Here is a questions that Cecilia Keaveney submitted to the Seanad in 2009.

Cecilia Keaveney – I ask the Minister to outline whether he agrees that the Crown Estate has any financial or other claim on the Foyle as a sea or its riverbed.

As someone who lives along the Foyle and sees an institution attempting to take moneys and possibly exert a veto over activities that have nothing to do with it, I cannot apologise for that. There has been much diplomacy for decades and tip-toeing through the thorny legalities of who owns the seas around Ireland. Neither Government seems entirely sure where the offshore border lies and, as somebody in Donegal said, if it was oil they discovered there, one could bet this issue would be settled in the morning.

A Sunday Business Post article effectively said that the Crown Estate owns 12 miles out around Britain. I challenge under what guise the Crown Estate has any function in the Foyle. In its response to the Foyle and Carlingford fisheries order of 2007, the Crown Estate indicated that it had significant ownership interests in the foreshore and seabed of Northern Ireland. It went on to put forward ideas for amendments to the Foyle fisheries order and to retain a level of control for the Crown Estate. I again ask why and under what guise it did that?

Under the Government of Ireland Act I believe that the island of Ireland and its seas were returned and subsequently the Six Counties removed, that is, the counties, not the waters.

Under the most recent Bill that enabled the licensing of aquaculture, I am again led to believe that our representatives on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission are in negotiations with the Crown Estate to agree a lease. I ask the straight, one-word question, why? What reason, under what regulation, under what legislation do we have to engage in financially rewarding this body?

Under what power does the Crown Estate claim a proportion of the turnover of the Foyle ferry service? What form does our new devolved administration in Stormont and our joint administrations, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, have if, when we offer licences or promote projects, or object to projects such as the wind farm proposal to which I referred, there is still some onus to turn to the Crown Estate for, in effect, its veto?

This is not a wrapping a flag around me exercise. It has fundamental serious implications that must be addressed. In Wales the Crown Estate is exercising a right to veto applications for aquaculture licensing. It may be only some time before this becomes a reality in our region and, therefore, the basic tenet of my Adjournment matter remains under what authority is this right being projected?

Are we now talking about surrendering title by offering a rent to the Crown Estate for Lough Foyle?

This is a financial burden on the Foyle ferry service, which I fought to have reprioritised as a domestic service so that the international security for which we were paying, which was an economic noose, could be removed. We now find that the Crown Estate has put a claim on a percentage of the turnover, yet another ridiculous attempt at an another economic noose in an area that does not need it.

As I said, it is also the issue of the veto that leads me to ask again under what guise does the Crown Estate now have any claim to the Foyle? Will we clarify that right, challenge it or, if proven to exist and if necessary, buy it out so that the development of the river, in all its forms, can happen by the association that was set up to do that, namely, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission? It should be unimpaired in driving the developmental potential of one of our most important resources. Will we halt negotiations at this point with the Crown Estate in regard to developing a lease and have it take a much more fundamental look at its position? I put these questions to the Minister of State, who I am sure, as an Irish Minister, will be interested in asserting our citizens’ interests in the north west too.

Conor Lenihan – I understand that there has been no formal agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on the delimitation of a territorial waters boundary between the two States. However, the policy of the two Governments has been to co-operate in a pragmatic fashion.

In this regard, in order to provide for the management and conservation of the fishery stocks in the Lough Foyle area it was agreed between both jurisdictions to set up the Foyle Fisheries Commission which were transferred under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999 to the Loughs Agency. The agency is currently under the co-sponsorship of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland.

The Loughs Agency to conserve, protect, develop and manage shell fisheries and aquaculture in the loughs areas, enabling for the first time the introduction of an agreed regulatory regime for aquaculture and wild shell fisheries in Lough Foyle.

It is necessary for the agency to secure a long-term lease of the cross-Border foreshore areas under its responsibility in Lough Foyle. This will be done by way of a formal foreshore management agreement between the Loughs Agency, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Crown Estates Commission, which are the responsible bodies for the management of foreshore in both jurisdictions. Negotiations are at an advanced stage between the parties mentioned and it is expected that agreement should be finalised in the near future.

Cecilia Keaveney – Is the Minister aware that the Crown Estate is one of the largest property owners in the UK, with a portfolio worth €7.33 billion, and owns more than 55% of the UK’s foreshore? On 1 April 1923 the Irish estates were handed over to the Irish Free State and most of that comprised foreshore. Thus, I ask again why are we in advanced negotiations with the Crown Estate for something to which it has not proved any title. I ask for those negotiations to be examined closely and for an answer to be provided in this regard. If we are going towards a united Ireland or a happily devolved Government in the North, we do not need the interference of a third-party in this regard. I have no problem with the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. It has a dual mandate and we do not need a third partner.

Conor Lenihan – 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.

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. With regard to the Good Friday Agreement, I remind the Deputy again that the preamble of the Constitution defines the nation in terms of the island and its territorial seas.