State "did not miss boat" on any EU fishing deal


IRELAND was "fully aware" of this week's British initiative in Amsterdam on restricting "quota hoppers" and has not "missed the boat" on any EU fishing deal, according to the Minister for the Marine, Mr Barrett.

The deal that the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, claims to have secured to restrict Spanish "flagship" activity in EU waters is no more significant than a commitment to improve controls given to Ireland by the EU last October, the Minister's Department has said. Both the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, and the Minister were appraised of events which occurred outside the official Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) agenda earlier this week at Amsterdam.

Doubts have also been expressed about the value of the EU/British initiative by fishing industry representatives on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Mr Joey Murrin, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, said yesterday it would not solve the flagship problem, and any attempt to force an EU vessel to land into certain ports would be "thrown out of court". It was no more than an "appeasement for Tony Blair", he said.

The Irish South and West Fishermen's Organisation, which had been critical of the Minister for the Marine for not linking in to the initiative, also questioned the value of some of the terms proposed. In the exchange of letters between the European Commission president, Mr Jacques Santer, and the British Prime Minister, three methods of restricting flagships, were proposed, aimed at proving a direct economic link: ensuring that half of the catch of vessels flying the British flag was landed in British ports; stipulating that most of the crew was resident in Britain; and that most of the vessel's trips began from British ports.

The British National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations dismissed the agreement as a "totally inadequate fudge", while the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation also cast doubts on it. British fishing industry representatives have maintained that only a treaty change will do, and have expressed disappointment that this was not secured at the IGC.

Ms Sara White, assistant secretary of the Department of the Marine, said that Mr Santer's promise to Mr Blair was merely a "clarification" of terms under which Britain could act. It did not give Britain any advantage in terms of licensing fishing vessels. The commitment given by Mr Santer was a reiteration of the European Commission's promise at last October's fisheries council to look at improved controls.

Ireland would continue to keep up the pressure on control and surveillance, she said.