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PQ - Agriculture

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he plans to take in relation to recent correspondence from the European Parliament Committee on Petitions regarding the 2009 report by the Ombudsman on the lost at sea scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 8th May, 2014.

REPLY

 

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

The Lost at Sea Scheme was introduced in June 2001 following consultation with fishing industry representative organisations. The closing date for receipt of applications was 31 December 2001.

 The sole purpose of the Scheme was to provide an opportunity to families, who lost a vessel between 1980 and 1990 to sustain or maintain a family tradition in sea-fishing. Successful applicants were awarded the capacity of the lost vessel in the form of gross tonnes and kilowatts.

As you know, the Ombudsman carried out an examination and investigation into the Lost at Sea Scheme following a complaint received. Her report into the investigation issued in 2008. The Ombudsman made a recommendation in 2009 to award compensation of €245,570 to the complainant.

Following careful consideration of the Ombudsman’s report, the Minister at the time decided that, in this case and in all the circumstances,there was no basis for payment in the amount proposed or any amount.

The Ombudsman exercised her right to submit a Special Report to this House and to the Seanad.

The Ombudsman’s Special Report has been debated in this House and in the Seanad, as well as having been analysed and considered in a series of meetings by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I have recently received correspondence from the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions and from the Committee of Petitions of the European Parliament.

I am in the process of reviewing the issues in full and will respond appropriately in due course.

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To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason the scheme of assistance for pot fishermen is capped at 50 pots for boats under 12 metres, rather than 100 pots as is the case for 12 to 15 metre boats in view of the fact that the vast majority of vessels affected by recent events are under 10 metres in length; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 26th March, 2014.

REPLY

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

We have had some exceptional storm events in the early part of this year and this has given rise to a greater loss of lobster/crab and shrimp pots than could reasonably be expected by inshore fishermen in normal winter months.  Even pots stored on quaysides were vulnerable to being swept away by these ferocious storms.  The Government recognised the hardship caused for many inshore fishermen faced with the cost of replacing this lost gear.  In response, I made available up to €1.5 million to assist inshore fishermen in replacing lobster/crab and shrimp pots lost or destroyed in the storms.  The Scheme now being implemented by Bord Iascaigh Mhara provides fixed payments equivalent to 40% of the cost of pot replacement.

As many pots were irrevocably lost, it is not possible to establish definitively the extent of losses by individual fishermen.  I am advised by BIM that with some exceptions, larger vessels will tend to fish more gear.  It was appropriate to recognise that larger vessels were thus more likely to have lost more gear and with a finite budget available for this scheme, to manage that budget in a way that made funds available to fishermen in approximate correlation to their losses.

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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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To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider increasing the number of staff in order to facilitate appropriate assessment for oyster farm licensing; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 12th December, 2013.

REPLY

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

The majority of areas for which oyster licences are sought are designated Special Areas of Conservation and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (Natura 2000 sites).

To ensure compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, all applications in ‘Natura 2000 areas’ are required to be appropriately assessed. This has required the putting in place of a significant work programme which has considerable time and resource implications. An additional factor is that all aquaculture applications now undergo Environmental Impact pre-screening assessment which requires significant input from my Department’s scientific and technical advisors. My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura 2000’ areas.  This data collection programme is substantially complete.  Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

It is expected that successful completion of the Appropriate Assessment process will facilitate a significant increase in the number of licence determinations.  In the region of 45 aquaculture licences have issued this year in respect of Castlemaine.  A number of licensing determinations in respect of Roaringwater Bay have been made and others are imminent at this time.

The Appropriate Assessment process represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue.  My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of all aquaculture applications having regard to the complexities of each case and the need to comply fully with all national and EU legislation. I am also satisfied that the resources available to my Department are sufficient to achieve this outcome.

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will publish the findings of the review conducted into Coillte initiated in 2010; his plans for the future of the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

 

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 12th December, 2013

REPLY

 

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

Coillte has been the subject of a number of reviews over the last number of years. The review of Coillte, to which the Deputy refers, is one which was undertaken on foot of a commitment in the previous Government’s Renewed Programme for Government.  It is not my intention to publish the outcome of that review, as that particular review exercise was superseded by the analysis undertaken on foot of the Government Decisions in 2012 in relation to the sale of state assets which encompassed Coillte.

This analysis, undertaken by NewERA, Coillte, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department, in relation to a proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights was quite extensive and formed the basis for the Government’s Decision in June of this year that it was not the appropriate time to proceed with the sale of harvesting rights and that the current focus must be on the restructuring of Coillte, overseen by NewERA and the relevant stakeholder Departments. I would like to stress that this particular analysis not only involved financial calculations associated with the sale process but also the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land, environmental and social impacts and consequential implications for the company.

My plans for the future of Coillte will be informed by the progress on the restructuring of the company.  As I mentioned, a restructuring of Coillte is currently being undertaken on foot of the Government Decision in June and the Government will consider all the options to maximise value from Coillte when the restructuring is complete at the end of next year.   Another factor to inform my plans for the company will be the outcome of the current analysis evaluating how to give effect to a beneficial merger of Coillte with Bord na Móna to create a streamlined and refocused commercial state company operating in the bio-energy and forestry sectors, as committed to in the Programme for Government.

As part of that exercise, NewERA is currently undertaking a financial evaluation on behalf of the relevant Government Departments, namely my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.  This financial evaluation is being finalised after which the Departments will consider its findings.  It is intended that a recommendation will be brought to Government on the matter shortly thereafter.

I am cognisant of the important role Coillte plays within the forestry sector.  Coillte, as the State forestry company, manages an estate of over 440,000 hectares, the bulk of which is under forestry.  It is currently the main supplier of sawlog to the timber processing sector.  Coillte Management, at its recent meeting with the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, gave a comprehensive overview of its activities, its performance in 2012 and its outlook for this year.

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