This Report

14 December 2009 - Lost at Sea Scheme

This Report

This Report describes one family’s (the Byrnes’) unsuccessful attempt for assistance under the Lost at Sea Scheme. This once-off, time-bound, non-statutory scheme was established in 2001 to assist those boat owners with a family tradition of sea-fishing by providing replacement capacity in respect of fishing boats that had sunk in the period 1980 to 1989.

A number of fishermen had lobbied for a scheme following the introduction in 1990 of a new regulatory system for the Irish Sea Fishing Fleet which effectively limited the overall fleet capacity. This meant that “replacement capacity”, i.e., tonnage and kilowatts was now required for sea fishing boat owners who wished to continue to fish, fish in a new or larger boat or to commence to fish. It also meant that to get new capacity a boat owner had to “take out” old capacity. The new regime caused difficulties for some former boat owners who believed the new system to be unfair and who claimed they were unable, because of their particular circumstances, to purchase replacement capacity.

The Lost at Sea Scheme was designed to address the needs of those boat owners who had lost their boats at sea in the period 1980 to 1989 and who effectively, but for their misfortune, would have had a boat on which replacement capacity would have been assessed under the new regulatory system at the time of its introduction. Successful applicants under the Scheme would be granted capacity in their own right which would have enabled them to carry on a tradition of fishing. The amount of capacity granted to a successful applicant related to the size of the original vessel which had been lost at sea and to the proportion of the applicant’s ownership of the vessel. The Scheme did not provide financial support to successful applicants for the acquisition of a replacement fishing vessel itself and the replacement capacity, i.e., gross tonnage and engine power granted under the Scheme had to be used by the replacement fishing vessel. It could not be sold on or otherwise traded or realised as a financial asset in the tonnage market.

In all, the Ombudsman received six complaints from persons claiming that they were unfairly denied benefit under the Scheme. Five were not upheld, the sixth, which came from the Byrne family, was upheld.

Francis Byrne was the owner and skipper of a fishing boat, the MFV Skifjord which tragically sank off North West Donegal in October 1981. Francis Byrne lost his life along with his 16 year old son Jimmy and three other crew members. Francis Byrne’s widow was left with a young family of five boys and three girls.

Following rejection of their application by the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Danny Byrne, acting on behalf of his mother, complained to the Ombudsman.

The Report describes the Ombudsman’s investigation. It traces the development and implementation of the Lost at Sea Scheme and describes in some detail the role of the then Minister and his officials in that process. The Report concludes that the design of the Scheme and the manner in which it was advertised were contrary to fair and sound administration and that these shortcomings were factors in the Byrne family not qualifying for assistance under the Scheme.

By way of remedy, the Ombudsman recommended that financial compensation be paid to the Byrne family but the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has taken on responsibility for these matters, refused to accept the recommendation.

While the Department is free in law to reject the Ombudsman’s recommendations, this is only the second time in the twenty-five year history of the Office that this has happened. The first occasion was in 2002 in a case involving the Revenue Commissioners, which, with the assistance of the Oireachtas, was ultimately resolved to the Ombudsman’s satisfaction.

When the Ombudsman considers that a public body’s response to a recommendation is unsatisfactory, her only recourse is to make a special report to the Oireachtas as she is empowered to do under the Ombudsman Act, 1980.

Part One of this Report describes the reasons why the Ombudsman has decided to make a special report in this case. Part Two contains her Report of her investigation of the complaint made by Mr Danny Byrne.

 

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