BBC Radio Foyle
The Mark Patterson Show
Mark Patterson (MP) speaks to Enda Craig, (EC) a member of the Loughs Agency Advisory Forum, via telephone about the dispute between the Irish and UK governments over the ownership of Lough Foyle and about the problems the dispute is causing. (begins time stamp ~ 21:31)
Ed Note: To hear the interview as you read please visit the good folks at Buncrana Together. They have the clip of the interview and have been following this story and others that affect Ireland’s beauty and ecology. Click here.
MP: Now – the border. All about the border. The hard border. The soft border. The border around the border for goodness sake. Anyway, customs. But among all those chats one issue hasn’t been spoken about very much because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is not settled. I mean the marine border. The British government’s position remains that the whole of Lough Foyle is in the UK. The Irish say: No, that’s not the case. And that disputed border has led to a huge upsurge in oyster farming on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle. There are thirty thousand metal oyster trestles on the lough bed. There were two thousand in 2014. So it’s completely unregulated. Enda Craig lives in Donegal on the shores of Lough Foyle; he’s also a member of the Advisory Forum of the Loughs Agency. Enda, I bet you half of them listening to this wouldn’t have a clue about that.
EC: Say that again, Mark?
MP: I’m saying I’ll bet you most listeners wouldn’t have a clue about most of that.
EC: Well yeah, well that’s very true but then in all fairness when you speak about the border you must also speak about the true owners of the seabed of Lough Foyle. And you know it’s taken a hundred years for this topic to reach centre stage and that’s been forced upon the various governments by Brexit. Because when the UK pull out of the EU they’re going to have to indicate where their border lies between the UK and the south of Ireland. And actually you know at that stage we know that Brokenshire, James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has already stated that as far as he’s concerned UK owns up to the high water mark on the Donegal side. And that’s going to be very interesting especially for us down here and for the oyster trestle fishermen farther up the lough.
MP: You wonder then how the authorities on this side of the border maybe have never taken action? ‘Cause they’re saying the minute you go to the end of your garden, Enda, you dip your toe into British waters.
EC: (laughs) Yeah, I’m going to have to take my passport with me shortly after Brexit if I go for a swim down at the bottom of my garden. But I mean that’s the reality of the situation. But I suppose, Mark, the big question is: What will be the response from the southern government when the UK claim to the high water mark on the Donegal side?
MP: Well how do you think that’ll pan out? I mean if it’s shuffled on like this since partition, Enda, who’s to say anything’ll change post-Brexit?
EC: Well yeah, a lot of things will have to change. There was a lady just recently speaking, a professor from Queen’s University Belfast, and she was laying it out – many, many,many things will have to be looked at and will have to be discussed when you have an international border – trade, fishing, the fishing industry down here. For instance, one particular issue that we’re very much involved in is the attempt by the Donegal County Council to put a sewage discharge pipe into the seabed of Lough Foyle down here at Carnagarve. And the thing about it is if it is found out in the very near future that the UK owns up to the high water mark then we will be looking at a situation where, as far as we’re concerned, the Donegal claim to the seabed is an illegal claim and they will have to take their pipe, take it and put it where it should have been put in the first place – and that’s north of Greencastle.
MP: You see? Well look, back to the oysters for a moment, Enda: This from the Loughs Agency, by the way, from their Director of Aquaculture: The farming of sea gigas – have I said that right?
EC: Sea gigas? Yeah…
MP: …that’s the Latin for them. On the trestles in Lough Foyle is currently unregulated. The Loughs Agency awaits agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (in The South) and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office which relate to jurisdictional issues before legislation can be brought forward to regularise this activity. (I think they mean ‘regulate’.) Government departments and agencies have expressed concerns regarding the issues which may arise from unregulated development. These concerns have been put in part of discussions between the DFA&T and the British office. Tell me, Enda, what are your observations about the oyster culture there – the aquaculture?
EC: Well you know they, you know all these statements – you have the powers to look at them in some detail, Mark, well the Good Friday Agreement came into being in 1999 out of that came the Loughs Agency who were given the job of regulating all activities in relation to the Foyle and Carlingford – both loughs. And you know, you find out after the research that we carried out, which we claimed that the Crown Estate actually owns the seabed, some very enterprising fishermen, and you know fair play to them, they decided to chance around and put out a few trestles and see how they would get on. Now as it turns out they got on very well because the Loughs Agency weren’t able to do a damned thing about it. And you might ask: Why were they not able to do something about it? Because they, in reality, if they appeared on Lough Swilly or if they appeared over on Screagaí Bay Irish officialdom would be down on them like a tonne of bricks within the hour and yet here they are – growing exponentially by the week!
MP: And do you think that the oysters are being over-exposed?
EC: No. Well that might well be part of it, Mark, but it actually goes back to the fundamental question of the ownership of the lough. And in the – the Loughs Agency were given legislation by the government in 2007 which was supposed to be applicable to the aquaculture industry on Lough Foyle. But the Crown Estate wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t written into the legislation that they (the Crown Estate) were the lawful, legal owner of the seabed of Lough Foyle. This is the fundamental question. And when they talk about governments trying to figure this out and figure that out you never hear the Crown Estate being mentioned. They are the elephant in the room. They are the guys that call the shots. And they, fundamentally, own the seabed because we have permission here, proof beyond all shadows of a doubt, that the Minister of the Marine in Dublin has been paying Crown rent to the Crown Estate for the use of Lough Foyle. Now, the fundamental question is: If you’re paying rent how can you claim ownership? You can’t do that!
MP: Well Enda, you and I will talk again. That was most enlightening and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Thank you for that.
EC: Okay, Mark.
MP: That’s Enda Craig there a man who’s passionate about these things -an Inishowen man. (ends time stamp ~ 28:09)