Brian Dowling and Treacy Hogan THE Government will face down any opposition to its decision to ban salmon drift net fishing from next January.
Marine Minister Noel Dempsey last night acknowledged there would be anger within fishing communities, with a potential political backlash, but insisted the Cabinet had no choice but approve the ban.
Mr Dempsey maintained that the stocks of salmon would hit catastrophic levels and that there would be none left to fish if the Government did not act.
He defended the ?30m hardship fund, arguing that there was no legal or constitutional duty on the Cabinet to provide any financial support.
His government colleague, Junior Minister Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, criticised the decision and called for a massive increase in the compensation package to more than ?50m.
Mr Gallagher, who represents Donegal South West, said he did not accept the basis of the scientific report adopted by the Cabinet and would continue to press for a bigger financial package.
But there is little prospect of Mr Gallagher, who is now a minister in the Department of Transport, resigning in protest over the decision or if the compensation is not increased.
He acknowledged that, despite the case he made to government colleagues, his views carried no weight in the final Cabinet decision.
Mr Gallagher would have played a key role in the decision on banning salmon drift net fishing and devising the compensation package if he had remained in his previous portfolio in the Department of Marine.
Last night he expressed a hope that the Government would adopt a more "pragmatic" approach to the compensation package in the weeks ahead.
But it was clear from Mr Dempsey that the ?30m package represents what he and the Cabinet believe to be a fair offer to fishermen, who will lose out because of the ban. Official figures show that in 2005, Cork and Kerry accounted for 30pc of the total salmon catch, with roughly the same number of licences as Donegal fishermen, who accounted for about 16pc of the catch.
The other main relevant area is Mayo, where fishermen hold 68 licences and brought in around 15pc of the total catch. Fishermen in Waterford have 171 drift net licences but only account for 6.4pc of the catch.
The Government's compensation package will be focused on those who stand to lose most from the ban.
Defending the ban, due to come into force from next January, Mr Dempsey said the expert scientific advice showed that survival of salmon in the North Atlantic has decreased significantly in the past decade, with less than half to one-third of the salmon returning to rivers in the 1970s and 1980s currently returning to Irish rivers.
The minister said ?25m would be made available, which means that each fisherman will get a payment equal to six times their average annual catch for the past five years multiplied by the average price per salmon over the period, calculated at ?23.
Each fisherman will also get a payment equal to six times the current license fee, and an additional ?5m will be available for fishing communities badly affected by the ban to help create new jobs.
Fishermen stepped up their opposition, threatening a general election backlash against the Government over the ban.
Martin Kerin of the Irish Traditional Salmon Netsmen's Association described the compensation as paltry and said some fishermen would only get ?2,000 or so. He warned that members and their families may refuse to back government candidates in the election.
That prospect, however, cut little ice with Mr Dempsey, who said it would be different if the Government had a choice but it didn't because of the dwindling stocks of salmon.
And Martin Territt, who is the director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, welcomed the move to ensure conservation of stocks.
It was also backed by the Irish Hotels Federation, which said it created a foundation with which to rebuild the salmon angling tourism product to the levels enjoyed in the late 1990s.
Progressive Democrat party chairman, Senator John Dardis, who has been campaigning for a ban, said the Cabinet had taken a major step in environmental protection.
It was also backed by environmentalists, with the Stop Salmon Drift Nets Now group describing the move as critically important for the future of Irish salmon.