"I congratulate the Government representatives in this and the Lower House on supporting the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 last week. There was much contention surrounding the legislation, much discussion and a lot of concern among those stakeholders directly affected. Their concerns and fears are ones for which I have both understanding and great sympathy. Their fears for the future of their businesses, the viability of the industry and the welfare of fishermen and their families are genuine and real. However, the Bill is not about an added threat. It is about fairness and, most of all, about reciprocal arrangements. It is about ensuring an environment that is conducive to a shared future for the northern and southern fishing fleets.
I had a conversation on Monday morning last with Mr. Alan McCulla, the CEO of Sea Source in Kilkeel. Sea Source is a fishermen's co-operative and is a member of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, ANIFPO. While Mr. McCulla welcomed the progression of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, he made a number of points which deserve mention in this House. He first made the point that he was disappointed that the trigger for action was the impounding of two Northern Irish vessels in Dundalk Bay. He said that it was a pity that it took this highly visible demonstration to mobilise action. He spoke to me from his office at the harbour in Kilkeel where he could see a significant number of Irish-registered fishing vessels. Those vessels presented no threat to or issue for him. He expressed concern about comments made last week that Northern Ireland vessels were sailing under flags of convenience. He said that there is an argument to be made that, in some quarters, this was a question of people in glass houses throwing stones. Mr. McCulla reassured me that any notion of an armada of fishing vessels heading into Irish waters was ridiculous. The suggestion that these vessels would detrimentally impact the industry, environment, ecology or economy in any way was unfounded and the contrary was the case. Mr. McCulla made the point that the northern and southern fishing industries needed to work better together. He argued that a stronger working relationship would support and safeguard the entire fleet, wherever that may be on the island. He spoke about ensuring a sustainable, profitable and viable industry for all. Even though the incident in Dundalk Bay appeared to have political undertones, it was dealt with swiftly and the subsequent actions by the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government must be commended.
Mr. McCulla felt strongly that in light of the current debate, it would be useful to propose that the Government should initiate a joint discussion forum to further these relationships, build bridges and ensure that we have a strong, resilient, all-island industry, ultimately avoiding a similar contentious incident happening in future."