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Priority Questions. - Common Fisheries Policy.

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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 28. Mr. Sheehan Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey  the action he has taken to improve the European Commission's Green Paper on the Common Fisheries Policy and correct the anomalies in the Green Paper on establishing the importance of the fisheries sector to the coastal regions of Ireland. [3722/02]

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The Commission's Green Paper on the Common Fisheries Policy reflects a number of priority themes for Ireland, including sustainable fisheries development, the conservation imperative and more transparent governance. However, in line with the position of the national CFP strategy group I have underlined to the Commission and the Council the need to fully take on board the social and economic aspects of fisheries policy, reflecting the needs of coastal regions in Ireland which are highly dependent on fisheries.

Better alignment of the CFP with social, regional and cohesion policies is critical for the future of coastal communities and small-scale inshore fleets. I have pressed the Commission to show real initiative in terms of safeguarding coastal zones and resources and the future of fisheries dependent areas.

In the light of the Green Paper and in advance of the Commission's formal proposals on CFP reform, I have worked with like-minded EU colleagues to develop common positions on certain key priorities. A coalition of interests has emerged among member states with significant fisheries dependent regions and for whom the socio-economic dimension of fisheries is fundamental. This strategic alliance consists of Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. Following a number of high level meetings last autumn I and my five ministerial colleagues agreed a set of common conclusions in Brussels last December which we presented to Commissioner Fischler. Top of the list is the need for the CFP to take fully into account the economic and social dimension of fisheries and to underpin fisheries employment through the provision of safe and acceptable working conditions as well as opportunities for diversification.

[1468]There was a strong view among the Ministers involved that a common position should be articulated in order to counterbalance the tendency for biological concerns to predominate in the thinking of the Commission and of certain other member states. I emphasise that there are a number of other issues around the reform debate where we part company from the French and Spanish positions. Hague Preference and the preservation of the Irish Box are two such cases in point where we have more in common with the UK. However, in terms of driving the socio-economic agenda of fisheries and fleet policy, this selective strategic alliance is to our negotiating advantage.

The Commission will present its formal proposals on CFP reform shortly. Substantive negotiations will begin under the current Spanish Presidency and will culminate under the Danish Presidency at the end of this year.

The key objectives for Ireland in the negotiation process are to influence and shape the direction of much needed reform while maximising the national position in terms of our key priorities. I will continue, with the support of the National Strategy Review Group, to work towards those objectives. I will travel to Madrid this month to meet the Spanish president in order to get full support from the Spanish presidency for our priorities in the CFP review.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan While I wish the Minister the best of luck in travelling to Madrid to meet his Spanish counterpart and in trying to voice his opinion as far as the policy is concerned, is he satisfied that he has taken the right steps to correct anomalies which exist in the Green Paper in establishing the importance of the fisheries sector to the coastal regions of Ireland? As he knows, it is most important that the socio-economic concerns of the fishing industry are incorporated in the revised Common Fisheries Policy. It is most important that the excluded coastal limits are extended to 24 miles to protect our Irish fisheries stock. It is also most important that the Minister takes into consideration that the commitment given to Ireland in the Hague resolution of 1976 for the continued and progressive development of the Irish fishing industry is fully honoured and incorporated into the Common Fisheries Policy post-2002. It is most important as well that the Minister fights for the protection of the Irish Box.

It is no good having a common fisheries policy that will not copperfasten the fishing industry in this country. If we are to allow the foreign boats to continue to fish in the Irish Box, it will have a detrimental affect on the fishing industry here. Therefore, I ask the Minister to copperfasten the safety of the Irish fishing industry with the introduction of the new and revised Common Fisheries Policy coming up this year and which will be put into operation later in the year.

It is most important that the Minister takes off the kid gloves and is seen to insist on the importance of the fishing industry to the Irish people, [1469] especially Irish fishermen, because we are the only island nation in Europe since Great Britain was joined to mainland Europe by the Channel tunnel. We are surrounded by water but, unfortunately, the crop in that water is being fished by foreign trawlers day in, day out. What will the Minister do to take concrete steps to ensure the continuation of the fishing industry in this country?

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey It is generally acknowledged in Brussels and among our colleague member states that Ireland's case was probably the most effective one made as part of the Green Paper and the CFP review. As a result of the very good work done by the CFP review committee under the chairmanship of Padraig White, we produced a comprehensive set of documents on all the areas in which we want changes to the Common Fisheries Policy, including the Irish Box, fishing limits, which the Deputy mentioned, and so on. Not only that, but many of the proposals we have made have been reflected in the Green Paper and have been the subject of discussions with other member states. However, we have to be realistic. Anything we gain in terms of a review of the CFP most likely has to be at the expense of somebody else. In such a situation, let me assure Deputy Sheehan that one would not wear any gloves not to mention kid gloves.

We have fought very hard so far in this battle. Part of that battle was fought as part of the December negotiations. From my point of view, it was the most difficult fight I have ever had in my time in politics. The Deputy can be assured that we will fight to ensure we get the best deal possible. That is not to underestimate the difficulty of what we are trying to achieve.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan Does the Minister agree the Green Paper does not mention the Irish Box and the conservation measures that should be put in place to conserve the fishing industry off our shores?

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey It does not have to be in the Green Paper which was a discussion document. It is in the proposals we made to the Commission and it was one of the main arguments we made to the Commission, that is, that there must be greater protection for Irish fishermen around our coasts. We will hammer that argument home as much as we possibly can. However, I have to be realistic in saying that it will be very difficult to achieve.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan I wish the Minister luck.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey Anytime the west Cork man wants to come with me, a Cheann Comhairle, I would be delighted to have him participate in the fight.


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