Fishermen fear influx of vessels from UK
Irish fishermen are demanding that the Government suspend controversial fishing ground legislation until after the UK's Brexit policy is known.
Marine Minister Michael Creed was warned by fishing industry bodies that fast-tracking legislation on access to Irish fishing grounds could have disastrous consequences if it allows effectively unrestricted access to UK vessels operating from Northern Ireland.
Mr Creed is considering new legislation covering access to Irish fishing grounds after a previous agreement between Dublin and Belfast was found to have no basis in law.
The so-called Voisinage Agreement, which dated back to a deal agreed between then-taoiseach Seán Lemass and Northern Ireland prime minister Terence O'Neill in 1965, covered reciprocal access to fishing grounds. It was struck down by the Supreme Court last year as effectively being a gentlemen's agreement and having no basis in law.
Now, the Government is considering a change to the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006. If enacted, the change will allow Northern Ireland-based vessels access to Ireland's fishing grounds inside the six-mile limit.
Last year, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine said the court ruling had implications for access by Northern Irish vessels within the three-mile territorial limit. However, it insisted it didn't impact on arrangements in the six to 12-mile territorial limits as these are covered by EU legislation.
There are mounting fears within Irish fishing bodies that a new access concession could ultimately allow Northern Ireland vessels, and UK vessels which relocate to Northern Ireland ports, full access to Irish fish stocks.
Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) official Francis O'Donnell said the industry has understandable concerns.
"I have to express grave reservations in relation to the proposed intent of bringing legislation forward that would extend or increase access to Ireland's exclusive fishery zone by foreign vessels beyond that already agreed at the London Fisheries Convention," he said.
The IFPO is now seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Creed.
Fishing industry bodies want the Government to suspend the proposed changes until full consultations - and until after the UK's Brexit position is known.