Foyle row is the source of difficulties

IRISH Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin admits uncertainty over jurisdiction within Lough Foyle has created practical difficulties for the conduct of a number of activities in the waterway.

But Mr Howlin’s Private Secretary Garrett O’Rorke has advised the Sentinel that both the Irish and British Governments are committed to resolving jurisdictional issues as soon as possible.

The claims follow recent controversy over ownership and jurisdiction of the Lough after an application for a compulsory purchase order - pertaining to the seabed at Moville - was confirmed by the Irish planning board, An Bord Pleanála, in August 2011.

The Irish Government subsequently reiterated its view that the grant of the order was justified under current Irish law and that Lough Foyle’s foreshore is Irish property.

Now the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has told the Sentinel that under “international law the sovereignty of a coastal state extends beyond its land territory to the adjacent band of water and to the seabed and subsoil beneath it.”

Mr O’Rourke explained: “A coastal state exercises jurisdiction within that area. The extent of that jurisdiction will depend, amongst other things, on any boundaries that may have been agreed with a neighbouring state. There is currently no agreed maritime boundary within Lough Foyle.

“The question of property rights to the seabed is a separate issue, regulated by domestic law. In this jurisdiction, with some small exceptions, the seabed adjacent to the coast belongs to the State and is currently vested in the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform under the State Property Acts.

“In the UK ownership of the foreshore is vested in a number of bodies, including the Crown Estate in Northern Ireland.”

The top civil servant admitted that as a result of these rival claims confusion still reigns and this has created “practical difficulties.”

“Uncertainty concerning the extent to which each side exercises jurisdiction within Lough Foyle, and the separate but related issue of property rights, have created practical difficulties for the conduct of a number of activities there.

“This has included difficulty in creating a system for the licensing of aquaculture by the Loughs Agency in accordance with the intentions of the Irish and British Governments under the 1999 Agreement establishing Implementation Bodies. Discussions between relevant Departments and agencies on both sides of the border on specific issues have been taking place on a case by case basis,” he stated.

Notwithstanding these difficulties both Governments are apparently committed to resolving any conflicts to their mutual advantage.

“Recently the two Governments agreed to address issues relating to both Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough in the round. A first meeting of officials took place last January in London.

“While the issues involved, including the roles of the Crown Estate and all other relevant actors, are complex, both sides are committed to resolving them as soon as possible,” Mr O’Rourke concluded.