Brexit row erupts as Irish 'warship' seizes NI vessels
A fresh Brexit row erupted amid accusations from the DUP that the Irish Government ordered a 'warship' to seize two trawlers off Dundalk.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is demanding the Taoiseach explains why the Northern Ireland-registered vessels were "impounded by an Irish Navy warship".
The two fishing boats were seized after crossing into waters reserved exclusively for Irish boats. They were escorted by the LÉ Orla to Clogherhead and handed over to An Garda Síochána.
Mr Dodds accused the Navy of "heavy-handed tactics" which show Ireland "are fair-weather friends to Northern Ireland".
"If they have been holding back as some bargaining chip on Brexit, then it utterly exposes the Irish faux concern about a hard Border on the island of Ireland," he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is likely to be confronted with questions on the situation when he visits Belfast this evening.
In a statement last night, the Department of Defence described what occurred as "a routine operation".
A spokesman said the boats were impounded at the request of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) for alleged illegal fishing in Irish waters.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it could not accept the "current unequal application" of the Voisinage arrangement. The case has highlighted an ongoing fishing dispute caused by the demise of an informal deal between the UK and Irish governments.
The Voisinage agreement, which collapsed months after the Brexit referendum, was a reciprocal understanding between the UK and Irish Republic dating to the 1960s allowing vessels from Northern Ireland to fish in Irish inshore waters and vice-versa.
But the agreement hit the rocks in late 2016 when a number of Irish fishermen brought a case to the Supreme Court.
The court ruled Voisinage was an informal agreement of insufficient legal standing to formally grant access to foreign-registered boats.
That decision effectively banned Northern Ireland boats from fishing in Irish inshore waters - a move that affected fishermen north of the Border who traded in species such as lobsters, crabs, mussels and whelks.
The UK has continued to recognise the Voisinage agreement so Irish vessels remain free to fish inshore waters around Northern Ireland.