Rockall dispute rocks back

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The Dublin government is being urged to defend Irish fishing vessels from a Scottish threat that it will take action against them in the area around Rockall, a rock which protrudes in the middle of the north Atlantic.

Rockall is 260 miles west of the Irish mainland at Donegal and a roughly equal distance from North Uist, a Scottish island itself some 30 miles off the Scottish mainland. It is home only to seagulls and other passing bird colonies.

The uninhabitable rock of granite was infamously claimed by the British navy in 1955, who hoisted a Union Jack and drilled a plaque into it. In 1972 Westminster formally declared it to be part of the shire of Inverness, hundreds of miles away.

That imperial throwback is now having ramifications for Irish fishermen after the Scottish government threatened to enforce the claimed economic zone around it. The move could also have repercussions for future oil and gas exploration rights.

In a letter on Friday, the Scottish external affairs minister Fiona Hyslop warned Dublin that it will deploy its vessels to protect what it claims are its fishing rights around the skerry. That would be a unilateral breach of the UN convention on the law of the sea, signed by Britain, which states that: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

Sinn Féin’s Donegal TD Pearse Doherty said the intervention could lead to boats, nets and other materials “being impounded”. It “could threaten the livelihood of our fisher community”, he added.

Ireland has never sought to claim sovereignty for itself, but never recognised British sovereignty over the rock. It points out that rocks can have no significance for establishing territorial or economic claims.

In a statement on Friday, the Dublin government said that its position “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.”

Mr Doherty said there needs to be clarity and certainty for the Irish fishing community. He called on Dublin to escalate diplomatic conversations with the Scottish authorities and with the British authorities “to make sure that the interests of our fisher community is defended and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in doing that.”

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