Foyle 'loughed' in dispute

DUBLIN'S territorial ambitions in Lough Foyle were partly blamed for blocking Hibernia Atlantic Ltd from bringing its Project Kelvin submarine cable up the waterway to a telehouse in Londonderry, the Sentinel can reveal.

Whilst the Republic of Ireland's territorial claim over Northern Ireland was dealt with by the amendment of articles 2 and 3 of its constitution in 1999 Dublin still covets Lough Foyle.

It has now emerged that this may have been an influence in Hibernia Atlantic's original decision to locate the Project Kelvin telehouse in Coleraine instead of Londonderry - because that was where the cable had to come ashore.

Assembly records show that at the height of the Project Kelvin controversy in February, Derek Bullock, Vice President of Network Operations Hibernia Atlantic, was brought in to field questions from the Stormont Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment at Stormont.

During that questions and answers session Mr Bullock revealed that the dispute over territory that the UK believes it owns - alongside environmental concerns - swayed the company in its decision not to bring the multi-million pound telecommunication cable up the river to a telehouse location in Londonderry.

"We cannot bring a cable into Lough Foyle, because the border line under the sea there is actually disputed. We will not get into that level of consultation and negotiation to try to solve that issue, so we chose Portrush," Mr Bullock told the Committee.

The Hibernia chief was asked if the original Project Kelvin specification envisaged that the firm would tap into the transatlantic line and bring it down Lough Foyle into Londonderry.

He replied: "That is technically impossible. Lough Foyle is a disputed border region, and, as I said, we cannot put submarine cables near disputed border regions."

However, it seems that even if agreement was reached by Dublin and London and the Irish Government abandoned all thoughts of a "water grab" in Lough Foyle, it still would not be feasible to run the cable up the river to a telehouse.

"That would presume that all the land borders were agreed, that all environmental parties agreed to the laying of the cable, and that all ships agreed to stop dredging in Lough Foyle, which given that dredging at the mouth of the Foyle is necessary to remove the silt would not happen, and a cable would go out of service every three days," Mr Bullock told the committee.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) underlined its view that all of Lough Foyle is British and that is not negotiable at present.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: "The UK position is that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK. We recognise that the Irish Government does not accept this position.

"There are no negotiations currently in progress on this issue. The regulation of activities in the Lough is now the responsibility of the Loughs Agency, a cross-border body established under the Belfast Agreement of 1988."

The Sentinel contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the Republic of Ireland and asked would it be willing to relinquish its claim to the territorial waters in Lough Foyle in order to facilitate a resolution to the dispute.

However, a spokeswoman for the DFA said it was unable to provide a response before the paper went to press.

But during a debate in the Irish Parliament in March 2008 deputies discussing cross-border co-operation on the waterway provided an insight into Dublin's thinking.

Deputy Joe McHugh remarked: "We have a joint jurisdiction under the auspices of the Loughs Agency." And Deputy Maire Hoctor commented: "Half of the lough lies in the Irish search and rescue region and half in the UK region. It has long been the practice, however, that search and rescue knows no borders, only boundaries."

Read the full transcript of the report on Project Kelvin to the Stormont Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and make up your own mind on the telehouse: