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Government has not acted in the best interest of Ireland’s fishing communities

Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, said Government has not acted in the best interest of Ireland’s fishing communities, as he expressed concerns for the future of the fishing industry.

Addressing the Dáil on Thursday, Deputy Pringle said: “For those who aren’t from a fishing community, it can be hard to understand how much of a negative impact the EU and Brexit have had and the devastating downturn these communities have experienced in recent decades. Killybegs was once known as a very prosperous town, with ‘the herring running free’, as the famous song goes.

“It used to be a place where businesses thrived and where work was easy to come by. The fishing season used to last from September to May, with fishermen working for most of the year, resulting in plenty of activity and business in the town.

“Each year in the last two decades, the season has gotten progressively shorter and we are at a stage now where fishermen are lucky to get a couple of weeks work before Christmas and a few weeks after as well. This has of course had a significantly negative impact on a once-thriving community. Because it took a whole town to build and contribute to a successful fishing industry, the entire town is now taking the hit for its decline, with every family affected. And this is at the hands of successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, as well as successive Donegal ministers,” he said.

The deputy was speaking during Statements and questions and answers on sustainable fisheries and coastal communities.

The deputy said: “You can imagine how frustrating it must be for our fishermen to see other countries thrive off and overfish in our waters without any punishment, while Irish boats struggle to get a miniscule quota. How maddening it would be to realise that the EU are in talks to give even further access to our waters to non-EU members while Irish livelihoods are at stake. And how utterly devastating it would be for your government to stand by this, to allow this to happen and to look fishermen in the eye and promise them the world while at the same time they’re being shafted in Europe.

“Successive Ministers for the Marine unfortunately have allowed our industry to die out while other countries thrive off our waters. We make up 12% of all fishing grounds and waters in the Union. We contribute massively but get almost nothing in return. No other European country and no other European minister would accept this, so why have we accepted it for so long?” he said.

The deputy said government’s mistreatment of fishermen dates back to Ireland’s negotiations to join the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy, an issue he has raised numerous times over the last decade.

Deputy Pringle said: “The Irish delegation negotiating the deal had no idea of the value of what they were giving away. It was a bad deal for Ireland and unfortunately many of these issues cannot be resolved until the Common Fisheries Policy is fully renegotiated to undo the wrongs that were done to us.” The weak negotiation stance continued through Brexit negotiations, he said.

The deputy said: “Unlike your government, I actually recognise the value of our fishing industry and would never kowtow to Europe at the expense of our citizens’ livelihoods. It has been made very clear that this Government has not acted in the best interests of our fishermen or our fishing communities.

“And the future is looking just as bleak. I am extremely concerned about the future of the fishing industry. The Minister claims that he has gotten an additional mackerel quota for this year and last, but surely, as I understand it, this quota is still not near the pre-Brexit quota that we had,” he said.

Deputy Pringle said: “Countries like Norway have permission to catch four times more blue whiting in Irish waters than Irish fishermen do, while not receiving any punishment for the considerable overfishing that they are engaged in. There is a clear disconnect and lack of respect by the government for fishing communities and by so-called EU colleagues. I don’t believe they’re colleagues. I believe that they take advantage of us at every stage along the way and we need to stand up against that.

“Norway and the Faroe Islands consistently and systematically overfish mackerel and blue whiting by up to 44% yearly, severely threatening Ireland’s quota,” he said, saying we need to demand a better deal from Europe in light of that.

The deputy also called for recognition of producer organisations and IIMRO, the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, saying, “I think that’s vitally important and should happen without delay.”