Minister appeals to fisherman to stop hunger strike

Seanad passes Bill to restore rights of northern fishermen to six-mile zone

Gerard Kelly began a hunger strike outside of the Dáil to highlight his concerns in relation to the introduction of the controversial Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Gerard Kelly began a hunger strike outside of the Dáil to highlight his concerns in relation to the introduction of the controversial Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Minister for the Marine Michael Creed has appealed to a mussel fisherman not to continue the hunger strike he began in protest over legislation to restore access to Irish waters for Northern Ireland fishing vessels.

Gerard Kelly, who began his “fast for fish” hunger strike outside the Dáil on Tuesday was one of four mussel fishermen to take a successful Supreme Court case against what is known as the voisinage informal agreement between the Republic and Northern Ireland which allowed access by each side to the other’s 9.6 km (6 mile) inshore fishing zone.

In 2016 the Supreme Court ruled there was no legal entitlement for fishermen from the North to fish in the zone from the coast to 9.6 km out to sea.

Legislation introduced to restore that right was fast-tracked this month following the recent detention by the Naval Service of two vessels from the North for illegally fishing in Irish waters.

The Seanad on Tuesday night passed the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill to restore the reciprocal arrangement that had been in place from 1965 until the 2016 Supreme Court decision. The legislation goes to the Dáil on Thursday.

Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn appealed to Mr Creed to meet Mr Kelly and his family to discuss their concerns about the Bill.

The Minister said he could not meet Mr Kelly because a case unsuccessfully taken by the four fishermen for compensation against the State was still sub judice.

“I very much regret the course of action he has taken and I would appeal to him not to pursue that course of action”, Mr Creed added.

He acknowledged that Mr Kelly was a significant player in the sector but he said that “it cannot be that the Government or Seanad or Dáil or I could be held prisoner in terms of our objective by any single stakeholder”.

Earlier Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the Republic should restore reciprocal fishing rights to Northern Ireland fisherman as a matter of “basic fairness”.

Mr Varadkar stressed that vessels from the Republic could travel into and fish in Northern Irish waters but vessels from the North could not do the reverse.

“That isn’t right. We shouldn’t have a border on the land and we shouldn’t have a hard border on the sea either.

“In terms of basic fairness we should have reciprocal rights.”

Mr Kelly said the legislation was rushed and his way of living would be taken away with the restoration of fishing rights to northern fishermen. Northern vessels would have an unfair advantage with potential for abuse of the voisinage arrangement.

Northern Ireland unionist Senator Ian Marshall pointed out that Ireland traded in the agrifood sector on an all island basis and he said the voisinage arrangement was about “fairness and transparency”.

Labour Senator Ged Nash said they should not just accept “at face value” assurances from the UK that they would adhere to the reciprocal arrangement post Brexit.

Mr Creed said this is about a broader picture and “Brexit aside, it is the right thing to do”. He pointed out that Irish fishermen had caught more fish in the UK 200-mile zone than the UK had in Irish waters. “It is our part of the bargain that has fallen down. We have to mend our fences in that regard.”