IFSA Chairman, Cormac Burke has condemned the DAFM over a ‘Dirty Tricks’ campaign against fishermen in relation to the decommissioning scheme
Minister must stop abdicating responsibilities of his office says IFSA Chairman
The Chairman of the Irish Fishing and Seafood Alliance (IFSA), Cormac Burke has condemned the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) over a policy which will see fishing vessel owners who opt for the voluntary tie-up scheme get punished if they later decide to opt for decommissioning.
Cormac Burke says that some whitefish and prawn boat owners are furious as there is a clause somewhere between the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund (BAR) the Seafood Task Force Report (STFR) and the Voluntary Temporary Cessation Scheme (VTCS) which allows DAFM to deduct monies paid out for the VTCS to be reclaimed from the Voluntary Permanent Cessation Scheme (VPCS) if a boat owner at a later stage decides to take the scheme.
The IFSA Chairman writes, “One particular owner of one such vessel, who prefers to remain unnamed as he is currently seeking legal advice on the matter, told the IFSA that he proceeded with the tie-up scheme earlier this year despite the fact that the tie-up compensation was less than the boat would have grossed for that month but he felt he was ‘playing his part’ in trying to help other fishermen by making more quota available at that time.”
Speaking to the IFSA Chairman the boatowner said, “However, on recently expressing an interest in the decommissioning scheme, I have been told by BIM that the money I received for the tie-up must be deducted from the decommissioning payment and, on pressing BIM for an explanation, I was told that this condition had come from the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine (DAFM),” he said, adding that this is completely wrong when people get paid for a tie-up (even though they made a financial loss in doing so) then that is in the present but decommissioning is a scheme to compensate for the loss of revenue for the future.”
On doing some research into the matter, the IFSA learned that this condition was indeed referred to in the STFR and that it is included as a condition in the BAR fund package. Cormac Burke points out, “but, notably, as far as anyone can see, does not appear as a condition for any fisherman taking on the VTCS for his vessel and therefore many fishermen believe that there exists a solid legal case to fight this condition being included in the decommissioning package.”
He continues, “Worse still is the news that it appears that the tie-up scheme money that the vessel owner must pay back INCLUDES the 30% of the package that he has already paid his crew for the duration of the tie-up and therefore, with these wages obviously not recoverable, the owner must now take this loss on himself.
“Then comes ‘Condition 5’ – a reference to excluding any vessel or company who have increased their tonnage since the start of 2021 which, on the face of it looks, rightly or wrongly, to be an attempt to halt anyone from buying an existing vessel and scrapping their old one under decommissioning.
“The problem with Condition 5 is not whether you agree or disagree with it but it is the question of where it originated from… This condition was not mentioned in the Seafood Task Force talks, nor is it included in the EU BAR Fund conditions and yet by the time the decommissioning scheme details arrived to BIM from the senior civil servants at DAFM, this new condition had been added.
“Who signed off on this? Did the Minister ratify this inclusion, or indeed is he even aware of it?” asks the IFSA Chairman.
The actions of DAFM in relation to the VPCS has again put the fishing industry on a collision course with the Department, and once again DAFM has instigated unreasonable clauses against the fishing industry, something Cormac Burke gives his opinion on. He says:
“Aside from being obviously dismayed and totally sympathetic to the vessel owners being asked to refund the tie-up scheme money, I am shocked that even as our DAFM officials deliver this final blow to the demersal sector that once again the opportunity has been taken to plunge the knife in just a bit more.
“All other EU Member States used the EU BAR money (or at least a fair portion of it) to physically compensate their fishermen with financial support for quotas lost and for the new hardships as a result — meanwhile our marine civil servants brought in a tie-up scheme which is basically an insufficient payment INSTEAD of the revenue you would have earned at sea – and then brought in a decommissioning scheme which again is basically an insufficient payment for you to scrap your boat and permanently cease fishing INSTEAD of continuing to catch fish and make a living.
“These schemes are NOT compensation in any shape or form – they are payments which always have the DAFM-planted condition of a trade off — if you receive then you must give up something in return — and only in Ireland is there no one-way compensation for fishermen!
“I sincerely hope that this matter does become a legal battle and perhaps it might open that door a fraction more so that the industry and the public can ask questions as to who is actually making all the anti industry decisions that have been such a blight on our marine sector for decades.
“And a message to our marine minister: leadership is not about ability, it is about responsibility – and you Sir must stop abdicating the responsibilities of your office as Minister to your civil servants and bring an end to this tragic ‘tail wagging the dog’ regime that continues to be the ruination of this industry and the coastal communities.”