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Wednesday 19 June 2019

Coveney rules out sending Naval Service vessels into disputed seas

Tanaiste Simon Coveney Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Tanaiste Simon Coveney Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Ralph Riegel

TANAISTE Simon Coveney flatly ruled out Naval Service vessels being sent into disputed seas around Rockall off Ireland's north west coast as he said the Government's priority now was to ease tensions in the fisheries stand-off with Scotland.

Mr Coveney and Marine Minister Michael Creed stressed that Scotland ranks as one of Ireland's closest friends - and the priority was to resolve the matter through dialogue and calm the rhetoric over Rockall.

However, his comments came as Scottish officials expressed concern that Irish vessels were continuing to fish in waters around Rockall and hinted that boardings of vessels by UK authorities might now be contemplated.

Scottish White Fish Producers Association boss Mike Park warned that Edinburgh was fully within its rights to take action over the 12 mile territorial limit as he claimed Irish vessels have been fishing illegally in the area for years.

Mr Coveney stressed that Naval Service patrol vessels will not be ordered to Rockall.

"There is no question of sending in naval ships," he said.

"I think the less we talk about boardings and potential clashes the better," the Tanaiste said.

"We need to take the heat out of this discussion and look for solutions."

"That is what diplomacy is about. Scotland and Ireland are very close friends. We will work with them to try to bring an end to this."

"But what we won't do is change a policy that we have had in place for decades on the back of a threat which is what has been happening for the last few days."

"I am a former Fisheries Minister - and I am standing next to the current Fisheries Minister (Michael Creed). We know how fisheries enforcement works we do it well here through the Irish Naval Service and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority."

"Our position on Rockall is very clear. Our fishing boats have been fishing there for many, many years."

"There has never been an issue in relation to enforcement. We recognise that there is a different legal view in the UK and, in particular, in Scotland with regard to Rockall than is the case here."

"The way to resolve this issue is not to try to force Ireland to change its policy towards Rockall and its legal opinion in relation to Rockall with the threat of (fisheries) enforcement."

"The way to resolve this is through negotiation and discussion."

"There are diplomatic channels very much open in a very senior way between both Governments today."

"We have a very clear view of the waters around Rockall - they are an EU fisheries ground. The Common Fisheries Policy applies. Quotas are allocated every December including quotas for Irish boats to catch fish in the Rockall area."

"What we do not accept is that a very small rock constitutes a sovereign territory that can have a 12 mile limit set around it. That is what the Scottish Government is claiming and we do not accept that."

Mr Creed endorsed the call for the situation to be calmed as a priority.

"We have not even contemplated sending in navy ships," he said.

"That kind of action (deploying Naval Service vessels) only escalates the tension around this issue."

"What we are trying to do is de-escalate it and find a way through the present difficulties by diplomatic and political contacts," Mr Creed said.

"What we have said is that we will exhaust all of the legal options that are available to us - we will provide legal assistance and advice to our individual fishermen who may be subject to that (boardings) but we will also explore all of the international forums that are available to us to prosecute our view which is that we have a legal right to be there."

"We do not recognise UK jurisdiction over Rockall."

"The reality is that Irish boats have been subject to compliance within Rockall for many years."

"In the context of that compliance, Marine Scotland have never raised the issue of an exclusive zone around Rockall in terms of our fishing industry not being entitled to fish there."

"As the Tanaiste has said, we are in ongoing contact at the highest level with the Scottish authorities."

"We do hope that this issue can be resolved. We clearly believe that we have a legal right to fish there."

"We have nearly 900 tonnes of haddock quotas to be allocated under EU law last December to be caught there."

"We believe our fishermen are within their legal rights to be catching that quota there."

"I have met with the fishing industry and I have told them we are not asking them at all to leave that zone."

"We believe they are legally entitled to be there."

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