The fishing vessels lost at sea scheme was introduced by the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey. The scheme was launched in June 2001. The closing date for receipt of applications was 31 December 2001. The purpose of the scheme was to compensate families or individuals who had lost fishing vessels at sea by restoring to them the equivalent tonnage of the lost vessel. While it seemed a great idea and an excellent scheme, it turned out to be more a scam than a scheme
First, the scheme was only advertised in the three marine publications, The Marine Times, The Skipper and The Fishing News. There was no publication of the scheme on national or local radio, on television or in the national or local print press. As a result, individuals or families who had lost fishing vessels and were no longer involved in fishing were unaware of the scheme and, therefore, could not apply.
One such family was the Byrne family from Bruckless, County Donegal. Francis Byrne was the owner and skipper of the Skifjord which sank off the Donegal coast in October 1981. Mr. Byrne, his son, Jimmy, and three crewmen were lost. Two of the bodies were never recovered. Francis’s widow was left to rear her surviving eight children.
The Byrnes were out of fishing and were totally unaware of the scheme. They applied late via the Minister and local Deputy, Deputy Coughlan. Their application was rejected because it was too late. Danny Byrne, son of the deceased owner and skipper, contacted me. I took up the matter with the Ombudsman. Nothing I can say here can adequately express my admiration for the diligence with which the Ombudsman delved into the issue and arrived at the conclusion that the scheme was “seriously deficient and flawed”.
When the Ombudsman went digging for information on the Skifjord — five people had been drowned — the Department of the Communications, Marine and Natural Resources replied that it had no record of the Skifjord case. When the Ombudsman persisted, the Department eventually recovered two extensive files on the Skifjord “in deep storage”. What a Department. What a mess. What a scam.