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rock on rockall

Government accused of signing away fishing rights at Rockall, Taoiseach says claim is 'absolute rubbish'

Ownership of the island and the fishing rights in the waters surrounding it has been a hot topic over the last couple of years.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused signing away Ireland’s “historic fishing rights” at Rockall in the North Atlantic. 

The uninhabited island of Rockall is around 419km off the cost of Donegal, and around 386km from St Kilda’s, to the north-west of Scotland. 

Ownership of the island and the fishing rights in the waters surrounding it has been a hot topic over the last couple of years. 

In 2019, the Scottish government previously said it would apprehend Irish vessels found fishing in Rockall’s waters. 

Earlier this year, the government said there remains an “increased risk” to Irish vessels fishing off Rockall after engagement with Scottish authorities. 

The warning came after a Donegal fishing vessel was prevented from fishing in the waters around Rockall by a Marine Scotland patrol boat.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, which aims to update and set out in law the State’s maritime jurisdiction, “formally cedes Rockall to Britain”.

He said this has never been done in legislation before, and criticised the 45 minutes allocated to the debate.

“It is derisory and disrespectful and the order must change. I ask the Taoiseach to agree to more sitting days this week and next week,” he said.

Mac Lochlainn said the “Irish people have never recognised or accepted Britain’s claim to Rockall”.

He said the government led by the Taoiseach “will sign away Irish sovereignty, and, with it, our historic fishing rights at Rockall. This is utterly shameful”.

“At a time when the entire industry is fighting for its very survival, the action the Government is taking tonight will put the future of many fishing families on the line. We will not accept the ceding of Irish sovereignty to Britain. I am asking the Taoiseach to stand up for his country and intervene to stop this legislation going before the Oireachtas tonight. Rock on, Rockall, as the song says. It is the Taoiseach’s time to do something about it,” he added.

Not impressed, the Taoiseach said what Mac Lochlainn was asserting is “absolute rubbish”.

“We are not ceding anything, particularly in regard to fishing rights. We are ceding nothing. It is just another game, is it not? It is just another slogan and just another approach, and it is consistent with the Deputy’s approach on everything.

“I engaged with the fishermen of Ireland and their representatives. I am serious about it and I am going to do everything I possibly can to help fishers in this country. I am not going to be engaging in the silly, shallow sort of presentations that the Deputy engages in, pretending to be the friend of everybody but with absolutely zilch when it comes to substance on very serious matters that affect livelihoods. For God’s sake, I think we need better than that.”

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs to The Journal said the purpose of the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill is to regulate the exercise of the State’s maritime jurisdiction, “not to make sovereign claims to land territory”.

The department said amending the Bill to claim sovereignty over Rockall would be “beyond the scope of the Bill”.

“The position of successive Governments has been that no state should seek to claim sovereignty over uninhabitable rocks in the middle of the ocean – for that reason no Irish Government has ever claimed Rockall nor has it ever recognised the UK’s claim,” said the department.

It stated that a 2013 agreement fixed the boundaries on the continental shelf – which were agreed in 1988 – as the exclusive economic zone boundaries also, creating a single maritime boundary in the water and on the seabed beneath.

“The agreement was implemented by a 2014 statutory instrument made under the existing Maritime Jurisdiction legislation – it was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, as required, and it was open to any Deputy or Senator to propose a motion to annul it within 21 sitting days. No such motion was ever proposed,” they added.

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