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File photo of French Horizon-class air defence destroyer FS Forbin. Alamy Stock Photo

French military exercises due to take place off south-west coast brought forward to tonight

Minister Coveney has said his department is in contact with French authorities.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Jun 2022

A MAJOR FRENCH military exercise due to take place off the south-west coast later this month has been brought forward to 2am tomorrow morning.

The Department of Transport has issued an updated marine notice to vessels operating in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) this afternoon.

The exercise is now scheduled to take place from 21 June to 24 June and 27 June from 2am to 4pm each day.

However, the notice says the exercise may be postponed, taking place at the same time on another date between 27 June to 7 July, excluding weekends.

Warnings had been issued on Friday by the Department of Transport after they were informed by the Irish Aviation Authority of the exercises.

The warning said that the French authorities advised it would be a large-scale missile and rocket firing operation.

The French Embassy in Ireland said in a statement that it is “in ongoing contact with the Irish authorities in relation to a military exercise planned later this week taking place in an area of the Atlantic Ocean off the French coast.”

“As indicated to the Irish authorities via the standard procedures, the area affected may potentially include a small piece of the southern extremity of Ireland’s EEZ as a security pattern, approximatively 200km southwest of Ireland territorial waters,” it said.

“No French Navy vessels will be in the Irish EEZ during this exercise.

“As a close EU partner, France will maintain close contact with the Irish authorities throughout the period of the military exercise.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, issued a similar statement earlier, in which he said the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) was informed of the exercises via standard procedures and the Department of Transport has issued a Marine Notice to this effect.

“As a close EU partner, the Department of Foreign Affairs will, as normal, maintain contact with the French authorities throughout the period of the military exercise,” he said.

Irish fishermen who were planning on disrupting the exercise later this month have issued a fresh call on the Irish and French government to intervene to stop the exercises.

In a statement, the fishermen of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation said they were notified by the Department of Transport at 10.53am that the exercises had been brought forward.

“In late January 2022, our West Cork fishermen were successful in having planned Russian Naval exercises relocated outside of the Irish EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) by agreement reached with the Russian Government and we are now urgently calling on the Irish and French Governments to provide a similar outcome to our Fishermens’ concerns,” the statement said.

A source with expertise in the area said it was believed the French decision was influenced by the weather more than other considerations – as poorer conditions are expected this weekend.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence John Brady has expressed  concern regarding the planned French naval exercises.

“For the second time in six months, we have a situation where a foreign naval service is scheduled to undertake naval exercises in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, with the same group of Irish fishers indicating their intent to take to the area to protest at the threat that the naval exercises pose to their livelihood.” 

“It is no secret that the Irish fishing industry feels betrayed by an indifferent government that has failed to properly represent their interests in Europe.”

He added that 2 billion of fish caught in Irish waters is not landed in Ireland and that “this state does not possess the means to carry out any meaningful type of inspection of trawlers fishing in Irish waters illegally”.

Speaking to The Journal, Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation said that he wanted to see Coveney engage with French authorities to stop the exercises taking place.

Murphy said that Coveney had previously told Russia - who had planned similar exercises in Irelands EEZ in January - that he couldn’t stop the exercises, but that they weren’t welcome.

However, Coveney had written a letter to his Russian counterpart seeking to have the exercise moved.

“I would think him to do what he did the last time,” said Murphy, saying that he hopes Coveney has a letter written to his French counterpart and asked that he disclose any engagement with the French government.

Due to the exercises, the Department of Transport has warned vessels operating in the Irish EEZ about the military operation.

“The exercises will be undertaken in part of the Irish EEZ.  Given the nature of the planned exercises, vessels and crew are advised of safety risks in the operational area,” said a notice from the Department.

Murphy said that he wants to see a moratorium placed on military exercises, saying that they should not take place in Ireland’s EEZ for the next 10 years.

“We’re screaming for a moratorium for this craziness to stop… We said 10 years, so no more military exercises inside Ireland’s EEZ,” said Murphy.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Murphy said that the current climate makes military exercises of this nature inappropriate, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“In the climate that we are in now, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate. We have a war as was reported in programs on the continent and we don’t need these military sizes to ramp up any tensions.”

He added that any exercises would have an impact on the fishing industry itself, potentially with consequences lasting down the line for several years due to fish spawning being disrupted.

“This doesn’t just affect you on the three days, this could affect your for decades to come because if it interferes with the spawning cycle, and if the fish don’t spawn, then you have no recruitment into the stocks.”

This means that the amount of fish that could be caught would be reduced, potentially for long periods of time according to Murphy.

Additional reporting by Jane Moore and Niall O’Connor

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