Irish fishermen defy Rockall warning from Scottish government

Rockall Image copyright Andy Strangeway
Image caption The Scottish government has threatened action against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall

Irish fishermen have said they have no intention of leaving disputed waters off Rockall.

It comes after Scottish ministers gave a warning to their Irish counterparts.

They said they would take enforcement action against any vessels caught within 12 nautical miles of the uninhabited North Atlantic islet.

John O'Kane, of Greencastle Fishermen's Co-Operative, said three Irish skippers were continuing to fish in the area, as they had done for the past 30 years.

Scotland's Fisheries Minister Fergus Ewing said the Scottish government was sure of its legal position and added that it was his duty to ensure that the law was enforced.

Speaking to RTÉ, Mr O'Kane said the Irish boats were inside the 12-mile exclusion zone but the fishermen said there had been no sign of any naval patrols.

Image copyright RTE
Image caption John O'Kane said Irish trawlers had fished in the area for the past 30 years

"They are going to continue fishing there," he said. "They have been fishing there for the last five months this year and for the last 30 years. Our co-op has been in existence for 30 years and during that period of time we have had boats off Rockall every single year.

"They are going to see out their trips. They have no intention of leaving there at the moment.

"What the Scots have done is brought in a rule that is against the law of the sea. It is against EU law and has no legal standing whatsoever."

He added: "Our vessels are going to continue fishing under European legislation and they are perfectly entitled to do that. Hopefully the Scots will not be sending naval vessels and this can all be sorted out at a government level.

"We feel that this is a political stunt by the SNP. The Irish government have to fight this tooth and nail.

"There is no tension at all between the Scottish and Irish fishermen. This has blindsided us. It's just come out of the blue.

"Our fishermen are determined to stick to their guns on this one."

Rockall - an eroded volcano - lies 260 miles (418km) west of the Western Isles and is only 100ft (30m) wide and 70ft (21m) high above the sea.

The UK claimed Rockall in 1955, but Ireland, Iceland and Denmark have previously challenged that claim.

The row between Scotland and Ireland broke out after increased activity from Irish vessels around Rockall.

Scotland's Fisheries Minister Fergus Ewing told BBC Scotland: "This is a routine enforcement matter to ensure that illegal activity within the UK's territorial waters, namely within a radius of 12 miles of the islet of Rockall, ceases.

"We have been engaging with the Irish government for a considerable length of time because we would prefer that this matter is resolved by discussion and negotiation amicably, and that remains the case."

He said the Irish government had been formally notified of intended enforcement action on 31 May but there had been communication about the issue last September.

"All of these steps we have sought to take to bring about an amicable agreement have failed," he said. "That leaves us with no alternative but to seek to enforce the law and that is what we will now proceed to do.

"We have made absolutely clear our view. We are sure of the legal position and of our legal ground and it is my duty to ensure that the law is enforced."

Image caption Fergus Ewing said the Scottish government had been trying to resolve the matter amicably

He said there had been "substantial evidence" of illegal activity and that the enforcement action had "nothing whatsoever to do with politics or Brexit".

"Doing something illegal repeatedly does not make it legal", he added.

"I do hope that the Irish government will intervene to provide clear advice to their fishers to cease and desist."

On Saturday, Bertie Armstrong from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF), said the increased Irish activity was clearly illegal.

He said it was time for Scotland to "put its money where its mouth is" and for the Scottish government to enforce control of its waters.

'Unwarranted threat'

Enforcement action could involve patrol boats from the Scottish government going alongside any vessel believed to be breaking the law and, if necessary, making arrests.

On Friday, the Irish government's minister for agriculture, food and the marine Michael Creed said he was trying to "avoid a situation whereby Irish fishing vessels who continue to fish for haddock, squid and other species in the 12-mile area around Rockall are under the unwarranted threat of 'enforcement action' by the Scottish government".

He added: "However, following this sustained unilateral action by them, I have no option but to put our fishing industry on notice of the stated intention of the Scottish government."

The Rockall fishery is a multi-million pound annual fishery, with several species of fish including haddock, monkfish and squid.

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