Wednesday 28 June 2017 04:58:35 PM

Sinn Féin To Raise Single Boat Payment With EU Commissioner’s Office
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Downpatrick Sinn Féin election candidate Naomi Bailie this week hosted a breakfast engagement in Ardglass in Burford Lodge with local fishing representatives.

Sinn Féin’s MEP Martina Anderson attended the event and heard first hand the difficulties the industry are currently experiencing and will now meet with a representative of the EU Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner in Brussels to raise these issues at the highest level.

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, second left, Chris Hazzard MLA and local council candidate Naomi Bailie pictured with County Down boat owners Brian Cunningham (Kilkeel) and Stephen Kearney (Ardglass).

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, second left, Chris Hazzard MLA and local council candidate Naomi Bailie pictured with County Down boat owners Brian Cunningham (Kilkeel) and Stephen Kearney (Ardglass).

Ms Bailie said: “The issues we discussed at this latest meeting included the financial pressures placed on families by EU regulations and the inconsistencies in conditions of employment between locals and foreign crew which deters younger members from carrying on the family tradition. The local industry is declining rapidly and action must be taken to turn things around now. In the last few weeks alone, Ardglass has lost six skippers to competing industries, resulting in boats being tied up and further decline across the sector.”

Ms Anderson said: “In recent months I have had a number of engagements with the fishing community in Ardglass. I have much sympathy with their concerns about the deterioration of conditions in the sector. They frequently are faced with long lay offs for sometimes months in the winter due to bad weather and their families suffer.

“I met with senior permanent EU staff (Commissioner Commandant) on Wednesday 2 April to discuss the issue of a Single Boat  Payment (SBP) for hardship allowances. I realise that this is an issue that will take some time to resolve but myself and my party are up for the task.  It will involve change in the Common Fisheries Policy.

“As the debate of an SBP has not yet begun in Europe, I will need to present a robust competent argument and require the full support of the industry to get it on the agenda.

“I will therefore have started this process when I met with Andras Inotai from the cabinet of Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki in Brussels.

“I will be pressing on support for the fishing industry particularly in the context of the North of Ireland. I will highlight the challenges that exist for the fishing community in Ireland and the pressures fishermen face in the current climate especially in the context of certain EU regulations.”

South Down MLA Chris Hazzard commented that Martina Anderson’s visit to Ardglass this week is her eighth appearance in South Down over the last few months saying:  “That shows a clear commitment by Martina and by Sinn Féin to ensure that Europe starts working and delivering for our local communities.”

Speaking at the meeting, Ardglass boat owner Stephen Kearney said: “The industry needs to be sustainable for fishermen and boat owners. There is a lot of frustration and dejection at the moment. Families and relationships are under pressure.

“I have been fighting for improvements in the industry for six years. This past two weeks skippers leaving at an unprecendented rate. They have been hampered by serious loss of earnings for crews as well as owners. There are 33 boats in Ardglass and there is real pressure on families. Depression and separation is and  cold and hunger are real issues that families have to live with. I understand that the NI Executive is only helping us out this year with a hardship payment. The future is now more uncertain.

And Kilkeel boat owner Brian Cunningham said: “Some bigger boats have stewardship duties in Kilkeel and they are surviving because of this but the U-10 metre prawn boats have big problems. The by-catch is below 1 1/2 % set by the EU, and we meet the technical conservation measures on square mesh panels and cod end adjustments. But there has been little concession from EU to us. We are just being squeezed constantly and are hampered by the quota allocation. I had to spend £80,000 to fish my U-10 metre boat. Currently no quota is allocated to this small U-10 metre trawler  sector and we have to by quota to fish.”

The fishermen also explained they were unhappy with the prawn prices they receive at times due to market factors and face extra limitations due to the new Marine Conservation Zone introduced recently. Many of the older boats have accrued considerable debts and it is now difficult for them to be cleared. Some fishermen are hoping for the introduction of a decommissioning scheme.

They added that the Northern Ireland fleet needed modernising and that to attract young fishermen and skippers into the industry the old wooden boats, some say the oldest ones in Ireland, would need to be scrapped.