Monday 27 March 2017

'I don't accept that the whole of Lough Foyle is under UK jurisdiction' - Foreign Affairs Minister

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Photo: Tom Burke
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Photo: Tom Burke
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he doesn't accept the claims from the British Government that it has jurisdiction over all of Lough Foyle.

Mr Flanagan said officials from his department have been in contact with counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office after Secretary of State James Brokenshire reasserted London's claim over the entire lough.

Jurisdictional claims have been made over the lough, which straddles Derry and Donegal, for decades, but were reignited by the statement this week from the Conservative Party minister in response to a parliamentary question.

"Can I say clearly in the first instance that there are no new claims here, there are no fresh assertions," Mr Flanagan said, following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh.

"This is an issue upon which there has been something of a disagreement for many years. I don't accept the claims that the whole of Lough Foyle is under the jurisdiction of the UK government.

"However, rather than dwell on the negatives, I think it's important that we look forward and see how best this situation might be resolved and I would like to see the Loughs Agency work towards its full potential. My officials have been in contact with officials of the office for the Secretary of State."

After the Good Friday Agreement, a cross-border body called the Loughs Agency was handed responsibility for the water.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said that if there will be no hard border on the land, nobody wanted a hard border on the Foyle either.

She said it was important to find a solution that everyone can agree with.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who is from Derry, quipped: "Here here Arlene. No hard border on the land, no border on the sea."

The fallout from the Brexit vote dominated the meeting of ministers from both sides of the border.

Topics discussed included the border, peace process funds, and the movement of people and goods.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Flanagan were keen to stress the close cooperation between the two jurisdictions, in the wake of the boycotting of the all-island civic Brexit forum by unionists and claims by Ms Foster that Dublin was poaching investment from the north.

"It was actually one of the best meetings that Ive attended at the north south ministerial, where ministers on both sides gave their reflections on the work they had been doing together, on the challenges that we see from a common perspective," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Flanagan said the meeting, which lasted over an hour, was of huge importance and said it was the "most engaging, most important and most significant meeting in my time" in terms of engagement. He said there was a Brexit impact assessment across a wide range of departments.

Ms Foster described it as a "useful meeting" and that "triangular" talks between Dublin, Belfast and London would continue.

"We will wait and see what happens in the Supreme Court and take it from there," she added, referring to the UK government's appeal to the High Court ruling that parliament must be involved in the triggering of Article 50.

Mr McGuinness said the British government doesn't know what Brexit means, and he warned of the potential impact on the peace process. 

"The threat to the peace process should not be underplayed. We still have people who are hostile to our institutions. We still have people who are committed to violence and who would wish to plunge us back to the past," he said.

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