The issues of fisheries, along with governance arrangements and provisions for a level playing field, have been the most challenging issues in the EU-UK future relationship negotiations. Securing an overall future relationship agreement, including the best possible outcome on fisheries, is a priority for Ireland. I have repeatedly raised fisheries as a priority for Ireland in my bilateral political contacts, as indeed has the Taoiseach, Minister McConalogue and other members of the Government. In particular we, and our EU partners, are very clear that the issue of fisheries cannot be separated from the wider trade negotiations.
Ireland is seeking to protect the interests of the Irish fleet in relation to access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the EU fleet, while insisting that fisheries issues are dealt with as part of an overall trade deal. It is vital that we do everything possible to protect our vulnerable coastal communities and fishers. In particular, it will be important to ensure no EU Member States are disproportionately affected by any new arrangements.
From the outset of the negotiations, Ireland and our EU partners have been clear on our level of ambition in this area and on the fact that progress on an overall economic partnership agreement on trade is linked to progress on fisheries.
The Brexit Stakeholder Forum, which I chair, meets regularly to discuss progress in the EU-UK Future Relationship negotiations, and is attended by representatives of the fisheries sector.
Clearly, the two sides are still very far apart even as we approach the final stages of the negotiations. The European Commission Task Force, led by Michel Barnier, is continuing to work towards achieving an overall agreement, and for a satisfactory outcome on this area. Affected Member States, including Ireland, are continuing our very close engagement with the Taskforce on the EU approach.