Charity 'overwhelmed' by embattled fishermen needing emergency aid
A fishing charity has been overwhelmed with an "unbelievable" volume of calls from fishermen – with some reduced to tears seeking emergency aid.
The Fishermen's Mission in Kilkeel has been swamped with queues of fishermen in desperate need of help, many of whom are struggling to buy food.
It comes after months of relentless stormy weather which has battered boats, forcing fishermen to stay ashore and unable to fish their quota allocation.
The England-based charity has come to the aid of those in Ardglass and Kilkeel with an emergency aid fund.
Maurice Lake from the charity told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: "I went to Ardglass on Friday afternoon in response to three telephone calls and within an hour of my arriving there we had 82 people.
"Yesterday the telephone never stopped, and this morning by 8am the place was full and has been full all morning.
"We had 88 fishermen here, all seeking help."
Maurice said they are addressing the immediate needs of the fishermen, providing heat, food vouchers for Asda and ensuring families keep a roof over their heads.
He said: "It is chaotic. I've found it quite intimidating and distressing to see.
"There is a wide range of emotions. Clearly some are at their wits' end, and quite justifiably. Some are angry because I can't see 82 people all at once. There have been tears from fishermen, which is quite moving in itself, and quite challenging too."
Thanks to the charity's help Ardglass fisherman Martin Rice (44) has had heating in his house for the first time since Christmas He says the industry is at an all-time low.
"Friends you have known all your life standing in the queue with you, people you went to school with. You are just looking at each other and you see it in each other's eyes – just totally lost your dignity.
"Fishermen are proud men, nobody wants to go and stand in food queues. We are frustrated at the amount of time it's taken for anyone to take notice of us – we've been to meetings about meetings about meetings."
He said the option of depending on family and friends to help pay bills had run out.
"It's sad that the charity had to come from England to help us," he added.
Allan McCulla, chief executive of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation, said: "This is the second year in succession this has happened and after a long debate 12 months ago the Executive were able to put £0.5m in place to help fishermen.
"So that is why we are calling for a repeat of the same scheme this year."
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie called on the Executive to hold an emergency meeting on the current crisis.
She said: "This situation with the weather and climate change means the Government have to take this issue seriously, but also to rethink the way they deal with the situation.
"I'm just a little surprised that they haven't decided to do something already," she said.
Jim Wells MLA criticised Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill for taking "minimal interest" in the issue.
The DUP man said: "In any other industry I think the minister would be acting long before this.
"I must be very critical of the Minister O'Neill from Dard, who seems to show minimal interest in fishing."
He added: "She needs to get down there and see what she can do immediately to help people."
A meeting on the crisis is due to take place today at Stormont.
"I am acutely aware of the financial difficulties many fishermen, skippers and crews alike have endured over recent weeks due to adverse weather which has prevented parts of our fleet from putting to sea. While fishing activity during the winter months is generally much lower, the recent very stormy weather has been particularly disruptive. I will be meeting with our local fishermen to thoroughly examine the issues now affecting the fleet and possible options to assist the industry." – Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill