Britain and Ireland are at odds over who owns this Irish lake - here's why the disputed territory of Lough Foyle is so important
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Britain and Ireland are at odds over who owns this Irish lake - here's why the disputed territory of Lough Foyle is so important

THE BRITISH Government have reignited a territorial dispute with Ireland over Lough Foyle, on the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In the House of Commons this week, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire was asked how fishing rights will be decided in the area after Britain’s departure from the EU.

Mr Brokenshire replied that the British Government’s position “remains that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK”.

But the Irish Department of Foreign Affair (DFA) hit back in a statement which contradicted Britain’s claim to the entirety of the lake.

Speaking to RTÉ, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said Ireland has never accepted Britain's claim to the whole of Lough Foyle.

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“There is uncertainty concerning the extent to which each side exercises jurisdiction within Lough Foyle,” he said.

He added that the situation had “created practical difficulties for the conduct of a number of activities there”.

The DFA statement revealed that talks over Lough Foyle stretched back to 2011, when the then British Foreign Secretary and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs opened discussions over their respective rights to the territory.

It said both Governments "agreed to seek to address and resolve jurisdictional issues relating to both Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough", a smaller body of water which is also in dispute.

The issue has also been raised by Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan, who called on Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to liaise with the Irish Government over ownership.

He said that the dispute over the lake had grave implications for the local environment and ecology.

"There are fears of unregulated fishing in the lough and the damage that could do to the environment, including the threats posed by invasive species," Mr McMullan said.

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So why exactly are Ireland and Britain locked into a tug-of-war over Lough Foyle, and why is it so important?

What’s the history?

Territorial claims to maritime boundaries between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland date right back to the partition of Ireland in 1922.

In 1927, the Chairman of the Irish Free State’s provisional government W.T. Cosgrave provoked the Britain by asserting that the entirety of Lough Foyle was Irish territory.

After the Good Friday Agreement was struck in 1998, a cross-border body called the Loughs Agency was set up to regulate the area, which was acted as an important naval base during World War II.

Why now?

In the aftermath of its decision to leave the EU, Britain may be hoping to bring Lough Foyle to the table as part of the Brexit negotiations.

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Talks over the territory date back to 2011, but the issue has resurfaced after David Anderson, a Labour MP from the north-east of England, submitted a written question to James Brokenshire over the status of the dispute.

Mr Brokenshire’s response, that the entirety of Lough Foyle lies within British territory, has been criticised by Sinn Féin as “arrogant” and “provocative”.

Why is it important?

The dispute over Lough Foyle and surrounding bodies of water is yet another chapter added to Ireland and Britain’s tumultuous post-Brexit relations.

There have been fears of an “iron curtain” style border between the two countries, while only this week it was revealed that less than a third of British voters oppose passport checks between the two nations.

If the British Government gears up to deliver a so-called ‘hard brexit’, it may decide to prioritise territorial claims with Ireland as an issue.