Saturday 17 August 2019

'We are going to be sensible' - Taoiseach on Rockall row after Sturgeon meeting

Leo Varadkar and Nicola Sturgeon speak after a British Irish Council summit meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)
Leo Varadkar and Nicola Sturgeon speak after a British Irish Council summit meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Scotland’s threat to detain Irish trawlers at Rockall has been partly motivated by a belief that fishing around the inhabited islet has increased in recent years, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Irish and Scottish ministers are to undertake an intensive process of engagement in the coming weeks to try to resolve a dispute that arose earlier this month when Scotland threatened to detain Irish trawlers it claimed were fishing illegally around the outcrop.

Ireland’s position is that it does not recognise the UK’s claims of sovereignty over Rockall which has been long used by fishing trawlers based out of Donegal.

Mr Varadkar met with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the margins of the British-Irish Council in Manchester today for the first time since the row broke out.

The two leaders agreed to have their ministers report back on a way forward by the end of July.

“Their position is that Rockall has an exclusive twelve mile limit around it.

"That is not our position. Our position is that we accept Rockall is part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone and it is under the international law of the sea. But we don’t accept that an uninhabitable island can have a twelve mile limit around it,” Mr Varadkar said afterwards.

“One of their concerns is that there has been an increase in fishing by Irish and EU trawlers in recent years, much higher than historical levels, but our view is that our fishermen have the right to pursue EU quota in those waters.

“We have agreed that nobody is going to escalate this.

"We are going to be sensible about this. We are going to try to come to an agreement.

"Our ministers are going to engage in an intensive process between now and the end of July, report to us then. We both understand that our common objectives are to protect the interests of our own fishing industries and that is certainly my objective as Taoiseach.”

Mr Varadkar said his relations with Ms Sturgeon were very good and that he did not want the two countries to fall out over Rockall with Brexit looming.

Ms Sturgeon later tweeted: “On Rockall, there have been constructive discussions between our officials in last 2 weeks and these will continue. Our Ministers will report back by end of July.

"More widely, we reflected on the strong Scottish-Irish relationship.”

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