The British Government has put its territorial waters “front and centre” of the Brexit debate, according to Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Speaking to Donegal Live, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries and the Marine said: “The British Government has said, ‘We will control our waters’, and this is a big post-Brexit worry for our white fish fleet and also for the inshore fishermen because inshore goes far out when you are fishing for crabs and lobsters.
“All the fishers in Inishowen are very anxious about how Brexit will pan out. It has never been more important for the Department of the Marine to reassure them. After all we are an island nation and where else in the world would it be heard of for an island nation not to draw wealth from sea?
“The Department should be saying, ‘We are not going to treat fishers like criminals for getting a livelihood from the seas. We will help you. We are going to manage it and Brexit'
“I see no evidence of any supports on the table to help fishers. There is nobody more threatened by Brexit than fishers. They have been completely abandoned by Government and the only time you hear anything is when they are sending out the Naval Service, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority or An Garda. I have never seen a Department that is more out of touch with the people they serve. Minister Charlie McConalogue needs to give it a good shake up,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Focusing specifically on the Foyle, Mr Mac Lochlainn, said he was in dialogue with a number of its stakeholders.
He said: “In terms of the oyster trestles [between Muff and Redcastle], I would like to say that I am not opposed to aquaculture, I know quite a lot of people who work in this sector.
“However, the issue here is that the oyster trestles are not regulated. It is a form of aquaculture which is not overseen in the normal fashion as it would be anywhere else in Donegal.
“I have sent a Parliamentary Question to Minister Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, asking him if will he engage with his counterpart, the relevant minister in the British Government, to try and find a solution.
“I understand that both ministers could introduce joint legislation to regulate aquaculture on the Foyle. It has to be done jointly, on a co-operative basis. The 2007 legislation, which set up the Loughs' Agency, was passed jointly. So, we need to bring in joint legislation, to allow the Loughs' Agency to regulate the aquaculture on all of the Foyle, not just the native oyster and fishery but the trestles too,” said Mr Mac Lochlainn.
According to the TD, in terms of jurisdiction over the Foyle, the Irish Government has never recognised the British claim.
He added: “The British have never really enforced the claim, so it is a false fight. What we need to do, speaking as an Irish Republican, in the interim towards a united Ireland, is make sure that some agency has full responsibility, full jurisdiction, on behalf of both Governments.
“That would be the Loughs' Agency. The Loughs' Agency needs to be given increased powers to manage all of the Lough on behalf of both Governments.
“It is ludicrous what is happening on the Foyle. The situation has been allowed to drift. We need to get legislation drafted and get the situation sorted out immediately. The Governments have been sitting on their hands. The Loughs' Agency manages a great deal of what goes on in Lough Foyle.
“If a question is put to a British minister, including the Secretary of State for the North, they will officially will state Britain owns Lough Foyle in its entirety. That is their official position. However, nothing is ever done to enforce it. They never enforce. Because it is not enforced it creates grey areas,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Mr Mac Lochlainn asserted that the claim that the Crown Estate has ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle is “heavily disputed”.
He said: “The British Government will not say, 'let's just manage this thing. We don't own it. You don't own it. It's no man's land and we will manage it to make sure it does not become the wild west'. The Loughs' Agency was supposed to do just that job.
“The Foyle's shipping channel may have some bearing on the situation. The shipping channel leans towards the Donegal side of the Lough, therefore the issue the British would have, if they signed over jurisdiction in Lough Foyle, is they would not have access to Derry Port.
“It has always been believed that the British will not get the deal done because it would block access to Derry Port. Noone in Ireland accepts the Crown Estate owns the Foyle seabed.
“The Irish Government has let this situation regarding the Foyle drift and now with Brexit, is not going to help. It is classic. The British claim it but do nothing about it. It is pure brinkmanship on their part,” concluded Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
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