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Flawed penalty points system for fishing industry is not fit for purpose

Holly Cairns TD, Social Democrats spokesperson for Agriculture and the Marine, has said that the Government’s new penalty points system for the fishing industry is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose.

Holly said: “The penalty points system is designed to target breaches of fisheries rules but those working in the industry are concerned that there is no mechanism in place to challenge points when they are imposed.

“No one disputes that Ireland is required under EU law to enact the new system. However, it was brought in with no engagement with those working in the fishing industry or their representative organisations.

“The manner in which the Government approached this has resulted in a process that lacks natural justice and places a further burden on small fishing communities and families. This is another example of the disconnect between the Department and the sector.

“Successful and progressive policies can only be developed in genuine partnership with the communities and businesses affected. I am particularly concerned for smaller fishing groups who, despite practicing the most sustainable fishing, are too often overlooked.

“The Taosieach’s commitment to meeting sector representatives after the announcement smacks of tokenism. We need to hit restart on this process and bring in the fishermen and women to create a viable and equitable system.

“The Government’s scheme seems to fly in the face of due process. There are very limited rights to appeal, and even if an appeal is successful, the penalty points will still remain on the licence. This is poor law-making that erodes confidence in systems that are supposed to be about ensuring better practices.”

Minister for the Marine Must Ensure a Fair and Just Penalty Points Scheme

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD has appealed to the new Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue to “listen to our fishing communities and ensure a fair and just penalty points scheme”.

Speaking in the Dáil, Teachta Mac Lochlainn said: “Fishers all around our coast were shocked and outraged when they learned that the Taoiseach had signed off on the statutory instrument introducing regulations containing a penalty point system.

"Those fishers learned about this almost a fortnight ago and I have spoken to many of their representatives since. They are shocked that the Taoiseach signed off on this when he voted against pretty much the same Statutory Instrument (S.I.) in 2018 as this latest, S.I. 318 of 2020.

"Minister McConalogue also voted against the S.I. and penalty points scheme at that time. Both the Taoiseach and the Minister were absolutely right in how they voted on 29th May 2018.

"The then Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the Marine, Pat The Cope Gallagher, introduced that motion. I have re-read what he had to say in that debate and he was spot on in his criticisms. Not only had he criticisms, he subsequently put forward amendments to the regulation that provided solutions to the problems he identified. Yet nothing has been done by the Ministers and their Department officials to resolve this since.

"The Dáil voted down a statutory instrument from a Minister for the first time on 29th May 2018 and it has not happened since, to my knowledge. The Dáil was right to do so because the contents of that statutory instrument and the one that has been passed in recent weeks were and are outrageous.

“Imagine a scenario where a Garda issues penalty points to a driver. The driver says that he or she has done no wrong. The Garda then gets to select the judge who will hear the case and penalty points are still applied even though due process has not been exhausted.

"The driver then has no automatic right to apply to a higher court. The same situation is happening here. The wording of the statutory instrument is incredible. It talks about decisions being made on the balance of probabilities.

"Under our common law system and Constitution, a person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those who are accusing a person, particularly when the State is the accuser, must prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and yet the balance of probabilities is the standard under this statutory instrument.

"The Minister will know Sinn Féin have tabled a fresh annulment motion, based on the 2018 motion that he and An Taoiseach supported. We have held back on it in good faith and I have been asked by fishing representative organisations to give them a chance to meet the Minister and put their case.

"We believe that fair play can prevail. I am asking him to resolve this issue because he knows that this was wrong in 2018 and it is wrong now."