DCU Professor criticised for fishery figures used in Irexit conference

By Colin Gannon

Devine , who specialises in teaching EU politics and Irish foreign policy, gave a speech advocating for a debate on Irexit. Image Credit: Irish Times

DCU Professor Dr. Karen Devine has been heavily criticised for resurfacing “fantasy” figures about Irish sea fisheries at a recent Irexit conference in the RDS.

Organised by European Parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), a multinational Eurosceptic alliance chaired by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the event’s speakers are calling for a referendum surrounding Ireland’s continued membership of the EU.

Devine , who specialises in teaching EU politics and Irish foreign policy, gave a speech advocating for a debate on Irexit, repeatedly referring to a €200bn figure that she says the EU took from Irish sea fisheries between 1975 and 2010.

The figures were first presented by Devine to an EU Joint Oireachtas Committee in 2012 and have since been the subject of dialogue and politicisation among Irish and European critics of the EU.

Ciarán O’Driscoll, a prominent Irish fisheries economist, questioned the legitimacy of the figures, particularly considering her area of expertise.

“They have not been reviewed by fellow academics for publication in an academic journal, or indeed, published elsewhere that I could find. I would like to think a serious error was made.”

O’Driscoll, who is part of the Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit in NUIG, identified three distinct rebuttals to the €200bn figure; incorrect geographical areas, no reference to point-in-time value and an overly simplistic method of valuing fish based on a ‘rule-of-thumb’.

“These are fantasy fish figures. They include fish from areas which are not even in Ireland’s own 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), such as areas off Britain.

“By applying prices for fish in 2008 to all fish all the way back to 1975 allows for the figure to be inflated beyond understanding,” O’Driscoll said. “Are changes in inflation, production costs, labour costs taken into account? It’s just too simple a means to arrive at such a huge figure.”

Dr. Karen Devine told the College View that although the €200bn is an estimate, she wholly stands by her analysis. She said O’Driscoll’s assessment of her methods were “nonsense”.

“Whenever you’re giving a long-term estimate, you always give it in today’s prices because it makes no sense to give it prices from 100 years ago.”

Brian Lucey, a Professor of International Finance in TCD, also called for a more rigorous analysis of the figures. Lucey replicated the method used by Devine and found the same three anomalies as O’Driscoll.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” he said. “It would economically calamitous on a scale that is almost incalculable, so anybody that is proposing it should be presenting a very, very clear cost-and-benefit.”

One of Ireland’s foremost fishing industry leaders and Chief Executive of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation,  Sean O’Donoghue, commented that he sees no factual basis for the figures and described their use as “dangerous”.

“This [200 bn] is total myth. Anybody who is involved in the negotiations and the people I work and deal with daily know there is no substance to these figures and they will simply ignore them,” said O’Donoghue. “Unfortunately we live in a world of fake news and this is one of those fake news stories.”

Devine questioned if either O’Driscoll, Lucey or O’Donoghue were paid by the EU and said they should deflect their criticism to both the EU and the Irish Government who she says also arrived with the same figures for a similar time-frame. “If they’re saying the figure is wrong, then what is the figure?” she asked.

The University of British Columbia in Canada, estimated that the total amount of fish caught in Ireland’s EEZ from 1973 to 2014 came to 21 million tonnes, worth approximately  €25.9 bn. O’Driscoll commented that these findings are “anchored in scientific assessment and academic analysis.

Colin Gannon

Image Credit: Irish Times