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Republic's fishermen angry at plan to let Northern Ireland fleet return to their waters

By Chris McCullough

Fishing boats based in Northern Ireland are to be permitted to work in Irish inshore waters - up to six nautical miles from the coast - thanks to a new bill being drafted.

Inshore waters are not subject to the European Union's common fisheries policy that imposes fishing quotas on member states.

Irish fishermen are angry with the new bill and say it will allow more fishing to take place than ever before.

The Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 has been drafted in response to a Supreme Court ruling in Dublin last October that an informal arrangement from 1959 known as 'voisinage', allowing Northern Irish boats access to Irish inshore waters without fear of prosecution, was not lawful.

The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Michael Creed, is coming under intense pressure to try and put a stop to the new law.

Labour's spokesman on fisheries, Willie Penrose, said Creed should halt the new law and consult with the fishermen about its possible ramifications.

The Irish inshore fishing fleet has enjoyed improved catches since last October after Northern Ireland-based vessels were not permitted there.

A total 1,800 small boats in the Irish inshore fleet fish for crab, lobster, prawns, mackerel, whiting and haddock.

Mr Creed's spokesman said: "The amendment will not change long-standing fishing access arrangements, but will take account of the court's judgment and provide for arrangements that existed prior to October to be reinstated within a legislative framework."

While boats owned and operated in Northern Ireland will get access to the Irish inshore waters, the Irish fleet will still have access to Northern Ireland coastal waters.

However, the chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation said it was a 'myth' that Irish vessels made use of this right.

Francis O'Donnell said: "Nobody can show me UK statutes that allow Irish boats to fish in Northern Ireland waters.

"In Galway Bay, Northern Ireland vessels were catching a lot of whiting and haddock. It's important they're not there this spring. Small Irish boats are looking to do a lot better. If this new bill comes it will undermine their prospects," he added.

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