Donegal fishermen need 'Irish solution to Irish problem'

Minister for the Marine must introduce immediate solution - Cllr Martin Farren

Greencastle Harbour

Minister for the Marine must introduce immediate solution - Cllr Martin Farren

There have been calls for an “Irish solution to an Irish problem” regarding Donegal fishermen with Northern-registered vessels being prevented from landing at Greencastle harbour.

Speaking to Inish Times, Donegal Councillor Martin Farren (Labour) has urged “our local Minister to introduce an immediate solution”.

Cllr Farren said: “I am calling on Minister Charlie McConalogue to introduce an immediate solution to the problems arising for local fishermen landing into the Republic on UK registered fishing boats.

“Local fisherman, Darren McAvenue, has highlighted the problems he faces when trying to land his catch, in his home port of Greencastle. Mr McAvenue and many others like him, bought UK registered fishing boats and fished them out of Donegal ports. This was all perfectly legal at the time and it is still.

“The problems these men are now facing are caused by Irish regulations, drafted by Irish civil servants, and signed off by an Irish minister.

“Someone, in the civil service hierarchy, decided that there would only be two harbours, in the Republic, selected as 'designated landing ports” for non-EU registered fishing boats'. Killybegs and Castletown were chosen. No EU bureaucrat, or Directive, was involved. They could have chosen two or 22, harbours. It was totally their decision,” said Cllr Farren.

Northern Ireland has selected seven 'designated landing ports, including Lisahally.

According to Cllr Farren, Minister McConalogue should ask who drafted these regulations and what rationale are they based on?

He added: “Were any of the fishermen, or their representative organisations, consulted? Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) officers are telling UK fishing vessels that they cannot land their fish into harbours other than the two ports they have designated. In some cases, they are instructing boats to dump their catches. What legal authority have they to issue those instructions?

“The SFPA is an independent arm of Government. It polices Government legislation; it does not write it. That is a function of the Oireachtas so we must ask, 'Where was the Oireachtas oversight when only these two ports were chosen?'

“The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and the SFPA, collate the landing figures for all fishing boats landing into Irish ports. They should know where all these UK registered, Irish operated boats are landing. A box of haddock has more paperwork attached to its production and transport than a box of Covid-19 vaccine, so the paper trail should be there. Why did they not use it?

“During the run up to Brexit, the fishing industry was briefing politicians and government agencies on the pros and cons of Brexit. One of the few benefits identified for Greencastle was its geographic position as an entry point for fishing vessels, of all nationalities, into the EU’s most North-Westerly port. But the stroke of a pen has removed that advantage,” Cllr Farren.

Cllr Farren questioned, from a safety perspective, if the SFPA officers “unqualified in navigation or sea safety” thought it was okay to order a 30 foot boat, coming into Greencastle, to head around Malin Head to Killybegs in winter?

He added: “Irish fishing boats from ports in the South of Ireland, fishing to the North-West of us, have been using Greencastle as a landing port for many years. This activity gives a welcome boost to the local economy. Provisions, diesel, landing services, net repairs and ship repairs create added income around the harbour.

“Already some of these, seasonal, boats are passing Greencastle and discharging their catches in Lisahally, where the port and reception facilities are geared up to meet their needs. In the Republic, the Irish authorities are setting up barriers to trade instead of trying to manage them properly.

“The current dispute over fishing rights at Rockall will be settled outside of Ireland, at EU or United Nations level. It will take time to resolve as it involves many international issues and stakeholders.

“The designation of Irish ports for non-EU fish landings rests with one government department and Charlie McConalogue is its Minister. Where does the buck stop? With the Minister or the Permanent Government, the civil service?” said Cllr Farren.

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