Tánaiste insists Irish fishermen have legal right to fish at Rockall

Simon Coveney, welcoming former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Cork this morning. Secretary Kerry is the keynote speaker at the Our Oceans Wealth Summit organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Marine Institute.

Irish fisherman have a legal right to fish in the waters around Rockall, the Tánaiste and Agriculture Minister have insisted - though there is no intention of sending naval ships to protect Irish boats.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed both said they do not accept the Scottish claim on some 12km of water around the isolated rock some 400km west off Donegal and said diplomatic and political efforts are underway in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Speaking in Cork after a summit on ocean wealth, both Cabinet members said there is no question of Ireland sending in naval ships to protect Irish boats facing a threat of boarding from Scottish fisheries patrol vessels.

"I think the less we talk about boardings and potential clashes the better," Mr Coveney said.

"We need to take the heat out of this discussion and look for solutions. That is what diplomacy is about. Scotland and Ireland are very close friends. We will work with them to try to bring an end to this.

"But what we won't do is change a policy that we have had in place for decades on the back of a threat - which is what has been happening for the last few days.

"Our position on Rockall is very clear. Our fishing boats have been fishing there for many, many years.

"There has never been an issue in relation to enforcement. We recognise that there is a different legal view in the UK and, in particular, in Scotland with regard to Rockall than is the case here.

"The way to resolve this issue is not to try to force Ireland to change its policy towards Rockall and its legal opinion in relation to Rockall with the threat of (fisheries) enforcement.

"The way to resolve this is through negotiation and discussion. There are diplomatic channels very much open in a very senior way between both Governments today."

He said the Government has a "very clear view" of the waters around Rockall and that is that they are an EU fisheries ground.

"The Common Fisheries Policy applies. Quotas are allocated every December including quotas for Irish boats to catch fish in the Rockall area. What we do not accept is that a very small rock constitutes a sovereign territory that can have a 12-mile limit set around it. That is what the Scottish Government is claiming and we do not accept that."

He was backed by Minister Creed who said sending in Irish naval vessels to monitor the situation would only escalate the tension around this issue.

"What we have said is that we will exhaust all of the legal options that are available to us - we will provide legal assistance and advice to our individual fishermen who may be subject to that (boardings) but we will also explore all of the international forums that are available to us to prosecute our view which is that we have a legal right to be there."

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