Deal close in Rockall negotiations


Ireland today secured the basis of a deal which could resolve a decades-old dispute over territorial rights to a massive oil-rich area in the north Atlantic.

After two days of talks, officials from Ireland, Britain, Iceland and Denmark are examining a potential compromise which would see the Rockall basin divided between the four states.

A deal was put forward by Irish negotiators to divide up the area and is supported in principle by Britain. It is understood that Denmark, which claims rights to Rockall through its dependency the Faroe Islands, has also voiced support but Iceland is reluctant to agree.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said he was confident the four states can reach a deal.

"I have had a briefing from my officials at the talks in Copenhagen and, while we still have some distance to cover, progress has been made on finding agreement on the claim," he said.

"Ireland today tabled a compromise solution which, while not agreed in Copenhagen, is now on the table and provides a reasonable template for delivering a final resolution before the May 2009 deadline.

"The Faroe Islands have made positive soundings about our proposal and, while Iceland retains its own position, we at least have a working document which may prove fruitful when talks resume in Dublin in January.

"It is in the interests of Ireland, the UK, Denmark (Faroe islands) and Iceland to come to a deal on the division of the seabed area.

"I am still confident we can strike a deal. We have come to outline agreements in relation to other parts of our seabed in the Atlantic, there is no reason ultimately why we also can't do a deal on this protracted issue."

Officially known as the Rockall-Hatton basin, the vast area lies around 200 miles from the north west of Ireland, the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and the southern coast of Iceland.

It covers 162,935 sq miles — about five times the size of Ireland — and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Rockall island is a virtually inaccessible pudding shaped rock 110ft across and rises 63ft out of the Atlantic.