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To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department can provide any assistance to lobster and crab fishermen in County Wexford who lost their equipment, or found it damaged beyond repair, following the recent storms; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014.

REPLY

 

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: (Simon Coveney)

Along with all my colleagues in Government I am acutely aware of the ferocity of the recent storms, combined with the exceptionally high tides, which in combination have resulted in widespread damage right around the coast. I have been actively assessing the damage to the many small Local Authority piers and harbours right around the coast. I am aware of the critical importance of this local pier and harbour infrastructure to the 1900 odd inshore fishing vessels that provide a backbone to our inshore fishing fleet.

The Government in considering the totality of the impact of the storms decided that the Local Authorities need to do a full assessment of the damage and the costs involved and should revert to Government in the coming weeks. That comprehensive assessment will then enable Government to decide on a fully informed response to the damage that was wreaked on our coastal communities as a result of these exceptionally bad storms.

On the specific issue of Government support for inshore fishermen for losses suffered, it is useful to recall that there are a range of grant aid schemes already available to inshore fishermen, which are administered by BIM. There have been some reports in the media about the loss, by some inshore fishermen, of their pots. It is not unusual for inshore fishermen to experience some pot losses through the winter. It is too early to fully determine the scale of the losses and if these were widespread.  I am working with BIM to endeavour to assess the scale of losses that may have occurred.

In deciding on an appropriate response to the situation that emerges I will have to take account of the fact that EU Law limits the options. The EU requires that any financial assistance provided by Government to the seafood sector must always be considered in terms of what is permissible under EU State Aid rules.  It is clear that under State Aid rules no aid may be given for the replacement of any lost or damaged fishing boats.  In relation to pots, State Aid rules potentially allow for limited financial assistance for replacement of lost pots, but importantly any such assistance may not increase the ability of a vessel to catch fish. This is potentially difficult to implement without the risk of breaching State Aid rules.

However, while all of these constraints and considerations exist, I am still endeavouring with BIM to get a full picture of the situation and working with Government and determining what responses are practical and appropriate.

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department will consider providing funding for a short extension to the pier at Courtown, County Wexford, which continues to deteriorate, and in order to deal with ongoing silting problems at the harbour and the difficulties this creates for fishermen and other boat users; and if he will make a statement on the matter

- Mick Wallace.

 

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014.

REPLY

 

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: (Simon Coveney)

The Pier at Courtown, County Wexford is owned by Wexford County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the Local Authority in the first instance.

Under the Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme my Department has, in previous years, provided funding for the development and repair of Local Authority owned harbours, piers and slipways subject to the availability of exchequer funding.  Funding for this programme is allocated on an annual basis.

Under the 2013 Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme Wexford County Council received funding in the amount of €11,250 for repointing works at Courtown Harbour.

The allocation of funding within the 2014 Programme is currently under consideration. Any application for funding in 2014 or future years by Wexford County Council will be given consideration subject to available exchequer funding and overall national priorities.

That said I am also acutely aware of the ferocity of the recent storms combined with the exceptionally high tides which in combination have resulted in widespread damage to vital public infrastructure in various small local authority piers and harbours including Courtown.

I am working closely with my Ministerial colleagues in cabinet, in evaluating the overall extent of the damage, and in developing a co-ordinated response by relevant Local Authorities, Government Departments and Agencies to the damage that was wreaked on our coastal communities as a result of the exceptionally bad storms.

I have offered the services of my Department in this regard, and fully expect to have a prominent role in the Governments co-ordinated response to the situation.

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