Brexit trouble, on Ireland's marine border

A UK-EU fisheries agreement must protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). It's easy to overlook the fact that Ireland has a marine border with the UK, not just a land frontier. 

Michael Gove, a senior UK minister & joint chair of the committee for the Ireland Protocol, has said “we will ... extend control of our waters up to ... the median line between ... Britain and Ireland”. Gove’s statement means Irish vessels could be excluded by UK forces from fishing in Northern Ireland waters, where Irish vessels have always been free to go. The issue is most acute in Lough Foyle & Carlingford Lough, both bisected by the marine border. 

Gove is a senior minister in London & one of the driving forces behind Britain’s exit from the EU. UK govt is enacting legislation to allow it to break international law & treaties, including the Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated in 2019, & the GFA. Gove published a document repudiating the GFA, in 2000, long after it was ratified by the UK & Ireland. Gove described the GFA & peace process as a "moral stain," "humiliation," & "denial of our national integrity". His hostility to the GFA & the EU is clear. 

Any action by UK forces to exclude or detain Irish vessels from fishing in NI waters, which have always been open to them, would be an extreme provocation, all too easy to imagine with ministers like Gove in office. This isn't a remote possibility, A vessel owned by a former Irish Taoiseach was intercepted in Carlingford Lough, by UK forces, in 1990, causing a diplomatic row. The present UK govt’s extreme nationalist tone suggests similar events could happen in future unless strong, enforceable guarantees are in place. 

It is inconceivable that Ireland could ratify an agreement between EU & UK which doesn’t guarantee Irish vessels free & unfettered access to NI waters. Failure to secure these rights would seriously undermine the possibility of ratification. A fishing agreement that does not have strong, enforceable guarantees of ongoing cross border access by Irish & NI vessels would be politically controversial in Ireland, likely to be contested on constitutional grounds in Irish courts & might never be ratified.


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