There are indications tonight of an easing of tensions in the dispute between Ireland and Scotland over disputed fishing waters around Rockall.

In a statement, the Government said that following close contacts at official level in recent days, it has been agreed that a process of intensified engagement, involving senior officials from both administrations, will take place.

The statement also said it is hopeful that the latest difficulties can be de-escalated.

The Government statement did not spell out what will be the practical implications of the agreed initiative. But it may be that the possibility of Scottish fishery protection staff boarding Irish trawlers in the disputed area around Rockall has lessened.

It is accepted in Dublin as well as Edinburgh that access to waters around Rockall will change if the UK leaves the European Union.

It is also accepted that the Rockall area access question would become part of a wider negotiation the EU and the UK, post-Brexit.

The Scottish government last week threatened to take action against Irish vessels that it says are fishing illegally around Rockall.

The uninhabited rocky outcrop lies around 230 nautical miles northwest of Donegal and 240 miles west of Scotland in the North Atlantic.

Scotland passed the Island of Rockall Act in 1972, which imposed a 12-mile exclusion zone around the rock, but Ireland has never recognised UK jurisdiction over Rockall.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Rockall is an uninhabited rock in the middle of the ocean that Ireland and Scotland should not fight over.

He said that a process of intensified engagement between the Irish and Scottish governments is now under way to deescalate tension.

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But Mr Varadkar did say that Irish vessels are legally within their rights fish around Rockall. 

The Taoiseach said that the matter of Rockall was not raised in his recent meeting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Speaking in the Dáil earlier today, Mr Varadkar said: "Rockall is a rock, essentially a sea stack in the middle of the ocean. Its uninhabitable, uninhabited and I don't think it is something that Ireland and Scotland should fight over.

"We don't have a claim on it. We don't accept any other sovereign claim on it.

"I think that the fisheries and territories around it should be shared. The Irish vessels in those waters have EU quota and these waters are part of EU waters.

"And under the Common Fisheries Policy we believe they are in their rights to continue to fish in the area around Rockall."

He said the matter was discussed at the Cabinet meeting this morning and by the Scottish Government at its cabinet meeting and "we have agreed that dialogue should continue between the Irish and Scottish governments".

The Taoiseach said that it has been agreed that a process of intensified engagement should take place. This will be led by senior officials from both administrations. 

"I think it is fair to say that both administrations would like to see this matter deescalated," he said.

He was responding in the Dáil this afternoon after Fianna Fáil TDs, Pat The Cope Gallagher and Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, and Independent TD Michael Collins raised concerns about the "crisis".

Elsewhere, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants the controversy to be resolved in an "amicable" way.

Speaking in Brussels, Ms Sturgeon said: "I hope it will be resolved through discussion and negotiation and in an amicable way.

"That's always been the aim of the Scottish government. Ireland is a very strong partner of Scotland, a very valued partner of Scotland and that's how it will continue.

"We've been raising concerns over a two-year period, over what we would describe as illegal fishing around Rockall and we have set out our obligations in terms of enforcing and upholding international law.

"But we want this to be settled amicably and discussions are ongoing literally as we speak between officials of both governments in trying to reach such an outcome."

Additional reporting Conor McMorrow