MANY West Cork fishermen – and women – were among those who assembled in Cork city this week in a bid to exert pressure on the government to hear their concerns.
This sector of Irish industry, which is such an integral part of the West Cork economy, feels it has been ignored by successive governments and its woes have been amplified by what it sees as a disastrous Brexit for fishing.
The industry says it will lose millions of euro if not given a fair share of the fish that swim in Irish waters. The UK has access to 75% of the fish in their waters. However, Ireland has seen access to its own fish reduced to 15%. The sector’s members believe that 4,000 jobs could be lost between fish catch at sea, and processing onshore, if current trends continue.
They have gone so far as to claim, this week, and in recent months, that Brexit spells the end of our fishing tradition in many of our ports and harbours.
As well as feeling let down by the Brexit negotiations, the fishing industry makes the point that its fishermen and women – more correctly described as ‘fishers’ these days – were deemed essential workers during the pandemic, in order to provide food to the nation. As a result, many risked their lives, working in far flung seas, in order to bring the catch home.
Of course, the members of this industry risk their lives every day of the week, as part of their chosen career, which many see as a vocation. The perils of the life are only too obvious in the many names of those lost at sea every year in storms and tragic accidents.
One of the fishing organisations said this week that its members ‘now find themselves the pawn on the chess board of Europe to be sacrificed so larger countries may triumph’.
Their anger is palpable. These fishers are often members of families that have handed down the skill – and the passion – through generations, and do not have the financial sway of big business, the strength of the big farming agencies, or a large coterie of political lobbyists, like so many other sectors of industry. But they are adamant that their voices will finally be heard.
They are a vital and much-loved component of West Cork life and their work contributes to keeping our supermarkets in business, enables processing factories to employ a range of skillsets, and is a major contributor to the local economy and the thriving artisan firms that have boosted the region’s reputation for excellent food.
But these men and women are also voters. And the Irish government would do well to remember that. A well-organised, disenfranchised group can yield a lot more power when focused on a target. And while this week’s ‘rally’ was organised as a ‘show and tell’ event and not a disruptive protest, there is a very strong feeling now that they are mad as hell, and they are not going to take it anymore.