By Michael O’Driscoll
It is worth remembering when vested intersts remind you yet again of the structural funds we received from the European Union what we ourselves as a nation have given to the EU. Namely, our entire fishing waters, which was the admission price for entry.
This is one of the most outrageous aspects of our membership of the European Union, the story of which is detailed in Booker and North’s Can the European Union Survive? The seas surrounding Britain and Ireland are among the world’s richest fishing waters. They belonged to the four applicant countries in the early seventies to the then European Community: Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. They amount to 90% of Europe’s fisheries. In the initial negotiations for membership, no mention was made of a common fisheries policy for the simple reason that one didn’t exist.
But in the months preceding the membership applications lawyers at the Council of Ministers were instructed to search for a legal basis in the Treaty of Rome for giving equal access rights to these waters to all member states. The Council’s lawyers made no less than six attempts to find a legal basis for such a policy in the articles of the Treaty. Article 38 1 is the only place that there is any reference to fish in the whole Treaty but Council lawyers were forced to conclude that strict exegesis showed that the article could “not cover anything outside the products of fishery and not fisheries themselves.” They made various further attempts to read a common access principle retrospectively into the Treaty’s articles without success.
Despite their lack of success, and the absence of any legal foundation, a regulation was drafted defining the “equal access” principle, which was made a condition for entry into the European Community. This gave equal access to all member states right up to the beaches. Ironically, during the same period, a United Nations conference had extended national control of fisheries to 200 miles, which meant that Britain and Ireland controlled 85pc of Europe’s fishery waters.
Ordinary citizens of applicant countries, consequently, were tricked into surrendering access to their own waters by unscrupulous persons within the Community, facilitated by these applicant countries’ own leaders. Members’ applications were viewed as an opportunity to replenish the fishing stocks of France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
It must be repeated that there was no legal foundation or requirement in the Treaty of Rome, the legal framework governing then EC policies, for the surrender of our fishery waters. The story of the machiavellian legal and political manoeuvres that were employed to bring about this deceptive continental coup only emerged from files released by the British Foreign Office in 2000, which detailed the secret instructions given to Council lawyers to search out a means for facilitating the appropriation of member states’ property.
Mr Brendan O Kelly tried to warn the Government of the consequences of surrendering our fishing waters on the terms offered in 1971. Diehard EU apologists I have debated with attempted to argue that our fishing industry was in a state of complete underdevelopment at that time, thus attempting to gloss over the enormity of the injustice committed. In fact though, this is basically a lie or misrepresentation. Mr Brendan O Kelly, former chairman and chief executive of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), presided over a total revamping of the industry, which was in fact going through somewhat of a boom at the time, as The Irish Times reported (30/12/95) in an overview of Mr O Kelly’s attempts to warn the Government of the consequences of surrendering our fishing waters, an immensely valuable and renewable natural resource, on such terms.
Mr O Kelly moved to BIM in 1962 and oversaw a rapid development in the industry, which involved signing protocols with Norway, Poland and France, granting finance in exchange for Irish vessels being constructed in their shipyards. During JFK’s visit an Irish-US marine research project was signed, and the Times adds that the British Journal could state by 1968 that Ireland was “turning to fisheries development with the zest that she once poured into politics. She is rediscovering her national wealth... and has just begun to understand how valuable her rich fishing waters could be.”
In an interview with The Sunday Press in November 1971, Mr O Kelly pointed out that the annual growth rate of Ireland’s fishing industry was greater than other EU countries and its value to GNP was on a par with three of the other applicant countries while exceeding the other two. Mr O Kelly, who was an advisor to Dr Patrick Hillery, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, was part of the delegation sent to Brussels to secure terms under the Common Fishery Policy. The night he arrived in Brussels he received a message from Dr Hillery informing him that he was not welcome on the delegation (as a result of his interview). He flew home the following morning. The terms secured were later roundly criticised in the Dail. But by then of course it was too late.