This article was first published in the Marine Times.
The fishermen of this country, their families and our coastal communities have been badly failed by successive Irish governments. Since Ireland joined the European Union, our fishing industry has been abandoned by those entrusted to protect and progress what is an extremely important sector of our indigenous economy. Instead of fighting for the best interests of fishermen and a fairer deal from Europe, our governments have been satisfied to sit back and allow the current situation to develop.The impact of fisheries policies on Ireland resembles little more than a case-study of managed decline. It is clear that our fishing communities need and deserve better political representation.
It is a scandal and shame that Irish fisheries, out of all sectors of the Irish economy, have borne the larger cost of our membership of the European Union. This is not right. It is unfair. The treatment of our fishing industry stands as a testament to the huge democratic deficit at the heart of the European Union.Furthermore, it is an indictment of Irish governments, led by establishment parties, who have promised the world to our fishing communities but who have ultimately failed to deliver.
This failure has come at the expense of smaller fishermen who have been the backbone of the industry for generations – people for who fishing is not just a livelihood but a way of living. It is a woven into the very fabric of their families and their communities. In contrast, the unjust fishing arrangements between Ireland the EU, have largely benefited the larger domestic and foreign industrial fishing operations. This scandalous imbalance is a product of the weak negotiating skills displayed by Irish governments when engaging with the European Union and their failure to manage Irish fisheries in any credible way.
The current government has continued with the shoddy negotiating in relation to the programme for 2014-2020. The evidence of this never-ending record of failure is seen in their inability to secure a better allocation of the European Maritime Fisheries Fund. To understand the extent of this negligence you must consider that Spain will receive EUR 1.16 billion while Ireland will get only EUR 147.6 million.
Population and industry size are obviously factors but you cannot ignore that incompetence and a lack of political, displayed by those negotiating on behalf, have had catastrophic consequences for the Irish fishing industry. A better, fairer deal is always possible. It is possible if the representatives, negotiating on our behalf, are resolute, determined and if they keep in-mind those people whose interests they are supposed to represent. The failure of the Irish government to secure a better allocation from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund smacks of the same ‘rollover and die’ attitude they employed when dealing with the Troika on the issue of retrospective recapitalisation of Irish banks. In a European context, Irish governments opt to play the role as the best boys in class rather than standing up for their people. It is on this basis that they negotiate.
A bit of courage and resolve goes a long way when it comes to political brokerage.
A Sinn Féin government would have never allowed our fishing industry to be sacrificed in order curry political favour with the elites within the European Union. We would stand-up for Irish fishing communities and we would invest in our fisheries.
Ironically, if the government had made the appropriate and balanced investments in our fisheries sector then there would have been reasonable scope for better funding from the European Union. So here again we see the disastrous relationship between this government’s woeful domestic fisheries policies and their inability of negotiate effectively at an EU level.
Frustration and anger intensifies when you consider that nearly a third of the EUR 147.6 million accessible to Ireland will be spent on fisheries control and enforcement. EUR 46.5 will go towards developing and implementing harsher monitoring and enforcement of Irish fisheries. It is sad that a sizeable portion of funding, that should be used to encourage small and medium fishing operations, will be instead spent enforcing even more technocratic regulations which will be aimed at preserving the inequalities at the heart of fisheries policies. The utilisation of this funding for enforcement must be revised by Minister Simon Coveney. It should be used to ensure than smaller Irish fishermen and coastal communities receive better supports.
It is unacceptable that unfair quotas still weigh heavily on the shoulders of Irish fishermen. The pressure and stress created by the current situation is tangible when I talk to fishermen be it in Dungarvan, Dunmore East or Killybegs. It is infuriating that Minister Coveney has failed to renegotiate a better deal on quotas for our fishermen. Our fishermen are probably the most policed and compliant fishermen in the whole of the EU and yet they are still not given enough leeway.
It is that lack of leeway that made me seek out a meeting with the European Commission. I took this step after Minister Coveney failed to respond to any of my requests for a meeting. This is despite the fact that I am the only Irish representative on the European Fisheries Committee. I hope that the Minister will respond sometime into the future and we can have a frank and constructive engagement on the future of Irish fisheries.
In my meeting with the European Commission, Sinn Féin’s proposal for a single boat payment scheme was commended by Karmenu Vella – the European Commissioner for Fisheries. This scheme would be very beneficial to many hard-pressed fishermen as they and their families are already struggling financially. This struggle will be made all the more difficult with the direct income reduction of €31.46million that was forecasted according to a recent Sustainability Impact Assessment.
The fishing industry is important. It is important to fisherman and their families and to our coastal communities. However, it is also important to the work of developing a sustainable economy that is balanced across all sectors. The generations of fishermen who work on the seas regularly risk their lives to provide for their families and their communities. The government must do more to recognize these facts. They must actually sit down and listen to the concerns of the smaller fishermen, not just the wealthy fishermen who run large industrial-scale operations.