THE penalty points debacle has come at the worst possible time for Irish fishermen.
With the threat of a no-deal Brexit looming, combined with a collapse in many markets due to Covid-19, two organisations came out strongly this week, condemning the move by Taoiseach Mícheál Martin last week.
In uncharacteristically strong language, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) said it was ‘livid’ that Taoiseach Micheál Martin, acting as Minister for Marine, enacted the ‘highly controversial’ penalty points legislation with zero consultation with fishermen and ‘in spite of having stridently opposed it while in opposition’.
‘This is quite simply, a scandalous and a very misguided step by the Taoiseach,’ said chief executive Seán O’Donoghue. ‘We have made our point regarding the penalty points measure on numerous occasions and we were fully supported by Fianna Fáil in opposition. We are not against a penalty points regime since it is an EU requirement, but there must be an equitable manner of administering this.’
The KFO said the signing of the Statutory Instrument (SI) by the Taoiseach had come ‘completely out of the blue’. ‘Putting it mildly, it is neither fair nor reasonable and runs contrary to the Programme for Government of introducing a fair system. Our industry is simply apoplectic. The SI must be amended and the offending parts removed such as the burden of proof to be changed to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, no right of appeal to the High Court, except on a point of law and, incredibly, even if the fisherman is successful in the High Court, the penalty points would still remain on the licence,’ he concluded.
His anger was reflected in a similar statement from the ISWFPO.
‘This legislation was signed in on Wednesday last with no consultation with the industry,’ said chief executive Patrick Murphy. Micheál Martin, as the leader of the opposition, put forward a motion to overturn the signing into law of a previous Statutory Instrument to introduce similar sanctions, he said. He added that Fianna Fáil were very vocal in their condemnation of former Minister Creed when he tried to reintroduce what they called the ‘flawed legislation’ in 2019.
And he added the ISWFPO was now ‘dismayed’ at the latest move by the Taoiseach. The organisation is seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach and incoming Minister for Marine.
Mr Murphy cited the dual pressures of a possible no-deal Brexit and the negative impact of Covid-19 on fish markets, adding: ‘Surely the weight of these challenges is enough to carry for an industry that risks life and limb to support their families and their coastal communities.’