Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has been accused of undermining attempts to protect the marine environment off the Cork coast in favour of Russian military interests.
Russian warships are making their way towards Ireland, as the Government begins "scenario planning" for economic sanctions being imposed on Moscow.
Nato is monitoring a task group of Russian ships travelling through the Norwegian Sea towards Ireland to participate in a live-fire exercise off the south coast.
Fishers representatives were last night sent a Marine Notice, warning them about coming in contact with warships taking part in forthcoming Russian naval exercises. The notice is reminding them of the international maritime “rules of the road” designed to avoid collisions at sea.
Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, says the notice has undermined a plan by his members to safeguard the marine environment in the area where the Russians intend on carrying out live firing exercises.
Earlier this week, he warned the impact of military sonar and live missile launches has the potential to severely disrupt the annual migratory path and breeding season of fish like mackerel, tuna and blue whiting in the waters of Ireland’s continental shelf.
The Department of Transport’s Marine Notice is - in effect - warning ships to stay out of the way of the Russian navy. In response, Mr Murphy said his members actually start fishing in the area on February 1, before the Russians are due to arrive on February 3.
So, he said, it is the Russians who the Department of Transport should be sending the Marine Notice to.
“What Minister Ryan is after doing now is undermining the protection that the boats would give all the wildlife outside there,” he said.
“So the notice that he sent to us should have been sent to the Russians because they're coming in second.” He added: “Given that we will be there first, how can we be endangering the Russian fleet that is coming in after us?
“We cannot believe it. To say we are dumbfounded by this, is an understatement."
He questioned whether "Green Party Minister" Eamon Ryan realises the implications of what he has done. “He is looking for the protection of the marine environment. But you have to wonder, is he there to protect the environment or Russian interests?”
He also pointed out that the Marine Notice has potentially “jeopardised” the validity of the insurance policies of the boats who planned to be out there from February 1. Skippers will now have to ring the insurance companies and find out if they will lose their insurance if they don’t adhere to this the Marine Notice.
The Department of Transport Marine Notice suggests seafarers should also look up a previous Marine Notice that says all seafarers must “fully comply at all times by day and night” with the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS).
These are the basic “rules of the road” for all seafarers in charge of vessels on the high seas “irrespective of type of vessel” and are “fully applicable to all vessels on the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels”.
It states Collision Regulations apply to all ships of foreign countries - including the Russian Federation. The Department of Transport and Mr Ryan have been asked for a comment.
Irish MEPs have written to the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs calling on him to raise their "deep unease" with Russian officials at the highest levels.
In a letter to Vice President Josep Borrell, 10 of Ireland's 13 MEPs say the Russian navy's plan has caused "significant worry".
"Mr Borelll, as representatives of the Irish people in the European Parliament, we request that you as the EU's High Representative raise, at the highest levels in the Russian Government, your deep unease at these manoeuvres and request no further manoeuvres take place," the letter states.
The cross-party letter, which was signed by all MEPs apart from Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Luke Ming Flanagan, acknowledges that international law allows operations of this nature, however, they say that the planned manoeuvres "must be viewed in the current context".
"An operation so close to Ireland at a time of heightened tensions between other EU Member States and the Russian Federation, has caused worry among our citizens and concern in our government."
Meanwhile, former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said the Russian ambassador to Ireland needs to listen to the valid concerns of the Irish fishing industry.
He said he must "call on his government to cancel the proposed military exercises planned for next week in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone".