Northern Ireland news

Co Down fishermen home after boats impounded by Irish Navy

 The boats  have been tied up since Thursday
Mairead Holland

THE Co Down fishermen whose boats were impounded for allegedly fishing illegally in Irish waters have returned home to Kilkeel.

Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly said the skippers now face having to raise "significant amounts of money" in bonds to have the boats released.

And he said the crew of the two boats are feeling "hurt and let down" after the incident on Wednesday.

Their detention has provoked anger from political representatives who have accused the Irish government of double standards on the issue of the Irish border ahead of Brexit.

The UK registered vessels were detained in Dundalk Bay by Irish naval vessel the LE Orla.

A Garda spokesperson said: "They were escorted to port in Clogherhead where they were detained by Gardaí under the 2006 Fisheries Act.

"An order was issued at Dundalk district court for 48 hours in respect of both vessels. They remain at Clogherhead."

 Nigel Dodds described recent events as "outrageous"

Councillor Reilly said: "The men are home and I have been speaking to their families. These are just allegations at the moment.

"The men just want to get their boats back. It's very annoying for them. It's good weather and the boats are tied up so they can't work.

"It is scandalous that the Irish authorities can be so blatant in administering double standards and blocking UK fishermen from fishing in their waters while the UK allows Irish-registered vessels to take thousands of tonnes of fish from our waters."

At present, Northern Ireland vessels are banned from fishing inside the Republic of Ireland's six-mile limit but the Republic's fleet has not been excluded from Northern Ireland waters.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP said the recent events were "outrageous".

Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly

“The Irish Prime Minister must explain why two Northern Ireland trawlers have been impounded by an Irish Navy warship. I have already raised the matter with our own government," he said.

"Whilst Northern Ireland allows Irish boats to fish in our waters, the Republic of Ireland has policed a hard border and do not allow Northern Ireland boats to enter their waters.

"Despite the Voisinage Agreement to have reciprocal fishing arrangements, the Irish have never enacted any legislation to give legal effect to the agreement. Legislation was drafted in 2016 but remains on the shelf.

"We have raised this with the Irish government previously. If they have been holding back as some bargaining chip on Brexit then it utterly exposes the Irish faux concern about a hard border on the island of Ireland."

He added: "These heavy handed tactics with our fishing vessels demonstrate that Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are entirely focused on Ireland and are fair weather friends to Northern Ireland."

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