THE Irish Government has warned Scotland it will take EU court action if it follows through with threats of "enforcement action" over the escalating row over Irish fishermen operating in the zone around Rockall, an outcrop in the North Atlantic.

The Irish agriculture and marine Michael Creed is said to have given unconditional backing to Irish fishermen in the row after the Scottish Government said it is defending the interests of its fisheries against "illegal activity" around the uninhabited islet over which the UK claims sovereignty.


The Irish Government ministers received a letter from Fiona Hyslop, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, last week stating that protection vessels will be deployed to take "enforcement action" against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall from this weekend onwards.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that it is "our duty and obligation to defend the interests of Scottish fisheries".

The Scottish Government raised the issue of access to the 12 mile area around Rockall for the first time in 2017, following the Brexit Referendum.

But the Irish Government has said it does not recognise its claim over the long-disputed territory located around 240 miles from the Scottish mainland.

READ MORE: Scotland and Ireland locked in fishing dispute over Atlantic outcrop

Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing has said that Irish vessels had never been allowed to fish in this way in the UK's territorial sea around Rockall.

He said that there was a set prescribed process that involves taking appropriate action.

Mr Ewing said: "The normal approach is to invite the captain to cease and desist. If that instruction is obeyed, then there's no need for further action.


"If it's necessary to do more, then the vessel would be boarded and action would be taken in accordance with the law."

“They’ve never been allowed to fish in the UK’s territorial sea around Rockall,” he said. “It’s disappointing this activity continues.”

He told RTÉ's This week programme said the Scottish government's threat of action was entirely routine and part of ongoing enforcement of fisheries legislation.

He said if UK authorities discover Irish vessels in the area it believes they shouldn’t be in, then it will be dealt with “in the normal way”.

When pressed on what the normal way is, the Scottish minister said: “The normal approach is to invite the captain of the vessel to cease and desist… If that instruction is obeyed, there’s no need for further action.”

READ MORE: Scotland and Ireland locked in fishing dispute over Atlantic outcrop

But Mr Creed has said he would not be asking Irish fishermen to leave waters around Rockall and that Ireland had never recognised UK jurisdiction over Rockall.

He said that Ireland had a right to fish there under EU common fisheries law and that it had a quota known as Rockall Haddock Quota.


“Our fishermen there now are doing so under EU law,” he said. “We won’t be asking our fishermen to leave the area of Rockall.”

The minister said a number of legal options were available to the Irish government to try to resolve the matter.

This included the European Court of Justice – which would be problematic given the UK’s current plan to leave the EU by 31 October – as well as the UN or the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

“We will exhaust all legal options here to protect our fishing industry,” Creed said.

When asked if the government would consider enlisting the Naval Service to protect Irish vessels, Creed said: “I honestly don’t believe escalating the issue to that level serves any purpose.”

He added he hopes a “sensible solution” can be found.

Pearse Doherty, the Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for the Donegal constituency said the Irish gvernment should deploy boats from the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to protect Irish fishermen at Rockall if diplomatic efforts fail.