----- The Voice of Ireland's Fishing Industry and Maritime Community - Published Monthly, Established 1989 -----

Raids on Irish Fishing Fleet

November 2016 Issue Vol 29 No. 06

Marine Times Newspaper

Dear Sir
The raids on the Fishing Fleets in Castletownbere and Howth were not just on individual members of our fishing community; they were a insult to the industry as a whole. The suggestion is, every skipper is exploiting migrant workers and the crews are being mistreated by every boat owner.

Does anyone remember the far gone days when fishermen used to go down to the harbour in the morning and his two main worries were, will the crew turn up and will the engine start? Assuming the first two would fall into place, it was only when steaming off would he hope that there might be some fish in the hold when he comes ashore. We used to fish for the adventure, for the opportunity, for the excitement and for the mystery of not knowing what will happen during the week. Most of all, we used to love going to sea to earn our livelihood.

But those are far off days now. We joined the EEC in 1972 and as a country ‘threw in our lot’ in with the whole European ideal born out of the ruins of WW2. We decided it would be better to work together in economic harmony which would strengthen the whole more than that of the parts. As a nation, we benefited from abolition of import and export duties, more open borders and less red tape for those doing trade between the member nations. As a country we prospered and benefitted from grants and subsidies, especially in the agriculture and the transport infrastructure sectors. We lost a little bit of control of our own destiny to Brussels but sure, it’s worth it – we thought.

Then the Eurocrats decided, “We like the power”, we want to make more of the decisions and take autonomy away from Dublin and the other capitals of Europe. Led by the ‘big boys’ of Germany and France, they started with Maastricht, Nice (twice) and Lisbon (twice) so tying us into the European ideal of a Federal State of Europe.

So where does it leave the fishing industry? Well, since fishing by it’s nature we share common waters thereby became the ‘test case’ industry for this new regime. We are the industry that transgresses the old borders and therefore comes under the sweaty grasp of every eurocrat that wears a cheap suit in the commissions offices in the Berlaymont or the Brussels / Strasburg / Luxemburg parliament buildings. And what happens when you are under the microscope of thousands of civil servants in every harbour, administrative district, centre of local, national and European government and the myriad of organisations tasked with assuring we are compliant? It manifests itself into the truly disgusting and demeaning spectacle that we witnessed in Castletownbere and Howth on Wednesday 5th October last. We had five arms of the state that descended onto an industry that has almost been scraped off the sole of the national shoe like dog dirt. The industry has been persecuted, over-regulated, victimised and basically is being actively chased out of business. Yes, the Navy, the Guards, the Immigration services, the Revenue Commissioners and the Workplace Relation Commission are all arms of the Irish State but they are being given the instructions from their European generals to round up the stragglers and finish off the Irish Fishing industry once and for all.

Are these words too harsh or are we paranoid? Well, let us take a case in a similar industry. Migrant workers being used to process crops at harvesting time. The farm owner may not have an up to date tax clearance certificate and maybe he hasn’t all his paperwork up to date with the Dept of Agriculture. Does the Armed Emergency Response Unit of the Guards backed up with 4 other agencies descend upon every farm in that county with sniffer dogs, helicopters and block of all surrounding roads (There were two check points on each side of Howth hill for fear the “criminal fishermen” would make a run for it). Would that happen to the farming community? – Never! And if by any chance it did, the IFA, every TD in the county and every civil rights activist would be on every TV station, local radio and the social media would be full of it. But when it comes to the fishing industry, we are seen as the industry that needs to be cleaned up and we deserve it!

Well let us look at the result of the outcome! ONE foreign national was found not to have the paperwork he should have on his person! He was brought to his home to retrieve the paperwork and on production of it was cautioned. So we had probably 100 plus members of government agencies (not including the naval ships), from armed guards, sniffer dogs, divers and dozens of officials in Hi Viz jackets to fix one errand individual’s mishap. As a tax payer alone, there has to be questions, as a member of an industry I am proud to be in for all my life, there should be answers from the minister at least and apologies for heavy handed and “you’re GUILTY until proven INNOCENT attitude” taken by the state and the EU.

I witnessed one boat owner of over 30 years at sea almost in tears after the events of last Wednesday. He and hundreds like him are honest hard working fishermen who just want to go to sea and catch fish. Is he breaking the law – no doubt he is – Why? Because all of the above agencies and we haven’t even mentioned the SFPA, DOMNR, MSO, HSA, etc, etc are throwing so many laws, regulations,, ministerial orders, by laws and made up EU regulations ‘as interpreted by the state’ (and always to the most extreme level by this member state), that it is impossible to adhere to them all. Gone are the days of making sure the life raft was serviced, your mesh size was ok and the lads threw over the undersized plaice, now we have an encyclopaedia of bodies each spewing out rules and regulations impossible for an individual to familiarise himself with, let alone adhere to.

And on the case of ‘as interpreted by the state’, I was in Galicia last year and said, I’ll hire a car and go down to Vigo and La Curuna for a drive and see the fleet as it was about 20 years since I was last in that part of the world. Well, what greeted me? 5 Metre high fences around both harbours, with guards on the approach roads and turnstiles for individuals to enter by. When I approached and said I just wanted to look I was sternly told no and ‘go away’. I said I was a ‘pescador Irelandas’ and they came out of their guard hut to turn my car away! What were they hiding? Nothing - they were protecting their fishing fleet and making sure what they did was away from prying eyes. When I went to Vigo, the approach road again was blocked. I stopped outside the barrier and a harbour security car stopped beside me and gave me ‘you’re not getting in here pal’ look! The difference is stunning, Spain protects their fishermen and industry, and we persecute ours. I’ll wager they’ll never have an unannounced armed police raid in those ports.

And, what were the raids ultimately for, what was their reason? Immigrant workers were exploited by unscrupulous fishermen for their personal gain. All of this on the back of a badly researched, poorly written article in the Guardian newspaper last November. The headline read Problems for migrant workers on fishing vessels ‘an open secret’ Well if so, the raids found nothing except the 1 misdemeanour and we won’t hold our breath about the apology or the explanations from the authorities – we can be sure that will never happen. How can one piece of Crap Journalism lead to such irrational and heavy handed approach by the state?

It’s hard to explain someone who has never fished that the crew of a fishing vessel aren’t just 5 or 6 guys who work together. They are guys who work, eat, sleep, pass the time together, and share stories about families, sports, their downtime and their problems with each other. This is usually done on a 15 – 25 metre vessel so by the nature, they get on together. If they don’t they move on, it’s simple. It’s not an office or factory job where we, at worst have to stick it out until 5 o’clock. Try telling this to the WRC or the Immigration services, but sure hey, it’s after 5 o’clock so we can’t reach anyone until Monday morning (Just hope it’s not a bank holiday or July or August, they’re not there, a luxury fishermen don’t have).

But what can the state do to help us (Yeah, stop laughing)? In the same week of the raids, the OECD said Ireland had the highest 15 – 26 year old social welfare benefits of the lot, 25% of the potential young workforce on benefits! So while the fishing industry in being persecuted while trying to adapt to a new system which is the Atypical Workers Scheme, we have hundreds of thousands of young people sitting at home watching daytime TV getting €193 (another €5 in last week’s budget) a week from our socialist state rather than be given the kick out the door like our generation was. But then again that would be seen as abuse and sure who should we blame? The fishing industry is the only one who’d abuse their co workers so let’s blame them! Something is rotten in this state but it’s not the hard working fishing industry.

The green jersey – It’s a phrase that’s been bandied around but it surely doesn’t apply to this industry. No, we are not looking for rules to be broken or special treatment, just fair treatment. I have been in the industry and for the life of me I have not identified the reasons why as a state we persecute this industry. Was it a bad summer weather wise? Well it was windy more often than not, but worse than that, we seemingly had a wet summer. Why is this important? Well, so much so the farmers of Galway have asked for a 5 point action plan to alleviate the hardship! And will it happen? As sure as night follows day. Every conceivable action and stop is pulled to get funds from Brussels to fund the industries around our natural resources, except fishing. Why do the government and their officials have such a wish to eradicate our industry?

A few facts and figures to back up that the regulation are strong armed.
Population of Ireland 4,767,000
(C.SO. 2016).
Number of Guarda – 12,816
(An Garda Siochana website 31/12/2015)
Members of Guarda Ombudsman – 77 (GSOC website – January 2016)
Number of Farms in Ireland – 139,860 (Bord Bia Website last figures 2011)
Number of Farm Inspectors – 600
(Impact Trade Union paper 2015)
Number of Fishing Vessels – 2112
(DAFM Licencing authority report 2015)
SFPA officers – 88 (SFPA Report 2013)

So for every 372 members of the public we have 1 Guard.
For every 166 Guards, we have 1 member of GSOC.
For every 233 Farms we have a farm inspector
BUT for only every 24 fishing vessel we have an SFPA officer
(This is before we hire 25 new officers this year so it’ll be 19:1!)

So with the SFPA alone, we have 10 times the enforcement numbers of the farming community and nearly 8 times more than the Guards. And we weren’t even raided by the SFPA on the 5th October!
As one of the skippers said to me last month, it’s never ending. Every month we get a new rule or regulation thrown at us and never, never do we say “Oh, that’s a good rule that might help us in our day to day endeavours”. It’s always something to put more pressure onto the industry, it’s always an onus on us to adhere to it and it’s always at our cost. And now, without the physical barriers being harsh enough, it’s now the psychological pressures pushing down on us as well.

It’s time the government instructed the “Civil Service” to be what it says – Civil to the members of the state (Yes, that includes fishermen) and A service to us, not against us. Firstly we need B.I.M. to be given the resources to go out and help recruit a new generation of men and women who would come into the industry and we need this immediately. Secondly, we need the government to recognise the marine sector (not just fishing) is as big as or potentially bigger than many other indigenous industries and appoint a minister with sole responsibilities for Development of the Marine sector and lastly we need better PR as an industry. When these third rate articles are being written without proper research, we need to shout from the roof tops that they are incorrect and our industry is clean. If the article was true, every second boat would be tied up as the skippers would be in jail, but, again, what did they find during the raids- 1 piece of paperwork missing!

It’s a long time since the day of a happy go lucky fisherman strolling down the harbour and we know we’ll never see those days again, but surely it is not incumbent on the bodies of this state – our compatriots to treat us the way we as an industry were treated on the 5th October last!

Sean Doran,
Proud life long member of the Irish Fishing Community

April 2017 Issue - Vol 29 No.11

April 2017 issue in all good stockists

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Marine Times Newspaper
Editor: Mark Mc Carthy
Assitant Editor: Tom MacSweeney

Features Editor / Advertising: Anne Murray

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Archive letters also worth reading:

March 2017 Issue (Vol 29 No 10)

Raids on Irish Fishing Fleet
November 2016 Issue (Vol 29 No 6)