Tuesday, 2 October 2007
Department of Foreign Affairs
During the 1960s and 1970s the issue of Rockall was a source of some legal and political controversy in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Much of that controversy arose from fears at the time that jurisdiction over Rockall and similar rocks and skerries was thought to be central in supporting claims to the mineral rights in the adjacent seabed and to fishing rights in the surrounding seas.
However, during the course of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place from 1973 to 1982, the Irish delegation worked hard to establish a satisfactory legal regime applicable to islands. This effort was completely successful. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted at Montego Bay at the conclusion of the Conference on 10 December 1982, provides at Article 121, paragraph 3 that: "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf."
Rockall is such a rock and Article 121 (3) applies to it. Ireland ratified the Convention on 21 June 1996. The United Kingdom acceded to the Convention on 25 July 1997. It is accordingly accepted by both states that Rockall cannot be used as a basis for delimiting their respective continental shelves or fisheries zones. Each country remains aware of the position of the other.
Rockall was not therefore a factor in the subsequent negotiations between Ireland and the UK on delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries which concluded in agreement in 1988. The UK also later withdrew its claim to a 200 nautical mile exclusive fisheries zone measured from Rockall when it acceded to the Law of the Sea Convention in 1997.
In a wider context, Iceland and Denmark (on behalf of the Faeroe Islands) both make claims to the continental shelf that overlaps that area in the North East Atlantic in respect of which Ireland and the UK reached agreement in 1988. The four countries have met regularly since 2002 in an effort to resolve the issues arising from overlapping claims, most recently last week in Reykjavik. Further talks in this ongoing process are planned. The issue of ownership of the rock of Rockall has been of no significance in these discussions.