The Deputy will be aware that An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney recently received a formal letter of notice from the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, stating that Scotland would deploy vessels in the Rockall area to take “enforcement action” against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall from last weekend onwards.
Ireland’s position is that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from these waters as they are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities and have done so unhindered for decades. The United Kingdom claims sovereignty over Rockall and thus a twelve mile territorial sea around it. The United Kingdom first made its claim of sovereignty to Rockall in 1955 and sought to incorporate it as part of the UK in its domestic law by virtue of the Island of Rockall Act 1972.
The Irish Government has never sought to claim sovereignty over Rockall. Our position has been and remains that it does not accept the UK’s claim to sovereignty over Rockall, which it regards as forming part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone and, accordingly, part of European Union waters under the Common Fisheries Policy, to which the principle of equal access for the vessels of all EU Member States applies. Irish vessels have operated unhindered in the Rockall zone for many decades fishing haddock, squid and other species and these fisheries are of substantial economic importance to our fishing fleet based in Greencastle, Killybegs, Castletownbere and other ports around the country.
I met with the Irish fishing sector on Friday last to inform them of the letter from the Scottish Authorities. I also emphasised that Ireland’s position in relation to Rockall had not changed. The industry was appreciative of that engagement but was also extremely concerned at the possibility that unjustified enforcement action might be taken against them.
We have built with Scotland a strong and positive relationship, to our mutual benefit, over many years. I hope that we can use that close relationship to find a way to resolve these matters and to remove the threat of enforcement action against Irish vessels. Dialogue is continuing between the Irish and Scottish Governments and there have been close contacts at official level over recent days. It has now been agreed that a process of intensified engagement will take place, led by senior officials from both administrations. We are hopeful that, on this basis, the latest difficulties can be de-escalated.