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Taoiseach and Marine Minister “dismissive, contemptuous and glib introducing dastardly legislation” against the fishing industry

The Taoiseach and Minister for the Marine have been described as “dismissive, contemptuous and glib” in their treatment of the fishing industry by moving “dastardly legislation,” against fishermen say the country’s four fish producer organisations.

The Irish South and West FPO; the Irish South and East FPO, the Irish Fish Producer Organisation and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, in a joint statement reacted to the Government’s defeat of a Sinn Fein motion in the Dáil on Wednesday which sought to annul the Taoiseach’s signing of a Statutory Instrument to reintroduce Penalty Points for fisheries offences.

The FPOs have offered to meet with the Marine Minister to discuss the issues which they are disputing, while stating that they have no objection to the introduction of an agreed Penalty Points system.

“As the Irish fishing industry teeters on the brink facing its biggest ever crisis in the form of Brexit, our Government has incredulously decided to heap further misery on fishermen. The Taoiseach and Minister McConalogue voted against the same legislation just over two years ago when Mr. McConalogue said the then Government should listen to the industry,” their statement said.

“The response of both Minister Charlie McConalogue and the Taoiseach who signed the Statutory Instrument (SI), has been at best dismissive, at worst contemptuous and glib. At a time when our industry, which is worth more than €1.2billion per annum to our economy, stands on the precipice facing its biggest threat since the foundation of the State with Brexit, it is simply appalling.

“While we have received a huge level of political support for our plight, including from many Government backbenchers which was heartening, ultimately they voted against rescinding the dastardly legislation thus rendering useless, their verbal commitment.

“We have always said that we are in favour of a penalty points system it must be a system which is fair and in accordance with our own legal system. The turgid history of this legislation make grim reading, it has been repealed in the Supreme Court in 2017, tabled by the last Government in May 2018, stridently opposed by then opposition spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue as well as his Fianna Fáil colleagues and now out of the blue, foisted on us by Fianna Fáil more than two years later with no communication nor consultation.”

“The industry is simply apoplectic and won’t give up the fight.”

The Disputed Issues in Penalty Points

The four Fish Producer Organisations say that they “are in favour of a penalty points system,” but that it must be a system which is fair and in accordance with the Irish legal system.

They said they are more than willing to immediately sit down with the Minister to address the four key offending parts.

These offending parts must be removed or changed, they say, including such as the burden of proof to be changed to beyond reasonable doubt - no right of appeal to High Court except on a point of law - incredibly, even if the fisherman is successful in the High Court, the penalty points would still remain on the licence - and the removal of multiple points being applied when the capacity of the vessel is split.

How Minister McConalogue Has Changed His Position

The four FPOs record how the current Minister had a different view when he was opposing Penalty Points when in Opposition and how he has changed his position:

“On May 23rd, 2018, the current Minister who was then the Opposition’s spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue stated in the Dáil: “We need to take on board the needs of the fishing sector. We need to avoid the possibility of it being struck down in the courts again. The Department's track record in introducing a penalty-points regime has been poor. Given that on two occasions attempted statutory instruments were struck down following appeals to the Supreme Court reflects very poorly on the management of the issue heretofore.

“As Deputy (Pat The Cope) Gallagher outlined, we recognise the need to introduce a penalty-points system but it needs to be fair and proportionate. Too often the fishing sector has been in adversarial mode with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister, which must change. We need to have proper consultation and engagement, involving, if possible, a partnership approach with the stakeholders involved. Deputy Gallagher has been very much to the fore in trying to achieve an outcome that addresses the concerns while complying with the regulations. The key points that remain to be addressed relate to the burden of proof. The current approach in the statutory instrument deals with the balance of probability rather than having to prove beyond doubt, which is normally the case where a criminal sanction is being pursued. The role of the SFPA permeates the statutory instrument at all stages, which was the basis on which the Supreme Court struck down the previous statutory instruments.

“We also need to address the issue of the timeline involved in appeals and the right to an oral hearing. It is time for the Minister to engage further with Opposition parties and Deputy Gallagher, as fisheries spokesperson for our party, to try to find an outcome that will be acceptable to all while meeting the needs and obligations of the State. In order to do that, the Minister should withdraw this statutory instrument and take on board the concerns expressed, make the amendments suggested by Fianna Fáil and issue a statutory instrument that better meets the needs of the sector while ensuring we are compliant with our obligations.”