North-South tension over fish stocks in 1997
THE preservation of fish stocks in the Irish Sea was a major concern of the British Government, newly-released files from 1997 show.
In March 1997, the Northern Ireland Office expressed concern at the Irish Government’s intention to invoke the ‘Hague Preference’, thus permitting it to increase its quotas of white fish stocks in the Irish Sea.
In a memo to Irish officials on the Joint Secretariat at Maryfield, Co Down, a senior NIO official argued that such a policy by Dublin would damage the north’s fishing industry and the hopes of the two governments to achieve reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
Peter Bell, the British Secretary of the secretariat wrote: "I have played up the NI political dimension strongly, whether in NI community terms or North-South relations."
He added that he had played down "the EU angles".
"The Irish will know what we are after viz - that they should not exercise their quotas to the full."
In his memo to Irish officials at Maryfield, Mr Bell said the fishing issue would be raised at the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference in Dublin.
He added: "It is (the NIO’s) contention that the Irish invocation of the Hague Preference in relation to Irish Sea white fish stocks is not only damaging to the NI fishing industry which employs members of all sides of the community. It is also detrimental to the settled policy of both sides to promote economic cooperation and political conciliation."
He added that the Northern Ireland fishing industry was "deeply resentful of the Irish invocation of the Hague Preference, evidenced by an ongoing Judicial Review being pursued by the local fishermen’s body".
The solution lay in finding some accommodation involving Irish Sea white fish stocks, the official stressed.