C: Frank Donovan CCL

Collins: government forces through law criminalising Irish fishers

West Cork TD, Micheal Collins, has challenged Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs from coastal and fishing constituencies to “break their silence and act” on the Sea Fisheries Bill which he says will criminalise fishers.

Deputy Collins has claimed the Bill advanced “an unfair and unreasonable penalty points system” which “allows enforcement officers to decide based on the ‘balance of probability’ rather than the more robust and fairer ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of proof in relation to fines.

He was sharply critical of the legislation which he said “criminalises the entire Irish fishing sector” and was rushed through the Dáil by the government. “What’s worse is that not a single opposition amendment, including several from the Rural Independent Group, were even entertained,” he said.

“The Minister for Agriculture, Charlie Mc McConalogue’s accelerated push of the Sea Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 through the report and final stage of the Dáil, giving new extensive powers to the SFPA, is shameful,” Deputy Collins said.

“This Minister hastened these intimidating new arrangements, which are procedurally flawed, utterly unworkable, negatively impacting the quality of fish, and criminalising fishers on a 51 per cent balance of probability, while failing to entertain a single amendment from us or any opposition group. It is beyond a doubt that this Minister is no friend or ally of the sector.”

“It was clear from the outset of last night’s Dáil debate on the legislation – which reduces fishers’ rights under the law – that the Minister was intent on rushing it through the Dáil, without accepting any reasonable changes that would at least give fishermen and women equal rights under the law.”

“For instance, under the legislation, an unfair and unreasonable penalty points system is being advanced. It allows fisheries enforcement officers to decide, based on the ‘balance of probability’ rather than the more robust and fairer ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of proof, whether or not to prosecute.”

“Amendments, which I and my Rural Independent colleagues tabled, were all unapologetically rejected by a government that has already crucified the sector, which employs 16,000, through €1 billion in quota losses due to their failed Brexit strategy. These actions are grossly unfair and cruel.”

“Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens have inflicted the maximum possible damage upon this tremendous sector over the past eighteen months. It began when the Taoiseach in August 2020, as acting Agriculture Minister, initially signed this punitive criminalisation regime into law. The final act of cementing that destructive engineering project occurred in the Dáil last night.”

“Witnessing the Minister’s atrocious level of contempt for the sector, where he purposefully and firmly held the government line of tarnishing reputations and criminalising fishers, nailed his true colours to the mast.”

“Treating people who passage rough seas, risk life and limb, to bring home a restricted catch, in this manner, is unpatriotic, devious and extremely painful for everyone in the sector and all coastal communities,” said Deputy Collins.

He previously lambasted the government’s actions in October 2021, saying  “Since assuming office, the government have crucified the €1 billion Irish fishing industry, which employs over 16,000, through massive fish quota losses and a raft of new stringent regulations and penalties, contained in the Bill under deliberation today and will result in fishers not having equality under the law.”

“Every other European national government done everything possible to protect their fishing sectors during the Brexit discussions. In Ireland, the opposite is the case, as our government have accepted a sell-out Brexit deal that will cost an average fisherman between €5,000 and €20,000 in lost annual income,” the West Cork TD said.

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