The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has declined calls to meet a Donegal fisherman who is on hunger strike in protest at legislation to restore reciprocal access for Northern Irish fishermen to Irish waters.

Mr Creed was speaking as the controversial Sea Fisheries Bill (Amendment) was passed in the Seanad this evening. 

He said he cannot engage with Gerard Kelly as such action could jeopardise a court case that the State and Mr Kelly are involved in. 

Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn urged Mr Creed to meet the Donegal man who has gone on hunger strike in protest at the legislation that is at the centre of a North-South fisheries row. 

Mr Mac Lochlainn appealed to Mr Creed to meet Mr Kelly from Greencastle in Donegal to hear his concerns around the restoration of the Voisinage Arrangement which would allow access for fishermen on both sides of the border for up to six nautical miles off the coast of each jurisdiction.

Mr Creed said: "I don't know the gentleman. I obviously know of him and I very much regret the course of action he is taking and I would appeal to him not to pursue that course of action.

"But of course nobody can have, through that action, a vetoing effort on the course of the national legislature." 

"We obviously operate in terms of what our collective wisdom will be at the end of the day on these matters." 

He said: "It is also sub judice. That judgement is not perfected. It is to be perfected within 28 days and then it is open to any party to appeal and I not wish to stray into the details of that." 

He said that he has had extensive engagement with the inshore fishing industry. But he said that he cannot accede to Mr Mac Lochlainn's request to meet Mr Kelly who was outside Leinster House during the debate. 

Earlier, Mr Mac Lochlainn told Mr Creed that he acknowledged his efforts, but urged him to meet fishing representatives and the Kelly family, to make one last effort to address their concerns. 

Mr Mac Lochlainn said there were concerns that other vessels would use a Northern Ireland address as "a flag of convenience" to access precious Irish Natural resources. 

The 'Voisinage' or 'neighbour's agreement' between North and South has been suspended in Ireland since the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that it had not been incorporated properly into Irish law.

The Government's 2017 Sea-Fisheries Amendment Bill, which was drawn up to reinstate the long-standing arrangement, has had trouble passing in the Oireachtas.

As a consequence of this delay, two Co Down skippers had their boats detained in Dundalk Bay last month.

Independent Senator Ian Marshall said it was paramount to protect and grow the industry in a sustainable manner on an all-Ireland basis.

He said he accepted that it was wholly unfair to allow access on one side, but added that other issues such as conservation and climate change issues needed to be addressed. 

Subject to regulation and supervision, Mr Marshall said he would support the bill.

He said it was important to note that Northern Irish vessels were small in number. "It's not a huge flotilla or Armada coming this direction," he said.

Labour Senator Ged Nash asked Mr Creed about getting reassurances around the reciprocal arrangements from the UK, warning that "normal business had been suspended in the UK",

Mr MacLochlainn asked the Minister to think again about meeting the Donegal fisherman. 

But Mr Creed said: "There is a court case which is ongoing and it is not possible to ring-fence the content of the first element of the case from that which is before the courts." 

He said that he could not propose to jeopardise the State's case by engaging with the litigants.

He did say that he regrets Mr Kelly's action but it cannot be the case that the Government, the Seanad or the Dail can be held prisoner by the actions of one person.

He said he cannot see a context where he could meet the plaintiff in a case.

In his opening remarks, Mr Creed said that when the controversial Fisheries Bill is passed in the Dáil and Seand, it will not change the access arrangements for Northern Irish fishing vessels. 

He said: "While there has been much scaremongering, the access arrangements for Northern Ireland boats will not change from what they were before."

"Northern Ireland boats will simply regain the access they had for decades under the Voisinage arrangements in the 0-6 nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State. They will also continue to be subject to the same measures that apply to Irish-registered fishing boats."

Earlier today,  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated his calls for the Dáil and Seanad to pass the legislation.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said: "We shouldn't have a hard border on the land and we shouldn't have a hard border on the sea either. In terms of basic fairness we should have reciprical rights."

Now that the bill has passed in the Seanad, it is scheduled to be debated in the Dáil on Thursday.

Additional reporting: Edel McAllister