Should Ireland allow Northern Irish fishing vessels in Irish waters? Christchurch’s screening of Atlantic coincides with Sea Fisheries Bill

Published by Eric Maher on

28th March 2017

Christchurch’s Sun Sea and Soil event came to a close last night with a screening of Atlantic, a documentary highlighting the difficulties fishing communities in three separate places separated by the Atlantic but connected by the challenges they face.

The season has been as successful as it has been relevant to current Irish environmental concerns. Last week’s screening of The Symphony of the Soil echoed current national concerns about the future productivity of Irish soil, with the ongoing People4Soil campaign looking for a directive to be put in place to avoid a future catastrophe. (Find out more by clicking here.) Monday’s screening of Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s Atlantic comes hot on the heels of last week’s debate on the Sea Fisheries Bill.

The audience is introduced to a number of fishing communities facing uncertainty and adversary from corporate fishing and, more strikingly, government policies in Newfoundland, Norway and, in particular Ireland.

Image result for arranmore

The people of Arranmore struggle against the competition brought by super trawlers along Ireland’s west coast

The west coast of Ireland is heralded as the jewel in the crown of European waters but the Irish state gave much of that up for a place in the ECC in the 70s along with better subsidies for the farming community. Irish fishermen went from owning 25% of the Atlantic’s fishing resource to 4%. Localities seem haunted by the sight of super trawlers so close to their shores, pillaging their fish stocks and turning the ocean into a city of lights at night.

Critics have made the case the documentary may be seen as being overly polemical and lacks objectivity. However, we are given a clear image of struggling community, dependent on the Atlantic, that feel betrayed by its state since the 1970s. It is no wonder there is skepticism with the Sea Fisheries Bill.

Sea Fisheries Bill

The Sea Fisheries Bill, which is only one page long, would allow the Sea Fisheries Act to be amended so that vessels from Northern Ireland could fish closer to Irish shores.

“A person on board a foreign sea-fishing boat shall not fish or attempt to fish while the boat is within the exclusive fishery limits, unless he or she— (a) is on board a sea-fishing boat owned and operated in Northern Ireland while the boat is within the area between 0 and 6 nautical miles as measured from the baseline”

Minister Michael Creed presented the bill to the Dáil stating that “fishing by Northern Irish vessels in Irish territorial waters is not currently provided for in domestic law. The application of the judgment is to all fishing by Northern Irish fishing vessels in the 0-6 nautical mile zone relying on the voisinage arrangements.”

The Voisinage Arrangement has been in place between Ireland and the UK since the 60s and allows for fishing of Northern Ireland’s and the Republic of Ireland’s vessels within a 6 nautical mile zone of each other’s coasts. A Supreme Court ruling last year found that the agreement was not protected by law. The bill would make the agreement legal

Another Heritage Bill but underwater

The bill was met with much opposition. Senator Grace O’ Sullivan, speaking on behalf of the Seanad’s Civil Engagement Group, was critical of its lack of consultation with fishing communities, the potential exploitation of Irish waters and its timing given that Brexit negotiations have yet to commence. She labelled it another “heritage bill, but underwater. Poor, Poorly constructed legislation” and lambasted the department for engaging with, “some of the sector but not the fishermen. You’re handing away a huge amount our resources”

Fianna Fail’s, Brian Ó’ Domhnaill, cited Donegal as an example of a county which could be exploited under this new rule with the possibility that “British vessels may, for beneficial purposes, register in the North and utilise or exploit a resource” and doubted that, “the complexity of Brexit has been brought to bear in the Bill”

Others also expressed this concern that companies from other countries would register their vessels in Northern Ireland and then exploit the amendment by fishing closer to the Irish shore. Minister Creed did try to reassure the Seanad that the bill could be amended, would not affect future Brexit negotiations and that vessels would adhere to Irish law when in Irish waters.

A poll run by the Journal showed that 64% of people believe Northern Irish fishing vessels shouldn’t be allowed fish, 29% agreed while the remaining 6% were unsure.

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Eric Maher

Eric Maher is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from UCD.