'Absolutely outrageous' €7.7m 'British blockade' of Rockall blasted by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Inishowen T.D. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has described the British blockade of the Rockall fishing grounds as 'absolutely outrageous' as estimates suggest €7.7 million in landings of squid and other species have been lost to the Irish fleet.

Monday, 13th December 2021, 11:44 am

Deputy Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, about the full financial loss to the fleet in 2021 arising from 'the blocking of access' to 'its traditional fishing grounds around Rockall'.

He also asked for an update on the status of the negotiations with the British Government to resolve the dispute.

"It is now almost a year since the British authorities blocked fishermen from Ireland from accessing their traditional fishing grounds around Rockall. It is absolutely outrageous that, after almost a year, this has not been resolved.

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Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, says it is estimated the financial cost to the Irish fleet of the blockade of the Rockall fishing grounds is €7.7m.

"Will the Minister clarify the financial loss to our fleets, including in Greencastle, Killybegs and Castletownbere, from the outrageous ongoing action taken by the British Government?" he asked.

The minister, in reply, said the issue is 'very important' to him and one on which 'I have worked very hard, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to make progress'.

"I know it is an issue for Donegal fishers, particularly those in Greencastle and Killybegs. It has been an important and strategic fishery for many years and one which we value very much and seek to protect.

"I received the report of the seafood task force, Navigating Change, in October. The task force estimated that the total squid fishery around Rockall is valued at about €6.6 million based on 2019 landings, and the total impact of the loss of that squid and other fisheries at €7.7 million.

"I launched a Brexit temporary fleet tie-up scheme in September this year on foot of the task force recommendation. The scheme was established as a targeted measure for certain segments of the fishing fleet to mitigate the loss of income in 2021 arising from the significant quota reductions under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or Brexit agreement. In line with the task force recommendations, I extended this scheme for an additional month to cover vessels that could not participate in the Rockall squid fishery."

Minister McConalogue pointed out that Ireland has 'never made any claims to Rockall' but neither has it ever 'recognised British sovereignty claims to Rockall'.

"Accordingly, we have not recognised a 12 nautical mile territorial sea around it either. This remains the position of the Government.

"The Government has been in contact with the relevant Scottish and UK authorities on Rockall in recent years and intensively so since the beginning of the year. Through this engagement, the Government is seeking to address the issues involved, reflecting the long-standing fisheries tradition we have in this area.

"The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Deputy Coveney, as well as our respective officials, continue to consider all options for further engagement on the issues involved and are working closely together. While engagement continues, there remains an increased risk of enforcement action being taken by Scottish fisheries control authorities against Irish vessels operating in waters around Rockall at present," he said.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn complained that the Irish fishing industry continues to be hard done by, both as a result of the Rockall blockade but also under EU quotas.

"Here are the facts: the British have control of more than 75% of the fish in their waters now. We have been given access to 15% of fish in Irish waters, under the Common Fisheries Policy.

"The British now have 75% of the fish in their waters. How in the hell can it be justified that they would also keep us out of Rockall, an area with traditional fishing grounds for Donegal fishermen and, indeed, fishermen from Castletownbere? It is sickening that we have allowed this to happen for a year.

"They have control of 75% of the fish in British waters, while we have 15% of the fish in our waters. How can it be that this continues to be allowed to happen? Why is the Taoiseach not bringing this matter to the level of Boris Johnson? I asked if this would happen with Macron. It would never have happened with France. Why are we allowing this to continue a year on?" he asked.

The minister replied: "As the Deputy knows, throughout the Brexit campaign, one of the reasons Boris Johnson and his colleagues advocated for leaving the EU was to take back control of their waters and fish.

"Despite the fact that they have now left the European Union, the agreement reallocates 25% of what international fleets catch in their waters in the coming years. Some 75% of what the EU, including Ireland, caught in British waters prior to Brexit will still be caught afterwards, despite the fact that they pressed the nuclear button and left the European Union, and will continue to have access to each other's waters.

"There is obviously a particular challenge around Rockall. It continues to be a point of disagreement between us, about which we hold very fast to our traditional rights. We assert those rights strongly and are determined to ensure we maintain them. We are taking every action and intervention possible to ensure the matter is addressed."