Minister Charlie McConalogue defended the SI on penalty points he voted against in 2018
New Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue told the Dáil that the statutory instrument on fishery penalty points had to be signed.
In a speech reminiscent to Michael Creed, TD during his time as Minister for the Marine when he tried to introduce the same regime of penalty points, Minister McConalogue defended the Taoiseach’s position on signing the S.I; the exact same piece of legislation both he and the Taoiseach voted down in 2018 whilst they were in opposition.
Under questioning from Sinn Féin Deputy Padraig Mac Lochlainn, McConalogue defended the S.I that had previously offended him and his party.
“The 2009 EU Fisheries Control Regulations requires Member States to establish points systems in respect of serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“These rules are designed to ensure that fishing in EU waters is sustainable and that the long term interests of fishing and coastal communities are protected by ensuring that our precious fishing resources are protected.
“The points system is intended to accompliment the normal sanctioning system in the Member State for serious infringement and promote a level playing field on control within the EU.
“These systems were due to be implemented, as you know, by 2012.
“Ireland is responsible for the control of all fishing activity by Irish and foreign fishing vessels in our 200 mile zone. The points to be assigned under the new S.I will be applied to both Irish and foreign fishing vessels licence holders held responsible for committing serious offences in Ireland’s 200 mile zone.
“These new regulations are the requirement of EU law and that has been the case since 2012. All other coastal Member States have now implemented this EU points system and Ireland has been found in breach of its EU legal obligation as a result of our failure to implement them before this point.
“As a result the EU Commission under infringement proceedings issued a Reasoned Opinion to Ireland in July 2020, just a couple of months ago, and has given Ireland three months to respond.
“The implementation of these regulations were already overdue but obviously the urgency has been amplified by this Reasoned Opinion.
“In addition the European Commission has formally suspended payment to Ireland of EU co-funding payments under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund operational programme. This suspension will continue indefinitely until Ireland puts in place the necessary legislation and administrative systems to comply with the EU points system. Unless the regulation is addressed immediately we face an increase in financial cost to taxpayers.
“EU funds for control and enforcement available to Ireland under the EMFF are €37.2 million over the course of the programme. As of September 2020, €13.5 million of this funding has been withheld and a further recoupment claim to be submitted later in 2020 would result in the withholding rising to €24 million and a total of €37.2 million is at risk for the full period of the programme.
“The new S.I takes on board all the findings of the 2017 Supreme Court judgement that the procedures followed must be fair and in accordance with best practices. It involves a Determination Panel comprising of three independent legal professionals who would be nominated by the Attorney General and offers the licence holder the option of an oral hearing for the purposes of the determination.
“In addition, the decision may be appealed to an independent Appeals Officer, nominated again by the Attorney General and the licence holder has the option of seeking an oral hearing at this stage.
“Under the S.I, the accumulation of points for persistent serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy will lead to the suspension of a sea fishing boat/vessel for a period of anything from two months to one year. In extreme cases, persistent serious infringements could lead to the permanent withdrawal of the licence.
“It is important to note that the EU Control Regulations provides that if the licence holder does not commit, within three years from the date of the last serious infringement another serious infringement all points on the licence will be deleted.
“The new S.I includes a number of, but not all of the amendments sought as a result of consultation with the industry. The new arrangements are the minimum required to meet the test of approtionality, of effectiveness and of dissuasiveness required under EU law.
“I am confident the new enhanced points system will play an important role in delivering on our Common Fisheries Policy objective on ensuring proportionate, effective and dissuasive penalties for serious infringements and contribute to a level playing field in fisheries control across Member States.
“The points system is necessary as an effective measure against the small number of either foreign or Irish, who would break the rules and is necessary to protect the majority of our law-abiding fishermen from the few that might incur serious repeated infringements and put in jeopardy fish stocks or law abiding fishermen for future generations
“I am very aware of the concerns raised by the Deputy (Padraig MacLoclainn, SF) by the sector and will be meeting them in due course to listen to those and to discuss the rationale behind the need for this S.I and to have a thorough discussion.”