Belfast Telegraph

Ireland’s deputy leader seeks to ‘take heat out’ of Rockall debate

The row erupted after Scotland threatened action if Irish vessels continue to operate in the zone around the outcrop.

Rockall off the Donegal coast (MArine Scotland/PA)
Rockall off the Donegal coast (MArine Scotland/PA)

Ireland’s deputy leader has called for calm amid a fisheries dispute between Scotland and Ireland.

The row erupted after Scotland threatened action if Irish vessels continue to operate in the zone around Rockall, an outcrop in the North Atlantic.

The Scottish government said it is defending the interests of its fisheries against “illegal activity” around the uninhabited islet, over which the UK claims sovereignty.

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Simon Coveney contended that EU fishery grounds and the Common Fishery Policy applies to the area (Niall Carson/PA)

Ministers said they received a letter from Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, stating that vessels will be deployed to take “enforcement action” against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall from last weekend onwards.

However, the Irish government does not recognise its claim over the long-disputed territory located around 240 miles from the Scottish mainland, and Irish fishermen have said they have no intention of leaving the disputed waters.

Speaking on Monday in Co Cork, Simon Coveney contended that EU fishery grounds and the Common Fishery Policy applies to the area.

“What we don’t accept is that a very small rock constitutes a sovereign territory that can have a 12 mile fishing limit set around it, that is what the Scottish government are claiming and saying,” Mr Coveney said.

“We know how fisheries enforcement works, we do it well here through the Irish Naval Service and the SFPA.

“We understand how Scotland enforces the fisheries rules, so I think the less we talk about boardings and potential clashes the better.

“We need to take the heat out of this decision and look for solutions, that’s what diplomacy is about.

“Scotland and Ireland are very close friends and we will work with them to try and bring an end to this, but what we won’t do is change a policy which we have had in place for decades on the back of a threat.”

Speaking to Newstalk on Monday morning, Mr Coveney added: “I’m interested in resolving this.

“Don’t confuse diplomatic language with weakness. We will support Ireland’s fishing boats.”

John O’Kane from Foyle Fishermans Co-Operative Society said three vessels are fishing in the disputed area and have no plans to cut short their trip, and when they return, will head back to Rockall despite the warnings from the Scottish government.

The boats are small family fishing businesses with six to eight staff aboard fishing mainly for haddock, monkfish and squid.

“This announcement came totally out of the blue and we were unaware about any notification to the Irish government prior to that,” Mr O’Kane said.

“There’s a bit of diplomacy going on at the minute, and we’re hoping that resolves it, but at this minute in time, we’ve not had any word from anyone in the Irish government.

“Our boats have been fishing there since January, its a very sustainable fishery, it’s rich fishing ground, and our boats have fished there for over 20 years.

“The last thing we want is a Scottish patrol vessel making arrests, taking people ashore. You lose time, you have the expense, a court case, a fine and the repercussions of whether to go back to fish from that area.

“This is our business, we need as much fish coming in as possible, we have markets to supply, and everyone on the boats, the crew to the skipper, to the locals who work on the pier, we’re all reliant on these boats continuing to fish.

“There’s many families in the local Donegal area dependent on whitefish vessels fishing at Rockall.

“Everything from the local shop, to the welder, to the boatbuilder, they’re all reliant on this industry.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Irish vessels or any non-UK vessels for that matter have never been allowed to fish in this way in the UK’s territorial sea around Rockall and, despite undertaking extensive discussions with the Irish authorities on the matter, it is disappointing that this activity continues.

“There has actually been an increase in that illegal activity and, with the Rockall fishery season nearly upon us, it is our duty and obligation to defend the interests of Scottish fisheries and ensure compliance with well-established international law.”

The Scottish government first raised the issue of access to the area around Rockall in 2017, according to the Irish government.

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