THE SCOTTISH and Irish governments have agreed to "intensify" discussions to resolve the row over fishing around Rockall, an uninhabitable granite islet in the North Atlantic.

It comes as at least one fishing group in Ireland said that Irish boats 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.

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.

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While a marine patrol vessel heading for Rockall was reportedly stood down, Nicola Sturgeon insisted that she wanted “an amicable and negotiated settlement”.

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Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar said the fishing grounds around Rockall were part of EU waters.

"I think that the fisheries and territories around it should be shared," he told the Irish parliament. "The Irish vessels in those waters have EU quota and these waters are part of EU waters.

"And under the Common Fisheries Policy we believe they are in their rights to continue to fish in the area around Rockall."

Mr Varadkar added: "Rockall is a rock, essentially a sea stack in the middle of the ocean. It's uninhabitable, uninhabited and I don't think it is something that Ireland and Scotland should fight over.

HeraldScotland: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC (Niall Carson/PA)

"We don't have a claim on it. We don't accept any other sovereign claim on it.

"I think it is fair to say that both administrations would like to see this matter de-escalated."

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A statement from the Irish government added: "Dialogue regarding Rockall is continuing between the Irish and Scottish governments.

"There have been close contacts at official level over recent days. It has now been agreed that a process of intensified engagement will take place, led by senior officials from both administrations."

Ms Hyslop told MSPs at Holyrood that Scotland valued its relationship with Ireland.

She said senior officials involved in talks to resolve the dispute had agreed to "intensified engagement". Ms Hyslop said ministerial channels also remained open.

The minister told MSPs that incursions into the waters around Rockall had increased from 15 in 2015 to 33 in 2016 and 94 in 2017.

There was a slight decrease in 2018 due to changes in fishing quotas and the absence of some fish, she said.

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.

The Irish Government has always said it does not recognise its claim over the long-disputed territory.