Claims last week by Simon Coveney, Minister for the Marine, that aquaculture would play a major role in Inishowen’s economic recovery were last night described as ‘pie-in-the-sky’ by a local fisherman.
He said that until ownership of the Lough Foyle is resolved there would be ‘zero investment’ in major projects. And the man produced documentary evidence to show that the ownership of the Foyle - is it Irish or is it British? - has been left unresolved since 1927, when Prime Minister Baldwin asked both Dublin and Belfast to back off on the issue.
When contacted yesterday the Chief Executive Officer of the Lough’s Agency, Derek Anderson, did not wish to be drawn on the issue, other than to state his agency had been given the remit to developing the aquaculture and wild shellfish in Lough Foyle and had brought proposals in this regard to both the British and Irish governments and to the North-South Ministerial Council.
He added: “We recognise the major importance of this sector to the people of the Foyle area. We hope that these proposals will provide sustainable development in the years to come.”
However, our source, who asked not to be named at this stage, said until the whole issue of the river’s title is sorted, there was no way people in the south would be willing to pay rent for the waters of their own country.
“The Loughs Agency are to be given authority to licence aquaculture but must have the permission of the Crown Estate, who will require payment for this. My understanding is that there is a senior Irish official involved in discussion on this issue as we speak.
“And this is where we should be crying halt. If we (Ireland) own the lough why would we agree to pay for something we believe we own? And if we do agree to pay, we will be paying in perpetuity for the waters off our own coast. Even if we get a united Ireland these waters will still be deemed British.”
And in the documents released by the British government - and supplied to us by our source - it is clear that the issue of who actually owns the Foyle has never been satisfactorily settled. In a secret document presented to the British Cabinet in 1927, it was suggested a solution could only be reached by agreement by all the parties or by arbitration. Following this Craigavon wrote to President W.T Cosgrave stating the issue was urgent as a great deal of illegal fishing was going on. He was also annoyed that a Donegal district judge, Brian Walsh, had refused to accept jurisdiction in a case brought against poachers on the grounds that who owned title to the Foyle was in dispute.
The British Prime minister then wrote to both Cosgrove and Craigavon telling them that it was not an internal matter but involved the UK government, and asked that no legislation should be introduced to either parliament.