NI: Devolution “fails” local fishermen Published: 29 April, 2008
Michelle Gildernew: Most NI fishermen are said to regard her performance as a failure
FISHERMEN in Northern Ireland have reacted with “disappointment and anger” to Minister Michelle Gildernew’s announcement that she was opposed to the provision of emergency short term aid for local fishermen.
Since late last year, Northern Irish fishermen have been lobbying the Minister and her Department about the growing crisis affecting the local fishing fleet brought about by increasing fuel prices.
Fishermen proposed a package of short-term proposals to the Minister, which would have cost around £600,000 over the next twelve months, but yesterday the Minister ruled out any short-term help, instead advocating a long term strategy to assist the fishing fleet.
This approach is unlike that adopted in other EU member states including Spain, where short-term aid is being awarded to their fishing fleets, in advance of the long term plans.
Alan McCulla from the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation said yesterday that fishermen accepted that a long term strategy was needed, but argued that short-term aid was required to bridge the gap between todays crisis and implementation of any long term plan.
During the past twelve months, the fuel bill of the larger trawlers in the fleet has rocketed to over £1,000 per day, with the weekly fuel bill for all trawlers accounting for around 50% of their gross earnings.
“The Minister and DARD have yet again presented the EFF (European Fisheries Fund) as the panacea for the industrys woes.
“Today is at least the third time the Minister has used EFF to ward off criticism of her support for the industry, but the £25 million trumpeted by the Minister is not a payment for fishermen, rather it is to be spread across the entire fishing industry, including her Departments own fishery harbours over the next five years, said Mr McCulla.
Mr McCulla went on: Today, devolution has failed Northern Irelands fishermen.
“DARDs spin doctors have been hard at work to portray an image that they are working hard to support the industry.
“The £100,000 of funding announced for fishing vessel satellite tracking equipment should not be presented as money for the fishermen. This equipment is not used by the fishermen, but rather is used by the Ministers officials to keep a constant watch on the fishing fleet.
The Minister also failed to pursue discriminatory stealth taxes levied on local fishermen known as Light Dues.
Unlike their colleagues in the Republic of Ireland, local fishermen have to pay £50,000 per annum for navigation aids, which they seldom used. The Minister ducked this subject by saying the issue was not a devolved matter.
There is also some confusion regarding what consultations the Minister had with her Executive colleagues about the issue.
Despite unanimous support from the Assemblys Agriculture Committee and cross-party support in the Assembly, the Ministers Department refused to table any firm proposal with the Executive.
The industry is now calling on Michelle Gildernews Executive colleagues to publicly explain what they knew about DARDs announcement.
The Minister has presented herself in the past as a champion for Northern Irelands fishermen.
“Tonight, most fishermen regard her performance as a failure. The future she spelled out today for the local fishing fleet was bleak and the message is dont expect any meaningful help from your devolved minister, concluded Mr McCulla.
Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister has also slammed Ms Gildernew for her “failure to provide any meaningful assistance to local fishermen to ease the crisis caused by rocketing fuel costs”.
The MEP stated: I condemn the Minister and her Department for snubbing our fishermen during this time of financial crisis within the industry, by failing to offer up to 7,500 of de Minimis aid per business, which is permissible under EU State Aid rules.
“Furthermore, I condemn the Executive for being disingenuous, by attempting to dress up its pathetic response to fishermen by announcing a £25 million fund for the next five years.
“These funds were already earmarked under the European Fisheries Fund, and equate to a re-advertisement in order to save face for Executive inaction.
Let us be clear, the only new money the Executive is offering is in the form of Vessel Monitoring System maintenance for those vessels who have such devices fitted – which equates to £276 per year, a far cry short of what fishermen had expected.
“Our fishermen, just like our pig and beef farmers, are bearing the brunt of an incompetent and apathetic Minister, unable and unwilling to represent their interests at the negotiating table.
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