Rockall fishing row an SNP 'political stunt'

Rockall Image copyright Kilda Cruises
Image caption Rockall - an eroded volcano - lies 260 miles (418km) west of Scotland's Western Isles

The first Irish skipper to return from Rockall since a fishing dispute erupted has said it is a "political stunt" by the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Frank McClenaghan also said he would not be driven from the lucrative waters around Rockall by any threat.

The Scottish government has warned Irish vessels could be boarded if caught fishing inside a 12-mile radius.

The Irish and Scottish governments are locked in talks to try and resolve the dispute.

The move by the Scottish government was aimed at winning votes, Mr McClenaghan told the BBC's The View programme.

"They lost a lot of votes in coastal fishing communities and this is the SNP trying to win them back before Brexit," he said.

Image caption Frank McClenaghan said they were being backed by the Irish government and the EU

He said there was no "animosity" between the Irish and Scottish boats and everyone was "surprised" by the row.

Mr McClenaghan, who skippers the trawler the Foyle Warrior out of Greencastle, County Donegal, said a quarter of his annual catch was landed at Rockall and they would struggle to stay in business without it.

"This boat has been fishing there for 20 years and we've nothing to worry about," he added.

"As far as we are concerned, by the government and by the EU, we are in the right."

'Aim for amicable position'

After unloading his catch at Greencastle, Mr McClenaghan returned to Rockall and plans to spend about a week fishing before returning to Donegal.

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Secretary for External Affairs, insisted her government was right to issue a warning.

She said the number of infringements by Irish fishermen had increased significantly around Rockall in recent years and her government had a duty to protect its fishing ground.

But she also said high-level talks were taking place with both governments which she hoped would resolve the dispute.

"Our relationship with Ireland is strong and we value it highly. Our aim is to reach an amicable position with the Irish government" said Ms Hyslop

Rockall - an eroded volcano - lies 260 miles (418km) west of Scotland's Western Isles.

The UK claims ownership over the uninhabited outcrop and a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea around it, which is rich with several species of fish including haddock, monkfish and squid.

But the Republic of Ireland does not believe any country should own Rockall and insists the waters around it are shared by all EU member states.

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

There will be more on the Rockall dispute and wider Brexit implications for the fishing community on BBC One Northern Ireland's The View on Thursday 13 June at 22:35 BST.

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