Thomas Pringle TD

Thomas Pringle TD – Penalty Points Will Harm Fishing Communities

This motion is certainly doing what it is designed to do, which is basically to put Fianna Fáil in the spotlight given what the party and the Taoiseach have actually done. There has been much speculation of what his motivation was and so on. Unfortunately, I believe his motivation was partly to protect the Minister. If the Taoiseach introduced the measure, it would not come down on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and he would not have to do it when he came to the Department. The Minister can now wash his hands of it and say it was not he who did it and so it has to stay.

For the first time ever in the history of the State, a Government law was rejected in 2018 on this penalty points issue. The rejection was put forward by the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Party. Now, we see that the Fianna Fáil Party has brought it forward and implemented it. It is interesting because I was speaking to several fishermen today on this. They genuinely could not figure out how this could happen. They asked how could Fianna Fáil say one thing and do something else. I pointed out there was an election in between. Fianna Fáil is now in government. Those in Fianna Fáil will say anything in opposition and when they go into government they will do the exact opposite. It has really brought it home to these fishermen that this is actually what happens. I hope it will bring it home to many people that this is what is happening here. The Minister can say whatever he wants in opposition, and when he goes into government, he can then do whatever he wants. He can do the exact opposite and no one bats an eyelid.

The Government will pass this through the House because it has the numbers. This is despite the Minister’s party colleague acting as if he were in opposition while in government and saying how terrible this is and how much it will impact on the poor fishermen in west Cork. Yet he will vote with the Minister to ensure it is implemented. That is the sad reality of it.

Many problems have been laid out in respect of the penalty points. They are the same problems that arose in 2018 when the previous regime was rejected and before that in turn when the courts struck down the measures. They include the issue of the burden of proof, the assignment of the quota and how the penalty points will pass on, even if a boat is sold and the tonnage is split up among four different boats. The penalty points will go with them as well. That is a real problem. This is hampering the system. The fact that there is no appeals system or a restricted appeals system is a problem as well. That causes ongoing problems for fishermen.

Article 90 of the EU control regulations states that the competent authority of the member state is required to determine the gravity of the infringement in question, taking into account criteria such as the nature of the damage, its value, the economic situation of the offender and the extent of the infringement. Where is the economic situation of the offender taken into account with these penalty points? It is certainly nowhere I can see. That is the crux of the problem and that is why fishermen are so opposed to it.

Many fishermen do not believe they can ever get a fair hearing from the Minister, the Government or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Department and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, are part of the problem as well. There is no sense among the fishing community that they will get a fair hearing from the Department or the SFPA. That is the crux of the problem when it comes down to it. We will have ongoing problems dealing with fishing control and regulation. We are seeing ongoing problems because the fishermen do not have any faith in the bodies. The Minister will argue that it is always this way in fishing and that fishermen do not want it this way, but that is not the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation is that if fishermen believed that these bodies could work on their behalf and that they could have a frank and open discussion, then the Minister would go a long way towards making the system work. Unfortunately, the debate this evening will highlight the situation, but the Government will use its numbers to ensure that the penalty points stay and fishermen are going to have to live under that system in future.

That is what will happen and fishermen will have to live under that system in the future too.