Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern tonight vowed to secure the country’s right to exploit a massive area of seabed rich in oil and gas in the north Atlantic.
The latest round of negotiations between Ireland, the UK, Iceland and Denmark on how the thousands of square kilometres around the disputed Rockall area can be divided ended without agreement today.
The states hope eventually to reach a deal on territorial rights to the vast area – some 422,000 sq km, or about five times the size of Ireland – and exploit its rich reserves.
Under a new United Nations treaty, states will be allowed to claim a greater share of the ocean floor if they can show a direct link with their own land mass, but they must apply before a 2009 closing date.
Mr Ahern said: “It is a difficult and protracted issue and for the four countries involved to make progress under the UN Convention we have to reach a deal, but so far that has proved elusive.
“We still have time on our hands.
“The bottom line as far as Ireland is concerned is we will continue to pursue our interests in relation to the Rockall area – and as long as I am a minister that situation will not change,” he said.
Further negotiations between the four countries are due to take place over the coming months.
The Hatton/Rockall meetings, which have been going on for five years, are part of wider moves by countries to lay claim to vast areas of the ocean in the search for new reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals.
Each of the four countries is keen to safeguard its rights over the rich seabed as new drilling technologies mean previously inaccessible oil and gas deposits can now be made commercially viable.
Although a separate issue, a dispute has long raged between the UK and Ireland over territorial rights to the rock itself, which the former claims as its own.
The summit of an eroded volcano core hundreds of miles off Ireland’s north- west coast and measuring just 19m (62ft) high, it was claimed by the British in 1955.
But the Irish never accepted this, stating it is closer to Ireland.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman, however, stressed the talks had nothing to do with the disputed rock, but the rich land surrounding it.
“Let me make it clear that the Irish negotiating team intend ultimately succeeding in vindicating our nation’s rights,” Mr Ahern continued.
“Ireland has already been the first country to successfully secure UN Commission approval for a large area of sea bed off our south-west coast.
“In May 2006 we made our second submission for a massive area off our south coast.
“The Rockall claim we hope will be our third submission.
“This hard work when successful will ensure Ireland enjoys major rights to a seabed stretching hundreds of miles off our coast.
“The implications in terms of oil and gas exploration will bring great benefits to generations to come,” he said.