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Gallagher set to be moved from Marine to Transport

By Shaun Connolly, Political correspondent
JUNIOR Minister at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Pat The Cope Gallagher is expected to be moved to the Department of Transport as controversy continues over proposals to toughen laws on commercial fishing.

The Donegal TD is expected to be switched in the long-awaited reshuffle prompted by Ivor Callely’s resignation before Christmas.

Mr Gallagher has been in the firing line over proposed laws which introduce criminal rather than administrative sanctions for over-fishing and other offences.

The Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill has caused serious concern to Fianna Fáil backbenches and strong opposition from Fine Gael and Labour TDs.

Cork TD Noel O’Flynn moved to defuse the row by proposing a compromise.

The chairman of the Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Committee called for a new clause allowing for sanctions to be reviewed at a later date.

Mr O’Flynn insisted the committee had won several concessions from the Government and this remained the outstanding cause of contention.

Many TDs are angry that minor offences will be dealt with by criminal punishment rather than administrative sanctions, which they say is the EU norm.

However, the Attorney General is believed to have advised the cabinet that the offences could only be dealt with within the criminal code, as otherwise the bill might be vulnerable.

The Communications Committee took the unprecedented step of seeking independent legal opinion and this differed from the Government’s advice.

Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey later amended his language to say administrative sanctions would be "unsuitable" rather than unconstitutional.

Mr Dempsey added to the row by saying a small number of fishermen have been involved in systematic criminal activity and sophisticated scams.

Mr Dempsey detailed two cases where "multi-million euro Irish trawlers" turned off or tampered with electronic systems to fish illegally or bypass quota restrictions.

Mr Dempsey said strong provisions are needed to tackle over-fishing and quota-busting by Irish vessels and to comply with a tougher fisheries protection regime at European level.

Mr Gallagher, who is also involved in a controversy over drift netting, earlier this week said his Government position was a matter for the Taoiseach and if his post changed it would not be connected with current controversies.