Dáil Éireann - Volume 408 - 09 May, 1991

Adjournment Debate. - Carlingford Lough Incident.

Mr. D. Ahern: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to raise the matter of the boarding of a yacht, The Lady Irene, last Sunday afternoon by Royal Marines from the gunboat which is permanently stationed in Carlingford Lough. The occupants of the yacht were approached and asked for permission to board. Even though they had not been given consent the Royal Marines went on board to search the craft. One of the Royal Marines went into the galley with Mrs. McGrady, one of the occupants, while another stayed on deck. The occupants were asked to give their names but one of them, Mr. Des Gorman, refused on the basis that the Royal Marines had no legal right to request people on board an Irish yacht sailing in Irish waters to give their names.

One of the Royal Marines then took the helm of the boat but it was obvious to the people on board that he did not know how to sail it. As a result of a jibbing manoeuvre, one of the occupants Mrs. McGrady, was struck on the head by the boom, which swung around at a 180º angle, as she came out of the cockpit and was knocked out temporarily. Her [591] husband took control of the helm and sailed into Warrenpoint on the northern side of the Lough where an ambulance was waiting to take Mrs. McGrady to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. She was later released.

This is just one of a number of incidents which have occurred during the years where British Royal Marines boarded yachts entering and leaving the Lough. The reason I raise the matter tonight is that I and my constituents would like to know once and for all if the British Royal Marines stationed in the Lough have the legal right to demand that people heading towards the southern side of the Lough identify themselves. I suggest to the Minister that he raise this matter with British Navy personnel and the British authorities through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat and suggest to them that, in the event of a person refusing to give their name and address when questioned on the Lough by British Royal Marines, instead of creating an incident similar to the one which occurred last Sunday, which could have been much more serious, the Royal Marines should allow the yacht to continue on its journey on the understanding that Garda or Irish Army personnel would be alerted and would question the occupants and search the boat, if necessary, when it docked eventually on the southern side of the Lough. I think this would be acceptable to most of the people who use the Lough. The fact is that the occupants of each boat, commercial or private, are questioned as to their purpose for going out on the Lough. This also goes for dinghies.

I was reluctant to raise this matter because of the publicity it could engender, but this is a very serious matter and some of my constituents have made the point that a serious incident could occur and that this could be the first such incident. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured apart from Mrs. [592] McGrady, who received a number of stitches in her head. The strongest possible protest should be made by the Department of Foreign Affairs through the Anglo Irish Secretariat so that the British authorities are made aware of our serious concern about the boarding of yachts and other craft on the Lough. They should be asked to consider an arrangement along the lines suggested where the Garda or the Irish Army would be involved.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Calleary): I fully share the concern expressed by the Deputy over this latest incident involving the British Army in Carlingford Lough. Deputy Ahern has already been in contact with my Department about the incident. The matter was raised immediately with the British authorities and a full report on all the circumstances was sought. I understand that the RUC have begun an investigation into the incident and that the crew have reported the matter to the Garda authorities.

The British authorities have responded to our inquiries to the effect that at approximately 3.50 p.m. on 5 May the vessel in question was boarded by British services personnel, despite the objections of the helmsman who maintained that the boarding team had no right to board as the yacht was in Irish waters. The British allege that the crew were unco-operative. They say that the soldiers making up the boarding party decided, for reasons which have not been made clear, to take the vessel to Warrenpoint but that on the way the helmsman altered course to the South. He was instructed by the soldiers to change course back to the North. The British allege that the helmsman refused to comply, that he abandoned the wheel and went below deck.

According to the British, the boarding party then took the helm in order to re-establish a northerly course. They say that while the yacht was being turned to port a female member of the crew appeared from below decks. A warning [593] was shouted to alert her to the fact that the boom was swinging around but she failed to duck in time and the boom struck her on the head. We have been given to understand that she was taken to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, accompanied by her husband, where she was treated for her injuries and released.

There are a number of aspects to this response which call for further clarification and the Deputy has referred to some of these in his remarks. As he also pointed out, there have been other incidents on the Lough which have given rise to concern in the past. In view of the disquiet caused by this and other incidents on the Lough the matter will be taken up again with a view to getting a fuller explanation of why this incident developed as it did.

The Deputy asked what legal authority the British have to board and search Irish vessels in Irish waters. The position in relation to Carlingford Lough is that the waters of the Lough are disputed and are bound up with the political problem of Northern Ireland. The Government are very concerned about the operation of British patrols on the Lough and, where incidents occur, these are raised in forceful terms with the British authorities. While the question of Naval Service patrols on the Lough is a matter for the Minister for Defence, I understand that Naval Service vessels do patrol the Lough periodically. I will have the Deputy's suggestion that Irish personnel search vessels when they dock in Irish territory examined.

The Government are most anxious to ensure that there should be no unwarranted interference with vessels using the Lough for legitimate recreational or business purposes. We will be pursuing this aspect of the question with the British authorities, with particular reference to the forthcoming sailing season on the Lough.

I can assure the Deputy that the points he has made will be taken up with the British authorities.