Tuesday 22 July 2008

The Irish fisherwoman surrounded by enemies

I was just about to gag on an article by Bruno Waterfield. In this article about the anti-Lisbon demonstrations in Ireland during the Sarkozian visit, he writes about a fisherwomen:
Her existence fishing the waters around the Aran Islands, like that of all Ireland's fishermen, is a day-to-day struggle with the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy and the powerful Irish bureaucrats that enforce it.

Cliona is the type of person that rational, democratic and progressive societies need. She is self-reliant, outspoken, committed and knowledgeable about her trade and passionate in the defence of its interest.

But her expertise and commitment, like that of people in many other walks of life, is now overridden by the technocrats and "experts" who impose the "we know best" rules and procedures of officialdom.

I was already melted in tears when I continued reading with a citation of this fisherwoman:
"We fish monk surrounded by French and Spanish boats. You are lucky to see one other Irish boat. We can not fish in our own waters," she told me. "But we do see a lot of the Irish Navy because it keeps busy intimidating Irish fishermen to enforce EU rules."

"Irish fishermen are the apex of an upside down pyramid that supports fisheries bureaucrats and inspectors who sit in their suits without a clue about what we do. If the Irish fishing industry disappears it is nothing to them. They are civil servants."

It is exactly this kind of antiquated nationalistic argumentation combining stupidities of "family tradition", the bad "Spanish/French/etc." fishers (who should have no right!!! to fish along the Irish shores), with this notion of evil technical "experts" that keep Europe and the rest of the world apart from solving our common problems.

That the fish stocks all over the European waters are so low that we have to fear the extinction of complete populations of fish can only be solved by "bureaucrats" who try to see the global picture instead of single sad stories mixed with political stupidities. But yes, Mr Waterfield, try to tell us something about a "rational, democratic and progressive society" that will never come as long as such kind of articles help to divide instead of finding common solutions: "Irish waters for Irish fisherwomen." is not progressive, democratic and not rational!

And that Lisbon (compared to Nice) does in no way change the situation of this lady is just another truth ignored in the article. ..


rz said...

you took the words out of my mouth! Just an hour ago I was reading Bruno Waterfields Blog post and wanted to write exactly the same things you wrote (only that my post would have included horrible spelling and bad grammar).

Anonymous said...

Hi Julien. Good blog.

You did not like the article - oh well. My view of the expertise of officials is probably less College of Bruges than Jarosalv Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejik.
My point about the CFP was to draw out some of its consequences on the Irish fishermen I had met. I thought they were fine people. Their tale is not so different to some of the French and Spanish fishermen who were protesting in Brussels last month.
The problem with the CFP is that it is a product of complex trade offs between national officials, countries like Ireland and the UK lost out as part of their respective later membership deals - the quotas are not allocated on equitable or environmental criteria.
The CFP is run for the administrative convenience of national officials who use their respective fishing industries as chips in negotiations sometimes unrelated to the profession. I have also spoken to many people who say the CFP has done little to preserve fish stocks.
This one of my criticisms of the EU: that it has become more about convenience for officials, inspectors and administrative experts (bean counters) than anything else. I think it is understandable that Irish fishermen get territorial about their waters if they feel the CFP is against them - other European fishermen are certainly the same in that regard.
I personally have no disagreement with economic planning across Europe's waters but it has to be more rooted in public debate and consent.
It also has to be more about the industry (I include the need to preserve fish stocks here) than bureaucratic trade offs, which can include entirely unrelated side talks on CAP and structural funds too.
I think that people need to be told the truth and taken with reforms, rather than being imposed upon - this has not been the case so far, in Ireland or elsewhere.
A formative experience in my life was the Miners Strike in the UK, nearly 25 years ago. Miners, where I come from in Kent, had dirty, dangerous jobs in a declining industry which had become a political football. Should those people just have been walked over, as they were (with the collusion of political parties and most of the trade unions)? I think not.
One of the dangers of the globalisation arguments much in vogue in EU circles is that it tends to assume a TINA (There Is No Alternative, the words were from a famous Thatcher speech) juggernaut approach which sometimes leaves little space for people who don’t fit the scheme.
Societies that criminalise people like Cliona Conneely (or the Kent miners 25 years ago) for sticking up fro themselves and their interests have a problem in my opinion – that was my point.

Julien Frisch said...

Dear Bruno,

thanks for reacting to my post.

Actually, your comment to this blog seems much more reasonable and logical than your original article. It presents arguments, not sentimental feelings.

I agree that the CFP is in many ways not a real solution but a problem in itself. I agree that it is rather the big industries that are the danger to fish stocks than those small fishermen and -women you were talking about. And I also agree that many EU experts - e.g. the College of Europe's "Brussels Mafia" :-) - and national administrators, for their personal convenience, rely more on backdoor package deals than on what would be a good and effective solution for the concrete problems they are dealing with.

The question is: Does your article highlight the points you bring forward here? Reading it, I did not have the feeling. I had the feeling that it plays with some vague emotions and uses a strange language to present the "argumentation", which in this case is just one side of the story.

And this explains, why I chose a rather harsh wording to react to your article. Nothing against simplification and personalisation of stories, but if the message gets lost along the road, this does not serve the goal of what you rightly ask for: A real public debate of what is good and true and possible.

But again, thanks for your reaction. This is the way we can get the debate to a higher level and make sense of what we are doing.

Best wishes, and... Read you later!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julien - I would tend to agree with your approach to Bruno's blog (sorry, Bruno!).

There is a trade-off I'm afraid between fisheries policies, farming policy and other economic and social policies that member states negotiate over. That's what we in Ireland understood when we joined the EEC in 1973. Our farming sector did spectacularly well out of the negotiations to the detriment of their rural neighbours on the Irish coast. That these negotiated outcomes led, along with the collapse of fish stocks, to the long-term decline of fishing as an industry was of little concern to Irish farmers at that time. These same farmers have much the same attitude to Irish manufacturing and service industries today with their passionate opposition to trade liberalisation in the WTO talks. Such trade-offs and their electoral consequences are a standard feature of irish national life, both domestically as well with respect to the EU.

With regards to the Irish fishing industry themselves, there are two things that are also worth remarking upon:

(a) Irish fishermen, when you listen to them, are in denial about the collapse of fish stocks. They are firmly of the belief that it is EU regulation that is strangling their industry and not their own unsustainable practices. The alarmist allegations that are made about the Irish navy criminalising them for over-fishing or for failing to maintain proper log-books is an expression of this self-delusion, and

(b) spokespersons for this industry have made the preposterous claim that membership of the EU has costs the Irish economy €60 billion in lost revenues from fishing and that Ireland would be much better off outside the EU, relying, like Iceland, on its fish stocks to survive in the world.

Such self-delusion and self-interest is endemic in Irish fishing and I'm afraid in Irish farming. It's part of the reason why metropolitan Ireland split 50/50 on the Lisbon Treaty and rural Ireland voted heavilly against it, thus contributing significantly to its defeat.

I'd worry less about the Molly Malone's of the Irish fishing industry and more about the economic well-being of our wider community.