“I’m shocked, really,” Patrick Murphy, director of the Castletownbere-based Southern and Western Irish Fish Producers Organisation, told CNN on Saturday night, shortly after news of the change in status broke. Russian plans. “I didn’t think that little we… would have an impact on international diplomacy.”
Moscow’s armed forces had planned to hold exercises some 150 miles from the Irish coast, in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, a part of the Atlantic that Irish fishermen say is critical to their livelihoods.
The exercises would have involved “the use of naval artillery and the firing of rockets”, according to a notice issued by Ireland’s Department for Transport last week, which warned there would be “serious security risks in the operational area”.
Ahead of the planned drills, originally scheduled for early February, Castletownbere residents told CNN they were “concerned” and “anxious” about the dangers.
Murphy met with the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, last week to press the fishermen’s case. They initially told the Russians that they planned to fish independently of naval activities.
The fishing boat, rather than the gunboat, diplomacy made headlines around the world, but most suspected that efforts to challenge the Russians would be futile.
Filatov initially urged the fishermen to “refrain from any provocative action that could endanger everyone involved,” according to a Russian embassy spokesman.
But on Saturday night, Moscow announced that the exercises would be moved as “a goodwill gesture” following calls from the Irish government and fishermen, “with the aim of not hampering fishing activities”.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense, welcomed the news in a tweet on Saturday night.
An Irish government official told CNN on Saturday that there had been “some 48 feverish hours” of negotiations between Dublin and Moscow before the announcement.
But it was in Castletownbere, far from Moscow and Dublin, that the real celebrations were on Saturday night.
Murphy said he believed it was the work of him and other fishermen raising international awareness of the issue that helped Moscow change its mind.
“You wouldn’t expect the Russian nation to listen to a couple of fishermen,” he said.
“Doesn’t it prove that a simple little conversation can change things? It’s huge. The power of words is much better than the power of weapons. I’m happy.”
Before the announcement, fisherman Alan Carleton told CNN: “We are concerned about the damage this live fire could do to fish stocks and marine life… We don’t want anyone to make live fires in our waters. It’s our backyard.” It’s where we make our living and our livelihood.”
He now describes the Russian saga as “a fun dream.”
Carleton has been fishing these waters for 32 years, going out to sea with a small crew to hunt for shrimp, monkfish, sole and other fish. He has seen his industry decline since he entered the family business as a teenager.
“We are all human beings and all anyone wants to do is make a living,” he said. “Everyone has mortgages… You have to pay them off. Follow the fish and make a living. That’s all we want to do.”