Fishing Lines: Irish rise up against bureaucracy

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AN IRISH decision to introduce compulsory licences (well, sort of) seems certain to spawn a new generation of fishing jokes.

But then it will take quite a wit to match the country's previous bungled attempts to impose licences. Back in 1988, the government set an annual licence fee.

Brendan Daly, the minister who tried to bully through the proposals, was clearly not an angler or he would have foreseen the reaction. If there's one thing the Irish hate more than a pub that closes on time, it's bureaucracy.

The move provoked strikes and nationwide protests. Poor old Brendan was vilified with slogans such as 'Jesus forgave Judas, but anglers will never forgive Daly'.

Professional West Coast boatmen refused to take anyone fishing, effectively closing the trout- rich loughs such as Corrib and Mask. Although the move cut off their income, the locals' attitude was that trout and coarse fish were their heritage and that no charge should be levied on a self-regenerating asset.

A few who tried to break the deadlock had their boats sabotaged, while the very few willing to sell licences were boycotted in the community. One bemused English angler, returning home early after a fruitless effort to find some fishing, told me, 'Ireland must be the only country where you can't buy a fishing licence but where you get prosecuted for not having one.'

Swayed heavily by a huge drop in income (angling is No 1 in the tourism charts, generating more than pounds 60m a year), the government caved in but contrived a typically Irish compromise to ensure nobody lost face. Licences will no longer be compulsory. Angling clubs were to set up co-operatives to finance fishery development, and non-members (tourists) would only have to buy a licence if 60 per cent of the co-operative insisted. None did, of course.

Still, it was a less daft solution than the original stalemate- breaker: that every angler (tourists included) had to buy a licence, but that there would be no bailiffs to check them.

The government, clouted but not routed, has now evolved the Mark 3 licence after three years of talks with the eight regional angling co-operatives. Even by Guinness standards, it's a work of pure genius.

The licences will be voluntary and will cost pounds 12 a year, pounds 5 for 21 days and pounds 3 for three days. But two of the regions have voted to make them compulsory. Only visiting anglers will be exempt.

The aim is to raise money to improve fisheries, with every pounds 1 from licences matched by pounds 1 from the government. Jack Tisdall, captain of the All-Ireland team, is somewhat sceptical. 'If they don't charge English anglers, they won't make much money and there won't be much fishery improvement.' Well spotted Jack.

Now it would obviously be extremely racist of me to suggest suitable jokes to cover this situation and its probable aftermath. So I'll leave that to readers, with the usual worthless prize for the best suggestion.