The Road to Redemption – a Road Less Travelled?
It would appear that the final chink of the light of hope for the Irish fishing and seafood industry fighting against the EU is fading but not yet fully extinguished according to a statement from the IFSA. "The Irish fishing community feels betrayed by the news that the Irish Government accepted the UK / BREXIT ‘deal’ without paying proper attention of the consequences that the fisheries element had on our industry. This news was delivered as a ‘fait accompli’ in the days before last Christmas and the devastating consequences for our industry are completely tied up as part and parcel in the overall package of the U.K.’s severance from the European Union."
There had been some slight hope that because the entire BREXIT deal has still not been ratified as yet and that this ratification date has been moved [by the EU] from February to April 30th, that possibly the fisheries element, and the totally unjust treatment of Ireland, could be revisited and given further consideration. In a statement responding to a query by the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance (IFSA), SF MEP Chris McManus says that unfortunately the text of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (which includes the agreement on fisheries) will not be re-opened.
“The Agreement will either be ratified as it is or will be rejected in its entirety,” he said.
So will the Irish Government stand up for our industry and exercise its veto?
Is this not the most expedient way to insist on a meaningful burden share within the EU? The Lisbon Treaty had to wait for Ireland’s (second time of asking) approval so why not Brexit?
While some quarters believed that having fisheries included as an intrinsic part of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) was a triumph and would avoid a scenario where the U.K. could close a deal on trade and then shaft other EU Member States on fisheries.
The logic in this was that the U.K. would be mad to expend political capital (bargaining chips) on fisheries as it was worth so little to the U.K. economy in the overall priorities for a trade deal.
But this backfired in spectacular fashion when the EU, in order to get the TCA over the line, adopted the same point of view… “fisheries is worth so little to the EU… let's throw it up and get home for Christmas!’ – and with the secondary thought that they (EU) did not need to bend as they held all the trump cards but they yielded because it was “only fish and really only Ireland that would suffer!”
What now for Ireland’s fishing industry?
The EU Fisheries Commission and the Irish Government seem to expect the Irish seafood industry to ‘roll over’ and simply accept what basically amounts to a hostile takeover of 25% of their industry, but the initial murmurs of disapproval have rapidly grown to a roar of outright anger.
In an interview with the IFSA, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn T.D., Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine said that he welcomed the emergence of the Irish Fishing & Seafood Alliance and support their objectives.
“We need all of our fishing sectors to unite together as one voice to challenge the glaring injustices and fight for a sustainable future for our Irish fishing communities,” he said, adding that he has been repeatedly raising the injustice of the EU/BREXIT deal with the Minister for the Marine in all forums.
“It’s now over six weeks since the four Fish Producer Organisations (FPOs) and opposition T.D.s, including myself, appealed to the Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue at the Oireachtas Committee to go back to his EU counterparts and fight for a fair burden sharing of the fish quota loss arising from the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, amongst the fishing fleets of the affected EU Member States.
“We have heard nothing since and it is very worrying that the Minister is focussing on tie-up schemes and recommending the decommissioning of more boats in this new ‘Seafood Sector Task Force’,” he said, adding that the Minister says he also is looking for “constructive” advice from the industry.
“But he got that advice already. Go and fight for a fair burden sharing agreement!
“All that our coastal communities are asking for is the right to our fair share of the fish in Irish waters and the Irish EEZ based on best international practice.
“Why can’t our government go and fight for that?” he asked, adding that as Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine, he intends to continue to challenge the Minister and the government to “step up and stand up for our national interests”.
“I’m from a coastal community and I know the anger and sheer frustration nationwide about how our fishermen have been treated yet again by the EU and our own government,” he concluded.
This situation may be the ‘final straw’ for a generation of fishermen who have seen their life’s work, much personal financial investment and the potential for their children to carry on in their footsteps be wiped out in one stroke of an EU pen – and for the Irish fisheries minister to put a gun to their heads by saying “look, we’ve given away 30% of your annual income to the fishing boats of other nations in your waters, but here’s an EU cheque for you to scrap your boat and take early retirement”.
Whilst the IFSA, nor any other Irish industry representative group, would ever incite militant action, it is totally understandable to currently hear fishermen talk of taking stronger action such as a suggested blockading of Dublin Port or mount demonstrations outside of Government buildings – but this current Government seem to think that the Irish seafood industry, and the nationwide coastal communities who rely on fishing for their very lives, are just going to accept our political leaders’ shrugging their shoulders and saying “oh well, these are EU rulings”.
The French Government probably thought the same many moons ago until fishermen in France burned, blockaded and generally brought the country to a standstill – and suddenly their government took notice of their concerns.
If the political leaders of Ireland refuse to stand up to the EU (instead of assisting them in decimating the Irish fishing industry) and defend Ireland’s rich waters then the people of the coastal regions will have to take it upon themselves if they want to survive.
The Irish veto exists to protect Irish interests. So why would our Government hesitate? Are the 16,000 employees of our industry not worth fighting for?