BROUGHAN ACCUSES COWEN & SMITH OF ABANDONING HOWTH FISHERMEN

Speech in Dail Eireann on Crisis in the Fishing Industry

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I thank the Chair for providing Members with the opportunity to discuss this critical issue. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with responsibility for fisheries and forestry, Deputy Tony Killeen, are aware of my high opinion of both of them as representatives. However, their performance on this matter in the past month has been incredibly disappointing and lethargic. They must be far more proactive.

I read today that President Sarkozy, without reference to the European Union, came forward with a package of measures worth more than €100 million for his fishing community, which is only about twice the size of ours. Apparently President Sarkozy can come forward unilaterally with a major plan that does not run into problems on EU aids and that will be approved by the European Commission. At the height of this crisis, when diesel prices went up in a matter of months, our Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seemed to disappear. We did not know who the Minister was or where he was.

Like other colleagues, I have received very poignant complaints from many people over the last few weeks. A young man, a neighbour of mine with three small children, has tried to run two boats and employed 12 men in Howth over the last few years, but he has been tied up for the last six weeks. He does not know what is going to happen and does not know the future for himself, his family and his employees and their families. That is a large community. The Minister and Minister of State have to get real and become much more proactive about a very important area of our economy.

I tried to raise this issue over the past few weeks by putting down parliamentary questions about it and raising it under Standing Order 32. There have been rapidly dropping returns on wages, in some cases to virtually nothing, and there is a total despair gripping communities along the coast, be they in Greencastle, Burtonport, Rossaveal, Dingle, Castletownbere, Union Hall, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay, Clogherhead or Howth. They are not happy with what they have heard from the European Union, which was essentially a pig in a poke, with no cast iron assurances on funding for tie ups or supports for the marketing of the industry.

Last year we saw the publication of the Cawley report, and it is true that we needed to set a new course. We needed to be much more proactive. As people from the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said to me so often, we wanted to look at our fishing industry and our coastal communities as a sunrise situation and not a sunset. We do not want to look at it as the tail of the dog and the industry that can be safely ignored. The Cawley report suggested a €600 million investment in the industry for marketing and other assists, as well as decommissioning supports in areas where there was over-fishing. However, we are still waiting for that.

I welcome the fact Mr. Jason Whooley has been appointed to head a new organisation to deal with all this, but we have had examples of similar organisations for a long time, such as Seafood Scotland. We have had very little action from this Government on the issue. One of the reasons the Government deserved not to be re-elected was its horrendous treatment of the fishing industry over the last four or five years.

The skyrocketing increase in fuel prices is unprecedented. Representatives of Gazprom have spoken about €250 per barrel. We need to see some action on fuel duties and supports for fuels to ensure the whole fleet does not end up being tied up for good. We have had problems with the high levels of imported fish from south-east Asia and Africa, as well as problems with the Spanish and the French fleets. The price fishermen receive is just a fraction of the price the consumer pays at the end of the day. We had the debate last week on Europe, and I am one of those who still believes we need to examine the Common Fisheries Policy. I support colleagues who stated that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority seems to be able to target Irish boats and fishermen very easily and effectively ignore other boats. That was put on the record of the last Dáil when the Commodore of the Naval Service came before the joint committee. It seemed to be a question of picking on our own because they were so much easier to track down, while the foreigners could do what they liked.

We need an urgent set of measures and we need to get real. The Minister and the Minister of State should announce a strong and supportive programme, otherwise we will soon have no fishing industry.

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