Written Answers. - UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Brian Lenihan

Question:

99 Mr. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the British Government has decided not to accede to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (details supplied) on the grounds that the convention is prejudicial to United Kingdom claims in the Rockall area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16416/96]

Brian Lenihan

Question:

100 Mr. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs whether the Government will maintain the position that the provision of the UN Law of the Sea Convention relating to rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life are declaratory of existing customary international law in view of the stated position of the British Government that the United Kingdom will not accede to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (details supplied) in view of the recent uncertainties concerning the fisheries around Rockall. [16417/96]

Brian Lenihan

Question:

101 Mr. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs whether Ireland has made any declaration or statement of position in view of the stated position of the British Government that the United Kingdom will not accede to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (details supplied). [16418/96]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 99, 100 and 101 together. The Law of the Sea Convention — LOSC — was done at Montego Bay on 10 December 1982 and entered into force internationally on 16 November 1994. It deals comprehensively with a large number of maritime law issues and sets out an international legal regime on subjects which include the delimitation of the various maritime zones, the delimitation of the national continental shelf, the exploitation of the deep sea-bed and various issues of environmental concern. It constitutes one of the most significant acts of consolidation of international law — that is, the setting out in convention form of hitherto dispersed and frequently unclear rules on a particular topic or set of topics — ever accomplished by the international community. Ireland ratified the Convention earlier this year and has been bound by its provisions since 21 July 1996. There are at present 104 States party to the Convention. The advantages of a convention-based legal regime on the sea are universally recognised, and are particularly attractive for maritime countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom. Of relevance also is the fact that the European Union as such also intends to become a party to the Convention in the near future.

The issue of Rockall has in the past been a source of some public legal and political controversy in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Much of that controversy was due to unresolved fears on either side regarding the division as between the two countries in the sea area around that rock or skerry. In particular, jurisdiction over Rockall — the claim by the United Kingdom which is contested by Ireland — was thought to be central to the mineral rights in the adjacent seabed, as well as to national fishing rights in the surrounding seas.

This country has, over the past three decades, been involved in a process of clarification of these issues. Article 121 (3) of the LOSC, which represents the view of the majority of the world's states as expressed either in negotiations at the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea — UNCLOS III — in the 1970s and/or by their subsequent signature and ratification of or accession to the Convention, states that:
Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
Ireland has, by its signature and ratification of the Convention, formally accepted this as a statement of the international law on the matter. The Anglo-Irish Continental Shelf Agreement of 7 November 1988, published in the Treaty Series as No. 1 of 1990, which sets out the agreed delimitation of the continental shelf as between Ireland and the United Kingdom, reflects this understanding of the law — that delimitation was agreed without reference to Rockall and without prejudice to this country's position on the jurisdictional question, including the issue of fishing rights.
At present the United Kingdom claims a 12-mile territorial sea around Rockall, a claim which, depending as it does on jurisdiction over the rock, Ireland has likewise not accepted. Both sides remain aware of the continuing position of their counterpart in the matter. Quite independently of these issues, it is a matter of public record and it continues to be my understanding that the British Government has been consistent in its support for the United Kingdom's becoming a party to the LOSC. My attention has been drawn to exchanges on this matter in the House of Lords on 20 June and again on 5 July of this year, but nothing that was said at either time leads me to believe that there has been any fundamental revision of the British position and intentions towards the Convention as I understand them. The issue central to those exchanges was one of the timing of British accession rather than a change in the policy which is favourable to that accession. Formally becoming a party to a wide range of international legal engagements such as is contained in the Convention is never a simple matter and the moment at which such a move is finally made is of course a matter solely for the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom.