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'This will not be tolerated': Fishermen vow to fight introduction of penalty points system

The government has previously tried to implement the points system – in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – failing each time.
Jul 8th 2019, 10:58 PM 29,856 15

FISHING INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVES have hit out at the government over new plans to introduce a penalty points system for fishing vessels, vowing to fight their implementation.

Agricultural, Food and Marine Minister Michael Creed held a meeting on Thursday with industry reps over the planned introduction of the penalty points sanctions for fishing vessels that commit “serious infringements” of Common Fisheries Policy rules.

The meeting has been described as “extremely heated”, with industry sources vowing to resist any news implementation of the penalty points system as it was described to them by the minister. 

The Minister briefed Cabinet on Thursday that the EU Commission has suspended more than €6 million in funding to Ireland as a result of its failure to establish a points system.

The European Commission has required member states to have the points system in place since 2012.

The points system would apply to the licence holders of sea-fishing boats when a serious infringement of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy is detected within Ireland’s 200-mile exclusive fishery zone.

The penalty points would apply to all fishing vessels – both Irish and foreign boats.

The government has three times tried to implement the points system – in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – failing each time.

The latest effort was in early 2018 when Minister Creed introduced a Statutory Instrument – a measure to allow a piece of secondary legislation to take effect – to the Dáil. 

Fianna Fáil marine and fisheries spokesperson Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher brought forward a motion in April 2018 to rescind the SI, and the Dáil voted to do this in May of that year.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil deputies voted together to defeat the government.

At the time, Gallagher said that the SI “seriously undermines the rights of individual fishermen and vessel owners throughout the country”.

“The proposals from the Minister failed to provide an appropriate appeals mechanism; it focused too much power with Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and gave it an overly domineering role in the various processes,” Gallagher said. 

One of the principal issues with the SI was the issue around the right to appeal, with penalty points remaining on the fishing vessel even if a sanction was challenged effectively in a higher court.

Another issue was raised with the power given to the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in enforcing the points system. The SFPA is the body responsible for the regulation of the sea-fisheries and the seafood production sectors.

“The proposed structure under this statutory instrument would be similar to An Garda Síochána detecting an infringement, being allowed to select the judges to adjudicate on the case and finally handing down the eventual judgment,” Gallagher said in 2018 in relation to the power given to the SFPA.

At the time, the minister said the opposition had acted “recklessly” in voting down the new law, and that fines of €37 million could accrue for non-compliance.

Prior to that, similar efforts to introduce the points system were dropped after being successfully challenged in the Supreme Court.

New laws 

Creed will now attempt to introduce a new SI to replace the annulled regulations.

In order to gain Dáil approval, particularly from Fianna Fail, it is understood that the latest draft includes some, but not all, of the amendments proposed by opposition in relation to the annulled points system law.

The minister intends to sign the new regulations without delay, “given the urgency of the matter”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday evening, Gallagher said that he had circulated a draft SI to the minister last year after the Dáil had rejected the government’s SI.

Gallagher said he had not heard back from the minister until last week. Gallagher said that the minister was only “tinkering at the edges” of the original SI and that nothing of substance had changed.  

He said that the same issues which led to the opposition rejecting the SI last time (in relation to the right of appeal, the fact that penalty points will remain on a licence, among other issues) still remained.

Until those issues are addressed, Fianna Fáil said that it will not support the introduction of the penalty points. 

Industry response

The Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) – a body representing the owners of commercial sea-fishing vessels – has vowed to fight any implementation of the points system as it currently stands. 

Those working in the industry say they have no problem with the introduction of a penalty points system in principle.

However, IFPO members take issue with the the lack of a proper appeals process and what they say is too much power given to the SFPA.

The IFPO says that penalty points will remain on a vessel after a decision is overturned by the courts and that this is not acceptable. 

These issues were not overcome at last week’s meeting with the minister. IFPO CEO Francis O’Donnell wrote to members on Sunday asking them to lobby their local TDs and to make them aware that the new SI “will not be tolerated”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday evening, O’Donnell said that the government was attempting to introduce the same flawed laws that had been defeated previously and that the industry would fight them. 

It is believed that a new Statutory Instrument will be brought before the Dáil before the summer recess at the end of this week. A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine said:

The Minister is currently involved in a process of engagement with fishing industry representatives and opposition spokespersons.  Details of a revised SI will be issued in due course.

If struck down again by the opposition, the minister has previously said he will have no option but to rely on much older laws, which remain on the statute books and would allow for the penalty points system to be rolled out regardless.  

With reporting from Christina Finn

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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