Maidin Mhaith a Chathaoirleach agus a teachtaí Dálaí. Go raibh maith agaibh as ucht an deis a bheith i láthair anseo inniu chun aon ceisteanna cuí a fhreagairt atá baint acu le Iascach Intíre Éireann, agus an raíteas airgeadais dón bhlian 2021.
Bá mhaith liom a chuir in iúl i dtús baire don gcomhairle go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag Iascach Intíre Éireann a bheith oscailte agus go dtí an bpoinnte
Muna bhfuil muid abalta ceisteanna a fhreagairt tabharfaidh muid freagraí i bhfoirm scriofa comh luath agus is feider.
Thank you, Deputy Stanley, and the Committee, for the opportunity to appear before you today, and discuss our Annual Report for 2021 and Financial Statements.
I am joined, by supporting witnesses, Barry Fox Head of Operations, Suzanne Campion Head of Finance and Corporate Services, Dr Cathal Gallagher Head of Research and Development, and Róisín Bradley, Head of Human Resources.
I will keep my remarks to some overarching topics and relevant issues regarding the Financial Statements and Accounts for 2021.
Responding to fisheries needs
We are a team of just over 300 full-time staff comprising fisheries protection staff, development staff, environmental officers, research staff - and very importantly, an excellent administrative back-up team.
I am very grateful to our passionate and accomplished employees, who see their roles as a vocation. Many have given decades of dedicated public service to Inland Fisheries Ireland, and are national and international specialists in their respective fields.
In 2021, our protection and environmental teams were extremely active in addressing illegal fishing, pollution incidents, fish kills and habitat destruction in, and around, freshwater systems across Ireland.
IFI delivered over 167,000 hours of anti-poaching patrolling activities. We concluded 82 cases for fisheries offences and commenced a further 103 cases in 2021. We also concluded 23 cases for environmental offences and commenced a further 13 cases in the same period. Most of the latter were associated with fish kills and serious water pollution incidents.
In 2021, IFI carried out river habitat restoration on 21km of river channel, treated 11ha of lake infested with lagarosiphon, an alien invasive aquatic plant species that has serious ecological impacts and may spread to other water bodies, and carried out maintenance on 34km of river channel habitat.
In the same year IFI staff audited 2,800 angler access structures and carried out maintenance on 510 structures to ensure the public were safe. This is just a snapshot of what we did in 2021.
IFI, like all public service organisations, must adhere to the highest standards in governance. IFI has made governance mistakes which has overshadowed the excellent public service that we provide. The shortcomings in terms of good governance, for which we apologise, were not deliberate - and not deceitful in any way.
Today we welcome this opportunity to explain the causes of these issues, and provide the requisite background, and context to the committee. It is important for the public to know this.
Following extensive internal reviews of processes and procedures - and associated remedial action - IFI is operating within a very strong corporate governance environment. The external governance review of IFI will commence shortly and our Section 18 board appointees are overseeing this process. This will strengthen IFI governance processes to a very high standard. Separately, but in addition to these significant operational risks, we discovered alleged fraud within IFI in 2022 and this is now subject to a criminal investigation by An Garda Síochána. I believe this occurred over a significant amount of time in IFI but does not pertain to any serving staff member of IFI.
The investigation also relates to the harassment and intimidation of the executive over a 17-month period. This has taken its toll on colleagues across IFI. I will endeavour to brief you all to the best of my ability on this issue. As this is a live Garda investigation, I will remain cautious on this matter.
Inland Fisheries Ireland is overstretched - and has been for a long time. Since 2009 our staffing compliment has been reduced by 30%.
We have statutory responsibility for Ireland’s 74,000 km of rivers and streams, together with 128,000 hectares of lake systems. We patrol a coastline of 9,700km and patrol the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles from the base lines. Our area of operation is extensive.
We face significant operational challenges, especially the lack of staffing in specialist areas, that impedes our ability to respond more effectively and efficiently to the pressing needs of an environmental agency, in an ever-changing ecological world.
These challenges are not an excuse for mistakes that have been made. The challenges are however a reality. Minister Ryan himself stated that IFI needs to be “adequately resourced” to “build and sustain capacity for both existing functions and an enhanced role.”
Other challenges for IFI
2021 was a very challenging year for IFI due to Covid 19 restrictions, and the last 18 months have been equally difficult for the organisation.
Climate change, the pollution of our water bodies, the destruction of freshwater and terrestrial habitats, the proliferation of non-native invasive species and the impacts of aquaculture on migrating salmonids is making our role extremely challenging as an environmental organisation.
I was born in 1971. Wild salmon numbers returning to Ireland in that year were 1.2 million. In 2022 that number was reduced to 171,000 a reduction of 86%. Arctic charr, a species that were encountered by the first inhabitants of this island, are now extinct from Lough Conn, Co Mayo and facing a similar fate in other lake systems.
The freshwater eels that were once prolific in the streams that we played in as children are now facing extinction. Wild brown trout lakes across Ireland are disappearing due to the introduction of non-native species and pollution associated with excessive farming practices.
IFI must be expanded and strengthened so we can deliver on all that is required of us by extant national legislation and the ever-increasing burdens of EU directives and regulations. Those regulations serve to protect nature. Nature has no voice other than the human one.
I am very proud of the progressive and innovative work that we do, and the value it gives to the State, to our citizens and to the resource we protect.
IFI could not do this without our committed staff, stakeholder support and the excellent support we receive daily from our parent Department.
I, and my team will address the committee’s oral questions and will share with you any written information that members request in this session at the first available opportunity.
Chair, thank you, and the committee, for your attention this morning.