Fishing industry fears over Foyle ownership row
THE latest Anglo-Irish clash over ownership of Lough Foyle has increased fears of fishermen along the Donegal shore.
The Irish government delivered a sharp rebuke this week after Secretary of State James Brokenshire unexpectedly re-asserted London’s claim over the entire estuary between Derry and Donegal.
Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs responded bluntly that it had never accepted the British position.
Ever since partition in 1922 Britain, through its Crown Estates, has claimed ownership of the entire lough right up to high water mark on the shores of Inishowen.
Similar uncertainty exists over the ownership of Carlingford Lough between Counties Down and Louth.
In Greencastle, Co Donegal yesterday, there were fears that a failure to resolve the dispute before the UK leaves the EU could result in huge losses for the shellfish industry in particular.
Home to one of Ireland’s largest fishing fleets, Greencastle’s harbour stretches out over Lough Foyle and the very seabed claimed by the UK government, while the entire lough is dotted with shell fish beds.
Damien McGee’s family owns the Ferry Port Bar which looks out over the water and he said much of the talk among punters has been about the latest row.
“It’s very vague who owns it but there is a lot of concern around here, particularly among the owners of the smaller boats who fish for mussels and oysters,” he said.
“You’re talking about an awful lot of people being employed and the impact it would have on the entire village. Fishing is the main industry here."
Out on Greencastle pier, Adrian McClenaghan, owner of the Northern Celt, had just returned yesterday from a week’s fishing at sea.
He said the talk about ownership impacted more on inshore vessels than larger sea-going boats.
“This row’s been going on for as long as I remember. I know the smaller boats that fish for crabs and oysters, they’re definitely worried because it could have an effect on them."
However, retired manager of the Greencastle-based Foyle Fishermen’s Co-operative, Seamus Bovaird, said people have always been able to manage the “vagueness” over ownership.
“There is a claim with the UN over Lough Foyle which is listed as disputed territory; there are hundreds of them all over the world,” he said.
“If you go to Clonakilty or Belfast and ask for a licence for shell fishing, they’d tell you to go the Loughs Agency but the Loughs Agency would say they don’t have a mechanism for it yet so you just get on with it. If you’re talking about the foreshore, it’s the Irish government issue licences now no matter what the UK says.”
Mr Bovaird added that he did recall gardai being tasked to arrest a sailor on a Canadian vessel in Lough Foyle back in the 1960s.
“They weren’t sure about their legal right to go out to the boat so they asked the vessel to sail round to Lough Swilly where the sailor was duly arrested,” he said.
Meanwhile, government ministers moved to play down the row yesterday.
Irish foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan said officials from his department have been in contact with British civil servants in a bid to thrash out a resolution.
"I don't accept the claims that the whole of Lough Foyle is under the jurisdiction of the UK government. However, rather than dwell on the negatives, I think it is important that we look forward and see how best this issue might be resolved."
First Minister Arlene Foster said if there is to be no hard border on land post-Brexit, no-one wanted one on Lough Foyle either.
Her Executive partner Martin McGuinness, a fishing enthusiast, said: “Hear, hear Arlene. No hard border on the land; no border on the sea.”