Latest: CEO of Fish Producers Association wants fishermen's voices heard

Latest: CEO of Fish Producers Association wants fishermen's voices heard

Update 1.49pm: The CEO of the Irish Fish Producers Association, Francis O’Donnell says the voices of Irish fishermen are not being listened to on the issue of the ‘Voisinage agreement’.

Up until 2016, under the ‘Voisinage agreement’, which dates back to the 1960s, there was a “gentleman’s agreement” where fishing vessels from both sides of the Border enjoyed reciprocal rights in Irish territorial waters.

He told RTE’s News at One that the fishing industry has been excluded from the discussion even though they are a major stakeholder.

There are many issues that should be ironed out before the agreement is reinstated, he said as it left the fishing industry in the South at a distinct disadvantage.

It was unfair that Irish fishing vessels had fewer rights in their own territorial waters than vessels from Northern Ireland, he added. Large multinationals could operate out of Northern Ireland and fish inside the 12 miles and 6 miles exclusion zones.

No matter what happens after Brexit we either will or we won’t have access. The pot of fish will be the same, it just depends on the share out.

Mr O’Donnell said that the agreement should not be reinstated before March 29. “We want an absolutely transparent agreement, but it shouldn’t be in place before March 29.”

The original agreement was not being operated in the spirit in which it had been initially drafted, he added. Large vessels from the North were coming into Irish territorial waters such as mussel vessels which exceeded the size that had been agreed.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach says detaining two fishing trawlers from the North in Dundalk bay on Wednesday is a "regrettable incident".

They were detained by the Navy for alleged breaches of fishing regulations.

The ‘Voisinage agreement’ was struck down by the Supreme Court and legislation to formalise that agreement has yet to be passed in the Oireachtas.

Speaking in Drogheda, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told LMFM that the current law is wrong.

We've had some good conversations with the opposition parties overnight and I think we can have that law changed and that anomaly corrected and we can do that in the next couple of weeks.

"At the same time, obviously it would be useful to know from the United Kingdom side that they're not going to pull out of that London convention because there was some suggestions from Michael Gove that they might and it would be unusual if we changed our law only to find out that the situation on the other side changed," he said.

Additional reporting by Digital Desk

Earlier: Dundalk fishing incident 'has zero to do with Brexit'

Update 8.35am: The seizure of two Northern Irish fishing boats by a naval vessel for fishing inside the Republic of Ireland’s territorial limit “has zero to do with Brexit,” claims Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

Mr Creed told RTE’s Morning Ireland that he hopes legislation that will reinstate the ‘Voisinage agreement’ can be completed by the end of this month.

Up until 2016, under the “Voisinage agreement” dating back to the 1960s, there was a “gentleman’s agreement” where fishing vessels from both sides of the Border enjoyed reciprocal rights in Irish territorial waters.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed

“The reciprocal agreement, whilst a good idea, needed to be put on a statutory footing.”

The Minister said that legislation has been published, but because there is a minority government and the number of amendments it had not been possible to get that legislation passed.

He is hopeful that with cooperation the legislation can be passed as quickly as possible, that it can be fast tracked and passed before the end of March.

The seizure of two Northern Ireland fishing vessels from the port of Kilkeel in Dundalk Bay earlier this week was the first occasion on which the Supreme Court ruling of 2016 had been implemented said Mr Creed.

When asked about the impact of Brexit on the reciprocal agreement, the Minister said that the issue “has zero to do with Brexit.”

We have sole sovereignty over our waters, this has nothing to do with Europe.

However, he did express concern over recent comments by his UK counterpart Michael Gove who has said he wants to undo the London agreement. “That will make matters more difficult.

“Our intention is to go ahead and reintroduce the 1960s agreement.”

He pointed out that Irish vessels enjoy fishing rights in Northern Ireland. “We can still go up north, but they cannot come south. Regardless of Brexit it is only right and proper that we restore the reciprocal arrangement.”

Earlier: Varadkar and Coveney playing politics on fishing, says Unionist councillor

Update 7.47am: An Independent Unionist councillor from Kilkeel, Co Down has said that the impounding of two Northern Ireland fishing boats by the Irish Navy has created distrust.

Cllr Henry Reilly told RTE’s Morning Ireland that it appeared “politics were being played” as previously the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney had said they were going to resolve the issue of fishing rights.

Northern Irish boats are currently prohibited from fishing inside the Republic of Ireland’s territorial limit while vessels from the Republic can fish in Northern Ireland waters.

Latest: CEO of Fish Producers Association wants fishermen's voices heard

Up until 2016, under the “Voisinage agreement” dating back to the 1960s, there was a “gentleman’s agreement” where fishing vessels from both sides of the Border enjoyed reciprocal rights in Irish territorial waters.

However, the deal broke down following a successful legal challenge to the agreement in the Supreme Court in Dublin in 2016. The court ruled Voisinage was an informal agreement of insufficient legal standing to formally grant access to foreign-registered boats.

That decision effectively banned Northern Ireland boats from fishing in Irish inshore waters. The UK has continued to recognise the Voisinage agreement so Irish vessels remain free to fish inshore waters around Northern Ireland.

Cllr Reilly said people in Kilkeel were “stunned” at what had happened.

He questioned the commitment of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to an all-island economy “having told us they were going to protect us.”

There was a good relationship between the fishing communities on both sides of the border, he said. Fishing families in Kilkeel and Clogherhead see each other as colleagues and friends, he added.

We don’t differentiate between southern boats and ours. We have southern boats coming up here all the time.

Cllr Reilly said he supported the repatriation of UK waters and would like to see Ireland included in that. Irish fishing waters are being “totally exploited” by other European countries, he said.

“They are causing catastrophic environmental damage to Irish waters.”

He said he’d like to see terms of cooperation about the management of fisheries in waters off the coast of Ireland.

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