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Why is the government arguing to let UK boats fish off Ireland's coasts?

Fishing limits could become a contentious issue after Brexit, as quotas and fishing territories are renegotiated.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS proposed amending the Sea Fisheries Act to allow boats from Northern Ireland to fish very close to Irish shores.

The amendment, which is only one-page long, would allow fishing vessels registered in Northern Ireland to fish up to 6 nautical miles of the Republic of Ireland’s coast.

The Sea Fisheries Amendment was originally meant to pass all stages in Seanad yesterday, which includes debate, amendments, a final vote, and changes.

But due to time constraints, there was no vote and the bill proceeded to next stage. The only amendment that was suggested was by Fianna Fáil, who wanted to limit the size of the ship to 15 metres (50 feet), which is still quite large but would exclude super trawlers.

Although it’s not unusual for a short amendments to go through all on the same day, it is unusual that it proceeded before a vote.

Grace O’Sullivan, a Green-party senator, voiced her concern that there was no consultation before the bill moved to the next stage.

The bill is being put through in light of Supreme Court judgement that found Northern Ireland vessels were fishing for mussels in Irish waters, as the amendment would now make their actions legal.


The reason why they want to do this is because Irish law is out of sync with a fishing agreement called the Voisinage arrangement which have been in place as part of the London Fisheries Convention 1964.

The Supreme Court found that these arrangements were valid but that there’s insufficient provision for them in our laws.


According to the Department of Agriculture, these long-standing reciprocal arrangements “allow fishing boats from Northern Ireland to fish for all fish stocks within the 0 to 6 nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State and vice versa“.

The Supreme Court described the arrangement as a sensible recognition at official level of practice and tradition, where fishing boats traditionally fished neighbouring waters.

According to the Department:

The Bill will, if enacted, fulfil Ireland’s obligations and ensure that the Voisinage arrangements are given a proper legal footing.

“In light of the Supreme Court judgment, fishing by Northern Ireland vessels in the territorial waters of the State under the Voisinage arrangements is not permitted by law.

However, Irish-registered fishing boats continue to be provided with access to fish in coastal waters around Northern Ireland under the arrangements.

The Department said that there was “regular and positive engagement” between Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and the corresponding agriculture minister in the North, Michelle McIlveen.

Brexit issue

Brexit has the potential to make the fishing industry in Ireland even more complicated. When the UK leaves the EU, it will be in a different fishing zone to Ireland, so there will be a complicated renegotiation on where the two countries’ vessels will be allowed to operate.

It’s also unknown whether some Dutch vessels which are registered in Northern Ireland, will be allowed to fish along Irish shores if the amendment is brought in.

The Seanad is in recess next week. The bill is expected to undergo Committee stage in the coming weeks.

Read: Irish fishermen will be able to catch more fish next year (but less cod and pollock)

Read: Call for more monitoring of super trawlers after dolphin deaths

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