05 October 2009

Fishy Claims About the EU

I'm afraid I made the mistake of getting into a spat today. Internet quarrelling isn't particularly edifying or worthwhile even at the best of times, and right now, time is hardly in great supply for me, even on days when lunch is eschewed and typing is done in abundance.

Over the last couple of days I'd spotted variations on this nonsense in a couple of spots around the net, generally in comment threads such as here and here*, so eventually, in annoyance, I popped over to the perpetrator's blog** to air my own thoughts. Folly, of course. There's no arguing with fools.

Seriously, look at this nonsense:
'Irish Ayes Are Smiling - More is the pity. This result may be perfectly clean, but it is still fishy: they have still lost in their fisheries three times as much as they have gained at all from the EU.'
This is a common anti-European trope, and a myth that the Irish fishing community appears to have to its bosom. It's rot, of course, unless you think it's meaningful in any sense to take direct Irish investment from our European partners and weigh it against the value of whatever fish have been caught by said partners in Irish waters. Even if you want to argue that said fish was worth €200 billion, rather than, say, €8.5 billion, as reckoned by the Sea Around Us project. Such a crude comparison is madness, of course.

For starters, Irish gains from the Union aren't limited to investments from our favourite charity, the German taxpayer. You need to look at trading gains too, and at private investment in the Irish economy as a player in the Common Market and as a member of the Eurozone. American companies have invested more in Ireland than they have in China, Brazil, India, and Russia; they employ more than 100,000 people, and export more than €60 billion worth of goods and services every year. So even if we had lost €200 billion worth of fish, well, there'd be no doubt that we'd still have gained. Sums, eh?

Secondly, at the time we joined the EEC, our waters were limited to a twelve-mile coastal strip. Our waters were only enlarged to a 200-mile zone in connection with the Third United Nations Law of the Sea Conference in 1976; the Americans and other countries claimed a massive extension of maritime jurisdiction, and so the EEC and others responded in kind. The new 'Irish' waters had traditionally been fished by German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, British and other fishermen, and had hardly ever been touched by Irish fishermen. How could they have been? There were fewer than 6,000 fishermen in the country, with fewer than 2,000 of them being full-time, and they fished in the main in our narrow coastal zone, catering to the tiny domestic market - we ate less fish than any other EEC country at the time, even with the Friday fast being regularly observed, fish providing scarcely 6% of our protein intake.

Is it really credible that a country with barely three million people in it would have been able to negotiate a 200-mile fishing zone without the aid of our European partners, especially if we'd planned on excluding them from our new waters immediately afterwards? And even if we had done that, how could we have exploited our new waters, with our tiny fleet of tiny ships, geared up to supply a none-too-enthusiastic domestic market? After all, I don't think we'd have got very far exporting our fish to countries where we'd put their fishermen on the dole... And then, of course, there's the question of how we'd have protected our waters. Could a handful of offshore patrol boats, and - back in the day - a couple of outdated corvettes really have done the job?

Is any of this likely to comfort our fishermen? Well, probably not, but for what it's worth, the Irish fishing industry is far healthier now than it was back in the day. Hard to believe, but true. Back then, like I said, there were fewer than 6,000 people involved in fishing in Ireland, with fewer than 2,000 of those being fulltime fishermen, and they weren't exactly making much money out of the operation. Now, though? I've had trouble pinning the figures down, because the fishing figure proper is rarely available in isolation, usually being blurred with onshore processing and with fish farming figures, but it looks like the total figure now is upwards of 15,000. Even if you take the lowest possible calculation it's still around 11,000. That's not to say they're not under pressure at the moment, due to changes in the Common Fisheries Policy to reflect the fact that fish stocks have been deracinated, but it's simply untrue to say that they -- and collectively we -- have been screwed on the fishing front over the last four decades. That's just not true.

And that's just yer man's first paragraph. On to he goes to claim that there was a built in one-for-one arrangement with Sterling well into the 1980s, rather than the late 1970s, to say that the British armed forces are largely Irish, when just 400 of their 112,000 personnel are from the Republic, and so on. Things are even odder in the comments, where he claims that the Irish wouldn't have minded being invaded by the British during the second World War, that the British would have been willing and able to protect us from the Soviets during the Cold War, and that there are a higher proportion of people in the Republic of Ireland who have served in the British forces than in any of the four constituent parts of the UK. I've been thinking for two days, and still don't think I know anyone from home who's done that, whereas as each hour passes I think of more and more people I know here who have served or are serving in the forces. Fourteen at the moment. And that's not including ones who are applying to Sandhurst and Dartmouth etc, let alone ones who've been in university units.

I can just about forgive his not grasping my point about economic independence, because it's a bit subtle, but I'll come back to that. Sigh...

* This one nicely preempts Godwin's Law by invoking the Nazis in the very heading. Of course, it rather undercuts itself by calling on the Dunkirk spirit, in apparent disregard for the fact that Britain was only able to carry on 'alone' after Dunkirk by becoming a client state of the Americans. This was better than a compromise peace with the Nazis, of course, but it was hardly independence.
** His real blog. Not the ones spoofing or scorning it.

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