Donegal fishermen concerned as Rockall row threatens their access to fish rich waters

Michael Daly


Michael Daly


Donegal fishermen concerned as Rockall row threatens their access to fish rich waters

The Scottish government has threatened to take action against Irish fishing vessels that fish in the area around Rockall, which is disputed territory 400km north west of Ireland.

Ownership of Rockall has long been a source of dispute between the Irish and UK authorities but Irish fishing vessels regularly fish in the area.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on the Marine Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher said "this is a most serious escalation in relationships between Ireland and the Scottish Government and must be dealt with immediately by the Irish Government."

He said he noted the declaration was made by the Devolved Parliament in Edinburgh only, and "at this juncture it appears not to have the backing of the United Kingdom Government".

He described the Scottish announcement as a "unilateral illegal action" and a "very serious matter". He said he would be raising the matter with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when the Dáil returns on Tuesday. 

The Irish government in a statement issued on Friday evening said its vessels are legitimately pursuing EU fishing rights around the disputed territory, and have done so for decades.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Simon Coveney TD and the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D. received a formal letter of notice from the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP stating that it will deploy vessels in the Rockall area to take “enforcement action” against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall from this weekend onwards.  

The jurisdiction over the 12 mile area around Rockall has long been disputed.  The position of the Irish Government has been and remains that the waters around Rockall form part of Union waters under the Common Fisheries Policy, to which the principle of equal access for the vessels of all EU Member States applies.  Irish vessels have operated unhindered in the Rockall zone for many decades fishing haddock, squid and other species.

The Scottish Government raised the issue of access to the 12 mile area around Rockall for the first time in 2017, following the Brexit Referendum.

There have been discussions and exchanges between the Tánaiste, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and their officials and their Scottish counterparts over the past two years.  Ireland’s position has been strongly made that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from the Rockall waters as they are legitimately pursuing EU  fishing opportunities in these waters and have done so unhindered for decades.

Minister Creed said: “The Tánaiste and I have worked very closely to avoid a situation whereby Irish fishing vessels who have been and continue to fish   for haddock, squid and other species in the 12 mile area around Rockall, are under the unwarranted threat of “enforcement action” by the Scottish Government. However, following this sustained unilateral action by them, I have no option but to put our fishing industry on notice of the stated intention of the Scottish Government.”


The Tánaiste said: “The longstanding position of the Irish Government is that Irish vessels are entitled to access to Rockall waters.  We have never recognised UK sovereignty over Rockall and accordingly we have not recognised a territorial sea around it either.   We have tried to work positively with the Scottish authorities and to deal with sensitive issues that flow from it in a spirit of kinship and collaboration.  We very much regret that matters have reached this point and intend to do everything possible to achieve a satisfactory resolution.”

Minister Creed met the fishing industry representatives to explain the situation and to advise them of the threat of enforcement action against our fishing vessels by the Scottish authorities. 

Minister Creed said: “I held a difficult but necessary meeting today with our fishing industry representatives. I am very disappointed to have had to make them aware of the risk of enforcement action against them for fishing legitimately in the waters around Rockall.   The industry representatives understood the situation facing Irish vessels but are justifiably concerned at this action being taken by a fellow Member States where our industries are closely connected.”