“I’LL show you my statistic if you show me yours.”
Simon Coveney is in for a treat this year. The Minister for Agriculture has unwittingly been cast as the referee in the great battle of the Fish Quangos as Ireland’s two State fisheries organisations go toe to toe five miles off the Clare coast.
The pitch: a small section of unassuming water somewhere between Fanore and the Aran Islands.
The weapons: statistic, statistic and more statistics [and, of course, the power to interpret them creatively].
The prize: bragging rights at the annual Quango of the Year Awards and the final say over the creation of Ireland’s largest fish farm off the Clare coast.
On another day, in another place this might be a battle worth watching – just for the sheer sport of it – but today, in North Clare, this is something we could surely all do without.
Forget who’s right, forget who’s wrong – the sheer level of discrepancy between the information being put out as fact by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) and Inland Fisheries Ireland is enough to render the whole process ridiculous – an indictment of our political system at large.
According to the best statistic produced by BIM, the fish farm will create 500 jobs locally, have little or no impact on the water quality in the area and have a possible effect on less than one per cent of the local wild salmon and trout population through sea-lice.
Meanwhile, according to the best statistic produced by IFI, this same farm will create, at best, 30 jobs, have a negative effect on the water quality in the area and effect more than 39 per cent of the local wild trout and salmon.
This massive difference of opinion could be somewhat explained if the parties involved were non-experts and members private sector – driven only by the idea of profit at all cost. But these are the State’s two fisheries agencies – they are our experts – and their decision are, or should be, driven by the common good and not the size of their own ego and bank of statistics. The people of North Clare and indeed of Ireland are not being well served by this debate.
Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find sympathy for the Minister for Health, James Reilly. It seem perhaps a little ironic, and indeed worthy of some sympathy, that his exit from his ministry could well be prompted by the one thing that he had little to do with – the death of Savita Halappanavar.
While it is certainly true that this government has, until two weeks ago, purposely dragged its feet about legislating for the X-Case, that was a decision made in the dark and dreary days just before the Fine Gael/Labour coalition took office – when the dark art or writing a programme for the coalition government took place. Reilly can, at best, be criticised for bumbling the investigation after the fact and even that is a matter of opinion. Yet this is the issue that has created the single biggest threat to him in his position as Minister for Health.
One wonders how this tragic situation might have been handled differently if the referendum to give real powers of investigation to Dáil committees had been passed last year? If instead of a the embarrassing HSE investigation or the proposed HIQUA investigation, an existing Dáil committee could call witnesses tomorrow and have this all out in the open, broadcast live on television, in two or three weeks?
Would this sort of investigation been suitable for Praveen Halappanavar? It certainly could have been quickly, publicly and independently. [Yes, I said independently – there is no political capital to be made out the inquiry itself, once it’s been deemed acceptable by Savita’s family.]
This is, I realise, a Utopian image of an Ireland that doesn’t exist at the moment. Even if the election was passed, could such a committee be made work in a state where the two main fisheries organisation spend their days knocking lumps out of each other and finding new ways to statistically prove that other is a liar? It’s doubtful, but sometimes it’s nice to dream – just for a few minutes.
For more see The Clare People or visit our Digital Edition.