By Harry McGee, Political Editor
PAT ‘The Cope’ Gallagher is likely to be transferred from the Marine Ministry as a result of an escalating row within Fianna Fáil over new Sea Fisheries legislation.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will name the long-awaited replacement for deposed junior minister Ivor Callely at the weekly Cabinet meeting today. Sean Haughey, the son of the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, has been widely tipped for promotion.
There were strong indications last night that Mr Ahern will also take the opportunity to transfer Mr Gallagher from his present ‘super-junior’ portfolio, possibly to the Department of Transport.
The move will have been prompted by worsening relations between Mr Gallagher and his senior minister, Noel Dempsey, over the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill currently being debated in the Oireachtas.
Mr Dempsey has insisted that the new legislation needs to have powerful deterrent measures to prevent over-fishing, quota-busting and other breaches of EU common fisheries policies in Irish waters. Last week, he asserted that there was systemic criminality and ‘sophisticated scams’ taking place among a section of the Irish fishing fleet.
There have been some high profile seizures in recent months amid allegations of radar equipment being tampered with, of large Irish trawlers entering closed fishing areas, and of boats landing catches that far exceeded their quota.
According to one authoritative source, the breaches are not minor or technical but involve illegal or unauthorised catches worth millions of euro.
The latest incident happened this weekend when two vessels based at Castletownbere were seized by fisheries officers in Rossaveal, Co Galway over alleged over-quota landings.
The extent of the rift between the two ministers was also illustrated with the disclosure that Mr Dempsey will this week attend Dáil Committee hearings on the fisheries legislation in place of Mr Gallagher who would normally be expected to take the Bill at committee stage. Mr Dempsey will also attend the EU Fisheries Council meeting for the first time next week - Mr Gallagher would normally be the minister who would attend.
There were also some speculation last night that the Marine portfolio may be transferred to Agriculture as part of a wider review. The sea ports and harbours responsibilities have already been moved to the Department of Transport.
Mr Dempsey has argued that strong legislation is necessary to guard against threatened action by the EU Fisheries Commission for failing to adequately control sea fisheries policies.
Members of the Dáil Committee on the Marine, including FF backbenchers Denis O’Donovan and Noel O’Flynn, have challenged some aspects of the bill on the basis that it is too draconian and will criminalise small fishermen for small and technical breaches. They have called for administrative rather than criminal sanctions.
But Mr Dempsey has insisted that such strong deterrents are needed. He has pointed to the record e20m fine imposed against France for allowing continuing infringements.