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Fahey stands firm on controversial scheme amid resignation calls

FORMER Marine Minister Frank Fahey yesterday described himself as "happy" with his decision to set up a controversial scheme to assist families of fishermen lost at sea.

Last night he faced calls to resign his €10,000-a-year post as chair of the Oireachtas transport committee in the wake of the Ombudsman's criticisms of how the scheme was operated.

But Mr Fahey (right) said he was standing over his actions while he was marine minister from 2000 to 2002. "I introduced a policy decision and I'm happy with that policy decision," he said.

The Ombudsman's report stated that officials in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources were originally opposed to the scheme due to the potential for multiple claims from fishing families who had lost boats at sea in the 1980-1989 period.

But the head of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources said Mr Fahey was "particularly tenacious" on the matter and that "the minister's mind had been made up that the scheme should go ahead".

Mr Fahey held a meeting in Galway with two Aran Island fishermen in his constituency, Paddy Mullen and Tony Faherty, about the details of the scheme, several months before it was officially launched in June 2001. He explained that he was "most anxious to hone in on good, genuine cases to make his arguments within his own department to illustrate the point, and he picked the cases of Mr Faherty and Mr Mullen as examples".

Mr Mullen and Mr Faherty accounted for 75pc of the quotas given out under the Lost at Sea scheme, worth about €2m. Just six of the 67 people who applied for replacement fishing quotas under the scheme were successful.

Fine Gael fisheries spokesman Tom Sheahan said that Mr Fahey's determination to have the "ill designed scheme" introduced could now result in a significant financial hit for the taxpayer if the unsuccessful applicants go to the courts.

He now wants an Oireachtas committee to question Mr Fahey.

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