September 27, 2021
News Opinion

GRACE O’SULLIVAN: The cruel sea – search for missing fisherman continues

Last week, before I left my home in Tramore to head back to work in Brussels, I spoke, by phone, to friends in the nearby fishing village of Dunmore East. The view from almost anywhere in the village looks out across the bay to Hook Head in county Wexford.

Usually there is clear sight of the penninsula from the village, but on that morning, in the midst of a status yellow gale warning, they described a heavy, ominous fog. You could see, they said, only the barest glimmer from Hook lighthouse. When they sent me a hazy picture, I saw what they meant. It was a poignant image, that I found very moving as I thought of what was going on over there on that morning.

The previous Saturday night, the Wexford-based trawler Alize had sunk with her two crewmen, Joe Sinnott and Willie Whelan aboard. Joe was taken ashore by rescue services, but sadly didn’t survive. The search for Willie, continues. I hear he was only recently married.

This week, as Storm Brendan kicks in and code orange weather alerts are issued througout the country, with severe code red alerts in marine areas, the search efforts are hampered, and hopes that rescue services can identify the location of the wreck and dive to investigate, are delayed further. It’s a situation that’s sadly not isolated on these shores. It is never anything less than heartbreaking.

I spent 10 years of my life at sea, and before that, even before I took my first steps I reckon, I’ve been in love with the sea. But the sea can be a cruel friend. One of my own brothers fished out of Dunmore in earlier years. Because of my own time at sea, as well as my family connections, this saddening story feels very close to home.

It’s geographically very close to home too, being only a few miles along the coast from where I grew up in Tramore. Throughout the coastal areas of Ireland, we are blessed with brave men and women in our rescue services who try to bring solace with their kind and good work at these times, as the wait goes on into yet another week.

Through my work on the fisheries committee since I was elected to the European Parliament, I have even more interactions with fishermen and fisherwomen than in previous years. It’s a tough, tough life, and over the past days, that reality is on my mind as I think of the family and friends of these two fishermen, and the communities where they grew up

I truly hope there will be news that will end the torturous waiting, for his family and friends. My most sincere sympathy to the family of Joe Sinnott, a married father of 4. My thoughts are with all the hearts that are broken at this awful time.

A life at sea, battling with the elements to earn a living, is a hard existence. As a job it’s one that used to be spoken of as something of a calling for some. I’ve spoken to fishers, mainly fishermen, over the years. They have described the draw of a life out on the sea. There has always been a great sort of integrity in providing for your family from nature’s bounty.

Increasingly in more recent years, conversations of that nature become more rare, more like romantic tales, mainly from the past. Fishing today is more often a real struggle. It has always been a negotiation, or sometimes battle, with the elements. But in the past fish stocks were thriving, the seas – or the globals commons, as they’re known, our internationally shared natural heritage – were healthy, and at least there was good reward for hard effort.

Nowadays, except for those involved in large-scale industrial operations, fishing is epitomised as a battle against dwindling fish stocks, bureaucracy, regulations and , the impacts of climate change, which have an increasingly obvious presence.

Over recent times my conversations with the men and sometimes women who earn their crust from the oceans and seas around us, have been tinged with more and more despair.

They speak of the challenge of trying to find a big enough catch, with stocks dwindling. They speak of how overfishing and ecological challenges have decimated those stocks. They talk of their frustration, their sense of the unfairness of how catch is distributed, how some larger vessels can strip the seas of fish, while smaller fishers struggle to survive.

Think of these men and women when you sit down to eat your meal this evening. From the hands of the farmers and fishers, the hands that work day in day out, come the food you are blessed enough to have before you. These men and women play a hugely important role in the lives of every person in every household in this country. They are not getting a fair deal at the moment. They are struggling to make a livelihood and they need government support.

So when you get the knock on you door in the coming weeks, from canvassers representing all parties and none, asking you to put your trust in them … please put in a word for the hard working people, these custodians of our land and seas, who sometimes put their lives at risk, and sometimes even, tragically, lose their lives to do good work that enhances your life and provides sustenance for your children.

*Grace O’Sullivan is MEP for Ireland South


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