Motion of No Confidence Against Fisheries Minister Fails Skip to content

Motion of No Confidence Against Fisheries Minister Fails

By Erik Pomrenke

Photo: Photo: Golli. Alþingishúsið .

A vote of no confidence motion against the Minister of Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, was held in Alþingi today. The motion came in response to Bjarkey’s recent decision to grant Hvalue hf. a one-year fin whale hunting license and was brought forth by the Centre Party. The motion did not gather enough votes, however, and did not pass.

The motion of no confidence was the first item on the agenda of today’s Alþingi session. At the beginning of the session, the Social Democratic Alliance, the People’s Party, the Liberal Reform Party, and the Pirate Party had pledged to support the motion against the minister. The Progressive Party had pledged to defend the minister, and the centre-right Independence Party remained uncommitted.

Criticism from both sides

Bjarkey’s decision to grant the one-year permit has drawn vocal critique from both sides of the whaling issue, with anti-whaling activists decrying the decision to grant the permit at all, and pro-whaling interests criticizing both the length of the permit (Hvalur hf. has historically been granted a five-year whale hunting permit) and the time it took to process the permit.

Yesterday, a statement was published by Fisheries Iceland (an interest group for the fishing industry in Iceland) director Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir critiquing both Bjarkey and former Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavardóttir for hindering legitimate whaling activity.

Central to the statement is a legal argument which frames whaling as a human right, based on the employment provision in Article 75 of Iceland’s constitution: “People’s rights to continue the work they have undertaken and base their livelihoods on are protected by both the freedom of employment provision (Article 75) and the property rights provision (Article 72) of the constitution. Often, this involves work for which people have received special government permits or public authorization […] In this context, it must be noted that Hvalur met all the legal conditions for the whaling permit they applied for, had held the permit for years, met the requirements, and there was no indication of changes to the permit issuance process. Therefore, the company had particularly legitimate expectations of receiving the permit in time for the upcoming whaling season. No legal changes justified a different or altered procedure, and all necessary documents were in place to issue the permit without undue delay. This highlights the clear unlawfulness of the current Minister of Food’s decision.”

Hvalur hf. CEO Kristján Loftsson has also stated publicly that the delay in processing the permit, and the one-year duration, may hinder Hvalur’s ability to operate in time for the whaling season.

Bjarkey has defended her decision and the delay, stating that it was necessary to wait for the opinions of all concerned parties before granting the permit.

Government stands with Bjarkey

Among the lengthy debates in today’s Alþingi session, Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson also defended the Minister of Fisheries, stating “clearly, the minister has the support of the majority of this government. We are likely to witness a rather unexciting vote.”

When the motion was finally put to the vote, it was rejected, with 35 voting against, and 23 voting for the motion. The voting broke down clearly along party lines, with the exception of former Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson, who abstained.

This is the third motion of no confidence for this ruling coalition. A motion of no confidence was initiated against former Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson last year, which did not pass. A motion of no confidence was also initiated against former Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir in January of this year, but was withdrawn.

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