May 24th, 2018
The Dail opened debate yesterday on a Fianna Fail motion which seeks to overhaul the current penalty points system for fishermen who engage in unregulated, unreported, or illegal fishing.
The motion, brought by Donegal Deputy Pat Gallagher, seeks to overrule the recently introduced Statutory Instrument (SI) to put in place a penalty point system for fishing infringements in Ireland. The system is similar to the points system for road users.
The introduction of the penalty point system was requested under EU control regulations in 2009 and Member States were given until 2012 to implement this.
The European Commission has since withheld €2.7 million euro in grants from Ireland for failing to implement the system, and last week issued a letter of formal notice to Ireland for not implementing the new system.
In a bid to address this issue, the Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed, TD signed the SI into law this March. It applies to the licence holder of a sea-fishing boat for serious infringements within Irish waters.
An SI to introduce this points system to Ireland was twice put forward before in 2014 and 2016 but was subsequently dropped when brought to the courts.
Mr Gallagher, however, told the Dail yesterday that he is determined to eradicate the current SI as it undermines the rights of individual fishermen and vessel owners throughout the country.
“Our agenda is that we do not oppose the introduction of the penalty points system, provided the system is fair and balanced. That is not the position as it was in the 2014, the 2016 or the 2018 statutory instrument,” he added.
Mr Gallagher argued that it is unfair that points remain on the license of the vessel owner even if they are successful in an appeal, and that the system functions by labelling vessel owners as guilty.
This forces them to prove their innocence as opposed to the state building a case against them, he added. He also raised concerns with the role of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in enforcing the points system.
“The proposed structure under this statutory instrument would be similar to An Garda Síochána detecting an infringement, being allowed to select the judges to adjudicate on the case and finally handing down the eventual judgment, he said. “These are three parts that should and must remain independent but are clearly not”
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Helen McEntee, spoke in support of the SI, and said that a vote to annul to SI would be a vote for “that small minority of serious offenders who want to act with impunity”.
She stated that Ireland faces a loss of €37 million unless it complies with EU legal requirements. “I urge the House to protect the future of our fishing industry and to reject the motion,” she added.
Independent TD Mick Wallace, who was also in favour of overruling the SI, said: “The substance of the new statutory instrument does not give one confidence it would survive another High Court challenge with respect to the fairness of proceedings.”