Northern Ireland news

Seizure of Co Down fishing boats 'truly regrettable', taoiseach says

Seized boats Boy Joseph and Amity leave Clogherhead Harbour after Judge John Coughlan ruled both should be released. Picture by Aoife Moore, Press Association

THE impounding of two Co Down fishing boats by the Irish navy was "truly regrettable", the taoiseach has said.

The two vessels were seized in Dundalk Bay on Wednesday for allegedly fishing illegally in Irish waters.

Northern Ireland vessels are banned from fishing inside six miles of the Republic but southern fleets have not been excluded from the north's waters.

Speaking in Belfast last night, Mr Varadkar said he was pleased the ships have now been released and wants to update Irish law within weeks.

"The situation arose in 2016 when our Supreme Court struck down the provisions which allowed us to give access to Northern Ireland vessels within our six-mile limit," he said.

"We need to change that law, we are going to change that law to restore the status quo to what it was before 2016."

He added: "That will allow us to go back to the situation as it was between 1960 and 2016 where both Northern Ireland and Ireland allowed each other's vessels to enter our six-mile limit."

"What would be helpful would be an indication from the UK Government that they won't withdraw Northern Ireland from the London Convention (on fishing rights) because it wouldn't make sense for us to change our law only to find that the law then changes in Northern Ireland as well."

Earlier, a district court judge in the Republic described the captains of two Co Down fishing trawlers as "people of absolute integrity" who do not deserve convictions.

Jack Brown and Kevin Trainor, from Kilkeel, pleaded guilty to breaching fishing regulations and been given the benefit of the Probation Act, with their boats - Boy Joseph and Amity - released yesterday.

A probation order in the Republic allows the courts to give offenders an official warning without imposing a sentence.

Judge John Coughlan told the court he was bound by the Supreme Court decision.

"It's clear these are people of absolute integrity, and I should be as lenient as possible," he said.

The boats seized were described as "modest vessels", with a total of five staff between them.

The Boy Joseph had about €1,200 worth of shellfish on board when it was seized.

Amity had an estimated €2,000 of crab and lobster.

Both men have no previous convictions and fully cooperated with gardaí.

Solicitor for the two men, Karina Kinsella, said that detaining the boats was "affecting them greatly" and that it was "unfortunate that Northern Irish fisherman are missing out" because of the ruling.

The two captains left Drogheda District Court after the judgment and travelled to Clogherhead Harbour where the boats had been kept.

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