Simon Coveney says ‘well done’ to fishermen following Russian drills relocation

Ukraine tension is the ‘real issue’ which must be addressed, minister says

Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has commended fishermen who campaigned for the relocation of Russian naval drills from Ireland's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The naval exercises were due to be undertaken outside Ireland's sea territory but within the State's EEZ, about 240km off the coast of west Cork next week.

This left Irish fishermen angry at the potential disruption to their traditional fishing grounds with up to 60 trawlers expected to start fishing these waters when prawn quotas opened up.

The Russian embassy on Saturday confirmed that the exercises would be relocated outside of the EEZ, an agreement which Mr Coveney said was a “good example of diplomacy at work”.

Following the news of the relocation, Mr Coveney said he wanted to say “well done to the fishermen”.

“ I think they had a very effective campaign over the last few days. I think their campaign was very effective and very persuasive this week. I think it’s a good example of a fishing organisation and the Government working in tandem together,” he told RTE Radio One’s This Week.

"We're on the same side here. Last night I got a call from someone in Castletownbere saying: 'We put the ball in the air and you managed to put it in the net.' It's good to work in partnership on something like this."

He added that the preference would be for the drills to be cancelled altogether, but said “we don’t control all of the levers there, in fact we don’t control very many of them at all”.

International waters

"This is international waters that we're talking about. For the reasons that the fishermen outlined but also for the reasons that I outlined in terms of diffusing tension around military build up generally linked to the Russia/Ukraine issue," he said.

“I think that they [Russian defence ministry] responded with a gesture of goodwill to move outside Ireland’s EEZ, which is welcome.”

On the tension between Russia and the Ukraine, Mr Coveney said: "I think for everybody listening here today, the real issue that we need to focus on is Ukraine."

"I don't want to pretend that Ireland is a country that is going to be able to change the course of current tensions between Russia and Ukraine but of course we are continuing to raise these issues," he said.

"We have to find a way to use diplomacy and political dialogue to avoid what could ultimately be the largest land-based war in Europe since the second world war, which would involve enormous loss of life and of course extraordinary destruction across the continent of Europe."

He added: “That must be avoided and we have to find a way through politics and dialogue to do that, not through military means.”