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Varadkar: Irish fishing rights around Rockall will change after Brexit

The Taoiseach said there’s currently “no basis” for excluding Irish vessels from fishing in the waters

Rockall and its surrounding countries.
Rockall and its surrounding countries.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that there is “no basis” for excluding Irish vessels from fishing in the waters around Rockall but accepted that this situation will change post-Brexit. 

In a detailed answer delivered during today’s Leader’s Questions, Varadkar restated the government’s position that it accepts that Rockall exists within the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone but rejects the UK’s claim of sovereignty over the tiny sea islet. 

Varadkar said that the Scottish government’s tougher line has been clear for a number of months.

“In relation to the position the Scottish government has taken, government was informed, the Tánaiste and Minister Creed were informed, several months ago that the Scottish had a view and an opinion that they had exclusive rights to fishing within 12 miles of Rockall and that they were minded to enforce that and that they were come back to us and give us notice before they would enforce it. And that obviously happened in the last week or so.”

Ireland’s position is that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from Rockall waters as they are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities and have done so unhindered for decades. We believe any concerns should be handled through dialogue rather than universal enforcement action.

“The jurisdiction over the 12 mile area has long been disputed, the UK claims sovereignty over Rockall and thus a 12 mile territorial limit around it. The Irish government position has been and remains that we do not recognise this claim and that the waters around Rockall are part of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone and a accordingly form part of the European waters under the Common Fisheries Policy, to which the principle of equal access to vessels of all European vessels including Irish vessels applies.”

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

In questioning Varadkar, Independent Cork South-West TD Michael Collins accused the government of ignoring the concerns of fishermen and said they were “furious with political parties”.

“They want a standalone minister in this country whose sole responsibility is to fight for their rights, the same as their fellow Europeans,” Collins said.  

The deputy claimed that the Rockall dispute was symptom of government inaction in protecting fishermen. 

In response, Varadkar said that government representatives have met with fishing groups and reassured them that their right to fish around Rockall will be defended. 

PastedImage-46631 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil this afternoon. Source: Oireachtas.ie

“This is a question of the Scottish government on behalf the UK, or rather on their own bat, asserting sovereignty over Rockall and thereby claiming an exclusive zone over 12 miles around that,” Varadkar said. 

We take a different view, when the Exclusive Economic Zones were drawn, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was applied and that treats uninhabited, uninhabitable rocks such as Rockall as if they do not exist. So we accept that Rockall is in United Kingdoms Exclusive Economic Zone, everyone does, but what we don’t accept is that Rockall has a 12 mile exclusive limit around it.

“For so long as the United Kingdom is part of the European Union, these are European waters and Irish fishermen are entitled to fish for their quota and for non-quota species in any part of that UK Exclusive Economic Zone.” 

“But obviously with Brexit that will change and obviously one thing that is not fully appreciated is that Irish fishermen take a lot of fish out of UK waters, maybe 35% of all the fish that we take comes out of UK waters including some of the most valuable species like shrimp and like mackerel and so on.” 

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Rónán Duffy

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