The KFO has lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman against the Commission for its failure to grant access to a 2018 control audit report.
The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation are also complaining about a subsequent administrative inquiry which allegedly made a range of damaging allegations against the sector.
CEO, Seán O’Donoghue said: “The Commission has denied the industry sight of the report’s findings for almost four years now which contravenes its own ‘access regulations’.
“More importantly if published and industry was given a chance to defend itself, the wholly farcical, unjustified and unnecessary conflict on the pier since March 7th could have been avoided.”
This culminated with foreign vessels refusing to have their catch damaged due to dewatering and instead departing Killybegs without off-loading last week.
Mr. O’Donoghue said: “What has happened in Killybegs of late shouldn’t have happened, in light of a High Court judgement handed down on June 4th of last year.
“Back then, Justice Garrett Simons stated clearly that the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority had acted outside its legal powers by continuing to withhold approval for the pier-side weighing facility at Killybegs Port by reference to the ‘ownership’ concerns raised by the European Commission.
The judgement stated: ‘there is no legal basis for these concerns and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has not sought to argue otherwise.’
The interim control plan agreed by the Minister and SFPA with the Commission in late December 2021 has still the offending clause in terms of ownership which the High Court found was ultra vires.
Mr. O’Donoghue added: “The scales, which we installed in good faith at a direct cost of almost €500,000 and approved by SPFA as well as certified by the NSAI, should have been used to weigh the catch on the Danish and Norwegian vessels, preventing the ridiculous and ultimately costly situation which duly prevailed.
“However the now infamous report of 2018 ties everything together and is at the root of the debacle since we’ve only learned anecdotally that it found Ireland lacked a weighing system fit for purpose and the SFPA was deficient in its control functions.
“The removal of the weighing permits in the factories last April was, according to the Commission, based on the findings of these reports and should have been challenged by both the Minister and the SFPA. The KFO requested both parties to do so but to no avail.”
He continued: “I’m formally calling on our Minister and the SFPA to do right by the fishing industry and stand up for our rights here and abide by the High Court judgement.
“It’s never too late to admit to a mistake – albeit a grave one. By putting this issue on the table of the European Ombudsman, it’s our hope that the issue will be dealt with in a swift, fair and transparent manner.
“The old adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is being applied in reverse here. It’s high time for the Commission to play fair with Irish fishermen and give our much-maligned industry a chance to defend itself in order to work together to ensure fairness, sustainability, transparency and a seascape which gives those employed therein an opportunity to make a viable living in a post-Brexit world.
“This Kafkaesque charade in which we find ourselves, belies the very Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which states clearly that the presumption of innocence should be respected. Unfortunately the experience of Irish fishermen has been a very different one,” concluded Mr. O’Donoghue.