THE criminalisation of fishermen who are simply trying to make a living has got to stop, according to Cllr Michael Collins.
The independent councillor tabled a motion calling on the Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, to change the laws that are currently being challenged in the High Court.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the Western Committee of Cork County Council, Cllr Collins pointed out that two brothers – the owner and the skipper of the Tea Rose trawler that operates out of Castletownbere – are in the process of testing the legality of the Domestic Points Regulations system, which was introduced under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Within the next ten days, the High Court is expected to give a ruling on the points of law raised by Patrick O’Sullivan, the licence holder, and Cathal O’Sullivan, the master of the 40ft trawler.
In 2014, a penalty points system for fishermen who engage in illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing was introduced and it is one of the ways that people involved in the fishing industry can incur criminal convictions.
Cllr Collins said the penalty points system could result in the eventual suspension of fishing licences and the complete withdrawal of a licence depending on how many points a vessel incurs for illegal fishing. What’s more, he said, a fisherman could leave the industry but the points would follow the vessel.
Cllr Collins said: ‘The introduction of the law a number of years ago by the previous government was a scandalous decision and put immense pressure on our fishermen.’ He said those caught with even the smallest of infringements could be faced with massive fines and a criminal record that would stay with them for the rest of their lives, as well as impinging on their right to travel to places like America or Australia.
The councillor said promises by this government to abolish the law and treat fisherman in a more humane way had not materialised and even the introduction of a penalty point system has been called into question by the High Court last Friday, January 15th.
In conclusion, he said: ‘Criminalising fishermen is one of the most appalling things any Government or body could do to its own people.’
Cllr Margaret Murphy O’Mahony supported the motion, but she pointed out that the government had promised decriminalisation at the start of their term, but ‘nothing has been done.’
In Castletownbere recently, she said, she spoke to a fisherman who summed up the situation, saying: ‘Before we used to be afraid going out to sea in case we drowned, now we are afraid coming back in case we are arrested.’
Cllr Murphy O’Mahony said: ‘It is awful to see such hard-working people living in such fear. The matter needs to be urgently addressed.’
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said the Fianna Fáil Senator Denis O’Donovan had attempted to have the legislation amended, but it didn’t go through. And, Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) supported the motion saying: ‘The people employed in the fishing industry are the backbone of our coastal communities.’ At a previous meeting in Brussels, he said: ‘Our European counterparts suggested the Irish Government is over-zealous in implementing the regulations.’
Cllr Tom Lombard (FG) praised the work that is being carried out by Minister Coveney on behalf of the fishing industry in terms of development, investments and increased quotas and his party colleague Cllr Kevin Murphy agreed that Simon Coveney is ‘the finest minister for fisheries that we have ever had.’
Their point of view was challenged by Cllr Joe Carroll, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony and Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan – all Fianna Fáil – but Cllr Noel O’Donovan (FG) reminded them that the fishing regulations were introduced by a Fianna Fáil-led government and that the FF trio were suffering from ‘collective amnesia.’