Fishermen are reeling over an “ill-timed” penalty points scheme, signed into law last week, despite previous commitments to engage with the sector before rolling out the new EU fishing rules.
The new laws, which will provide the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) with powers to apply penalty points against licenced fishing vessels for serious infringements of the European Common Fisheries Policy, were signed into law by the Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week.
The Taoiseach is currently filling the mi nister for a griculture and marine brief pending the appointment o f a replacement for Dara Calleary, who resigned over the Golfgate controversy.
On Monday, the fishing industry said the new rules were contrary to Irish law and could not have come at a worse time, given the many challenges already facing the sector.
“This was challenged in the courts and the courts deemed it to be unlawful, in breach of fair procedures, and unconstitutional,” Mr Murphy said.
“This, as far as we’re concerned, hasn’t changed that much and will be defeated in the courts again. There are not enough changes to it,” he said, adding the organisation intended to seek legal advice on the new penalty point laws.
The sector, Mr Murphy said, was not opposed to the principle of penalty points but took issue with how the scheme would be implemented and enforced by the SFPA, without the right to challenge points or the courts having the power to quash points. “This is giving powers to an agency outside of the courts system to adjudicate and prosecute fishermen,” he said.
Fishermen, he said, were also concerned that penalty points will be attached to the vessel and business operation rather than to an individual.
The sector, Mr Murphy said, was already under pressure due to the impact of bad weather earlier in the year, the impact of Covid-19 on the fish market and halving of incomes, and the possibility of losing fishing grounds next year should a no-deal Brexit transpire.
Chief executive of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation Séan O’Donoghue echoed Mr Murphy’s concerns on RTÉ radio on Monday, telling that fishermen were concerned about the inability to challenge penalty points under the new scheme. In other countries, where penalty points were in operation, there was an option to challenge the imposition of points “using lesser forms of proof”, he said.
Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn called on the Taoiseach to clarify why he signed off on the legislation last week without consulting with the industry, describing the move as “deeply disturbing”.