Wednesday 23 October 2019

Taoiseach blames legal 'anomaly' for seizure of fishing boats

Dispute: The vessels in Kilkeel Harbour. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Dispute: The vessels in Kilkeel Harbour. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Conor Humphries

Leo Varadkar has promised to resolve a legal "anomaly" that led to the seizure of two small fishing boats from Northern Ireland by the Irish Naval Service vessel last Thursday. The Naval Service impounded two trawlers registered in Northern Ireland for fishing illegally inside Ireland's six-mile (9.6 km) territorial limit.

The DUP reacted angrily with deputy leader Nigel Dodds describing the seizure as "outrageous... heavy-handed tactics". Dodds also accused Dublin of using the incident as a "bargaining chip on Brexit" - a claim denied by Government spokespeople.

The owners of the trawlers pleaded guilty to breaching fishing regulations at Drogheda District Court last Friday but a judge decided to release them without levying a fine.

An informal bilateral agreement had allowed fishermen from Ireland and Northern Ireland to fish inside the six-mile limit of each others' jurisdictions, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and Ireland has yet to approve any replacement legislation.

As a result, Irish fishermen can legally fish along Northern Ireland's coast - but Northern Ireland fishermen are prohibited from fishing along the coast of the Republic of Ireland.

"I think we can have that law changed and that anomaly, if you like, corrected, and we can do that in the next couple of weeks," Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on LMFM Radio, adding that legislation had got stuck in the Seanad.

Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, told RTE radio that the issue had "zero to do with Brexit". But the Taoiseach linked the dispute with Britain's post-Brexit plans for its fisheries and whether or not these it will stay party to the London Fisheries Convention, which governs fishing rights in coastal waters off Western Europe.

"Obviously it would be useful to know from the United Kingdom side that they are not going to pull out of that London Convention," the Taoiseach said. It would be unusual to change our law only to find out that the situation on the other side changed."

Britain's withdrawal agreement, which has yet to be ratified by the British parliament, says the two sides would try to agree on the future of fisheries by July 2020, during a transition period after Brexit, to eventually form part of an new EU-UK trade deal.

Sunday Independent

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