Territorial dispute costs local economy ‘millions’

Lough Foyle at Magilligan Point.
Lough Foyle at Magilligan Point.

An ongoing territorial dispute between the Crown and the Irish government over Lough Foyle is “massively” impacting on efforts to grow an aquaculture industry worth millions of pounds, it has been warned.

The Crown has now confirmed to the Journal that the international boundary between the UK and the Republic of Ireland has still not been agreed, almost 100 years on from Partition.

The Journal has also received under Freedom of Information a detailed breakdown of the lands and property in the north that are claimed or owned by the Crown Estate, including numerous coastal marine areas at River Foyle and Lough Foyle, which runs between the eastern fringe of Inishowen, County Donegal and the westernmost coast of Northern Ireland along Counties Derry and Tyrone.

Locally, the Crown’s claim extends to River Foyle, including the stipulated areas at Derry City, Pennyburn, Ebrington, Prehen, Caw, Coolkeragh, Gransha, and the section in the townland of Carrowmuddle.

The Crown also claims tidal land in County Derry and Gribben Quay, Bready.

The Crown Estate further claims ownership of Lough Foyle including Ballykelly, Magilligan Point and Magilligan Strand, Benone Strand, Downhill Strand and McKinney’s Bank.

Barry Fox, Loughs Agency Director of Aquaculture and Shellfisheries, said the lack of progress on sorting out the border issue was “massively” impacting on the development of businesses such as shellfish farming, with the potential for millions of pounds more to be generated than is the case from the current operations on the lough.

The Loughs Agency was given powers back in 2007 to issue aquaculture licenses, but hasn’t been able to issue a single one because of the territorial dispute.

If this was resolved, the Lough Agency’s licensing powers would allow for rigorous assessment of business proposals for water-based farming operations along the Foyle.

Successful applicants who become properly licensed would then be able to use this to apply to banks for start-up or expansion funds- something none of the businesses operating in the Foyle can do at present.

“With the territory issue between the Crown Estate Commission and the Irish State, until that’s resolved between them there can be no progress on aquaculture licensing on Lough Foyle,” Mr Fox said.

He added that the lack of resolution “is not helping anybody”.

“There is an economic impact, there’s no question of that. There is still money being generated but if it was regulated then people could go on and do a start-up business and there would be a lot more opportunities for people.

“We don’t know when there will be a resolution. There have been small bits and pieces of movement but it could be 12 months or 12 years. We have been given no date for when it will happen, but we are hopeful it will
happen.

“It is doable and it will happen, I believe, but it is just a matter of when.”

It is understood that the matter will have to be involve several departments within the Irish government and arms of the British government alongside the Crown Estate.

While it is understood that there is an unofficial ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in operation between the two fisheries departments at Ireland’s other border lough, Carlingford, no such agreement exists over the Foyle.

The Journal had asked whether The Crown Estate claim on the Irish seabed along River and Lough Foyle extends along the eastern/ northern coast of County Donegal and where the cut off point was as they saw it.

A spokesperson responded: “The exact location of the international boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland through Loughs Carlingford and Foyle remains an issue for determination between the UK and Republic of Ireland
governments.

“In this context, The Crown Estate continues to work with the Northern Ireland Executive, The Loughs Agency and local stakeholders for the benefit of all users of the two border Loughs and the protection of their respective environments.”

Responding to another question submitted by the Journal, the Crown Estate said they had no assets in the Republic of Ireland.

The Journal made contact with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in Dublin regarding these issues earlier this week, and it is understood the query has been passed to a number of departments within the Irish government who also have input on
this issue.

It is understood the various departments are currently formulating responses to questions on the issue, but these were not returned by the time of going to press yesterday.