Ireland’s fishing industry is now “well placed to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit” as a result of a “seismic job of work” by Ireland in the draft withdrawal agreement and outline political declaration, remarked Seán O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation.
The draft document, which seals the terms under which Britain will exit the EU, and the outline political declaration on fishing opportunities “reflect the key concerns articulated by Ireland’s fishing industry over the past 29 months”, he added.
Having fisheries referenced specifically in the draft withdrawal agreement and maintaining the link to the wider trade sector in the political declaration was a “key ask” from a fisheries perspective.
“This is a significant first step in defining our relations with an important neighbour and we hope that this constructive spirit will carry on into the next phase of negotiations.”
While “strong foundations” have been laid, the construction phase comes next and will require “the same level of focus, determination and concerted endeavour” from all relevant stakeholders to ensure “an edifice fit-for-purpose.”
Ireland’s two biggest fisheries, mackerel (60%) and nephrops/prawns (40%) are “hugely dependent” on access to UK waters alongside overall dependency of all stocks of over 30%.
“Maintaining reciprocal access to waters and resources needs to be at the heart of the post-Brexit relationship in fisheries given the historic ties and inextricable links between our countries and industries,” he cautioned.
O’Donoghue added that the united approach taken by the European Fisheries Alliance of 18,000 fishermen and 3,500 vessels with an annual turnover of €21m had been effective in these negotiations.
He cautioned however that the future framework following the transition period to December 2020 “needs to maintain the current levels of reciprocal access to waters and markets, as well as sound science-based fisheries management”.
O’Donoghue praised Ireland’s negotiating team in these “high-stakes negotiations” which he said were “very efficiently managed” in particular by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister Michael Creed, in tandem with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier and his team.
“The UK will want other things…for example with regard to financial services,” remarked An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
“All these matters are interlinked and will be part of the future relationship. While the UK might have a strong hand when it comes to fisheries, we have a strong hand when it comes to services and other matters too.”