In my earlier article about the disaster area that is the Irish Fishing industry I outlined Round One of my unsuccessful efforts to save from scrappage a small fleet of Irish fishing trawlers. An even more deplorable Round Two has since occurred. Before describing it it is necessary to recap on Round One:
Instead of breaking up the boats under an EU funded scheme which I felt was wrong both in terms of waste and carbon foot print, I advocated sending them to Sierra Leone, of blood diamond infamy, where I have contacts and knew that there were rich fishing grounds, but no boats, and ghastly poverty. So I reasoned: Teach a man to fish and you feed a family etc.
Local EU officials and, importantly, the representative of the World Food and Agriculture Organization in Sierra Leone, welcomed the idea and in October last I approached Eamon O’ Cuiv, Minister for Community and Rural Affairs and the Gaeltacht, and Chairman of the National Irish Famine Committee, of which I am a member, to see if we could rescue the boats, both as a tangible famine gesture, and to show that our hearts were still in the right place, even if our Aid programs were being cut back because of recession.
He also seemed to welcome the idea and foresaw no great difficulty in solving the one problem I raised, the possibility that there might be EU resistance to the initiative. However nothing happened for three months. Then, after repeated promptings by me, O’Cuiv’s secretary sent me, in late January, a copy of a note he had received from Brendan Smith, the Minister for Agriculture ( The matter did not as one might expect come under the purview of the Department of the Marine).
It thanked the Minister for his “representations on behalf of Tim Pat Coogan concerning decommissioned fishing trawlers.” Of course the representations were not intended to be made on my behalf, but as a National Famine Commemoration gesture to the poor of Sierra Leone. But after further prompting from me O0Cuiv wrote again to the Minister for Agriculture and in mid-March O’Cuiv forwarded to me a copy of another Smith letter to him.
It again thanked O’Cuiv for his representations on my behalf and promised to be in touch shortly. Nothing else.
I began to suspect that all this “send the fool further” correspondence had one object in view: To shut me up while the scrappage scheme went ahead. Somebody, somewhere, who was un-likely to be hostile to Fianna Fail, had obtained a contract for the boats’ destruction. And so it proved. After I had raised the matter yet again at a meeting of the National Famine Committee, a helpful senior official at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who is also on the Committee, undertook to investigate the matter.
Using such new-fangled inventions as the telephone, the internet, and outlandish methods such as drive and initiative, he was able to inform me within one day, on March 13th, that the last of the boats was at that moment being broken up.
Sorry about that Sierra Leone.
But worse was to emerge. Late the following month, on my birthday, April 22nd. O’Cuiv sent me the Minister for Agriculture’s final letter on the matter. It is a classic of its kind and deserves to be quoted in full. By rights it should be read by the light of an oil lamp. But even in the glare of an electric light bulb it conveys a sense of the arrogance, inertia and lack of initiative that characterizes the present Irish government’s efforts to deal with the larger crises of our time: It says:
Your recent correspondence regarding Mr. Tim Pat Coogan’s suggestion regarding decommissioned fishing boats refers:
Under Council Regulation (EC) 1198/2006 the permanent cessation of fishing activities of a fishing vessel may be achieved only by :
a) the scrapping of the fishing vessel:
n) its reassignment, under the flag of a member State and registered in the Community for activities outside fishing;
& its reassignment for the creation of artificial reefs.
Unfortunately it would therefore not be possible, under current regulations to donate these vessels to countries outside the EU for fishing or any other activities.
I am sorry I can not be of any further assistance on this occasion.
The glaring fact that the boats had been destroyed over the previous se ven wasted months is not even mentioned. But what the letter does make clear is the fact that had any political will existed any Irish official in Brussels worth his salt could have used b) above to get the trawlers designated for educational purposes rather than fishing. if instructed to do so. And of course all the foregoing information could have been supplied within a few days of my original request in October, when the trawlers were still in existence.
With evidence of such inefficiency amongst high level decision-takers it is no wonder that the present government has not even shown itself equal to the task of re-locating sufficient civil servants to pay State benefits to the ever swelling number of unfortunates on the dole queues. Some of these have been waiting for over four months for their pittances.