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David Cameron sinks Irish-Scottish Rockall fishing deal

Ireland had a deal with Edinburgh to allow Irish trawlers catch monkfish and haddock but the Tory government said no

Britain’s foreign secretary David Cameron has scuppered an agreement between the Republic and Scotland’s government that would have allowed Irish vessels to fish around Rockall, a disputed islet in the North Atlantic that Britain insists is its sovereign territory.

Under the agreement vetoed this week by the Tory government in Westminster, Irish fishing vessels would have been allowed once again to trawl for species including monkfish and haddock within the 12-mile nautical zone the UK claims around the uninhabited islet.

Irish vessels were banned from the area after Brexit when Britain left the European Union’s common fisheries policy. The issue has been at the centre of a diplomatic row ever since between the Republic, the UK government and Scotland, where fisheries are a devolved power.

In return for a resumption of access for Irish fleets, the State agreed to pay for specific marine research and to share the results with Scotland’s commercial fishing fleet, whose leaders have objected to Irish vessels around Rockall. Irish fisheries groups argue they have fished for generations around the islet, which is about 420km northwest of Tory island.


The row peaked in recent years when Scottish marine protection vessels boarded Irish trawlers and ordered them to leave the area. Politicians in Dublin and Edinburgh have repeatedly clashed over the row in private, most notably when Nicola Sturgeon was first minister of Scotland.

Sources on both sides of the Irish Sea confirmed a detailed agreement was recently reached on the contentious issue after lengthy and delicate negotiations between the Republic and Scotland’s devolved government.

However, it is understood, the agreement would have had to be formally melded to the trade and co-operation agreement (TCA), the Brexit divorce pact between the UK government and the European Union, negotiated by former prime minister Boris Johnson.

This is where the Tory government in Westminster stepped in, as the British signatory of the TCA. The UK government would have had to formally approve the Scottish-Irish pact, in advance of a formal application by the EU to essentially vary the TCA to accommodate Irish fishing around Rockall.

As the UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron would have had to sign off on it. A source confirmed the issue had “landed on his desk” before it was scuppered.

On Thursday, the day after the British election was called, the UK government vetoed the deal. The official reason given was that Westminster couldn’t see any benefit for the Scottish fleet. However, sources on both sides of the Irish Sea said the real reason was essentially political, in that the Tory government did not want to be seen to be doing such a deal with the EU, especially during an election period, with an EU concession in return.

The UK’s foreign office said it had “nothing to add”. The Department of Foreign Affairs said an agreement remained a “priority” and the Republic would “continue to work closely with Scotland” on it, as well as engaging with Westminster.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times