May on fishing rights have ‘serious implications

Irish boats catch nearly half of the total value of annual quotas in British waters, and Britain is one of the most important markets for exports.  Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Irish boats catch nearly half of the total value of annual quotas in British waters, and Britain is one of the most important markets for exports. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

 

Former Bord Iascaigh Mhara chairman Joey Murrin has criticised Minister for Agriculture and Marine Michael Creed over Brexit negotiations, accusing him of a “lack of transparency”.

Mr Murrin also accused the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), of which he was formerly chief executive, of creating an “unholy alliance “ with other organisations in Europe which do not have Ireland’s wider interests at heart.

The retired Donegal-based fisheries leader, who first came to national prominence in the early 1970s over his concerns about the impact of EU membership on fisheries and who was appointed BIM chair by then taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald, has called on Mr Creed to “come clean” about the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Murrin said he was particularly alarmed at recent comments by British prime minister Theresa May to the effect that Britain had “no problem sorting out the fishing industry” - a reference to British withdrawal from the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

“This indicates a confidence that Britain knows it can have a “hard Brexit” on fisheries at the expense of Ireland, ” Mr Murrin said.

Britain has already signalled that it pulling out of the London Fisheries Convention which preceded the CFP.

Irish boats catch nearly half of the total value of annual quotas, principally for mackerel and prawns, in British waters, and Britain is one of the most important markets for exports.

Significantly, a British withdrawal from the CFP could result in yet more EU vessels transferring effort to already heavily exploited Irish grounds.

Mr Murrin said that he feared the Brexit negotiations could result in the “big players”, as in France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, drawing up a deal which left Ireland with “the crumbs”.

He noted that Ireland had already lost 20,000 tonnes of mackerel, valued at about €20 million, in 2018 quotas and he was “shocked” at the “zero reaction” of the fishing industry to this.

A spokesman for Mr Creed said the Minister had no comment on Mr Murrin’s claims.

KFO chief executive Seán O’Donoghue noted that Mr Murrin, who retired in 2000, was not party to the consultation between Mr Creed and the industry on Brexit negotiations.

Mr O’Donoghue said new draft guidelines on Brexit published by the European Council last week, which aim to pave the way for agreement on the final text at an EU summit later this month, make specific reference to fisheries in article seven.

This article pledges to maintain “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources”, Mr O’Donoghue noted.

He also rejected Mr Murrin’s criticisms of the KFO membership of the European Fisheries Alliance, a grouping created after the Brexit referendum by large producer organisations in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

The alliance says it represents more than 18,000 fishermen and 3,500 vessels with an annual turnover of €20.7 billion.

However, the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation is not party to the alliance and has serious reservations about its approach.

Its chief exexecutive Patrick Murphy said the alliance wanted to maintain “relative stability, which locks in the share out and access to fishery resources in ratios first agreed to under the first EU fish policy in 1983.

“This has been the single greatest obstacle to the development of the Irish fishing industry”, and has cost “tens of billions of euro” in lost revenue to the Irish people, Mr Murphy said.

The organisation believes the entire EU fisheries policy has to be renegotiated to ensure the Irish fleet is protected after British withdrawal.

Mr O’Donoghue said he had held lengthy discussions with the French Ambassador to Ireland Stéphane Crouzat in Killybegs last week and “he has developed a deep appreciation of the situation in which the Irish fishing industry finds itself”.

“The French industry too, would be decimated if Britain were to restrict access to its waters and increase its percentage share of the total allowable catches,” Mr O’Donoghue said.