Responding to the publically advertised announcement this week by BIM of the opening of a capital grant aid scheme which aims to improve technical, quality and environmental standards in the aquaculture industry, IFA Aquaculture executive, Richie Flynn, said the rules established by Minister Coveney’s department on potential applicants effectively rules out 95% of the industry from availing of the limited funds available.
The rules for grant aid insist that the applicant holds a “current licence” which is impossible to achieve at present, and also that the project be completed before the end of the calendar year, which is technically and practically unfeasible.
Mr Flynn said, “The prolonged and unnecessary delays in dealing with licences are within the control of the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food to resolve with the National Parks and Wildlife Services. The fact that they have not succeeded in issuing renewals to industry since 2007 is their fault. Now we have a situation where to avail of grant aid, the same Department are insisting on having an up to date licence, which is virtually impossible to achieve, from their colleagues in the same offices in Clonakilty. It makes a mockery of the grant aid system and exposes the insanity of holding back an industry which can provide vital jobs and exports for our coastal peripheral areas.”
“Our European competitors in the seafood sector have had access to funding since 2007 and have used that money to expand production and grow markets. In Ireland we have been mired in a bureaucratic argument between competing departments as to how to solve a problem created by inaction on the part of the government in the first place. The only victims here are those family businesses who struggle in tough weather conditions day in and day out around the coast yet get no recognition by way of service or interest from the authorities.”
“The industry is wondering if the Department is deliberately trying to set up a situation where they give themselves no choice but to give back their aquaculture budget to the Department of Finance for the third year in a row to make themselves look good. From the point of view of fish farmers, processors, customers, suppliers, consumers and industry watchers, it looks anything but good.“
Mr Flynn concluded, “Fish farmers are perfectly legally entitled to continue their businesses under the 2006 Maritime Jurisdiction Act which negates any need for a “current licence” for grant aid. Many producers have new and exciting ideas for environmental, marketing and production techniques which would benefit greatly from access to a small amount of capital funding which is transparent, flexible and most of all available. Minister Coveney must re-examine his own Departmentally-imposed restrictions, which are not required by EU rules, and give a boost to a sector which has serious demand for its products and a bright future ahead if domestically imposed obstacles are removed.”