FISHING in West Cork has been dealt ‘a destructive blow’ with the reintroduction of penalty points despite a successful High Court challenge, according to local industry observers.
Chairman of the Cork County Community and Voluntary Forum, Finbarr Harrington, has condemned the signing of a new ‘statutory instrument’ by the Minister for Marine, Simon Coveney.
He said the new statutory instrument reverses a number of successful challenges that were made by fishermen in the High Court against a penalty point system that is being enforced by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).
The High Court judgment accepted a case made by a skipper from Castletownbere that the system operated on the assumption of the guilt of fishermen before proper legal procedure was observed.
The High Court also ruled in favour of the fishermen on the basis that even if a skipper were acquitted of a prosecution, the penalty points would remain attached to the vessel.
Mr Harrington said the Marine Minister’s decision to sign the new statutory instrument – which does not remove penalty points against a skipper’s licence even if the skipper is found to be innocent after prosecution – was damaging to the industry and local economies.
In January, Justice O’Connor held that the 2014 statutory instrument ‘concentrates too much power in the SFPA’.
But a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued a statement on Wednesday saying: ‘The EU Fisheries Control Regulation requires member states to have in place legal provisions to implement a points system for serious infringements of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.’
The spokesperson said: ‘This EU points system is applicable to all fishing vessels that fish in the Irish exclusive fisheries zone, whether they be Irish or Foreign flagged.’
He also pointed out that the ruling of the High Court is now the subject of an appeal and that the new amended legal instrument has ‘taken on board the issues of concern in relation to procedures and process that had been highlighted in the High Court cases.’
But Mr Harrington and Sinn Féin MEP for Ireland South, Liadh Ní Riada, believe the Irish fishing industry, and the local communities in which they operate, are being destroyed by over-policing, and that fishermen are being ‘criminalised.’