Fishing sector controlled by a body acting outside the law
WHEN it turns out that a law enforcement agency is using faulty or even illegal equipment, a major problem arises. How can the police force police when it acts outside the law itself?
Today the Irish Examiner reports that the Irish Fisheries Police body has been found to be using illegal equipment, which may date from the organization’s inception in 2007.
Inspections by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) of the weighing equipment used by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) found it to be “non-compliant” and “unsuitable for its intended use”.
Weighing equipment is needed to check whether trawlers are illegally fishing in excess of quotas or engaging in other types of fraud to disguise the true value of a catch. It can also be used by the SFPA in the prosecution of fishermen for fraud. However, it now turns out that the main tool used by the police force is not suitable for use.
This comes at a time when the fishing industry is already in crisis. On May 26, a flotilla of more than 50 vessels crossed the mouth of Cork Harbor to protest against fishing quota restrictions.
On June 23, a flotilla of over 100 ships did the same in Dublin. Brexit was a blow, but this year the fishermen received another: Brussels ended a derogation allowing the weighing of fish in factories. This will require the purchase of expensive weighing equipment to install at the docks.
The derogation ends because an EU audit determined that Irish fisheries controls were not fit for purpose and, as a result, fraud had been perpetrated, in particular by large operators.
The audit found that 33 files were sent to the DPP relating to suspected fraud over a four-year period, but none resulted in prosecution.
The result of the audit also means that quotas will be reduced and that up to â¬ 40 million in EU funding will be lost.
The role of SFPA is at the center of the issues. The industry blames all the farrago on SFPA’s internal problems and says any accusation of widespread fraud is baseless.
This year, the managing director of the Irish First Producers Organization, John Ward, told the Irish Examiner that the industry was “the meat in the sandwich” in a dispute between fishery officers and SFPA management.
âThere has only been one factory continued in recent years,â he said. “We have no idea what files went to the DPP.”
Meanwhile, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Navy and Minister Charlie McConalogue are engaging with Brussels in a bid to reach a resolution that will minimize the negative impact of the investigations on Irish fishing industry.
It was in this context that it was discovered that the weighing equipment used by the SFPA was deemed illegal. NSAI inspections, which were carried out last month, found that the equipment was never properly standardized and, therefore, was operating outside the law.
It would be the equivalent of An Garda SÃochÃ¡na suddenly revealing that his DNA detection equipment was so defective as to be illegal.
A communication sent by the NSAI to the senior management of the fisheries authority lists the instruments that have been inspected.
âAll weighing instruments were found to be non-compliant. The feedback from all of our inspectors was that the ski ladders you have at the various sites are not fit or fit for purpose as they cannot be leveled accurately.
âDuring our inspections, we determined that all of these instruments were not compliant when they were supplied to you, that is, they never completed their initial checks and this is required by the law before a trading instrument can be placed on the market and put into use. . “
The email says a forensic inspection will be carried out by September, by which time all instruments will need to be compliant or retired.
The results of the inspections suggest that, since its creation in 2007, the fishing industry police body has assessed catches and reported both to the department and to the EU the use of defective equipment. It also puts a new light on industry claims that the real problem is with the SFPA, rather than allegations of overfishing by fishermen in Irish waters.
Problems with the SFPA’s equipment were also not detected by the EU in its recent audit, which was very critical of the SFPA anyway.
Meanwhile, the ministry and the minister are negotiating with the EU in an attempt to minimize the fallout for the industry. Still, no one thought it would be a good idea to brief the Minister so that he would be equipped to deal with the matter and perhaps brief EU officials himself before they found out about it. other ways.
According to a spokesperson for the ministry, the minister is excluded from any involvement in operational matters concerning the SFPA.
“As a result, the SFPA did not provide information to the Minister regarding a recent NSAI report regarding weighing equipment.”
The answer is a cop. Of course, the minister does not deal with operational matters, but when a major problem arises which could have a direct impact on the negotiations that he and his officials are carrying out on behalf of the country, it is certainly essential that it be put. to the photo?
Instead, the EU, which has already lost patience with Ireland’s ability to control the fishery, is learning about the matter through the media. Does this help the minister and his officials get the best deal for the country?
SFPA’s problems run deep. In recent years, there have been at least two protected disclosures from staff regarding operational issues within the organization. Internal correspondence previously published by the Irish Examiner highlights a culture in which fishery officers believe that senior management does not support their efforts to properly control frontline fishing quotas.
Management has rejected such allegations, but the role of the police takes place in a context where some perceive that the national interest does not necessarily overlap with obligations to the EU.
Is it possible that some at the political or permanent level of government thought that it would be better for everyone to gently engage in the implementation of the Irish Trawler Act? If so, the EU’s response has shown that such an approach will not be tolerated.
The news that the SFPA is using illegal equipment is unlikely to cause Brussels to relax its approach to determining the price Ireland has to pay for its poor and ineffective fishing police.
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