The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin has said it doesn’t believe Lough Foyle will crop up in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations but confirmed Ireland has never accepted the UK’s claim to the whole of the Lough, which has been newly-regurgitated by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire.
Mr. Brokenshire, once again claimed Britannia ruled the waves of Lough Foyle, when quizzed about the UK position by his Labour shadow Dave Anderson at Westminster this week.
Asked by Mr. Anderson whether the boundary of “County Londonderry with Ireland is on the western shore of Lough Foyle,” he said: “The Government’s position remains that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the U.K.”
This has provoked the ire of Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig MacLochlainn who said continuing British claim of ownership of the Foyle right up to the high water mark on the eastern shore of Inishowen was a provocation.
He called on the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, to challenge the latest pronouncement from the British Government on the ownership of Lough Foyle.
Buncrana-based Senator Mac Lochlainn said: “This is an arrogant and provocative pronouncement from James Brokenshire but, unfortunately, it is a repeat of previous pronouncements and again and again, previous Irish Governments have failed to sort it out.
“I am calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, to immediately challenge this assertion on behalf of the Irish people.”
Mr Flanagan said, in a statement to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: “Ireland has never accepted the U.K.’s claim to the whole of Lough Foyle.
“Uncertainty concerning the extent to which each side exercises jurisdiction within Lough Foyle has created practical difficulties for the conduct of a number of activities there.”
The Department referred to how the disputed jurisdiction has been a problem in terms of the licensing of mariculture and aquaculture but that diplomatic talks and initiatives have been ongoing to deal with the matter.
“A series of meetings have taken place at official level between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The issues involved are complex and involve a range of different actors, including the Crown Estates. This is not something we currently envisage as forming part of the negotiations around the UK’s departure from the EU.”
The fresh row has raised hackles right across the island from Murlough Bay to Malahide.
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade Darragh O’Brien said: “Since Independence, Ireland has correctly asserted its ownership of Lough Foyle. Attempts to settle the issue have been ongoing, but in the context of Brexit it is obvious that there is added impetus to finally agree the issue.
“The Secretary of State’s assertion that the UK owns the entirety of the Lough would appear to have escalated the issue and are a source of concern.
“His claim is completely unsustainable and must be robustly challenged by the Government.
“For our part, Fianna Fáil rejects this assertion of ownership entirely and I will be seeking assurances from the
Minister for Foreign Affairs on what strategy he will follow to meet this challenge.
“I will be writing to Mr Brokenshire to reassert Fianna Fail’s position on the issue”.
Sinn Féin East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan said the Secretary of State needs to engage with the Irish government over regulation of Lough Foyle.
“There are fears of unregulated fishing in the lough and the damage that could do to the environment, including the threats posed by invasive species.
“They also warned that unregulated shellfish farming could impact on navigation with potentially life-threatening consequences.
“British Secretary of State James Brokenshire needs to engage with the Irish government to resolve this dispute to ensure fishing in the lough is regulated and the environment protected”.
Ownership of Lough Foyle has been a matter of dispute between Dublin and London since partition with Britains’ claim based on a 17th Century Royal Charter establishing the County of Londonderry.
In order to protect salmon fishing rights the Charter specified that the County included the waters of Lough Foyle up to the high water mark on the Donegal side right up to the town of Lifford.
Bizarrely, at the height of the Project Kelvin controversy, Derek Bullock, Vice President of Network Operations Hibernia Atlantic, said the dispute had swayed the company in its decision not to bring its multi-million pound telecommunication cable up the river to a telehouse location in Derry.
“We cannot bring a cable into Lough Foyle, because the border line under the sea there is actually disputed. We will not get into that level of consultation and negotiation to try to solve that issue, so we chose Portrush,” Mr Bullock told the Committee.