“the British Government, and the British State, no longer claim jurisdiction over this part of the island”

So claimed Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey, MLA, in his recent appearance on UTV Live.  Here’s the quote again.

The fundamental difference between before the Good Friday Agreement and after the Good Friday Agreement is that the British Government, and the British State, no longer claim jurisdiction over this part of the island.  That’s very very important, and that’s a very important building block for us to convince those who, at this moment in time, don’t support the idea of a united Ireland that it is in their best interests. [added emphasis]

Of course, he was, and is, fundamentally wrong.  And here’s another illustration of that fact.  The Londonderry Sentinel reports that NI Environment Minister, the SDLP’s Alex Attwood, has written to the Irish Government about the protected waterway status of Lough Foyle.  From the Sentinel report

“The UK Government signed the Ramsar Convention in 1973 and ratified it in 1976. Each Contracting Party to the Convention is required to designate wetlands in accordance with criteria agreed by these parties for inclusion in a list of ‘Wetlands of International Importance,’” he explained.

“Lough Foyle, situated on the north coast of Northern Ireland, is a large shallow sea lough which contains extensive intertidal areas of mudflats and sandflats.

“It is an internationally important coastal site for wintering waders and wildfowl. Because of its international importance Lough Foyle was designated as a Ramsar Site in February 1999,” he added.

Mr Attwood said the Ramsar site includes the whole of Lough Foyle Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and the intertidal area of Magilligan ASSI in Lough Foyle.

He said the protected boundary conforms exactly with the Lough Foyle Special Protection Area.

It also overlaps with the Magilligan Special Area of Conservation.

However, part of the waterway is still not protected.

“The part of Lough Foyle which falls within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland has not been designated as a Ramsar site. I have written to the Dublin Minister to ascertain his view on the matter,” Mr Attwood explained.

The report also notes that this particular border dispute has been cited before, when Project Kelvin was being discussed.  Here’s an updated link for the Hansard record mentioned then – deputy chair of that Assembly Committee, now NI junior Minister, Sinn Féin’s Jennifer McCann.

And a quote, again in the Sentinel report, from a spokeswoman for the UK Government in 2009

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

A spokeswoman told the Sentinel then: “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.”

As the then Irish Government Minister of State for Education and Science, Conor Lenihan, said in a Seanad debate at the time

I reiterate to the Senator that there has never been any formal agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on the delimitation of a territorial water boundary between the two states. In the context of the Good Friday Agreement, a decision was taken to co-operate on foreshore and other issues that arise in the management of the lough from conservation and other points of view. [added emphasis]

One of the issues is that the median channel in Carlingford is the navigation channel whereas, as the Deputy knows, living as close as she does to the lough, the navigation channel in Lough Foyle hugs the southern side, which makes it rather more difficult to manage or to negotiate an agreement as to where the territorial waters actually lie. There is no agreement between the two Governments on where the boundary lies, which is a problem that has bedevilled the situation for some time.

There has been some progress since then, the December 2011 “Memorandum of Understanding reached by the two Governments with the support of the Northern Ireland Executive… on marine jurisdictional issues.” [added emphasis].  Here’s an illustrative map from the memorandum – depicting the agreed line between Northern Ireland and Ireland at Lough Foyle.

Agreed line between Northern Ireland and Ireland at Lough Foyle

And, in January last year, in a written answer the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, TD, informed Dáil Éireann that.

In 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. 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. [added emphasis]

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.

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 week in London. While the issues involved – including the roles of the Crown Estate and all other relevant actors – are complex I am satisfied that both sides are committed to resolving them as soon as possible.

As far as I know, the issue within the loughs remains unresolved.

Interestingly, in his weekend Ard Fheis speech, the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, TD, deployed a slightly different line to that of Alex Maskey.  As Alan noted, Gerry Adams claimed

…Sinn Féin secured the removal of the Government of Ireland Act, under which the British government claimed sovereignty over the North.

Up to a point, Lord Copper… [added link]  You can read the original Government of Ireland Act 1920 here, including the provisions on the “Power To Establish A Parliament For The Whole Of Ireland“.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 was, of course, repealed by the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  The first provision of which reads

It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1. [added emphasis]

Which, as I mentioned previously, is precisely where Scotland, another constituent part of the United Kingdom, currently finds itself – without a Good Friday Agreement, or a 30 year campaign of violence.

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