irish fishing rights rockall Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn TD has accused the Irish government of inaction over fishing rights at Rockall

Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn TD has accused the Irish government of inaction over fishing rights at Rockall

Sinn Féin Deputy and Fisheries Spokesperson, Padraig MacLochlainn TD, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, clashed yesterday, Thursday 10 February, in the Dáil over the government’s inaction around access for Irish vessels to fishing at Rockall. 

Irish fishermen have found themselves locked out of traditional fishing grounds inside the 12 nautical mile limit around the rock since Brexit last year, and it has proved costly with huge drop in revenue for the industry. Since Brexit last January, Marine Scotland patrol boats have been keeping the Irish boats locked out as the UK lays claim to the EEZ around the rock. 

Deputy MacLochlainn grilled the Minister for the Marine on what exactly he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs was doing in order to get access back for the boats that have been excluded from the grounds for over thirteen months now. He asked the Minister.

He said, “You’ll be acutely aware of the impact of the outrageous blocking of access to the fisheries around Rockall to our Irish fishermen by the British Government. This, as I understand that it’s cost over 7,000,000 (euros) to our fishermen this year. 

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“I want to know what yourself and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are doing about this absolute outrage at this stage?” 

The Minister replied that he was aware of the losses being suffered by the fishermen and that the Temporary Voluntary Tie-up Scheme which he had put in place on the recommendation of the Seafood Sector Task Force, was extended for those vessels unable to carry out fishing on the Rockall grounds. 

He went on to say, “Ireland has never been any claims, as you know, to Rockall, nor have we ever recognised British sovereignty claims over Rockall and accordingly we have not and do not recognise the 12 nautical mile territorial sea around it either.” 

Deputy MacLoclainn responded by stating that the French would not entertain such inaction and “French President Emmanual Macron would not stand for his fishermen being treated like this.” 

He said, “You saw the response that he took to the British Government when they pushed in the scenario there.” 

MacLochlainn clalimed that both Minister and Minister of Foreigh Affairs had sat idly by. He continued, “So I mean, it is absolutely astonishing that one year on I’m getting from yourself minister, and indeed from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, exactly the same responses we got a year ago.  

“I mean internationally the British claim on Rock Hall, it’s not accepted internationally. It’s a very audacious, provocative claim, but it isn’t accepted so why are we allowing the British Government to enforce a blockade around Rockall of our fishermen, when it isn’t recognised internationally? Well, why have we not taken this for international arbitration? It’s absolutely astonishing!” 

MacLochliann then said that it “reflects a lack of respect for our fishermen from too many governments.” 

The Minister replied, “I can assure you Deputy that there’s no lack of respect from me or the government for fishermen. In fact, I massively respect the work they do and I have massive respect for the challenging role they have. The daily ordeal and challenge of fishing and what can be very difficult and dangerous seas. And the contribution they make to our economy nationally and to coastal communities in particular. 

“Since I’ve been appointed Minister, I’ve backed them and I will continue back them in every way I possibly can, whether that be through investment in their sector or through investment in harbours and piers, or investment in processing industry, adding value to their produce. 

“You know, as well as I do the massive challenge we have in relation to Brexit, and that is posed, we see that Northern Ireland in regard to the ongoing challenges there around the Northern protocol. So, it’s not easy. Nowhere near as easy as what it would have been pre-Brexit in terms of all of the British fishing waters being part of the European waters. 

“As you know, one-third of our fish is caught in British waters. If we hadn’t had a deal, for example, in Brexit, we had been blocked out from all of those waters, not just Rockall. We wouldn’t been able to go near Rockall. We wouldn’t be able to go near any of the waters around Rockall either in the event of no deal because Rockwell sits within British waters.  

“The issue at stake here is whether they can apply a 12-mile exclusive zone and under no circumstances, do we accept their claim on that because it’s an uninhabited island.” 

Deputy MacLochlainn pointed out to the Minister that the government had created this problem when they formally recognised Britain’s claim over Rockall. He said,I warned you that you were strengthening their case to block our fishermen out, and I I watched herself and Minister of Foreign Affairs shaking your head and here we are all this time forward and we still have a outrageous scenario where Irish fishermen are blocked for fishing in their traditional fishing grounds around Rock Hall, costing us millions of euros.”

He said that McConalogue as Minister for the Marine and Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs had failed in their responsibilities to the fishermen who traditionally fished Rockall. 

To which the Minister replied: 

“It we hadn’t we had a deal on Brexit. Not only would we be excluded from the Rockall waters, we would also be excluded from all British waters so, we wouldn’t be actually having the argument about the 12-mile zone around Rockall, we have been having the argument, but all water within the fishing zone which Rockall is placed within, and it all has been always has been placed within the British water zone always. Always has been. 

“You try and say it wasn’t, but it always has been the part we’ve always disputed is whether the British Government have a right to an exclusive 12-mile zone around Rockall. 

“We say they don’t because of the fact that it is not an inhabited island, it should not be entitled to 12-mile zone, and we dispute that.” 

by Oliver McBride

Brian J McMullin Solicitors
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