In our literature review we discussed some of the policies and legislation that have been put in place in Ireland, based on both national and international guidelines.
We were interested to understand how these affect our communities in West Cork – how informed are people about the guidelines, what do they think of them, and what effect do they have on everyday life? Is there room for improvement in the approaches legislators and policy-makers take when trying to deal with mounting anthropogenic and ecological issues?
Decline in Young Population and Industry
All the locals we spoke to told us that a strong sense of community is an extremely important aspect of life on the West Cork coast. A current trend is that young people are leaving to go to Australia and other countries in search of work, and according to Paula Ní Ríogáin ‘that is what is killing the coastal communities’. When asked what the root cause is, she says she believes it is because there is ‘no indigenous industry that’s being supported’.
Decline in Marine
There is a deep sense that the marine has been neglected by successive governments. Artist Angie Shanahan says
In Ireland, as an island nation, it was often said we turned our backs to the oceans.
Tourism expert Paula Ní Ríogáin remarks ‘It’s scandalous that we don’t have a standalone department for the marine’.
Pat Con Ó Driscéoil laments the decline of the fishing industry and the effect that legislation has had on local fishermen like himself. Talking specifically about salmon fishing he explains that in the past it was ‘great for coastal communities, it was simple’.
From his perspective, a key issue is that to comply with all the regulations he must ‘spend all this money to bring her [his boat] up to the level’ something which he describes as ‘impossible’.
Local Communities and Policies/Legislation
Local communities feel that policies and legislation have been introduced with little regard for the communities they affect directly. The disparity between large industries, and the individual fishermen is not addressed by one-size-fits-all policies.
Paula Ní Ríogáin is adamant that ‘the focus needs to come onto artisanal fishing and smaller boats that are contributing to the community locally, rather than forcing bigger boats and bigger returns’. Local historian, Terri Kearney, agrees:
Smaller fishermen are regulated down to the nth degree and it’s in their interests to keep what they have sustainable. [Law enforcement] should be working more with them than imposing.
In her view there is ‘over-policing in some ways and lack of policing in others’.
Criticisms were put forward about the way in which Ireland interprets EU law. Paula Ní Ríogáin provides an example:
[The government] were told to reduce their eel fishing…to about a 50% level and they just flat-out banned it. So the guy who was smoking eels in Timoleague, overnight his business was gone.
Paula views this as the easy option:
Banning it makes things easier to police… because you don’t have to come around and measure it.
Fisherman, Pat Con Ó Driscéoil, is disappointed that
when the common fisheries policy was renewed there a couple of years ago, [the EU] said that the islands were special and [the Irish government] said no, we have our own regulations.
Certainly, there is a feeling that there is not enough regard for how decisions will affect the local community. If this is the case, then we need to consider how might this be improved upon.
Familiarity with Policies and Legislation
We were also interested to understand what legislation locals in West Cork were familiar with. We conducted a survey in which we asked them which of the following nine policies or directives they were familiar with: Common Fisheries Policy, Food Harvest, Horizon, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, OSPAR Convention, Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, Nitrates Directive and Water Framework Directive.
In each case the majority of respondents were ‘not at all’ familiar with them. The Common Fisheries Policy was the policy that most had heard of while they were least familiar with the OSPAR Convention.
Our research shows that official governmental reports and scientific journals are the least accessed publications for people wanting to find out more about the marine environment. Instead, people prefer to learn about marine environmental issues through newspapers, TV, internet and first-hand experience.
So what is the solution? Talking to the local community, they cannot over-emphasise how important it is to them for regulators and policy-makers to get into the heart of the community and understand their views as part of the process, rather than presenting them with a fait accompli.
Paula Ní Ríogáin is concerned that there is ‘no understanding that we have to get into the community and then come back and make the policy.’ She believes that what is required is ‘less of the top down and more of the bottom up’. This it seems is the most crucial aspect. Once policy decisions have been made, the way they are communicated within the local community also needs to be carefully considered, but this is perhaps something that is easier to achieve.
There is a concern that some EU initiatives are short-lived. Neill Clarke explains:
What seems to happen with a lot of EU things is that they come along with something like the Bantry Bay Charter and with a lot of good recommendations in it but there is nobody to carry it through afterwards. As soon as it was over the money ran out and that was it, finished, so there is this huge body of knowledge but no one really knows what’s in it.
For more information, take a look at our policy and legislation literature review.