File photo of the Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Róisín, on routine patrol at Rockall Flickr/Irish Defence Forces
rockall dispute

Coveney says Ireland won't change its Rockall fishing policy 'on the back of a threat' from Scotland

Coveney said that it was important to “take the heat” out of the discussion around the disputed island.

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said that Ireland will not change its longstanding policy on the remote island of Rockall over threats from the Scottish government. 

Speaking to reporters today, Coveney said that it was important to “take the heat” out of the discussion around Rockall, after the Scottish government said that Irish trawlers have to cease fishing there.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme yesterday, Scottish Minister for the Rural Economy Fergus Ewing said that Irish vessels are fishing “illegally” in the area around Rockall – a small uninhabitable islet about 230 nautical miles off the coast of Donegal – and said an “enforcement plan” will be put in place unless the ships desist from their activity there.

Irish captains currently fishing in the area will be asked to cease and desist, he said. If they refuse, he said further action would be taken “in accordance with the law” which would involve vessels being boarded. 

Also speaking yesterday, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed said that Ireland has never recognised the UK’s claim on Rockall, and that all legal avenues would be explored to allow Irish vessels to continue to fish there unhindered.

‘Less talk about boarding’

Speaking today, Coveney said that the Irish government “understood how fisheries enforcement works” and that there should be less talk around “boarding and potential clashes”.

“We need to take the heat out of this discussion and look for solutions. That’s what diplomacy is about,” Coveney said. 

“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 that we’ve had in place for decades on the back of a threat, which is what has been happening for the last few days.

Rockall dispute 

The jurisdiction over Rockall has long been disputed. 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. 

Irish vessels have operated unhindered in the Rockall zone for many decades fishing haddock, squid and other species. The area is seen as particularly important to fishermen in Donegal and the north-west area in general.

There are currently a number of Donegal fishing vessels from Greencastle port fishing around the island. 

The UK, however, claimed Rockall back in the 1950s and it’s the Scottish government’s position that Ireland has never had authority to fish there. It has now set up a exclusion zone of 12 miles around the island. 

Minister Creed yesterday said said that under the EU’s Common Fisheries policies, Irish fishermen have a right to be there and fish according to set quotas.

“Our fishermen there now are doing so under EU law,” he said. “We won’t be asking our fishermen to leave the area of Rockall.”

The minister said a number of legal options were available to the Irish government to try to resolve the matter.

This included the European Court of Justice – which would be problematic given the UK’s current plan to leave the EU by 31 October – as well as the UN or the International Court of Justice at the Hague. 

“We will exhaust all legal options here to protect our fishing industry,” Creed said.

With reporting from Sean Murray  

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