THE fishermen’s blockades of Cork and Waterford ports were called off yesterday after Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Brendan Smith agreed to meet the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) tomorrow. But the fishermen were quick to point out they have not called off their protest, just suspended that aspect of it.
Some of the men are adopting a different approach today by going on hunger strike outside the offices of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Clonakilty. Their protest is against rising fuel prices, low quotas and the strict enforcement of fishing regulations.
Calling for a relaxation rather than reform of the regulations would seem to suggest a kind of ad hoc nature to the protest, which went ahead without the endorsement of the FIF.
It is profoundly regrettable that business and industry in the Cork and Waterford areas lost money as a result of the blockade. This was unnecessary. People were already likely to empathise with their plight because the rise in fuel prices is hitting just about everyone.
Fishermen complain that regulations are being enforced with too much vigour in this small country, which has more than twice as many fishery protection officers as the combined total of France and Spain. The fishermen certainly deserve sympathy and support. They were encouraged to invest heavily in boats and new equipment and now they are being seriously hit by rising fuel prices and impractical bureaucratic regulations.
Last week the FIF staged a march on Leinster House to demand the price of fuel for fishermen should be subsidised, just as farmers and food producers have been subsidised. EU Fishery Commissioner Joe Borg has conceded that there is a crisis in the industry as a result of a 240% rise in the price of fuel since 2004.
Of course, the rise in energy costs is going to have an impact throughout the economy. It seems likely to have a greater effect than the oil shock of the 1970s. Rising fuel prices are squeezing the purchasing power of the consumer, which will have an inevitable impact on production and thus, jobs.
The rise marks a huge structural shift in the demand for oil in the global economy, especially in China and India. This is not just a temporary problem but a fundamental change.
The global demand for oil is expected to increase 50% by 2030, and EU dependence on imported oil is likely to increase by 14% to an overall 67% in that period.
Hence the European commissioners yesterday recognised the need both to save on energy and to diversify our sources of supply. Efforts must be made to increase energy efficiency in business and in the homes so that greater energy savings can be achieved.
The impact on vulnerable groups must be mitigated to adjust to a new market situation. Today, it is the fishermen; tomorrow, it could be almost everyone.
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