Fishermen second class citizens post-Brexit – Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD
Ongoing concerns regarding the prohibition of Donegal fishermen from Greencastle harbour by Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) officials, have been raised with the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Marine.
The Inishowen skippers of two County Derry-registered fishing vessels, Darrin and Derek McAvenue, from Moville and Malin Head respectively, were formally cautioned by SPFA Fishery Officers on Wednesday (January 6) for tying up at the East Inishowen harbour.
In addition, Donegal Live understands SPFA officials visited Malin Head Fisherman's Co-operative and confiscated 40 kilogrammes of lobster from a Northern Ireland-registered vessel. They also dumped a quantity of crab in Atlanfish Limited, Carndonagh, also from a Northern Ireland-registered vessel
Moreover, the SFPA has informed at least on Donegal seafood producer it was no longer allowed to accept shellfish (whelks) from Lough Foyle, as they were deemed to have come from a UK fisherman.
Speaking to Donegal Live, Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine, described the Government's treatment of Irish fishers with vessels registered in the North as “reckless”.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said he had raised the issue with Minister Charlie McConalogue and his party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, had raised it with An Taoiseach.
He added: “We think this issue has been very badly handled by the Department. It was not a secret we had a significant number of Donegal fishermen with Northern licences. In 2019, the Dáil passed the Sea Fisheries Amendment Act, which sought to reinstate access for fishers in the North of Ireland to Irish waters, up to six nautical miles, as measured from the baseline.
“The Act followed the Supreme Court ruling the Voisinage Agreement, which had been in place for decades, had no grounding in Irish law. The ruling resulted from a case taken by Gerard Kelly, a mussel fisherman from Greencastle, and three of his colleagues.
“The Voisinage Agreement had been a long-standing agreement allowing access to fishers in the North, no matter where they were in the island of Ireland, but it went to the EU and the Dutch mussel super dredgers ruined the mussel fishery in the Foyle. What was once a plentiful fishery was ruined. It was terrible.
“This proves the Department was fully aware there were not just fishermen in the Six Counties but fishermen in Donegal who had Northern licences and we know the reason why, because they could not afford to get into fishing was to go through licences in the North,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
According to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, in October 2020, the Department of the Marine was being contacted by the fishery organisations in the North.
He added: “The Department was very aware this was going to be a problem and said it was 'under review' but it 'had no plans to designate any harbours other than Killybegs and Castletownbere'. The issue has been recklessly handled by the Department.
“I believe this undermines the Good Friday Agreement and it undermines the Northern Ireland Protocol and I made this clear to the Minister of the Marine in my discussions with him.
“The failure to designate additional harbours and to make it as accessible as possible is reckless of the Department. In my opinion Clougherhead, County Louth; Greencastle and Burtonport, County Donegal; and Rossaveal, in County Galway could be designated ports. This must be done urgently. The Department is being reckless. It knew about this problem months ago.
“The imagery of SFPA officers not allowing Irish fisherman to land at an Irish Harbour was shocking. It shows reckless mismanagement by the Department in my opinion. It is clearly against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the Good Friday Agreement had been a “huge success” in the Brexit Debate.
He added: “EU and the US had big input into the Good Friday Agreement. During the Brexit discussions, we say the statements from the powerful politicians in the United States and the EU that the Good Friday Agreement must not be undermined. That was how we achieved the European Single Market and European Customs Union on the Island of Ireland, without a hard border, except for the second class citizens who are fishers.
“I have felt very strongly for a long time, the Department of the Marine is not defending the interests of our fishers. I conveyed to Minister McConalogue that there was the massive issue of health and safety.
“In the immediate term, we have to allow, in conjunction with the SFPA, these fishers to land and sell their produce and secondly, we have to engage with the UK and European Commission to find a solution which sorts this out.
“Right now these fishers are being treated like second class citizens. There is a hard border for them and not for anyone else. I am appealing to the Government now to sort this out as a matter of urgency. The actions of the SFPA officials at Malin Head Fisherman's Co-operative and Atlanfish was shocking. The Department's failure to sort out the issue is reckless and the SFPA actions are rubbing salt in the wounds of the fishermen,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Mr Mac Lochlainn concluded that urgent intervention was needed to allow Irish fishers to fish in Irish waters and sell their produce to Irish producers.
He said: “Sinn Féin has raised this issue at the highest level of Government. The matter needs to be escalated and Stormont may have to get involved.”
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