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16 May 2016 Edition

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Still ‘guilty’ even if found not guilty

Fishing community had won on penalty points in the High Court – but then Fine Gael’s Fisheries Minister pulled a fast one

• Trawlers can face sanctions even though the alleged offender has been cleared by the courts

The laws enforce penalty points for fisheries offences even where the alleged offender is cleared by the courts

MARTIN FERRIS and Sinn Féin have tabled a Dáil motion to stop a move by Fine Gael Fisheries Minister Simon Coveney to circumvent a High Court ruling striking down as unconstitutional provisions of a penalty points system for fishermen who are accused of engaging in illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

Speaking in Leinster House after a briefing in April on the issue of penalty points, Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Fisheries, said a new Statutory Instrument (Government executive order) “discriminates against fishermen who are trying to make a living”.

The move by the Fisheries Minister in the wake of the March High Court ruling “shows contempt for the judgement of the High Court by introducing the same conditions again”, Martin Ferris said.

“Sinn Féin will be seeking the support of all Opposition TDs to strike down this Statutory Instrument.

“While no Government or Fianna Fáil TDs attended the briefing today, it was good to see Opposition parties, groups and Independents there and in agreement on this issue.” 


Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Fisheries

Irish fishermen and women were so offended by the way the penalty points for the sector were being applied by the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency that two cases were taken to the High Court.

In both cases the verdicts came down in favour of the fishing community. 

The fishing industry had opposed the laws which enforce penalty points for fisheries offences even where the alleged offender is cleared by the courts.

It allows for sanctions against trawler owners irrespective of the legal outcome of a criminal prosecution.

Since 2014, the penalty points system provided for the suspension of fishing licences and eventually even for the removal of a licence altogether for alleged infringements of regulations but without recourse to the courts.

In the High Court, the O’Sullivan brothers in one case and Eric Murphy in another (all of whom fish out of Castletownbere, County Cork) took cases against the system.

The High Court in Dublin made orders in March striking down the penalty points system as unconstitutional when the judge was told that since he had struck down the law in January 2016, the minister on 1 March (when some of us were still at the election count) introduced a new Statutory Instrument covering the penalty points system

The judgement found that the new system still cannot ignore established systems for independent adjudication and access to the courts.

Mr Justice Tony O’Connor said that the minister, in exercising his power to give effect to EU regulations here, must also recognise that the system lacked the principles of justice.

So then we had a new Statutory Instrument to replace the old one. Sinn Féin, as soon as the Dáil reconvened in early March, tabled a motion to annul that Statutory Instrument (125 of 216). Sinn Féin was followed by Independent Thomas Pringle and Fianna Fáil.


• Fine Gael former Fisheries Minister Simon Coveney

The problem is that in the absence of a functioning Dáil then with no Government in place, there was no possibility of having the motion taken by the Dáil, which must be done within 21 sitting days.

Donegal TD Pearse Doherty made that point at the first opportunity in the chamber – do we have to resort to the courts again to get the motion discussed and voted upon in the Dáil?

Meanwhile, Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation CEO Francis O’Donnell and solicitor Dermot Conway briefed TDs in Leinster House on the issue. Francis said legislation falls short of addressing the grievances of fishermen and is damaging the relationship between the industry and the state.

Everyone makes the point that they are not against regulation but the way the penalty points are being used has caused anger, hurt and economic crisis for many. If the newly-established adjudication process is too closely tied to departments of the state, that situation will continue.

Watch this space. This is not over and Sinn Féin TDs and senators are ready to stand with the industry to end this situation once and for all.


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