A total of €37m in EU funding is at risk of being lost because of the failure of the Government to legislate for a penalty points system for serious breaches of fisheries rules by the masters and owners of Irish-registered vessels.
Briefing documents for the Minister for Agriculture, Dara Calleary, show officials are concerned that Ireland could lose all the available funding from Brussels towards the cost of control and enforcement of the Common Fisheries Policy because of delays in introducing a points system required by EU legislation.
EU member states were obliged to have a points system in place since 2012.
The European Commission has suspended payment of its co-funding share on the issue which currently stands at €10m and is set to rise to €27m by the end of 2020.
“If the matter is not resolved, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, will lose the entire €37m EU contribution to the programme’s investment in control and enforcement,” officials warned.
Earlier this month, the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Ireland over its non-compliance with the establishment of point system rules for Ireland’s shipping fleet of around 2,000 vessels.
“The Commission considers that Ireland has not established a system that assigns an appropriate number of points to masters of fishing vessels who commit serious violations of the common fisheries policy rules,” it stated.
Ireland has three months to respond to the reasoned opinion, which is the penultimate step in the infringement process before the European Commission refers non-compliance issues to the Court of Justice of the EU which has the power to issue large lump-sum penalties and daily fines.
In March 2018, the then-Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, signed legislation to give effect to a points system but it was subsequently annulled by the Dáil two months later following opposition by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.
Department officials have advised Mr Calleary that the required changes must be implemented via primary legislation as the EU regulations do not provide sufficient policies and principles to allow direct applicability.
Documents said the issue has arisen from “difficulties a minority Government has faced in putting in place the necessary legal and administrative systems for implementation of the EU Points System for infringements of the CFP.”
The Department of Agriculture said it was working closely with the Attorney General’s office to draft the necessary legislation to resolve the issue.