Donegal fishermen’s co-op says Irish boats will not leave Rockall

Foyle Fishermen’s Co-Operative currently has three boats fishing within 12 miles of the disputed rock

The  Government contests the Scottish claim to Rockall, and its claim of exclusive fishing rights. Photograph: Getty Images

The Government contests the Scottish claim to Rockall, and its claim of exclusive fishing rights. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Irish boats currently fishing off the disputed island of Rockall have a legal right to fish there, and will continue to do so, the manager of a fishermen’s co-operative in Co Donegal has said.

Foyle Fishermen’s Co-Operative, which is based in Greencastle, currently has three boats fishing within 12 miles of Rockall. Its general manager, John D O’Kane, said the fishermen were concerned but were continuing to fish as normal. “There is no sign of any patrol vessels.”

“The Scottish authorities are saying they shouldn’t be there, but the Irish Government are saying we have every legal right to be there, and our boats intend to carry on and finish out our trips.

“Our fishermen feel they’ve a legal right to fish on those grounds and that’s what they intend to do.”

Rockall is an isolated Atlantic outcrop 418km (260 miles) west of the Co Donegal coast. The Greencastle boats were already in the area when a diplomatic dispute broke out last week after the Scottish external affairs minister warned the Irish Government that it would send fisheries patrol boats to board Irish vessels if they refused to leave a 12-mile zone around Rockall.

The Irish Government contests the Scottish claim to Rockall, and its claim of exclusive fishing rights.

Mr O’Kane said that Irish boats had always fished off Rockall, and that this year their boats have been fishing there every month.

“It was a shock to the system for us. Our first thought was, ‘are they going to send in navy patrol boats and will any of our boats be seized?’

“To date that hasn’t happened, and hopefully the diplomacy that’s going on behind the scenes will sort it out. We’ve always had good relationships with the Scottish, so hopefully things will continue on as they have done in the past.

Navy boats

“There have been many times when our boats have been boarded by patrol boats or navy boats in Rockall, and nobody has, at any stage over the past 10, 20 years, mentioned anything to us about an exclusion zone around Rockall.

“The co-op here in Greencastle relies on the fish that’s landed from Rockall, the boats rely on it, their crews rely on it, and their families rely on it, so they’re not going to give it up at the drop of a hat whenever it’s something they’ve been doing for the past up to 20 years.”

He said he welcomed the Government’s efforts to resolve the situation, and appealed to it to ensure it is solved as quickly as possible.

“If anything untoward happens in terms of a vessel being arrested we would ask that there’ll be Government support in terms of legal advice and financial support to make sure that that vessel isn’t either out of pocket or detained in a Scottish port.”