Post-Brexit tensions have surfaced in the fishing sector with agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue criticised for the “chaotic” handling of a permit system for Irish fishing vessels in British waters.
Only a small fraction of the entire Irish fleet has been given permits for continued access to British waters, with a reduced quota as a result of Brexit.
“Rockall is not the only issue — the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine had no Plan B,” said Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy.
Mr Murphy described the past week as “chaotic”, and said he was shocked at how unprepared the department was.
Mr McConalogue’s department has confirmed that only 141 vessels out of the full list of 1,900 Irish vessels have been given temporary permits to date.
The department had requested authorisation on December 31 for all 1,900 Irish-registered vessels to fish in the British exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between 12 and 200 nautical miles, after notification by the European Commission of the need to do so.
It said it was “actively and urgently seeking from the UK authorities, through the EU Commission, that all Irish vessels be granted authorisation to fish in UK waters”.
Mr Murphy said arrangements should have been put in place by department officials “months ago”.
Mayo prawn skipper Paddy Mulvany, who fishes with his 20m Kristel Patrick for 40% of the year in the Celtic Sea, was critical of the department’s “arbitrary” selection, which did not include his vessel.
He has also questioned the department’s use of the term ”priority vessel” in its response to him last week.
“What does that make the rest of us — second class?” said Mr Mulvany.
“Unless this is sorted, anyone who wants to sell on a boat won’t be able to realise its value if it does not have access to British waters.”
Ireland stands to be the biggest loser in a Brexit deal which sees EU member states lose 25% of catch overall.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said that the department’s approach was “pragmatic”, in ensuring those vessels preparing to go to sea on January 1 had authorisation.
Mr O’Donoghue said the initial permits only last for three weeks, and expects a second list will be issued for the full year. He said he understood Britain “couldn’t handle” the full list.
Meanwhile, Mr McConalogue and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney have said there remains an “increased risk of enforcement action being taken by Scottish fisheries control authorities against Irish vessels operating in the waters around Rockall at present”.
This follows last week’s warning by Marine Scotland to a Donegal vessel fishing within 12 nautical miles of Rockall.
Sinn Féín marine spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn said he had warned the then marine minister Michael Creed in 2019, when the issue last flared up, that a 2013 agreement between the Irish and British governments “essentially recognised British sovereignty over Rockall”.
The 2013 agreement signed by former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore established a single maritime boundary between the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the two countries and parts of their continental shelves.
“This is a shameful agreement that has never been ratified by the Dáil,” said Mr MacLochlainn.
Ireland “could have supported the governments of Iceland and Denmark in demanding shared sovereignty and fishing rights around Rockall, but chose not to do so”, he said.