Derry-registered fishermen complying with the law should have full access to all of Ireland’s in-shore fishing waters, but multi-national mussel harvesters and trawlers must be excluded.
That’s according to Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who has warned against Donegal’s coastal waters becoming a new Klondike.
“If they have an address in County Down, Derry or Antrim and are within a certain size, they can go ahead.
“That will be done on the basis of a level playing pitch. However, if they are major multi-nationals using a loophole in our goodwill agreement - which is what it was - to fish, it is not right,” said the Buncrana-based senator.
The ‘goodwill agreement’ to which Senator Mac Lochlainn was referring were the voisinage [neighbourhood] arrangement between Dublin and Belfast that from the mid-1960s allowed Irish vessels from the North and South reciprocally access each other’s so-called ‘territorial waters’.
Two-and-half years ago the Irish Supreme Court ruled in favour of a number of mussel fishermen from the South who wanted to exclude northern fishermen from mussel beds south of the border, and declared voisinage was only an informal agreement and had no legal force.
This decision has caused tensions within the Irish fishing fleet and the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has since brought his Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, in order to legislate to allow for voisinage to be reinstated.
Senator Mac Lochlainn said he would support an initiative to open up all of Ireland’s in-shore waters to all Irish in-shore fishermen but that there needed to be meaningful consultation.
The Sinn Féin representative acknowledged it had been regrettable to see two fishermen from County Down have their boats seized before pleading guilty to breaching fishing regulations in Drogheda last month.
Donegal fishermen were also being caught up in the voisinage impasse, he said.
“This is not about the two vessels from Kilkeel. This is a much bigger issue,” he said.
“A Donegal man had his catch seized by a sea-fisheries protection officer, which was devastating to and a huge hit for him.
“This man and the men involved in the Kilkeel incident are the people for whom I have compassion. I want legislation that protects them to fish in Irish waters.
"There is no way I can stand over legislation that provides legal cover for multinationals to plunder our precious natural resource. We have to defend that resource,” he added.
The Buncrana senator said the waters of Loughs Foyle and Swilly, for example, could not be allowed to become the new Yukon.
“These are natural, precious and vulnerable resources that must be managed properly.
“We cannot have another Klondike rush in these beds. They must be managed sensibly and sustainably and should be available to locals to develop their communities.
“We must close the Klondike rush down,” maintained Senator Mac Lochlainn.