Tánaiste: Government was told in September about Scotland's Rockall claims

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that the Irish Government was informed last September about Scotland’s intentions to enforce its claim to the territorial waters around Rockall.

Tánaiste: Government was told in September about Scotland's Rockall claims

Update: Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that the Irish Government was informed last September about Scotland’s intentions to enforce its claim to the territorial waters around Rockall.

His Scottish counterpart Fiona Hyslop told him that Scotland would give Ireland a week’s notice when they intended to commence enforcement which was what they had done last week, he said.

"We don't recognise the Scottish claim on Rockall,” he told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show. “Ireland hasn’t claimed sovereignty to Rockall. We don’t accept that a small rock is sovereign territory.”

The issue now needs to be resolved not allowed build up, added Mr Coveney.

It was hard to know what the motivation for Scotland was, he said. “It must be political.”

This was Scotland’s decision, not Britain’s decision, said the Tánaiste.

He did not think that the Royal Navy would be enforcing the fishing zone. “It is the Scottish Fisheries Protection vessels, but I understand that the Royal Navy will be there as back up if they need them.

We are not going to escalate this to an issue between two European navys. We will have high-level discussions to remove the heat.

“I’m interested in resolving this. Don’t confuse diplomatic language with weakness.

“We will support Ireland’s fishing boats.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Scottish Fishermen’s Association has warned that the issue of fishing rights around Rockall will be overtaken by Brexit.

Bertie Armstrong told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that it was unwise “to get into the red corner/blue corner about this specifically.

“It needs to be sorted out legally. It will be subsumed into the set of agreements after Brexit which will see the UK withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy.”

'Bigger fish to fry'

Mr Armstrong urged caution and called for fishing groups to stand back from the political argument.

“An unemotional, sensible, not ‘a caught in the headlights’ solution needs to be found. There are much bigger fish to fry, pardon the pun.”

He said it was in the best interests of the UK and Irish fishing industries for the issue to be sorted out before “both are flayed alive about access to each other’s waters.

“It makes sense if the Irish and UK governments are on the same page about this. We would support this being bottomed out now before (Brexit) negotiations start.”

Mr Armstrong said that the issue of fishing rights off Rockall was not new and had been around for years. It was more visible now because of the surrounding circumstances.

The issue of who fishes where, of Irish access to UK waters after Brexit has been a stone in the shoe for years.

The chief executive of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue told the same programme that he hoped common sense would prevail and that a diplomatic solution could be found.

It was “highly unusual” that the Scottish government had decided to enforce “something that is totally illegal.”

Irish fishing vessels intend to remain in the waters around Rockall, he said.

Scottish Fisheries Protection vessels had regularly boarded Irish fishing boats to carry out routine checks on net size and the catch, so that was not unusual.

“No one every unformed us that we shouldn’t be fishing inside the 12 mile limit.”

Earlier: Irish captain says he will continue to fish off Rockall despite Scottish warning

The captain of an Irish fishing vessel has vowed to continue fishing in the waters off Rockall despite a warning from the Scottish government that it will take action against Irish fishing vessels that fish in the area.

In what is seen as a direct consequence of the escalating Brexit crisis, Scotland has laid claim to the waters around Rockall and accused Ireland of fishing illegally in the region.

Declaring a 12-mile exclusion zone on the islet, the Scottish government said all fishing rights around Rockall — which is 230 nautical miles north-west of Donegal and 240 nautical miles west of Scotland — belong to it.

Adrian McClenahan told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland that the disputed waters are extremely important for Irish fishermen. The area is vital for increased haddock quotas with 850 tonnes being caught by the Irish fleet.

“I’ve been fishing here for years. I’ve been boarded by Scottish navy vessels many times. It has never been an issue before.”

Mr McClenahan said that such inspections were routine under EU regulations and his vessel had also been boarded by the Irish fishery patrols.

I am fishing inside the 12 mile zone now. I feel it is my right. I don’t think the Scottish government has the right to ask us to leave.

“It’s a big gamble to take as it could put your whole business at risk, court cases could take years to resolve.”

He said that a number of Irish vessels had left the area as they were concerned and did not want to be detained or caught up in a legal case. If that were to happen it could have very serious consequences for many.

“We’ve been told by the Minister that we have a right to fish here. That we have the full backing financially and legally if one of our boats get detailed.”

Mike Park, CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers organisation said that since 2014 Scotland had the right to impose a 12 mile limit around Rockall.

“Scotland told the Irish government to make sure Irish vessels were aware of this, but they have been ignored for years. Irish vessels have continued illegally fishing for years.

This is not disputed territory in our eyes. The Scottish government warned the Irish government for years to have that respect. You’ve got to abide by the law. If there is a dispute it should be challenged in a court of law.

Mr Park said the issue was not connected to Brexit as it goes back longer that than. “This is down to the intransigence of the Irish government.”

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