Unless the backlog of 600 licence applications is tackled, combined with a radical reform of state regulation, It will not be possible to meet the aquaculture targets set out in the national Seafood Operational Programme announced this week by Minister Coveney in agreement with the European Commission.
IFA Aquaculture Executive Richie Flynn, said that the Seafood Programme must be welcomed in principle and pointed out that IFA and the Government have worked very hard to get a share of funding for the sector for the next five years. “However, the record shows there are more licence applications awaiting decision in the Department offices in Clonakilty now than when Minister Coveney took office. Unfortunately because of the Department’s own rules, applicants awaiting renewals of their licences for many years are locked out of environmental, development, innovation and the organic production state aids as well as being disqualified for any assistance in the event of disasters such as algal blooms.”
Mr Flynn continued, “Unfortunately, this is a continuation of a situation our members have had to endure under the previous Operational Programme. We have a regime of widespread geographical and sectoral discrimination in Ireland where, on a completely arbitrary basis, your farm site or the species you produce dictates your state aid eligibility solely at the whim of whatever government resources are engaged to deal with regulatory licence requirements.
“In the rest of Europe, our competitors have direct access to EU and governmental aid to help drive the “Blue Economy” agenda and assist in creating jobs and exports in coastal regions. The Irish State’s obsession with unnecessary bureaucracy, the deadweight of inertia at the heart of any attempt to reform the system and the incredibly complicated hoops the Department makes small and micro enterprises jump through to get licences has put us right at the back of the international queue once again. Seafood is the single most internationally traded commodity and Ireland exports over three quarters of all the fish we produce.”
IFA’s position is that Minister Coveney must commit to spending every cent of the €30 million earmarked for aquaculture development within the first two years of the programme and add whatever additional funds are required from the exchequer for each subsequent year to make up for the serious ground lost by industry due to his Department’s failure to tackle the licencing problem.
“The Minister must also commit to levelling the playing field by way of a root and branch clear-out of the deadwood and unnecessary bureaucracy which has stalled the processing of licences. The industry is asking him for the simple commitment to improve the situation by providing a centralised one stop shop to co-ordinate applications and for a vastly improved level of customer service to create the necessary confidence and transparency required to build a world class industry.” Said Mr Flynn.