Irish Government Paying Rent To UK Crown Estate For Use Of Seabed Of Lough Foyle

Writing in Buncrana Together North West activist Enda Craig revisits the Lough Foyle issue.

Why is nothing being done by the Loughs Agency regarding 30,000 unregulated and unlicensed oyster trestles located on the foreshore of Lough Foyle between Muff and Moville? That is the question to ask.

The most broadcast reason being spun by Irish Government representatives and local politicians is the inability of both the U.K. and Irish Governments to agree on the ownership of the lough.

This explanation is a complete nonsense and empty rhetoric.

The fact is that the Loughs Agency is already in place by agreement of both Governments and has the legislatory power to deal with the situation. The Loughs Agency's mission statement can be read here. It states

The Loughs Agency aims to provide sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits through the effective conservation, protection, management, promotion and development of the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford Areas.

The Crown Estate and it's role

So what is the real reason for ignoring the serious situation that has developed? The 'elephant in the room' that blatantly has not been mentioned is 'The Crown Estate'.

History Of The Crown Estate

The Crown Estate claim ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. It is they who will not agree with legislation put together by both Governments in 2007 to regulate aquaculture fishing on Lough's Foyle and Carlingford Lough making it necessary for local fishermen, for the first time in history, to have to purchase a fishing licence.

This can be seen in the letter  dated 15 January 2007, from Charles Green, MRICS, on behalf of The Crown Estates to Mr J McQuillan, Fisheries Division, Castle Grounds, Stormont Estate concerning 'Draft Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007. In it he states:

We write in response to your consultation on the above order and are pleased to have the opportunity to consider this. The Crown Estate has significant ownership interests in the foreshore and seabed of Northern Ireland and has broad expertise and knowledge of activities across the tidal and inter-tidal zones.

The letter goes on to comment 'with concerns' on specific points raised in the draft proposal and it makes several amendments to the Draft Order.

Fishing rights and impending legal battle

Even though there was no agreement between the Crown Estate and the two Governments, the Loughs Agency went ahead and applied the licence requirement anyway. Most fishermen relented and paid. Some paid under protest.

One fisherman resolutely refused to take out a licence from day one. He was prosecuted by the Loughs Agency in 2011. He responded by taking a case against the agency for denying him his traditional fishing rights. He is stating that Lough Agency is prosecuting him without proper legal cause on the basis that the Loughs Agency do not own the seabed on which he was fishing.

This important case is making its way through the court system and is shortly expected to arrive in the Supreme Court of Ireland. The Loughs Agency will not take the risk of making further prosecutions before the outcome of this case. This is the very reason the Loughs Agency are not prosecuting owners of the unlicensed oyster trestles.

Irish Government already paying rent to The Crown Estate

The embedded link shows the minutes of the 42nd board meeting of the Lough Agency in May 2007. (The Loughs Agency is an agency of The Foyle Carlinford and Irish Lights Commission).

These minutes quite clearly show that the Dept. of Marine in Dublin was already paying rent to the Crown Estate:

Barry Fox informed the Board on recent contact made with Charles Green from the Crown Estates Commission. He advised that there have been a number of queries from Charles regarding the hectarage currently being used for aquaculture in Lough Foyle. The Agency has been reluctant to supply this information as it will encourage CEC to pursue a higher rent in Lough Foyle than the Department of Marine may agree.

Time for transparency and truth

At this stage how can Irish politicians possibly pretend that they have a claim on the ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough when the Irish Government has been paying rent to the actual owners - the Crown Estate? It is hypocrisy of the highest order. The political ramifications of this highly sensitive jurisdiction issue may explain why the roles of the Crown Estate and those involved are quietly brushed under the carpet.

The time for transparency and a conclusion is long overdue. Any statements deflecting from the real issue is unacceptable. It is time to come clean. Political expediency has up to now undermined and adversely affected the rights of the fishing community and the general public.


  1. Irish Government Paying Rent To UK Crown Estate For Use Of Seabed Of Lough Foyle

    I believe this story is not over by a a nautical mile. There are many things that need investigating and brought to light. Take for example the Irish Government's and other national parties acquiescencing in this affair, their subjugation to an English claim of ownership borne out by the quiet handing over of a king's ransom to the Crown Esates. This 'Crown' affair and the evidence Enda dug up is a shot across the bow, putting one in mind of Francis Drake and Queen Bess and their world quest of treasures and world dominance.

    We know that rent has been paid since the inauguration of the Loughs Agency, one of the cross border bodies set up through the Good Friday Agreement. As you know these cross border bodies were controlled by representative political groupings from both North and South including the Republican parties of Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil.

    However we also know that the thorny question of jurisdiction and ownership cropped up in the 1950's when the Crown Estate tried to level fishing licences. They gave up when they knew they would be incapable of reinforcing the levy, unable to pursue the defaulting fishing community through the courts. The fishing folk believed then, as they do today, that it has always been their right to pursue this traditional way of life.

    It is hard to imagine the Good Friday Agreement setting the structure (Loughs Agency) whereby own nationalists representatives doing (or trying to do) what what the Crown was not able to do i.e levying charges on a traditional way of life. It is another another incredible thing altogether to believe that this same body and nationalists politicians did this and carted the bounty to the foreign crown. Lucky enough there are some people with principles and ability not to acquiesce.

    This affair, the discussions around The Good Friday Agreement and the setting up of the agency has presented many questions e.g. the obvious fundamental on of why sovereignity, jurisdiction and ownership was not discussed.. We find it incredible that something as fundamental and controversial, wrought with potential conflicts was ignored. Then we said to ourselves no that is not the case, it was discussed and agreed to quietly set up the Lough's Agency as overseers and quietly not mention the 'elephant in the room'.

    Enda, as an activist and member of 'Save the Foyle' has been involved in many campaigns dealing with the environment, the ecosystem and local sanitary wast problems for more than 30 years. The pursuit has brought him to the question of ownership of Lough Foyle issue. During this he has liased with local community including the fishing community who have an inherant expertise. He has not only come up against the question of jurisdiction and ownership but has encountered monumental official procrastination and bureaucracy.

    In all of these pursuits there was always this one gigantic problem that no one dared not name i.e. the ownership of the sea bed and the responsibility of those involved. His article clearly shows not just an inneptitude but also a more sinister element bubbling under the surface, that of the Crown Estate's claim of ownership right up to the high water mark and those the amazing involvement of nationalists of not only ignoring and hiding problems but possibly participating in the subterfuge.

    It is cynical in the extreme to find out that our own Government connived with political parties to undermine and destroy Foyle and Carlingford fishermen's traditional. But even worse still used the structure of the Lough's Agency to conceal their dastardly deeds.

    As someone I read recently said 'What century are we in now'.

    James Quigley

  2. I believe the bed of Lough Foyle is owned by The Honorable The Irish Society. There were plans to dredge for gold in the Lough in the 1930s, and the Society had no objection at the time.

    Alastair Lings

  3. I believe the bed of Lough Foyle is owned by The Honourable The Irish Society.

    In the 1930s there were plans to dredge for gold in the Lough and the Society had no objection as it would have helped the local economy.

    I wouldn't pay anything to the Crown Estate without seeing proof of their ownership.

    Alastair Lings