Thursday 23 November 2017

How Brexit has reignited an age-old row over Lough Foyle

Lough Foyle
Lough Foyle

Brian Hutton

Brexit has sparked its first territorial dispute - reigniting a historic row over the ownership of Lough Foyle.

Claims over the vast estuary between Co Derry in Northern Ireland and Co Donegal in the Republic of Ireland have been made since the island was partitioned almost a century ago.

After the Good Friday Agreement, a cross-border body called the Loughs Agency was handed responsibility for the waters, a key strategic naval base during World War II.

But in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has reasserted London's claim over the entire lough.

In response, the Government issued a fresh declaration - saying it did not accept the claim.

It added that it did not see Lough Foyle's disputed ownership being put on the table as part of the Brexit negotiations.

Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in London, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in London, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Mr Brokenshire was asked in a parliamentary question how fishing rights would be decided in both Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough - which also straddles both jurisdictions - after the UK left the EU.

The Conservative minister said London was committed to withdrawing from the EU Common Fisheries Policy and putting a new fisheries regime in place.

But no actual decisions had yet been taken, he said, adding that the UK was bound by international law.

Asked specifically about Lough Foyle, he added: "The government's position remains that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK."

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs swiftly rejected the claim. "Ireland has never accepted the UK's claim to the whole of Lough Foyle," it said in a statement.

It said both governments agreed to try to resolve the row over both Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough during talks in 2011 between the then minister for foreign affairs and British foreign secretary.

"Since that time a series of meetings have taken place at official level between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade," the statement added.

"The issues involved are complex and involve a range of different actors, including the Crown Estates.

"This is not something we currently envisage as forming part of the negotiations around the UK's departure from the EU."

Sinn Féin senator Padraig Mac Lochlainn branded Mr Brokenshire's remarks "arrogant and provocative".

"The Loughs Agency tasked with responsibility for managing Lough Foyle by both governments has been repeatedly calling for a resolution so that the real tourism and fisheries potential of the lough can be fully realised," he added.

Irish Independent

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