Friday 22 March 2019

Taoiseach describes seizure of two fishing trawlers off coast as 'an accident waiting to happen'

Dispute: Two Northern Ireland-registered fishing boats seized by the Irish Navy moored in the port of Clogherhead in Co Louth. Photo: PA
Dispute: Two Northern Ireland-registered fishing boats seized by the Irish Navy moored in the port of Clogherhead in Co Louth. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described the seizure of two Northern Ireland fishing trawlers off the east coast as "an accident waiting to happen".

Amid accusations that the Irish government was using an anomaly in the law to play ‘Brexit war games’, Mr Varadkar has personally contacted the Fianna Fáil leader to ask him to help rush legislation through the Oireachtas.

The two fishermen were reunited with their boats yesterday – but not before they were arrested and brought to Louth District Court.

Jack Brown (57) and Kevin Trainor (47) pleaded guilty to breaching fishing regulations.

However, Judge John Coughlan said they were people of absolute integrity and he should be “as lenient as possible”. He applied the Probation Act which means they have escaped a criminal record.

The controversy erupted after the LÉ Orla impounded two small boats that had entered Dundalk bay earlier this week.

Until 2016 there was a deal between Ireland and the UK that allowed for mutual access to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland vessels up to six nautical miles off the coast of each country.

However, the Voisinage Arrangement was struck down in the Supreme Court as it had no basis in domestic law.

The boats seized, Boy Joseph and Amity, were described as modest vessels, with a total of five staff between them.

The Boy Joseph had just over €1,200 worth of shellfish on board when it was seized.

Amity had a haul of crabs and lobsters worth an estimated €2,000.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said the seizures of the vessels was a "really and truly regretful incident".

He said the Government was blocked in its efforts to change the law but was now working to build a cross-party consensus.

The Taoiseach said he is "confident" legislation will be passed in "the next couple of weeks" so that the status quo can be restored.

Mr Varadkar said the navy and gardaí had to uphold the law and he "can’t fault them for that".

But in a comment that is likely to be seized upon by his opponents in Westminster, Mr Varadkar said it "would be helpful" if the UK government gave a commitment not to take Northern Ireland out of London Fisheries Convention after Brexit.

The convention is an international agreement which governs fishing rights across the coastal waters of Western Europe.

Already the DUP have accused the Irish government of being heavy-handed in their actions.

Representative, Jim Wells, said the fishermen weren't doing anything illegal.

"There is no need for a gunboat to arrive that had the power to take out both boats with one shot.

"That is not required for two little fishing boats from Kilkeel who were carrying nothing more dangerous than a fax machine.

"People in the community cannot understand how two little trawlers fishing for crabs started a diplomatic incident,” he said.

"All that was required was a chat with the two skippers, not something that could've blown them to smithereens if they wanted to.

"It's like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would have."

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