Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney has confirmed that Russian naval exercises will be relocated outside of Ireland's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Mr Coveney said he wrote a letter to the Russian defence minister this week requesting a reconsideration of naval exercises off the Irish coast.
“This evening I received a letter confirming the Russian exercises will be relocated outside of Ireland’s EEZ. I welcome this response,” Mr Coveney said on Twitter on Saturday.
This week I wrote to my counterpart, the Minister of Defence of Russia, to request a reconsideration of naval exercises off the Irish coast. This evening I received a letter confirming the Russian exercises will be relocated outside of Ireland’s EEZ. I welcome this response.— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) January 29, 2022
Russian naval drills were due to be undertaken outside Ireland's sea territory but within the State's exclusive economic zone (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.
Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov confirmed the decision of Russia's defence minister Sergey Shoigu to relocate the military exercises following requests from the Irish Government and the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, which met the ambassador at the embassy in Dublin earlier this week.
Mr Filatov said in a statement that the decision was made by Mr Shoigu as “a gesture of goodwill” with “the aim not to hinder fishing activities by the Irish vessels in the traditional fishing areas”.
Brendan Byrne, chief executive of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, who along with the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation met the ambassador this week, told The Irish Times that he welcomed Russia’s decision to relocate the naval exercises.
“It was in an eco-sensitive area. It was in an area that Irish fishermen rely on for their livelihoods because it was in a spawning ground for Irish pelagic fishing stocks,” he said.
“It was a sensible decision and we commend them for taking it. I congratulate the entire Irish fishing industry in standing united in their campaign to have these drills moved outside the EEZ.”
No harm intended
The Russian ambassador had previously said that the naval exercises were “not in any way a threat to Ireland or anybody else” and that “no harm is intended” and “no problem is expected”.
The Department of Transport had issued a safety notice to all seafarers warning of the exact location of the planned Russian naval drills off the southwest coast.
Mr Coveney had also previously said that the plans were “not welcome” but that Ireland did not have the powers to prevent the exercises from happening.
"I have made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it's not welcome. This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment," he said last week.
"It's important that I brief my colleagues on those intentions. Russia, under international law, can take military exercises in international waters, but the fact they are choosing to do it on the west borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that is in our view not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin had also expressed concern for the safety of west Cork fishermen who planned to peacefully protest Russian military exercises by continuing to fish in the area.
Mr Martin said his priority was the welfare of the fishermen who are engaging in the protest and he warned them that they should exercise caution.
“People have to be first and foremost conscious of safety, and in our view that is not the safest thing to be doing, fishing close to where military drilling is taking place,” he said.
“We will at some stage engage with the fishermen on this and take advice on that. There needs to be balance here and proportionality on how it is addressed with safety always at the forefront.”