Ireland to bring Rockall oil and gas claim to UN


THE GOVERNMENT is set to make a claim to the United Nations for control of gas and oil exploration rights potentially worth billions of euro around Rockall, following the failure of years of negotiations with Denmark, Iceland and the UK.

The Cabinet yesterday approved a joint memorandum from Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan to expand Ireland’s ownership of exploration rights off both the southwest and west coasts.

Under the proposal accepted by Ministers, Ireland will extend the State’s share of the continental shelf by 39,000 sq km 200 miles (322km) off the southwest coast, in line with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2007.

More significantly, however, Ireland is to make its own claim to the UN commission for oil and gas exploration rights around Rockall – the ownership of which has been contested for decades – following the failure of talks with Denmark/Faroe Islands, Iceland and the UK.

Ireland agreed boundaries in the region with the UK in 1988 but the agreement has never been accepted by Iceland or Denmark – which acts for the Faroe Islands on foreign affairs issues.

The four states have held irregular negotiations since 2001, but recently accepted they would not be able to reach an agreement, and agreed that the matter should be left over for UN arbitration.

The Rockall claim, to be lodged by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin before the arbitration deadline in May, will extend Ireland’s claim up to 500 miles off the west coast, covering all of the so-called Hatton-Rockall area.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ireland, Iceland and the UK have until May to submit their claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, but Denmark has until 2014 to do so.

The four-way talks collapsed because of differences between Iceland and the UK, whose political room for manoeuvre was limited following the election of the Scottish Nationalists to power in Edinburgh.

The British Labour Party has been sensitive to allegations levelled by Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond that London was prepared to “sell off” Scottish oil rights.

Iceland demanded that the sides had to agree on a division of the spoils together before submitting the agreement to the United Nations body, rather than allowing it freedom to draw up its own maps.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states are entitled to claim rights over waters 370km off their shores, subject only to not interfering with the rights of other states.

This gives Ireland rights over 400,000 sq km, though the new claims are now based on the premise that Ireland’s continental shelf naturally extends beyond the 370km limits, and thus its exploration rights should extend far beyond that.

The first claim off the south-west coast in an area known as Porcupine Abyssal Plain is not contested by any other state, and it has already been deemed to be Irish continental shelf by the UN. Regulations will now be drawn up by Mr Ryan to claim it officially.

In a second 80,000 sq km plot in an area straddling the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay, the boundaries have still not been agreed with the UK, France and Spain, although all four have lodged a joint submission to the UN body.