Tánaiste Simon Coveney has appealed to Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to support legislation to end the "sea border" in the six mile (9.6 km) fishery zone and to give Northern fishing vessels access to Irish waters.
Both parties have signalled opposition to the legislation after politicians were contacted by fishermen in the border area calling for debate to be suspended until fishermen have been fully consulted on the issue.
The Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation has claimed the Government will allow UK vessels to fish Irish waters without knowing whether the arrangement will be reciprocal after March 29th, when the UK is scheduled to withdraw from the EU.
The Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, which has been passed by the Dáil, restores access for Northern Ireland commercial fishing boats to Irish inshore waters, from zero to six miles offshore.
A reciprocal arrangement, the so-called voisinage (neighbourhood) agreement, operated since the 1960s and allowed Northern Ireland commercial fishing vessels to fish in Irish waters and vice versa.
But it has been illegal for vessels from the North to fish in the six-mile zone since a 2016 Supreme Court decision following a High Court case taken by four mussel fishermen. Southern vessels are allowed to fish north of the Border.
The amending legislation was introduced in the Seanad following the Supreme Court decision, but has languished in the Upper House since early 2017.
Its passage became more urgent following the recent detention by the Naval Service of two Northern-registered vessels in Dundalk Bay. The skippers were subsequently given the benefit of the Probation Act when their case came to court in Drogheda, Co Louth. The DUP at the time criticised the Government for imposing a “sea border” while it was insisting on no land border.
‘We need extensive consultation’
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin again signalled their opposition in the Seanad on Wednesday. Sinn Féin Seanad leader Rose Conway-Walsh said “we need extensive consultation with the inshore fishermen before the Bill comes before us, as otherwise it will be rejected”.
Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson said he was putting the Seanad on notice that “we will not be agreeing to allow all stages of this Bill go through this House tomorrow”. He said: “I do not want to see this House being used to rush through legislation mainly for the sake of optics.”
Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell also opposed its passage until there was full discussion with fishermen.
In the Dáil, Mr Coveney asked the parties to “consider what you are doing” in opposing the amending legislation.
“We are in the business of preventing border infrastructure, both in the Irish Sea and on land, and we are currently preventing fishing vessels from Northern Ireland accessing our waters within the six-mile limit.”
Mr Coveney said Minister for the Marine Michael Creed “is trying to fix that problem this week and he needs the facilitation and assistance of both parties in the Seanad. I appeal to them to be of assistance in that regard.”