Locals fear losing their seaweed collection rights to foreign firms

Rural Irish people collecting seaweed as depicted in this sketch Gathering Seaweed by Jack B Yeats

John Drennan Political Editor

CAMPAIGNERS are seeking to protect the harvesting of seaweed by locals on beaches on the west coast.

The fears of locals no longer being able to engage in their traditional rights to collect seaweed have become the latest issue in the European elections.

The development comes in the wake of concerns expressed by Sinn Fein candidate Matt Carthy over alleged moves to privatise seaweed cutting.

At present, the State-owned Arramara Teoranta is seeking permission to control the huge seaweed resource along the western seaboard.

The expectation that Arramara will shortly be taken over by a private Canadian company has generated growing concern about locals not being allowed engage in the time-honoured pursuit of gathering seaweed to fertilise their small farms.

Labour Party TD Derek Nolan has warned there are real concerns the anticipated sale of the company could mean the licence to collect seaweed on the foreshore "will be taken from those who traditionally work there and will pass to a private foreign investor''.

Already there have been large public meetings in Connemara, Co Galway – in Rosmuc on Monday evening and Leitir Mor on Sunday evening.

Legislation does exist governing the collection of seaweed from the foreshore, but Mr Nolan said "it has never been elaborated upon, put into practice or enacted''.

The Labour TD added this could seriously impact on the "family tradition" that has been passed down through the generations.

Mr Carthy has also warned that he is very concerned that this is another feature of life which the Government wants to sell off.

In spite of its rustic image, seaweed has become a valuable resource and is used as an ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, organic food and animal health supplements.

Responding to the concerns of a unique Sinn Fein-Labour alliance, Minister Jan O'Sullivan confirmed the privatisation of Arramara would occur and this would benefit the State through "a cash consideration to Udaras na Gaeltachta'' and the future development of the seaweed sector with an increase in economic activity.

Mr Nolan warned the Government it would have to be seen to work with these communities and not against them.