New documentary reveals Scottish Government believe Rockall dispute over fishing rights could be resolved

Kevin Magee.Kevin Magee.
Kevin Magee.
A long-running dispute over fishing rights around Rockall could be resolved following fresh discussions with the Irish authorities, the Scottish Government has told TG4 current affairs documentary that airs on Wednesday, April 24 at 9.30 pm.

The sovereignty of the rock has been the source of a long running dispute between Ireland and the UK.

The UK authorities claim Rockall is part of its territory lying within its territorial seas - a claim not recognised by Ireland.

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Ireland has not claimed ownership of the rock and does not recognise the British claim of sovereignty on the basis that uninhabited rocks should not be claimed by any state.

The British Navy annexed Rockall in 1955 - hoisting the Union flag and cementing a brass plaque on the summit. It later sought to incorporate it into part of UK law in 1972.

The TG4 current affairs documentary presented by investigative journalist Kevin Magee shows shows that access to the sea around Rockall by Irish trawlers has been the subject of diplomatic discussions between the Scottish and Irish governments post Brexit.

In the aftermath of Brexit, a Scottish marine protection vessel warned Irish boats not to fish within a 12-mile limit around the disputed rock in the north Atlantic, claiming the seas around it are no longer in EU waters.

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In a statement to an edition of TG4’s award-winning investigative series, Iniúchadh TG4, called Anfa Mara (Storm at Sea), a Scottish government spokesperson said: “There have been developments in recent months which increase our confidence that arrangements can be agreed under the Scottish/Irish bilateral framework which will be satisfactory for both sides.”

Michael Cavanagh.Michael Cavanagh.
Michael Cavanagh.

“The issue of fishing at Rockall is periodically discussed in meetings between the Scottish government and the Irish authorities as part of an ongoing dialogue about strengthening an already close relationship.”

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D re-iterated the view that Ireland disputes the British claim over the rock and its seas, describing the waters around Rockall as a traditional fishing ground for Irish trawlers.

He said: “What we are asserting is the fact that this is a fishing ground which our fisheries have always fished. But to be clear, it is a challenging issue and it has become more difficult as a result of Brexit.

“I am working with the Department of Foreign Affairs, and my team, and they are engaging diplomatically as much as we can, and as hard as we can, to find a way forward on this.

Charlie McConalogue T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food and the MarineCharlie McConalogue T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Charlie McConalogue T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

“But to be clear, it is a challenging issue, and it has become more difficult as a result of Brexit. If it could have been solved by now, we would have had it solved, but we continue to work to do that.”

One trawler skipper based in Greencastle, County Donegal, Adrian McClenaghan, told the programme that his boat, ‘The Northern Celt’, was boarded by officers from the Scottish Marine Protection vessel, the Jura, in 2021 and warned not to fish within a 12-mile limit of the rock.

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“I would have been in the wheelhouse at the time and two boarding officers stood there and they said to me: ‘Do you realise that you cannot fish within the twelve miles fishing zone of Rockall. I said: as far as I am aware I have the paperwork to say that everything is ok, but they showed me their paperwork.

“Now we are 2024 and there is still no difference. Everything stays the same. We are still not allowed inside the 12 miles zone of Rockall,” said Mr McClenaghan.

According to Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Irish fishing boats stand to lose almost 8million euro a year because of the restrictions placed around Rockall.

Fisherman Adrian McClenaghan added: “Twenty per cent of my turnover comes from Rockall. Most of that is all inside the 12 mile zone, and now we have to go outside that to international waters to try to catch fish. That has serious consequences for myself and for all the boats in Greencastle.”

The Scottish Government spokesperson added: “The Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government is responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of marine and fishing laws relating to Scotland's marine areas.

“It regularly monitors the seas around Rockall. Throughout our discussions with Irish colleagues we have been consistently clear on the sovereignty of Rockall and the extent of the rights of non-UK vessels to fish in waters at Rockall.”

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