EU Commission refuses fishermen sight of contentious report
Fishermen are demanding sight of a control audit report which allegedly makes a range of damaging allegations against the sector but to which they have been denied access for more than three years.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) CEO, Seán O’Donoghue said the Commission is playing the role of judge and jury, with the fishing industry being refused the basic right to establish what it might stand accused of.
“Natural justice assumes an absence of bias and the right to a fair hearing but for Irish fishermen, it would appear that this is a bridge too far. This is borne out in the European Commission’s sustained refusals to release findings of an audit around fishing practices which concluded in 2018 and subsequently formed the basis of a new investigation into the sector.
“Since we’ve never seen the actual audit report nor the investigation’s findings, we’ve only learned anecdotally that it found Ireland lacked a weighing system fit for purpose and permission for all fish to be weighed in factories was duly removed earlier this year. The only information fishermen have is coming from media reports and political utterances which hint at all sorts of horrific punishments coming down the track in the form of slashed quotas and massive fines.
“Our inability to be able to defend ourselves is already having a huge impact. The removal of the weighing permits in the factories last April was, according to the Commission, based on the findings of these reports. Fish must now be weighed at the point of landing which is wholly unworkable and having a detrimental effect on product quality, markets and operational efficiency.
“We met with the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevi?ius in Killybegs in September. To the fore on our agenda was to formally establish what both the audit and the three-year inquiry have uncovered to date. Mr Sinkevi?ius claimed the inquiry was ongoing with the Irish authorities and much to our amazement, he said he wasn’t aware that industry has been refused access to the information,” said Mr O’Donoghue.
“The old adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is being applied in reverse here. It’s high time for the Commission to play fair with Irish fishermen and give our much-maligned industry a chance to defend itself in order to work together to ensure fairness, sustainability, transparency and a seascape which gives those employed therein an opportunity to make a viable living in a post-Brexit world. This Kafkaesque charade in which we find ourselves, belies the very Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which states clearly that the presumption of innocence should be respected. Unfortunately the experience of Irish fishermen has been a very different one,” he concluded.