I am totally opposed to this Bill, particularly after meeting with some of the people who will be directly affected by its implementation. I want to be their voice as they feel their livelihoods are being threatened and that they will be forced to give up fishing and to give up the legacy to their families. I do not know if the Minister has seen the film "Atlantic" but I would encourage him to watch it because it shows what fishermen in coastal communities have to deal with. The Irish Fish Producers' Organisation has stated that there has been no consultation with it about the Bill and that it is a departure from the norm and a breach of the Common Fisheries Policy. I ask the Minister to enter into meaningful discussion with fishermen whose livelihoods will be impacted by the legislation. It is detrimental to them and the Minister should see for himself what it is like for them.
The Bill will decimate the inshore stocks and destroy local inshore fisheries which our coastal communities depend heavily on. My father comes from Rathlin Island, the only island in the Six Counties and I go there four or five times a year as we still have the old farmhouse there. I know all the fishermen and some members of my family are fishermen from the North. I am not opposed to them fishing in our waters. This is not about nationality but sustainability. These are relatively delicate areas that can only withstand certain amounts of extraction. The concerns of the fishermen were expressed to me by Gerard Kelly, who is in the Gallery, when he said:
I am also concerned on the disadvantage and inequality that the Minister will inflict on all Irish fishing vessels. Firstly on reciprocity, the six-county coast is about 16% of the coast of Ireland and usually they find an excuse to keep it to themselves. Why would any Irish fisherman wish to swap 84% for 16%? A Minister may get good relations but angry fishermen back at home. But the inequality is actually worse. If the Irish Minister introduces legislation to allow a six-county fisherman or fishing boat access to all the waters around Ireland then that six-county fishing boat will have access to all the fishing waters around the whole coast of the 32 counties and all the coast of the UK. At the same time the Irish fishermen, represented by their Irish Minister, are telling the 2,100 Irish fishing boats "you will have a UK fishing fleet in your foreshore and you 2,100 Irish vessels owners can have access to the coast of the six counties". Any six county or any foreign Minister would welcome a deal like this. Please let us not be duped again.
It would be very courageous on the part of the Minister to put this Bill off for a short period of time until we sit down and listen to the fishermen of our country tell us of the devastation this will cause to their lives, their families and coastal communities. I plead with the Minister not to go through with this.
I agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn. I would like to know why this Bill is now being pushed through. Article 50 is going to be triggered by the British Government soon. Would this not have been a useful bargaining tool during upcoming Brexit negotiations? The Minister is a very good man and is passionate about this but I ask him to listen to the fishermen. I urge him to have the courage to put it off for another month or two.