Rockall and a history of rocky relations


Sir, – The Irish claim to Rockall rests on the fact that at 240 sea miles it is 12 miles closer to the Irish mainland (at Erris Head) than to the Scottish mainland (at Ardnamurchan Point) (“Who owns Rockall? A history of disputes over a tiny Atlantic island”, News, June 8th). This disregards Tory Island (population 144), six miles nearer Rockall; but it also ignores the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, not only North Uist (population 1,024) but also the islands of Harris, Berneray, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay.

Almost 7,000 people in the Hebrides live closer to Rockall than anyone in Ireland does. St Kilda (164 miles from Rockall) is not “deserted”. Its population of military contractors, scientists and conservationists fluctuates between 20 and 70. The internationally agreed boundary between the Irish and British continental shelves passes 40 miles south of Rockall, as shown on the Marine Institute’s excellent “Real Map of Ireland”.

This all adds up to a pretty strong case for Rockall being part of Scotland.

The law of the sea (UNCLOS 1982) does indeed say that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation . . . shall have no Exclusive Economic Zone or Continental Shelf”. But under the same law they still have “Territorial Seas” extending 12 miles from their shores.

Other nations’ vessels have the right of “innocent passage” through such areas, but this does not include fishing in them.

In objecting to Irish boats fishing close to Rockall, the Scots are thus technically within their rights.

Whether they are being wise or neighbourly, however, is definitely open to question. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, –Long before Callan’s Kicks or even Scrap Saturday, RTÉ Radio had Only Slaggin’. In an episode in the mid-1970s it depicted an exchange between the then-taoiseach and the minister for foreign affairs as they returned from talks in London. “Garrett, I thought you said the British would give us Rockall?” “No, taoiseach, I didn’t say Rockall.”

Plus ça change. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – I was disappointed to see the inflammatory remarks surrounding the sovereignty of Rockall attributed to the Scottish government. If they only had been as protective of their offshore oil as they are of their haddock.

However, there is a democratic solution to the issue. Let’s ask the Scottish to vote on the sovereignty of the island. If recent history is anything to go by, after much “hold me back” talk, they’ll sign the island over to Ireland. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – With the re-emergence of on/off squabble over rights to Rockall, I would suggest that Leo Varadkar missed a trick with regards to Donald Trump’s recent visit to Ireland. The ideal place to have met him would have been on Rockall.

An appropriate location to make a statement of our claim to sovereignty, while meeting the most powerful man on the planet. Also, a location to make a statement to Mr Trump regarding our feelings towards him.

A number of birds killed with the one stone. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – In the summer of 1975 my late father, Michael d’Alton, landed Willie Dick, a well-known rock climber, from the yacht Verve on Rockall. This was done from a small dingy in very challenging swells. Willie then climbed the rock, placed a Tricolour on the summit and laid claim to it for Ireland.

To the best of my knowledge, this was the first recorded landing from the sea (previous British landings were from a helicopter) and hence constitutes a valid sovereign claim. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Ireland and the United Kingdom both have territorial claims on Rockall: the nearest mainland is Co Donegal, but the rocky outcrop lies closer to the islands of the Outer Hebrides.

While maintaining their claims, the two countries came to an amicable agreement in 1988 on the delimitation of the surrounding continental shelf – by the diplomatic device of ignoring the existence of Rockall.

Attempts to ignore the existence of Northern Ireland did not prove fruitful. – Yours, etc,



Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Dhún na nGall.