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Taoiseach: 'Rockall is an uninhabitable rock and is not something Ireland and Scotland should fight over'

The Irish and Scottish governments are in dispute over the Atlantic sea island.

The Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Róisín, on patrol at Rockall. (File)
The Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Róisín, on patrol at Rockall. (File)
Image: Flickr/IrishDefenceForces

Updated Jun 11th 2019, 7:30 PM

INTENSIFIED ENGAGEMENT WILL take place between senior officials from both the Irish and Scottish governments in a bid to “de-escalate” the Rockall standoff. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil today that the matter was not discussed was not raised at a recent meeting with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in Dublin, but said it has been discussed by the Tánaiste and his counterpart in Scotland, as well as Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.

The European Commission has been informed of the matter, he said today. 

A dispute over fishing near the Atlantic sea rock has escalated in the last week after a Scottish Minister accused Irish vessels of operating “illegally” in the area and suggested they could be boarded.

The UK claimed Rockall back in the 1950s and it’s the Scottish government’s position that Ireland has never had authority to fish there.

Ireland does not claim Rockhall but does not recognise British sovereignty over the island either.

Ireland’s position is that the waters around Rockall form part of European Union waters under the Common Fisheries Policy, to which the principle of equal access for the vessels of all EU Member States applies.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday it was important to “take the heat” out of the situation but said that Ireland would not be changing its policy in relation to Rockall.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has dismissed the suggestion that the Irish Naval Service could be used to protect Irish vessels.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that both governments “want to see this de-escalated”. 

“Rockall is a rock, essentially a sea stack in the middle of the ocean. It is uninhabitable and uninhabited, and it is not something that Ireland and Scotland should fight over.

“We do not have a claim to it and we do not accept any other sovereign claim on it. We believe the fishing a territory around it should be shared. The Irish vessels which are fishing in those waters have EU quota and these waters are part of EU waters. Under the Common Fisheries policy, we believe they are within their rights to continue to fish in the area around Rockall,” said the Taoiseach.

He said the views of Scotland and Ireland have differed on the issue for some time, however he said a strong and positive relationship of mutual benefit has been built between the two nations over many years.

“In light of the most recent developments, dialogue continues between the Irish and Scottish Governments and there have been close contacts at official level in recent days to de-escalate tensions,” he said, adding:

The matter was discussed at Cabinet this morning and also at a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet. We have agreed that dialogue should continue between the Irish and Scottish Governments. There have been close contacts at official level and these will continue. It has been agreed that a process of intensified engagement will take place, led by senior officials from both administrations. 

However, a representative group has called on the government to “defend any individual hard-working fishermen” caught up in the dispute between Ireland and Scotland over Rockhall.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) says Scotland has made an “unacceptable threat to all EU fishing vessels” and that this must be resisted.

In a statement today, ISWFPO CEO Patrick Murphy said the government needed to promise a tough response to the “blatant opportunistic grab” by Scotland.

“Industry have been in communication with each other and we stand firmly with all fishermen who have fished these waters for generations and do not accept this blatant opportunistic water and attempted resources grab by our Scottish neighbours, this comes not only as a surprise to us in the Industry but to our fellow Scottish fishermen,” Murphy said.

“We ask this matter be put before the European Union and ask for the EU Commissioner Carmen Vella to intervene in this matter before it escalates.”

If this illegal action is carried out against our fishermen we expect more that words from our government but preparations be made immediately so to defend any individual hard-working fishermen caught up in this political wrangling, the innocent should be protected here and no stone should be left unturned to achieve this request from us in the Irish fishing industry.

In an interview with Euronews, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she didn’t want it to come to a point where Irish fishermen are arrested. 

“Our relationship with Ireland is very strong, it’s probably stronger than it has ever been. Ireland is a very valued partner of Scotland. We’ve been raising concerns probably over a two-year period now with Ireland about what we consider to be illegal fishing, within the 12-mile zone around Rockall, ” Sturgeon said.

We’ve not yet managed to come to an agreed settlement around that. Therefore, in line with our obligations to uphold international law, we’ve set out what the enforcement options are. We’ve given Ireland notice of that, we’ve not done anything that has taken them unawares, but we want to come to an agreement on this.

“Literally, as we speak, officials from both governments are talking to try to find an amicable way through that. And we want that amicable settlement, rather than confrontation.”

An Irish government spokesperson said the matter should be dealt with through “diplomacy and agreement”.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

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Rónán Duffy

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