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France not carrying out military exercises in Irish-patrolled waters, Coveney says

Minister Simon Coveney spoke about the change of plan in the Dáil today.

FS Forbin, a ship operated by the French Navy, pictured off the Scottish coast in 2021 (file photo)
FS Forbin, a ship operated by the French Navy, pictured off the Scottish coast in 2021 (file photo)
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

FRANCE WILL NOT carry out planned military exercises in Irish-patrolled waters, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said. 

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation had called on the Irish and French governments to intervene to stop the exercises.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Coveney said exercises like this are not “that common” but do happen. He noted that no such military exercises will be conducted by France in Irish territorial waters or in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The minister thanked the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation for their input in recent days.

“Their involvement in terms of being highly vocal, raising the concerns of fishermen – and of course of environmentalists as well – in terms of marine ecosystems linked to military exercises in the open sea, I think has been very welcome and I want to thank them for that.

“And I think they they have raised the profile of this issue in a way that I think has been very helpful. But I can assure you that we [the Irish Government] have also been busy in terms of our diplomatic channels, not just with France in this instance, but with other countries as well, in recent times,” the minister said.

Independent TD Michael Collins said, as well as the potential damage to marine life, the military exercises may also impact Ireland’s neutrality. “We are meant to be a neutral country. It looks like these activities are being stepped up within our waters,” Collins said.

‘A matter for France’

The Cork South-West TD asked Coveney if the French military exercises had been cancelled altogether or just postponed for a few days. To which Coveney said “that’s a matter for France”.

“My job is to be well informed in relation to what’s happening within our own EEZ and our own territorial waters. But it’s really a matter for France in terms of their own security exercises and so on outside of that.

“But military exercises or manoeuvres are traditionally recognised as being a part of the freedom of the high seas, as captured under Article 87 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos it’s called,” Coveney said.

The Marine Notice about the French military exercises is still live on the Department of Transport’s website.

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Coeveney told the Dáil that member states are “entitled to carry out naval exercises in another state’s EEZ”.

“It’s not unusual for naval ships or vessels of other states to carry out training exercises within the Irish EEZ or to pass through this area. This is not in any way an infringement infringement on our international territory in terms of international law.”

Coveney added that the Irish Naval Service “has collated some data in relation to encounters with foreign navies in the Irish EEZ over the last number of years so we’re watching closely, but nothing that has happened over the last number of months is a breach of international law”.

Coveney said because of Ireland’s good “diplomatic relations” with countries such as France, “sometimes we can change the direction of a decision from another country”.

Ireland’s EEZ is patrolled by Irish Naval ships and Air Corps Casa aircraft. It is located approximately 240 kilometres off the Irish coast. Ireland has responsibility for this EEZ and has rights to explore and operate in it as a sovereign country.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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