The Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021 was enacted by the Oireachtas on 22 July this year. It updates the State’s law on maritime jurisdiction to reflect developments in international and domestic law and consolidates the previous legislation in one, stand-alone enactment.
Sections 17, 18 and 19 of the Act deal with the continental shelf and replace and update sections 2 and 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968. The continental shelf is the natural prolongation below water of the State’s land territory beyond the limits of its territorial sea. To the west and south-west Ireland’s continental shelf extends several hundred kilometres from the coast before it reaches the deep ocean floor.
Depending on their location the State’s harbours and inland bays are located either in its territorial sea or its internal waters and accordingly sections 17 – 19 of the Act do not apply to them. There are however outstanding jurisdictional issues with the UK in respect of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. Following discussions in 2011 between the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the British Foreign Secretary, the Irish and British Governments agreed to try to resolve these. Since that time a series of meetings and contacts have taken place at official level between the Foreign Office and my own Department and this engagement is ongoing.
The issues involved in these discussions are complex and involve a range of different actors on both sides, but I am satisfied that all sides are committed to reaching a positive resolution as soon as possible.