ZERO: As food shortages loom, a reminder of how we’re being fleeced of fish

On May 10, 1972 the decision of the Republic of Ireland to join the European Union, then known as the European Economic Community, was passed by referendum with a majority approval of just over 83%. In September of the same year, the people of Norway voted to reject membership.

Since then, we have stopped subsisting on a diet of bread and lard and the “Europeans” have replaced the old mud turnpikes with fabulous roads and most people have shoes. The Norwegians get by through skiing holidays and selling troll souvenirs to tourists.

Oh, and they also have a fishing sector that is worth somewhere in the region of €7 billion annually. This is around ten times the value of the Irish domestic fishing sector, but those figures are actually deceptive.

The vast bulk of the fish caught in the waters around the Irish coast are caught by fishing fleets from other EU states, and indeed ironically by Norwegian boats, and therefore contribute nothing, zilch, nada, gan aon € amháin, to the Irish economy.

The Norwegians, not being beset by a post-colonial desire to sell their own granny while they were still fortunate enough to have at least one granny to sell, realised that they were being sold a pup in 1972, and decided to say “Nei. Tan en tur. Takk” to giving away their fish.

Now, there are many estimates, some running into the hundreds of billions, as to the extent of the loss that the successful planned taking of our fisheries by the then Big Six of the EEC has amounted to over the years. It is like measuring water leaks. Unquantifiable really and it’s just gone. It won’t be coming back.

It represents a massive loss of an opportunity to turn one of our major natural advantages into a world leader in fish processing. We could have been like the silly Norwegians who also managed to turn their offshore oil and gas into a huge asset rather than squandering it like our own squireens and bailiffs. The payoff seems to be that Ireland continues to be a source of mostly cheap unprocessed meat, as has been the plan ever since the 1600s. Dress it up in all the finery you wish.

The latest call for an audit on all of this has come from Dr. Kevin Flannery a former fisheries officer now involved in the Mara Beo company based in Dingle. A piece by Lorna Siggins in The Skipper published on Tuesday outlines the need for an independent study to be made of the true extent of the value of the fish taken from Irish waters.

The extent to which our friends in the other EU states benefit from their being granted quota in the fisheries off our coast is starkly evident from the table published by The Skipper. The French fishing trawlers alone have a quota of more than 88,000 tons. The retail value of that amounts to several hundred million Euro.

That, at relative values has been happening each year for the past 50 years. There are no shortage of those who will claim that the EU were doing us a favour; that we were too stupid to turn the fisheries into a proper processing sector; that we had no navy to protect them anyway, and that if it hadn’t been for the EU then women would not be allowed to vote and there would be no coloured television or Tik Tok.

Well, it has always been thus. There is no argument really but that the current subservience to the EU and corporate capital was preceded mostly – other than a brief and initially valiant but then half-hearted effort in the 1930s to create a healthy indigenous economy – by decades of incompetence and the sort of short-sighted rentierism common to post-colonial satraps and fly boys from Dakar to Dalkey.

Still, it is sometimes worth looking at the figures to indicate just what they have squandered. If for no other reason than to have something to counter the endless stuff about What the Romans Did for Us.

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