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Dáil Debate on Storm Damage 12/02/2014

Simon Coveney TD

 

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

 

Dail Statement

 

12th February 2014

 

 

Programme to repair publically owned fishery and aquaculture related piers, slips and infrastructure in harbours damaged by recent storm events.

Colleagues

  • The Irish coastline has, since December last been subject to a series of extreme storm events which has caused significant damage to the infrastructure of many of our harbours, piers and slips. At this point we are aware of damage to over 100 piers, harbours and slipways and other coastal infrastructure linked to fisheries and aquaculture. We are also acutely aware that there is a likelihood that these storms, the latest of which first hit the west coast early this morning, may continue over the next week or so causing further damage. The situation therefore continues to evolve.
  • I have been working closely with my Ministerial colleagues in cabinet, in evaluating the overall extent of the damage. My Department was represented on the National Coordination Group on Severe Weather, convened to assess the impact of the storms on infrastructure and communities and to ensure a co-ordinated response by relevant local authorities, Government Departments and Agencies.
  • While my Department has a key role to play in relation to the Governments response on damage to fishery and aquaculture related piers, harbours and slipways right around the coast the  Office of Public Works retains overall responsibility for the Government response in relation to coastal erosion, coastal defence and flood defence projects generally.
  • As you are aware most of the Harbours and Piers around the coast that have been adversely affected by the recent storms are owned by the relevant Local Authority and responsibility for their repair and maintenance rests with those Authorities in the first instance.  
  • That being said, I am acutely aware of the dependence a large proportion of the Irish fishing fleet, particularly our 1900 strong inshore fleet has on the network of Local Authority and Department owned piers and harbours around our coast.
  • My Department maintains the harbours in its direct ownership and has run a limited programme in recent years co-funding the repair and upgrade of Local Authority harbours linked to Fisheries & Aquaculture sectors.
  • I am delighted to say that, as part of it’s overall co-ordinated response to the impacts of the recent unprecedented weather conditions, the Government yesterday decided to allocate an additional €8.8m for the repair of our publically owned pier and harbour and slipway network linked to Fisheries and Aquaculture.
  • This is a significant amount of money given current economic circumstances and is a clear indication of this Governments commitment to rural coastal communities dependent on this infrastructure and the wider fishing sector
  • While it is difficult to be definitive at this stage, as I stated at the outset my engineers following extensive consultation with Local Authorities, currently estimate that there are just over 100 such projects where significant damage has been sustained across 9 counties.
  • In light of the additional funds now available, it is my intention to immediately broaden the remit of my Departments 2014 capital programme, to encompass to the greatest extent possible repair works on publically owned, fishery and aquaculture related piers, slips and infrastructure in harbours damaged by the storms.
  • With that in mind, I will be inviting Local Authorities in the coming days to follow up on their estimates of damage by applying for funding under this programme indicating their prioritised list of eligible projects on a county by county basis for consideration for funding for repair of the damage caused by the recent storms.
  • This funding will be focussed on infrastructural repairs to fisheries and aquaculture related harbours, piers and slipways. A number of other general criteria, similar to those attached to the previous scheme will continue to apply, however in the current circumstances I am removing the upper limit of €150,000 grant aid per project which has previously applied.
  • In addition to the funding to be provided to Local Authorities, my Department will be moving to repair storm damage to piers, harbours and coastal infrastructure in its direct ownership. This will include moving as quickly as possible to repair the significant storm damage to North Harbour in Cape Clear, to the Dunmore East Fishery Harbour Centre in County Waterford, to the Gun Rock Beacon in Inishbofin, County Mayo, West Cove Navigational beacon in County Kerry and Dooagh pier in County Mayo.
  • An evaluation committee will consider the eligibility of all applications submitted by Local Authorities and advise on the eligibility and priority of the projects submitted on the basis of overall priorities and the total budget available. I will then consider this overall submission and decide which projects are approved under this programme.
  • I will be keeping the situation under ongoing review and will be working closely with other Departments, Agencies and the Local Authorities to ensure that the damage to the fisheries and aquaculture related piers and harbours infrastructure is addressed in an effective and efficient manner, as quickly as possible bearing in mind the total level of funds available.
  • I hope that this quick response from Government will address the storm damage to this vital public infrastructure and limit the damage to the local economy.
  • In addition to the damage caused to piers, harbours and coastal infrastructure, Bord Iascaigh Mhara has advised me that there have been consistent reports from around the coast to their local officers of loss or destruction of lobster and shrimp pots during the extreme winter storm events. 
  • While I am aware that some loss of pots is normal at this time of year, I believe that the scale of losses this year is exceptional.  I understand that pots deployed in shallower waters have been most affected, but what perhaps makes this year more exceptional has been the loss of pots stored on quaysides, which would normally be considered secure from winter storm damage.  Reports indicate that many pots were washed off piers by the ferocity of waves and either destroyed or swept out to sea. 
  • The pot fishermen affected by these losses are small scale coastal fishermen.  The vast majority of vessels are under 10 metres in length and many are open or just half decked vessels.  In many cases they are crewed by the owner or perhaps one other crew member.  These fishermen primarily fish lobster, crab and other shellfish. 
  • With the loss of pots, these fishermen’s means of making a living is severely threatened.  If they cannot replace their lost pots and return to fishing, they risk being added to the long term unemployed.
  • In considering assistance to these pot fishermen for their losses, I am conscious that it is not possible to obtain insurance to cover loss of pots.  So, I am happy to announce today a temporary, one-off scheme of assistance to these pot fishermen for the replacement of lobster and shrimp pots lost or destroyed in the recent extreme storm events. 
  • The Scheme is focussed on smaller inshore fishermen and will be limited to vessels under 15 metres and will be administered by BIM.  It will provide a set amount of €24 per lost lobster pot lost and €12 per lost shrimp pot.  These amounts represent circa 40% of the cost of replacement of such gear.
  • While I am conscious that some pot fishermen have reported losing several hundred pots, I believe those are exceptional cases.  I am therefore capping the number of replacement pots at 50 for under 12 metre vessels and 100 for under 15 metre vessels.  So a fisherman who has lost 100 pots at a replacement cost of approximately €6,000 will receive assistance of €2,400.
  • Fishermen availing of this scheme will be required to provide certain evidence to BIM to show that they were actively pot fishing in the months before the storms and evidence of purchase of the pots that were lost.  In addition, they will be required to make a sworn declaration concerning their losses.
  • I am setting aside a maximum budget within my Department for this scheme of €1.5 million, to be borne by the existing Vote of my Department.  No additional funding will be made available, so I would stress that should applications exceed this budget, the rate of assistance will be reduced, either in terms of the amount of payment per pot or in terms of the maximum number of pots.
  • Further details of this Scheme will be made available from BIM shortly.
  • I think that Deputies will see that with this response of total funding of €8.8m to address damage to piers harbours and slipways linked to fisheries and aquaculture and further funding of up to €1.5m for assistance to the inshore sector towards the cost of purchasing replacement pots to replace pots damaged by the storms the Government is taking very significant steps to address the impact of the storms in these specific areas.

Date Released: 17 February 2014