Tributes have been paid to fishing industry leader Donal O’Driscoll who died in hospital at the weekend at the age of 86.
“A champion of the Irish fishing industry” is how the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) described him yesterday (sun), as plans were made for a guard of honour in his home port of Castletownbere, Co Cork today.
The RNLI Castletownbere lifeboat station, Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op and the IS&WFPO are among organisations which Mr O’Driscoll was instrumental in founding.
With Cork businessman Tom Hassett, he also established the Fishing for Justice website in 2012 to champion a fairer deal for Ireland within the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Mr O’Driscoll was one of a family of 14 and was born on Sherkin island in 1933. He learned his first fishing techniques – seining for mackerel – from his father, Dan William O’Driscoll.
In an interview with author Pat Nolan, he recalled “graduating” from lobster fishing in a punt to drift-netting for mackerel in the Mystical Rose (italics), a 36 foot vessel owned by Willie McCarthy.
At the age of 17, he began filling in for absentee crew on a fleet of vessels owned by Paddy O’Keeffe, known as the “Bantry boats”. His brothers Denis and Billy also skippered boats in the fleet.
The brothers secured their own vessels and spent a lifetime fishing. Donal’s two sons, Liam and Brendan, followed him into a career which he described as one that could only be pursued by those who loved it – given the challenges of the elements and the tough nature of the industry.
He was a tireless advocate, and was fearless but firm in his criticism of State policy on the marine. In 2011, he wrote on behalf of Fishing for Justice to then marine minister Simon Coveney, outlining the background to the negative deal secured on EU accession in 1973.
He pointed out that Ireland contributed 14% of the total European waters, but was only allocated between four and five percent of the whitefish stocks and around 12 percent of the pelagic stocks.
“The reason that was given was that Ireland’s fishing fleet was not sufficiently developed at the time, to justify a greater portion of the available stocks. This has clearly not been the case for a long time but there has never been an attempt to alter this status quo, despite the fact that the Commission also said that these decisions were never intended to be written in stone,”he said.
In 2012, he and Hassett wrote to then EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, stating that non-Irish vessels took over €1bn worth of fish from Irish waters annually, while the national fleet “survives on a “miserable share” of the quotas”.
In a tribute, the IS&WFPO said that both O’Driscoll and Hassett, who died last year, contributed to transforming the industry “into a modern business”, with a co-operative securing stable prices and secure markets and improving the income of crews.
The two men had also contributed to “modernising the vessels to make them safer places of work”, it said.
“Donal will be remembered as a champion...his contribution to the industry and the communities of the Beara peninsula is legendary,”it said.
He died in Castletownbere Community Hospital after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Maisie, children Liam, Brendan, Marian, Donald, Christine and Sinead and extended family.
A guard of honour with social distancing will form on Castletownbere pier to mark Donal O'Driscoll's final journey at 12 noon today.