Wednesday 19 December 2018

Ireland should not rule out doing Brexit side deal for fishing access

Nigel Farage and the founder of Fishing for Leave, Aaron Brown, symbolically dump fish into the River Thames next to the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Nigel Farage and the founder of Fishing for Leave, Aaron Brown, symbolically dump fish into the River Thames next to the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

Arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg missed the boat in more ways than one last week. Firstly, the UK exit agreement from the EU left fisheries quotas as they were until 2021. This means the UK will not get control of its own sea territory for fishing, as promised. Then he literally missed the boat being used to hold a protest along the River Thames near Westminster, when it hadn't been cleared to land and pick him up.

Former UKIP leader and now radio presenter Nigel Farage decided to throw dead fish into the river as a protest. Hopefully they won't come back to bite Irish fishermen in 2021, when the UK will have the freedom to ban non-British boats from fishing in its waters if it chooses.

The difficulty for Ireland is that around 36pc of Irish fish landings are taken from UK waters. For example, some 64pc of Ireland's mackerel catch is taken in the UK zone off the coast of Scotland. Around 39pc of Ireland's prawn catch is from the UK zone.

If the British do decide to block EU or other boats from their waters, it could be disastrous for our fishing communities.

Environmental secretary Michael Gove told the British fishing industry, which is livid with the new agreement reached in Brussels, to hang on and wait for the "big prize" that awaits them in 2021.

Gove is the one who signalled early on that the UK would pull out of the Common Fisheries Policy, when he said he was going to take the UK out of the 1964 London Fisheries Convention as a first step. This convention allows vessels from France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline.

But before rushing to judgement about the risks to the Irish fishing fleet and potential fish exports, there are some factors going in our favour. EU vessels catch a lot more fish in UK waters than UK vessels catch in EU waters, which should give the British a strong negotiating hand to play.

In theory, EU fleets could lose 500 to 600 vessels if they were excluded from UK waters, according to some estimates. From 2011 to 2015, European fleets caught 700,000 tonnes of fish and seafood in British waters, valued at around €610m. Meanwhile, during the same period, British vessels caught just 92,000 tonnes, valued at £110m. However, if the British were to ban foreign or at least EU vessels from its waters after 2021, the EU would simply put a huge tariff on British fish exports to EU countries. As it stands, the UK exports around 80pc of its wild-caught seafood and the top four or five destinations are European countries. Tariffs would hurt British seafood exporters hard.

Equally, the Brexiteers have talked the talk around taking back control of their waters, but the deal they have done with Brussels implies the same share of the overall EU catch until 2021 with no real effective say in any EU fishing policies during that period.

If British fishermen feel they were hung out to dry by the EU fisheries deal of 1983, they could easily become a bargaining chip in bigger trade talks around access to the EU markets for London-based financial services.

I know who would win that battle between whitefish and wealth management.

Irish boats fish a lot in UK waters and in fact some Northern boats travel down the Irish Sea to fish off the Co Louth coast. A ban could end up being mutual. However, perhaps the arguments in London and Brussels over the Border, the Good Friday Agreement and the North/South economy, could leave some scope for a bilateral deal between Ireland and the UK over fishing rights.

If the UK does pull out of the Common Fisheries Policy after 2021, Ireland should do a side deal on fisheries. After all, fisheries and access to territories isn't strictly speaking automatically covered by standard EU trade deals, but forms separate policy agreements. The government should use any leverage it has in London or Brussels to maintain open access for Irish boats.

Ryanair wants Lauda to help steer it to 200 million passengers

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary seems determined to reach the goal of carrying 200 million passengers a year by 2024. So far his flight path to 200 million has included, a massive push into the Italian market; recognising trade unions for the first time; agreeing that German pilots will be employees rather than self-employed and reinventing its customer service proposition.

But O'Leary knows it cannot be done without success in Germany - and the Germans have proven pretty stubborn when it comes to low-cost airlines and pretty stubborn when it comes to Ryanair. The Irish airline claims it was frozen out of the bidding process for Air Berlin, describing it as a stitch-up. Berlin mayor Michael Muller described Ryanair as "worker-hostile" and said its "business model is early capitalist" - ouch!!

Since then Ryanair has agreed to employ German pilots directly and has abandoned its outsourcing self-employed model there.

And this week, it agreed to acquire a majority stake in Laudamotion, the Austrian airline founded by former F1 racing driver Niki Lauda. This may be the consolation prize compared to Air Berlin and breaking the German and Austrian markets, but it still looks like a pretty good deal. It is only Ryanair's second ever acquisition - the first being the purchase of Buzz in 2003. It closed down Buzz a year later. Laudamotion has an Airbus fleet, which Ryanair wanted, and during the week Ryanair was emphasising the benefits of having its big platform behind it. O'Leary has real expansion plans.

However, Niki is staying on as chairman and he is known to be quite a strong, forceful and single-minded individual. If he disagrees with the strategy, he won't be behind the door about saying so.

But he wanted Ryanair, having spurned the advances of Aer Lingus owner IAG.

If Laudamotion is a Trojan horse into the German market, it has a long way to go. Its website shows that it flies from five Austrian cities mainly to southern Europe covering 12 destinations. It departs from five German cities to just seven destinations.

In Formula One terms, Ryanair is in a tough spot on the starting grid but is banking on the Austrian, Lauda, to drive it home.

Who is your Amigo in banking?

For years we have hoped that some major new banking force would arrive in this country, and put a stop to rip-off practices in the sector. The Irish banking landscape is dominated by just three banks - AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank. Between them they have 82pc of SME lending, while the big two have more than 60pc of the mortgage market.

AIB for example, has 44pc of business current accounts, 37pc of personal current accounts and 36pc of main business loans.

Finally, a new lender has come into the market for something other than mortgages. But instead of being a major global retail banking player, it is a sub-prime lender called Amigo.

Amigo is in discussions about entering the Irish market where it will lend small amounts to people with poor credit histories by ensuring they have a guarantor for the loan. Despite this guarantee, it still charges interest rates of around 49pc.

No wonder Amigo reported a huge jump in after tax profits to €61m last year and plans to float on the stock exchange.

It may be a solid sub-prime lender that is good at what it does, but who is the Amigo in this deal - your friend who guarantees the loan or your bank that charges 49pc?

I presume it is the former.

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