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SCOTTISH ROCKALL THREAT CANNOT BE ACCEPTED - Industry Source Say Irish Government Must Be Tougher

Analysis by Deputy Editor, Tom MacSweeney

The threat by the Scottish Government against Irish fishing boats cannot be accepted by the Irish Government.

The unilateral Scottish action is not only a threat to the fishing industry but has serious political implications to Ireland’s international standing, the Irish Government having rejected the UK Government’s territorial claim of sovereignty over Rockall. It is also a rejection of EU fisheries regulations, so in some circles questions are being raised as to whether this is a Brexit-inspired move. That would seem illogical in view of the Scottish Government-expressed preference to remain in the UK. In that regard its unilateral action would be a breach of EU fisheries regulations.

This dispute has been going on for many years but intensified in the past two years during which there have been a number of governmental exchanges which were kept from public information. Pressure was increase by the Scottish government in the past few months.

The Scottish Government is making the running on this issue and London Government sources appear to be putting responsibility for the latest developments on the Scots, making the point that fishing matters in Scotland were devolved to the Scottish Government. However, it was the UK Government which made the sovereignty claim on Rockall.

The statements made by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Marine have emphasised legal support for Irish fishing boats, but more than that is needed, according to Irish industry sources. They have pointed to the way the Irish Government rushed changes through the Oireachtas after the arrest of Northern Ireland boats in Republic waters earlier this year.

“What has happened now can be seen as a ‘kick-in-the-teeth’ to our Government,” one source told the Marine Times. “What are they going to do now for our own industry, other than issue press releases with promises of legal support? Are they going to stand up to the Scottish Government. Are they going to send a Naval vessel to Rockall to defend our boats? A government really supporting fishermen wouldn’t hesitate at that and would show the Scots that we are bloody serious about this issue.”

Politically, it is accepted that the Scottish action, which Irish government officials had sought to stop, is now a potentially major political embarrassment, Having rejected the UK claim on Rockall for many years, if the government does not act strongly against the Scottish threat, this rejection of British sovereignty will have been effectively challenged and Ireland forced to back down. The Irish government cannot be seen to accede to this.

Scottish External Affairs Minister, Fiona Hyslop, has told the Irish Government that it “will deploy vessels to protect fishing rights around Rockall.” It is understood she also said this to Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. The Scottish government has alleged that Irish boats are fishing illegally in Rockall waters, but has no evident legal right to make any such claim. It has said it will defend Scottish fishermen’s rights in the area, but its position is legally questionable when the UK sovereignty claim has always been disputed and quite contrary to Scottish desire for continuing membership of the EU and reciprocal fishing rights. The Scottish fishing industry has been more interested in leaving the EU and getting control over Scottish waters which, by what has been stated in the Scottish announcement, to now extend to Rockall.

“The Irish Government statements are not strong enough, referring to EU rights firstly, rather than being strong about the rejection of the UK claim to Rockall. I have worries about their strength of purpose in this regard,” an industry source told the MARINE TIMES. “They should have been much stronger, more blunt in telling the Scottish that they will face a very tough response.”

The Irish Naval Service has carried out security patrols around Rockall. (Image below LE Roisin at Rockall)

Denmark and Iceland have also made claims to Rockall, which is 230 nautical miles north/west of Donegal, is 70 feet high and 83 feet wide. UK claims were originally viewed as being made because of believed oil and gas resources in the vicinity of Rockall.

The Defence Forces previously said that the Irish Naval Service “routinely conducts maritime security patrols” in the area in the past few years. This were viewed as exercising the Irish view that the UK did not have sovereign rights. There were no reports of opposition to these patrols.

Back in 1955 there was a British announcement that a military landing had been made on Rockall and possession taken. A flagpole was erected, the Union Jack hoisted and a plaque bolted to the rock.