The European Commission has suspended circa €6m in funding of Ireland’s fishing sector for failure to introduce a penalty point system for serious breaches of fishing regulations.

Inshore Ireland understands marine minister Michael Creed intends to sign a new Statutory Instrument shortly to replace the SI rejected by the Oireachtas last year.

While precise details are not known, red line issues for the fishing industry: right to appeal in the High Court, removal of penalty points from the licence in the event of a successful High Court challenge and a totally independent appeals process, are not expected to be included.

“If this is the case, it is totally unacceptable and will be vigorously opposed by the industry. We expect opposition parties will similarly oppose this new SI,” remarked Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation.

Groundhog Day

Francis O’Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, described this likely outcome as Groundhog Day:

“We have never had an issue with the penalty point system, other than the perverse way Ireland is trying to implement it. We cannot accept that a fisherman has no right to appeal to a higher court other than on a point of law, and that the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority is still involved in the internal appeals process.

“But most of all, we will never accept that if a fisherman is cleared of all wrong doing by a court, that the points will remain on the licence.

“We live in a democracy and we have a constitutional right to be treated fairly like any other citizen,” O’Donnell said.

On three previous occasions, the Supreme Court stuck down the penalty point legislation. In 2018, all opposition parties found the SI brought forward by Minister Creed to be unfair and unfit for purpose.

“We’re now at the enquiry stage as to who is insisting that an Irish citizen you can be penalised even though you may have been cleared by the courts. No legislation can be above the court system,” he told Inshore Ireland.

Inshore Ireland invited the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to comment but no response was received.

Funding suspension
Interim payments to Ireland have been suspended for failure to implement a control, inspection and enforcement system for compliance, as provided for in Regulation EC 1224/2009 (objective 2).

In various reports to the EC in 2017, Ireland acknowledged that none of the actions required to be fulfilled had been completed.

By letter February 7, 2018, Ireland requested additional time to implement the necessary legislation on the grounds that enforcing the point system was ‘beyond their control’.

The Commission reminded Ireland that the deadline for establishing the legislation had been no later than 31 December, 2016.

Reaching its Decision in mid-2018 that Ireland had six months to comply, the Commission said the Court of Justice of the European Union ‘has consistently held that a Member State cannot plead provisions prevailing in its domestic legal system, even its constitutional system, to justify failure to observe obligations arising under EU law’.

The Commission considers the entire EMFF budget allocation specific to objective 2 ‘is at risk of being improperly implemented’, as long as obligations remain unfulfilled.