Rockall: where is the tiny island and why are Scotland and Ireland contesting it?

This week Scotland and Ireland have been at loggerheads over a tiny uninhabitable granite island in the North East Atlantic.

Rockall is at the centre of a dispute between Scotland and Ireland over fishing laws.

Rockall, and its surrounding waters, has been at the centre of a controversy over fishing laws.

Scottish ministers have warned their Irish counterparts that they will take enforcement action against any Irish vessels they see within 12 nautical miles of the North Atlantic island. However, the legal position Scotland is taking is disputed by the Irish.

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A political stunt?

Three Irish boat captains are continuing to fish the area, and claim to have done so for the past 30 years.

The Greencastle Fishermen's Co-Operative, of County Donegal, has said that their trawlers are perfectly within their rights to fish off Rockall, as they always have done.

Speaking to RTÉ, the co-operative’s John O'Kane said, "What the Scots have done is brought in a rule that is against the law of the sea. It is against EU law and has no legal standing whatsoever.

"We feel that this is a political stunt by the SNP. The Irish government have to fight this tooth and nail.

"There is no tension at all between the Scottish and Irish fishermen. This has blindsided us. It's just come out of the blue.

"Our fishermen are determined to stick to their guns on this one."

But Scotland's Fisheries Minister Fergus Ewing has said the Scottish government was sure of its legal position and will ensure that the law is enforced.

So what is Rockall, and why is it so important to the two countries?

Rockall is an eroded volcano lying approximately 187.2 miles west of Scotland and 263.0 miles northwest of Ireland. It is only 100 feet wide and 70 feet high above sea level.

The nearest permanently inhabited place is North Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, 230 miles to the east.

Rockall is home to the multi-million pound Rockall Fishery, which has several species of fish, including squid, monkfish and haddock.

Claimed in 1955 by the UK, it was incorporated as part of Scotland in 1972. But this has been disputed over the years by Ireland as well as Denmark and Iceland.

Scotland is accusing Ireland of increasing activity around the islet, which it says is illegal as it is taking place within 12 nautical mile radius that belongs to them. The Scottish Government raised the issue of access to the 12 mile area around Rockall for the first time in 2017, following the Brexit Referendum.

However, the Irish government has offered its backing to the Irish fishermen, and says it does not recognise Scotland’s claim over the disputed territory.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said that the area around Rockall is an EU fisheries ground, and so the Common Fisheries Policy applies.

This means that Ireland believes that EU member states are allowed to catch fish in the waters according to quotas set out by the European Union, which were issued in December.

What could happen if the dispute continues?

Enforcement action taken could involve patrol boats from the Scottish government going alongside any vessel believed to be breaking the law and potentially making arrests. Mr Ewing has said that this is the “routine” enforcement action that Scotland is considering taking.

Yet the Irish government has said that it will be taking a diplomatic approach, and will not be sending navy vessels to prevent the boarding of Irish fishing boats around Rockall by the Scottish.