Comparison to last rod licence row in 1980s being played down

Government says nothing decided yet on updating of 1959 Fisheries Act

The Government has been keen to play down any comparisons between its proposed legislation and the disastrous attempt by Charles Haughey's 1987 Fianna Fáil government to introduce a rod licence which led to major divisions in communities across Ireland.

Thousands of anglers all over the country, but particularly in Connacht and Munster, rejected attempts by the then Department of the Marine under minister Brendan Daly to introduce a licence for trout anglers in what became known as "the rod war".

The dispute, which raged from 1987 until 1989, led to angry stand-offs between anglers opposed to the licence and those willing to implement it. It led to Dáil debates in which the contributing TDs included Enda Kenny and Michael D Higgins.

Eventually a resolution was achieved in 1989 by the then minister for the marine, the late John Wilson, when the department withdrew the proposal and replaced it with a compromise aimed at furthering the conservation of fish stocks.


Contacted by The Irish Times about the latest concerns of anglers, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources stressed that nothing has been decided yet in terms of the content of the planned legislation aimed at updating the 1959 Fisheries Act.

Asked a series of specific questions about when the department planned to introduce a compulsory angling charge, an angling register, an angler ID and angler penalty points, the department said these were simply discussion themes.

“There is no predetermined content for any aspect of the proposed legislation and no proposal to introduce compulsory charges, hence there has been no question of amounts etc,” the department pointed out.

Future funding
"That said, as part of a discussion around the future funding of the sector, the question has been raised as to whether there is merit in creating a ring-fenced funding mechanism to be ploughed back into inland fisheries development," it added.

In its statement, the department pointed out that this is already happening in the case of salmon whereby fishermen contribute to a fund managed on their behalf by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and reinvested in the salmon sector.

“Whether this model could be replicated across other component parts of the inland fisheries sector has been discussed and there is understandably differing opinions,” the statement said.

Regarding the issue of “penalty points” for anglers, the department said that under existing legislation, those who breach fisheries legislation can end up being prosecuted, potentially leading to imprisonment.

“The issue that has been raised in the consultation is whether there is a better way and if lesser breaches could be taken outside the court system, possibly along the lines of a fixed penalty system,” it said.

According to the department, these issues are not predetermined but discussion themes that are part of the ongoing consultation process which has seen a series of public information and consultation meetings with angling groups around the country.

“The Minister of State, Fergus O’Dowd, has made repeatedly clear that he wishes to see the fullest possible level of consensus before any proposals are finalised and that no proposals will be finalised until the current round of inter-federation discussions are complete.

“Minister O’Dowd has also made it clear that proposals must not be a source of division within the sector,” said the department, adding that it was working closely with IFI to complete a comprehensive review of the 1959 Inland Fisheries Act.

"The aim is to ensure that the sector is underpinned by a robust and modern legislative code, fit for the 21st century. This is an extensive project and an opportunity to modernise a range of measures and to address matters which were not a consideration in 1959," it said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times