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Tie-Up scheme possible after all, says Allister

11 March 2006

DUP MEP Jim Allister has announced a dramatic turn-around in the prospects of “Tie-up Aid” for Ulster’s hard-pressed fishermen.

At present under the aegis of the Cod Recovery Scheme for the Irish Sea fisherman are banned from fishing during an 11 week spring closure period, which started in mid February. This is the seventh successive year of the closure.  It has cost local fishermen dearly over the years, being deprived of income while their overheads continue.  In 2004 and 2005 some relief was secured when DARD paid out special aid under an EU approved tie-up scheme. However, this year the Minister, Lord Rooker, said no aid was possible because it would breach the relevant EU Regulation.  In a letter to Mr Allister on 20th January, he maintained that the aid was only permissible for two years maximum.

Being dissatisfied with the Minister’s interpretation of the EU provisions, the MEP and QC took the matter up directly with EU Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg.  His response, just received, has left DARD red-faced but rekindled hope among fishermen.  Contrary to Lord Rooker’s assertions Commissioner Borg writes, “I am pleased to inform you that FIFG funds are still available for co-financing such a scheme in 2006.”  The Commissioner explains that in 2004 and 2005 the total period of compensation was only 5 months and since Council Regulation 2792/1999 allows compensation up to a 12 month total, this can in fact be spread over several years, with 7 months of compensation still available.

Commenting Mr Allister said, “While I am delighted that the possibility of further aid does exist I am appalled that DARD got it so wrong.  Left to themselves DARD and the Minister were hiding behind an EU Regulation which it now seems they failed to understand.  Considering this is the same Department that is negotiating with Brussels on key issues affecting the agricultural industry (Nitrates Directive etc), it hardly fills you with confidence to find on this issue, which is so vital to our fishing sector, that they were, at best, out of their depth.  I trust there was not some ploy at work to try and blame Brussels so as to avoid having to find the money necessary to pay out this deserving aid.

In addition to a credible explanation, I am now calling on Lord Rooker to commit to paying this aid forthwith.  The sector needs it; Brussels says they can have it, only a churlish Department would not now pay it out.”

Below, find the text of the letters from Lord Rooker and Commissioner Borg, and a link to view them in PDF format.

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your letter of 5 January in which you requested that I respond positively to a further “Tie-Up” Aid scheme for the Northern Ireland Fishing Industry.

The Transitional Aid (Tie-Up) Schemes of 2004 and 2005 were intended to provide assistance to the industry to allow them to adapt to changing fishing opportunities.  They were developed within the framework of European regulations governing the awarding of structural funds and state aid for fisheries, and approved by the European Commission. The particular provisions governing the Schemes only allow payments for such temporary cessations to be made for a maximum of two years. There is no leeway to open such a Scheme for a third year.

I fully appreciate the economic difficulties faced by the NI whitefish fleet and the additional pressures faced as a result of the spring cod spawning closure in the Irish Sea, and my officials will continue to work with the industry to develop long-term solutions to the problems it is facing.

Jeff Rooker

Dear Mr Allister,

With regard to your letter of 31 January 2006 concerning the possibility of applying a tie-up scheme for one more year in the context of the temporary closure for cod in the Irish Sea, I am pleased to inform you that FIFG funds are still available for co-financing such a scheme in 2006.

In fact, the vessels which ceased fishing activities during the closure of the Irish Sea from 14 February to 30 April in 2004 and 2005 were partially compensated by a tie-up scheme co-financed by FIFG. The total period of closure and thus compensation over the two year period amounts to five months.

Council Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999, article 16 (1) c) does not exclude the possibility whereby the limit of compensation of one year is divided in periods of a shorter duration over several years. Furthermore, as the financial contribution does not exceed the thresholds in paragraph 3 of 1 million euros or 4% of the Community financial assistance allocated to the sector in the Member State concerned, it is not necessary to obtain approval of the scheme from the Commission.

Yours sincerely,
Joe Borg

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