Irish fishermen face double Brexit whammy as EU funding deadline looms

Fleet required to cut its quotas by 15pc by 2025 faces year-end deadline to claim funds

Tight deadlines, a lack of labor and materials shortages are putting at risk hundreds of millions of euros worth of funding from Brussels that MEP Billy Kelleher said is crucial to keep coastal communities afloat.

All the plans are in. Everything is done. It’s just the inability to draw down,” Mr Kelleher said of the EU funding.

“Brexit hasn’t gone away. The impact of it hasn’t gone away. So I mean it would be a shame to forfeit funding that could ameliorate or reduce the impact of Brexit in certain communities.”

Mr Kelleher said Ireland’s coastal fishing communities need at least another six months – until next summer – to draw down promised EU aid.

Some deadlines for drawing down money fall as early as this September.

The money in question comes from the EU’s Brexit adjustment reserve, a €5bn pot of money, of which more than €1bn went to Ireland.

The funding can cover any Brexit-related expenses since January 2020, and must be drawn down by the end of this year.

But each scheme requires EU state aid approval before it can start, and many fishing businesses can’t get projects off the ground quickly enough.

The money can cover anything from the decommissioning of fishing vessels – as of March this year, 42 vessels were approved for the scheme – to new equipment for former fishing companies who want to switch to tourism.

“A lot of those [applications] weren’t for changing technologies or just changing their systems of how they do business in the UK. A lot of these were fundamentally about changing their business themselves,” Mr Kelleher said.

We’re talking about giving people a chance. Very often, it’s very difficult to do certain projects over the winter months.”

The 2021 Brexit trade deal – which cut the EU’s total share in UK waters by a quarter – required the Irish fishing fleet to cut its quotas by 15pc by 2025 at a cost of €43m per year, making it one of the hardest hits in the bloc.

The bulk of the cuts fell in 2021, but many have yet to be phased in.

“The Brexit impacts are really coming home to roost on a regressive basis,” said Aodh O’Donnell, Chief Executive of the Irish Fish Producers Association

“Every year, vessels have less time at sea. They have less quotas to catch. And the whole viability and resilience of the fleet and the onshore processing is tested as a result of that.

“It’s really important that EU funding is paid out in full and that, if necessary, an extension is secured.”

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said €389m has been allocated to various departments over the last two budgets, with around €253m going to the Department of Agriculture for fisheries.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue last week unveiled four government schemes for “pelagic” stocks such as mackerel, scallop fisheries and fish processors, which are the final four schemes recommended by a Brexit task force back in 2021.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo