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Head of Scottish fishing group says Ireland would be 'unwise' to pick fight over Rockall

The Irish government said yesterday it rejected Scotland’s warnings of “enforcement action” against Irish fishing vessels.

The Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Róisín, on routine patrol at Rockall
The Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Róisín, on routine patrol at Rockall
Image: Flickr/Irish Defence Forces

THE HEAD OF the biggest fishing organisation in Scotland has said that Irish activity around the disputed Rockall area is illegal.

Bertie Armstrong from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation told the BBC that Ireland would be “unwise” to pick a fight with Scotland on the matter, and backed his government’s threats of “enforcement action”.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed issued a statement to say the government rejects the Scottish government’s unilateral threat of this action against Irish fishing vessels fishing within 12 miles of Rockall.

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 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. 

“Despite undertaking extensive discussions with the Irish authorities on the matter, it is disappointing that this activity continues,” a Scottish government spokesperson said.

In a statement, Armstrong agreed with the Scottish government’s stance. 

“The area is recognised in UK law as part of Scottish territorial waters and hosts multi-million pound haddock, monkfish and squid fisheries that are hugely important to our fleet,” he said.

The Scottish Government is right to impose compliance, full stop. But at a time when we are moving towards independent Coastal State status it lays down a benchmark for the future.

Irish anger

In the government’s statement yesterday, Coveney said it intends to “do everything possible to achieve a satisfactory resolution” to the issue. 

Minister Creed yesterday met the fishing industry representatives to explain the situation and to advise them of the threat of enforcement action against Ireland’s fishing vessels by the Scottish authorities. 

“I held a difficult but necessary meeting today with our fishing industry representatives,” Creed said.

I am very disappointed to have had to make them aware of the risk of enforcement action against them for fishing legitimately in the waters around Rockall.

Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal Pat the Cope Gallagher said many local fisherman work in that area and have done for decades.

“There are numerous Donegal fishing vessels, from both Killybegs and Greencastle ports, fishing off Rockall and in the immediate waters surrounding the rock,” he said. “These are long-standing fishing traditions and patterns, which predate any claim by any other jurisdiction of these jointly fished grounds.”

Gallagher said the Irish government must prioritise resolving the issue.

“The unilateral actions of the Scottish government has set an undesirable tone – especially ahead of anticipated Brexit discussions,” he added. 

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Sean Murray

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