Sinn Féin's Spokesperson for Fisheries Padraig Mac Lochlainn questioned the Minister for the Marine on using BAR as a fuel subsidy substitute

Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson for Fisheries Padraig Mac Lochlainn questioned the Minister for the Marine on using BAR as a fuel subsidy substitute. Photo: Sean McConville

Sinn Féin Deputy and Spokesperson for Fisheries and the Marine, Padraig Mac Lochlainn once again raised the issue of fuel supports for the Irish fishing industry with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, TD at last night’s Dáil question time.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn said that the entire fishing and seafood industry have been united in their calls for the Minister to establish an emergency fund to deal with the rising cost of fuel and they want to know when he would be implementing such a scheme.

Replying to the question, Minister McConalogue said that he has been listening and working closely with fishing representatives, and that he implemented a further month’s tie-up scheme for the whitefish fleet as they had requested. He said:

“We discussed this issue at length a few hours ago at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Deputy Mac Lochlainn is correct. I have been working closely and listening to the fishing representatives on this issue for a long time. I met with them shortly after the illegal invasion of Ukraine to discuss this issue. They requested specifically of me that I would do a second month tie-up scheme this year to support the challenges with fuel for the whitefish fleet. I delivered promptly on that.

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“It began in June and will run until the end of November, and it is delivering €12 million into the sector to support the challenges relating to fuel. That is on top of the one month recommended by the seafood task force to respond specifically to Brexit.

“As I have said to the fishing representatives throughout, I am continuing to monitor the situation. Fuel prices have gone up and down. For a few weeks, they looked as though they were going to fall a bit but they have spiked again. I met representatives of the producer organisations last week and representatives of the fishing co-operatives earlier today. I am assessing the situation with fresh eyes, particularly in light of the fact the scheme I have in place is due to run out at the end of November.

“It is a difficult time. Marine gas oil is different from most other fuels in that there is no excise duty on it, so there is nothing to reduce in that regard, and the VAT is fully refundable. The EU has given capacity to member states to draw funding down from its European maritime funding allocation to put towards that specifically but that would mean taking funding out of other purposes for which it could be used to support the sector, specifically for short-term liquidity aid. It is not something I would do lightly, but I have been monitoring the issue closely and am reassessing it in light of the situation.”

Deputy Mac Lochlainn challenged the Minister on the funding of the tip-up scheme. He said:

“The funding for the tie-up scheme comes from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund, not from the Exchequer. We have appealed to the Minister to explore both the Exchequer and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. There are resources in the fund that could be deployed here along with Exchequer funding. A package was announced in the budget to address the cost-of-living crisis and the energy crisis for a range of sectors, but not for that of fishing.

“The Minister has met these representatives at least twice if not three times. This sector is in crisis. The break-even price was 60 cent per litre but it has been at well over €1 for the best part of this year. That is just not sustainable. I speak to fishermen every day, as I am sure the Minister does, and they tell us this. There needs to be an urgent intervention. I again appeal to him to put money on the table to keep them at sea and delivering seafood for our people. Minister McConalogue replied saying:

“I have put money on the table, with the €12 million to fund the additional month of the scheme, which the sector specifically requested of me to address the fuel crisis and the challenges in that regard. I accessed that from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund, because that is bringing fresh funding into the fishing sector, rather than take it out of the EMFF, which is already in the fishing sector and allocated. The option is still there. The European Commission has given flexibility to member states to use that maritime funding in liquidity aid and, therefore, I still have that option after bringing the €12 million into the sector, which is at play until the end of November through that additional month of the tie-up scheme.

“I have been monitoring the prices closely month by month. As I said, we cannot reduce the excise given there is no excise on marine gas oil but there is the state aid flexibility given by the Commission to use the maritime funding but, as the Deputy will appreciate, that would mean using future funding for now and that is something that has to be considered carefully. I have been monitoring and assessing the situation, not least in light of the funding I have put in place being due to run out in November.”

Again, Deputy Mac Lochlainn challenged the Minister’s use of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund. He said:

“What I cannot understand is that the Minister has the Brexit Adjustment Reserve fund, which is money intended to compensate for the loss of quota. That is to be deployed to assist the industry with that separate issue. He again talked about how using the EMFF would mean using funding that is supposed to be there for other issues, but why is he not talking about Exchequer funding? France, Italy, Spain and Sweden – I am sure there are many other countries but these are the most prominent four – have all made interventions, through either subsidies or emergency supports to their fishing industries. I just do not understand why we have not deployed Exchequer funding in the way we have done for the rest of the economy, whether that is business or residential.

“I am genuinely appealing to the Minister to make an intervention with Exchequer funding primarily, or with European funding if necessary. There needs to be something on the table to keep our fishermen at sea and get them ready for next year.”

Minister McConalogue replied:

“As I said, I have put €12 million into this scheme, which has been running from June and will continue to the end of November and which was sought from me by fishing representatives. It has been welcomed by those who have availed of it and it has been important to them. I am now reassessing that situation. It is important from a food security point of view that fishing is happening, and that has been the case. Our full quota has been fished month by month.

“Nevertheless, the spike in the price of fuel in recent weeks has caused me to reassess the issue, not least in light of the €12 million I have put in being due to expire at the end of November. It is a situation of which I am very much aware and I am engaging on it all the time with fishermen and women. There will always be asks for additional funding but when it relates to using future funding now, any measure has to be considered carefully to ensure it is appropriate, and that is what I am doing.”