IRISH fishermen are refusing to back down despite threats of "enforcement action" in an escalating row over their operation in the zone around Rockall, an uninhabitable granite islet in the North Atlantic.

It comes as Irish government ruled out sending its navy into waters around the disputed area as the dispute over fishing rights intensifies.

Irish boats currently fishing off the 100 foot-wide eroded volcano that lies 260 miles west of the Western Isles have a legal right to fish there, and will continue to do so, the manager of a fishermen’s co-operative in County Donegal has said.

Foyle Fishermen’s Co-Operative, currently has three boats fishing within 12 miles of Rockall and its general manager, John O’Kane, said the fishermen were concerned but were continuing to fish as normal.

Irish vessels are currently working on squid and other species around the rich fishing grounds off Rockall.

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.

READ MORE: Ireland threatens EU court action in fishing dispute with Scotland over Rockall

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.

Mr O'Kane said: “The Scottish authorities are saying they shouldn’t be there, but the Irish Government are saying we have every legal right to be there, and our boats intend to carry on and finish out our trips.

“Our fishermen feel they’ve a legal right to fish on those grounds and that’s what they intend to do.”

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

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.

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

Rockall - what lies beneath. Source: Marine Scotland

Mr O’Kane said that Irish boats had always fished off Rockall, and that this year their boats have been fishing there every month.

“It was a shock to the system for us. Our first thought was, ‘are they going to send in navy patrol boats and will any of our boats be seized?’ “To date that hasn’t happened, and hopefully the diplomacy that’s going on behind the scenes will sort it out. We’ve always had good relationships with the Scottish, so hopefully things will continue on as they have done in the past.

“If anything untoward happens in terms of a vessel being arrested we would ask that there’ll be Government support in terms of legal advice and financial support to make sure that that vessel isn’t either out of pocket or detained in a Scottish port.”

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

The Irish Government were said to have taken a more diplomatic line on Monday as Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said they would not be sending naval vessels to prevent Irish trawlers being boarded.

He said talks are needed to resolve the spat, but insisted Irish boats would continue to work around 17m high islet.

He said: “What we don’t accept is a very small rock constitutes a sovereign territory that can have a 12 mile limit set around it. That is what the Scottish Government is claiming and we do not accept that.”

"We need to take the heat out of this discussion and look for solutions.

“That is what diplomacy is about. Scotland and Ireland are very close friends. We will work with them to try to bring an end to this.

“What we won’t do is change a policy that we have had in place for decades on the back of a threat which is what has been happening for the last few days.

“I am a former Fisheries Minister — and I am standing next to the current Fisheries Minister. We know how fisheries enforcement works we do it well here through the Irish Naval Service and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.

“Our position on Rockall is very clear. Our fishing boats have been fishing there for many, many years.

“We have a very clear view of the waters around Rockall, they are an EU fisheries ground. The Common Fisheries Policy applies.

"Quotas are allocated every December including quotas for Irish boats to catch fish in the Rockall area.”