On 31 May, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, wrote to me to indicate that, subject to operational priorities, the Scottish Government intended to deploy vessels to the area one week after the date of the letter (i.e. from 7 June) and intended to take enforcement actions against any vessel, regardless of nationality, that it considered to be fishing illegally. I replied to this letter on 5 June, stating the position of the Irish Government and requesting that the Scottish Government reconsider its approach. I spoke with Cabinet Secretary Hyslop on 6 June and, during the course of this conversation, she maintained the Scottish position.
This is a complex situation. The difference of view between the Irish and Scottish Governments is based on a fundamental question of sovereignty over Rockall, on which Ireland and the UK disagree.
I should make it clear that, as we do not accept that the UK enjoys sovereignty over Rockall, we do not accept that a territorial sea exists around Rockall, nor therefore that the Scottish Government is entitled to exclude Irish vessels from the seas around the rock. We understand that the UK takes a different view, but the approach taken by the Irish and British Governments to the definition of maritime boundaries in the past has been to accept that our views differ and to take no account of Rockall for practical purposes.
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 the past week. A process of intensified engagement has commenced, led by senior officials from both administrations.The Irish Government has consistently said this matter should be dealt with through diplomacy and agreement. We are hopeful that on this basis the latest difficulties can be de-escalated.