Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space: Motion


7:50 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Despite the title of the motion, it is not 1 April.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, signed by the Government of Ireland on 27th January, 1967, and laid before Dáil Eireann on 30th June, 2022.

Apart from the reason we are here, it is great to have the chance to focus on the great work many are doing from an education point of view, a research point of view and an enterprise point of view. We will touch on that during the debate.

I wish to discuss a second motion which reads:

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, signed by the Government of Ireland on 29 March 1972, and laid before Dáil Éireann on 29 June 2022.

All this happened before most of us here were Members of the House, but it is important that we get a chance to come in here and formally ratify these measures.

This is an unusual case as the two agreements that are the subject of the motions were signed and ratified by Ireland over 50 years ago. In the course of the legal and policy review undertaken by my Department, it was discovered that they were never formally approved by the Dáil. In fact, these legal matters came to light as a result of the legal and policy analysis undertaken by officials in our Department to ensure there would be a supportive legislative and policy framework in place for the future launch, maybe this year or early next year, of Ireland's first satellite, EIRSAT-1, by UCD as part of the European Space Agency's Fly Your Satellite! programme. I am delighted the team from UCD is with us tonight in the Visitors Gallery. They stick out not because the Visitors Gallery is half empty but because they are in blue. It will be a proud moment for Ireland when we can see the fruits of their work in the months ahead. They have been very busy in UCD in recent months and I am glad they are here. They are part of the satellite programme for EIRSAT-1. We are joined by Ms Lorraine Hanlon, Mr. David McKeown, Mr. Gabriel Finneran, Mr. Joseph Thompson, Mr. Joseph Mangan and Mr. Ronan Wall. I think I have covered everybody and hope I am missing nobody. They are doing great work from an education point of view as well.

Article 29.5.2° of the Constitution requires that all international agreements that put a charge on funds be approved by the Dáil. The contingent liability that arises under these agreements is just such a charge. As approval was not sought at the time of ratification, it must be done now.

Ireland signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The treaty is the basis on which international space law is built. It prohibits signatory states from placing nuclear weapons in space and limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful uses. It also introduces principles of state responsibility for objects launched into outer space, including those launched by non-governmental bodies. The State signed and ratified the UN Liability Convention in 1972. The purpose of this convention was to elaborate on the liability requirements set out in the Outer Space Treaty.

As it stands, Ireland is bound by the Outer Space Treaty and the UN Liability Convention under international law, while not complying with the requirements of the Constitution required for the domestic legal system to recognise those obligations. That is why we are in the House tonight. Passing this Dáil motion will remedy this legal lacuna and allow Ireland to further its scientific, educational and commercial interests in space, including through the forthcoming launch of the EIRSAT-1 satellite.

Ireland's obligations concerning liability arise only when Ireland becomes what is known as a "launching state". In effect, this happens when the State launches a space object or when a space object is launched from our territory. Ireland is not yet a launching state but that might change, hopefully sometime later this year or early next year, if a Government decision is made in this regard. The probability of liability occurring under these treaties is so remote that the European Space Agency has informed my Department that there does not exist any precedent globally to refer to.

When originally drafted, these two agreements were designed to promote and facilitate the peaceful use of outer space. Ireland signed and ratified them because we share these ideals, and we have always worked with our international partners, in the EU and the European Space Agency, to utilise space for educational and commercial purposes and to fund much research. The commercial, educational and research-related opportunity is a large part of why I am proposing this motion.

Space used to be the preserve of a handful of nations and only the largest and wealthiest countries could venture into it. However, over the past decade there has been an unprecedented escalation in the volume of space activities by small nations such as ours and more recently by the private sector. To put this into perspective, the number of satellites launched annually has accelerated from a stable historical average of around 100 per year to a phenomenal 1,819 in 2021, having quadrupled in the past four years alone. This trajectory is set to continue and it is right that Ireland should develop a framework such that we can benefit from a share of this growth and also be part of the educational and commercial opportunities.

Ireland's involvement in space is not well known. When we think about space, we tend to imagine rockets or moon landings, but the truth is that space touches our daily lives much more than we realise. It is important that we recognise that during these important debates. A good example of space touching our daily lives is that when you need to navigate to somewhere new, satellite data enable the maps on your phone. When you want to know what the weather is going to be like, satellite data enable more accurate weather predictions. When you need to stay connected, satellite data enable your broadband and television services, even in the most remote areas of the world. In addition, through the increased space activity in the past decade, more data are available on the health of our planet than ever before. Space programmes that Ireland contributes to through our membership of the European Space Agency play a key role in developing our environmental understanding and informing climate change mitigation actions. Satellites can measure air quality in cities and the rate of melting of icecaps, for example, and they can monitor deforestation and inform policy decisions targeting sustainable agriculture all over the world. Critically, in emergencies such as floods or fires, satellite data can be used in real time to assess damage, supporting a safe and informed emergency response.

The Government and most of those present understand the value of space and its importance in our lives in Ireland. In May of this year, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science published Ireland's new research and innovation strategy, Impact 2030, which recognises "the strong potential for Irish researchers and companies to use space applications to address climate change and other environmental goals". The strategy commits to developing our network of research-and-development centres and facilities to ensure Ireland is at the forefront of technological advances in domains, including space, in order to embrace and respond to the twin challenges of climate and digital transition.

This commitment builds on Ireland's national space strategy for enterprise, which sets out a framework for investment and growth between now and 2025, focusing on technology transfer, commercialisation, entrepreneurship and the development of key skills to meet future needs in space and complementary sectors. The national strategy is being implemented by Enterprise Ireland and my Department and is yielding very positive results. The number of Irish companies in contract with the European Space Agency grew from 60 in 2017 to 94 in 2021, representing an increase of over 50% in just four years. Many in the research community and education, such as the team in UCD, are involved in work and contracts through the European Space Agency. That is really beneficial to ourselves as we bring forward a lot of new talent in the sector.

I can give many examples of the very diverse areas in which Irish companies from all regions are engaged. There is a company in Cork developing a technology that will allow the verification of carbon credits, enabling revenue streams in developing countries for maintaining carbon-capturing forests. I believe that the company might have some Kerry connections so I had better be careful to cover all relevant counties. A company in Tipperary has developed a system that uses space data to monitor the impact of illegal dumping in watercourses. Another company is involved in producing the paint for one of the satellites flying close to the moon. Many Irish companies are involved in these initiatives. Another example is that of another company in Cork that has developed a remote patient-monitoring device for use in Covid-19 patients. This technology has been trialled in both Ireland and Italy and was found to improve patient outcomes.

Therefore, much of the investment in the technologies used in outer space is beneficial to all our lives in many aspects and through many departments. None of the activities I have mentioned is one that we normally think of as being related to space. The companies are working at the very cutting edge of technology development. They have been supported to develop their technologies through Ireland's membership of the European Space Agency and through the work with Enterprise Ireland.

I am telling the House about this Irish activity in space so the opportunity for Ireland and the rationale for addressing this legacy issue will be clear. It is incumbent on us now, as a responsible nation with growing involvement in space, to rectify the legal lacuna identified with respect to the Outer Space Treaty and the UN Liability Convention and to participate fully in the development of future standards in space that protect the peaceful use of outer space for all of us.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the House for their time. I am happy to take any questions on the agreements and the motion moved.

8:00 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I never thought I would be hearing us speak about space, but here you go. This is probably the longest ratification process in the history of the Dáil. The first treaty was ratified the year I was born and we are working towards approving it in the Dáil now. That is a bit of progress anyway, so we will get there.

The cosmonaut Alexei Leonov said, "The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic." I thought of these words today as I considered these proposals. As humankind, we have already committed terrible acts against our planet. The penalties we are paying now are in the form of erratic weather patterns, natural disasters and the displacement of people across the globe. Avoiding these mistakes in the great vastness that is space must be something that we can do to defend our holy relic, Earth.

I welcome the debate and indicate Sinn Féin's support for the Dáil's approval of the terms of the outer space treaty of 1969. The treaty is many decades old and came into being at a time of great upheaval and change for our world. It was signed by the then powers, at a time the Cold War was at its height and space exploration was a rallying call for the respective Cold War camps. It was an opportunity to highlight the superiority of one ideology over another. Without such a treaty the world would have been in great peril, with the potential of weapons of mass destruction put in place in outer space. The State ratified the treaty long ago, with almost 100 other countries, but due to the advice of the Attorney General we must formally do so now by Dáil vote.

We support the treaty. It outlines how space should be used and for what purposes. The treaty should be updated to be gender-proofed as some of the language in the 1960s and 1970s would not be accepted today. The treaty outlines a number of important aspects of our use of space, such as that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries and should be the province of all mankind. Another aspect is that outer space should be free for exploration and use by all states. The treaty also outlines that outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation or by any other means. If all of these aims are protected, we will be in a much better place. These are principles my party is happy to support. We have some concerns with regard to the potential weaponisation of space. The treaty makes no reference to the use of conventional weapons in that setting. Nor does it mention any governance of the use of Earth-launched weapons to target space infrastructure.

As the TV show says, space is the final frontier. The frontier seems far less remote than it did on that famous day in April 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space. It is right and proper that laws are in place to cover its exploration and its use. This treaty of principles has stymied efforts by those nations who may wish to colonise space. It is an international treaty that ensures space is not the site of weapons of mass destruction. It is a treaty with noble aims and one we should all support.

Irish companies and people are playing an important role at European level when it comes to the exploration of space. The number of Irish companies working for the European Space Agency has grown by 60% in the past five years. Make no mistake, Ireland has a stake in ratifying the treaty. Sinn Féin will also protect funding for Science Foundation Ireland becoming an associate member of CERN to deliver significant benefits in areas such as research and development, technology, education, training, jobs and procurement.

As space travel has expanded from an activity of nation states into the realm of private enterprise, it is important that the principles of the treaty are held on to resolutely. States must be responsible for activities regardless of whether they are carried out by the State or private companies. They have a responsibility to ensure the use of space is not monopolised by the wealthy few. Equally important is the principle of liability for damage caused by human-made space equipment and the environmental damage this has the potential to cause in space and on Earth.

We must be vigilant regarding the involvement of private companies such as SpaceX and how it operates in space. It has already deployed almost 2,000 satellites. We must ensure their use is monitored. The scale of the operation of SpaceX should be a cause for concern. Astronauts view the Starlink satellites as a primary collision hazard in the Earth's orbit. Environmentalists have raised concerns about the sheer volume of metal that will be burning in the atmosphere with the potential to trigger unprecedented changes to our climate.

For generations many children have dreamed about going to space. As space travel has expanded into the private realm in recent years, it is important that companies involved in such pursuits focus on ensuring they remain a diverse workforce. As a State we can be proud of our involvement in the European Space agency. We can be proud of the almost 100 companies from Ireland participating in space activities. We have a responsibility to ratify the treaty and I urge everyone to do so.

8:10 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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This has been a very unusual evening in the week prior to recess. An hour ago, we had a full Chamber and now we are speaking about outer space.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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There is plenty of space here.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I congratulate the UCD researchers on their work on EIRSAT-1. They have been working on the satellite for approximately five years. I wish them the best of luck with the launch and its operation. This will be Ireland's first satellite and it is unlikely to be the last. There are no international regulations for the operation of satellites in orbit. There is no traffic management system or pollution regulations. It is up to each nation to implement its own policies and hold itself accountable. We will never put as many satellites into orbit as the US, China or Russia but this does not mean we do not have a responsibility to legislate for the handful that we may launch.

These treaties were landmark conventions in the space race era. They were written at a time when activity in space was minuscule as opposed to what it is now. Space is becoming congested. Ever since the first days of the space age there has been more rubbish in orbit than active satellites. As environmental consciousness has grown over recent decades we do not seem to have come around to viewing the space around Earth's orbit as part of our environment. No one owns it and no one takes responsibility. There are approximately 5,000 active satellites orbiting Earth. This has increased from 2,000 in late 2018. All have gone into the most congested level of our surroundings at the low Earth orbit.

Sharing the space with these satellites are the remains of approximately 10,000 satellites and rockets. Over time they are all disintegrating, colliding and being purposely exploded into debris. Given the speed at which debris and space craft travel, any impact can be catastrophic. Travelling at more than 15,000 mph, micrometre-size particles can chip windows or dent solar cells. Millimetre-size paint flakes can destroy satellite cameras or puncture the spacesuits of astronauts. A 1 cm bolt has the explosive force of a hand grenade on impact. Anything smaller than 10 cm is untraceable. It is impossible to predict when they might impact an active space project. It is estimated there are more than 100 million pieces of untraceable debris. It is essential that we are incredibly careful about what we choose to send into orbit. All of these items will stay in orbit for hundreds or even thousands of years. Had the Romans launched a satellite into a 750-mile orbit, it would only fall back to earth around now.

There is no doubt there is a problem. The private company SpaceX plans to launch thousands more satellites and it is not alone. OneWeb, a communications company, has announced plans to launch its own constellation of 300,000 satellites. Last August, researchers in the United Kingdom reported that SpaceX satellites have been involved in approximately half of all collision avoidance moves in low orbit. In the near future, they predict this could rise to nine in every ten.

Given the range of new private actors and geopolitical tensions, any binding international treaty is probably well out of sight. Treaties will only get us so far. Domestic legislation will be needed. If something falls from space and can be identified as ours having been launched from Ireland, we have a legal responsibility. We should not lose sight of this. For the limited amount of space activity in which we take part, we need to have leadership. Our activity is very limited. I suggest to further and higher education institutes seeking to replicate the work of UCD, which I again applaud, that the area of space decluttering is where we should focus some of our efforts. It does not look like it is happening at a global level. It is only when it becomes a real issue and we see something catastrophic that we will realise we have allowed this to get to a point where it causes real problems.

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
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I am delighted to be in the Chamber to speak on a scientific topic such as this. It is an area of great interest to me. To paraphrase Deputy Quinlivan, space is the final frontier. There are great opportunities from a commercial point of view. There are also great responsibilities from environmental and peacekeeping perspectives. I join Deputy Catherine Murphy in congratulating the UCD team. It is a fantastic achievement. I believe they are in the Gallery and I say well done ladies and gents. It is outstanding and inspirational work.

It took five years' work. The team designed, built and tested and now they are almost ready to launch Ireland's first satellite, EIRSAT-1. It is a fantastic achievement and we very much look forward to greater details on it. It could be a precursor to something even more ambitious. We do not have any Irish astronauts. There has not been one yet. We know Dr. Norah Patten has put herself forward. She is very motivated, gives many talks and has major qualifications in aeronautical engineering. Has Enterprise Ireland considered establishing a programme to mentor, support and subsidise Irish citizens who may be interested in becoming more competitive for the candidate selection process of the European Space Agency? We have travelled the world. Why do we not travel beyond the world as well? It would be an inspirational goal for many people in primary and secondary school. It would definitely be worth identifying, through a competitive process, ten people who would stand a fighting chance and supporting them as they continue their preparations.

Most people will agree that Shannon Airport is very underutilised. I am not sure whether consideration has been given to offering its services to the European Space Agency as an opportunity for training or even rocket launches. It is on the west coast, close to the Atlantic and it is safe. Rockets, such as booster rockets, can land on barges now. There is an opportunity there if we wish to exploit it. Many people in County Clare recognise the underutilisation of Shannon Airport and this may be an opportunity for the future.

I very much support the two motions on the outer space treaty and the liability convention. Is there any information on where and when the launch will take place? Will it take place in Ireland or abroad? The reason we are discussing this matter is that it will probably impose a cost on the taxpayer. Is there an estimate of that cost? I wish the team every success. I hope this is the start of a wonderful new horizon for Ireland.

8:20 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Cabinet has approved this motion and it is now before the Dáil for consideration. Following the Cabinet's approval, the Tánaiste cited space as an area of growing importance for Ireland, with the number of companies based here and engaged with the European Space Agency having grown by almost 60% in the past five years. The outer space treaty sets out the key principles of international space law, from prohibiting the placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space to ensuring that nations cannot make a claim of national sovereignty to any part of space. It also requires states to be responsible for actions by their non-government entities, which is an obligation that has arisen in disputes between China and the United States over the activities of the Elon Musk-backed SpaceX.

The number of companies based in Ireland which are taking part in space activities has risen significantly, from 55 in 2015 to 87 in 2020. A spokesperson indicated that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been undertaking a legal and policy analysis to ensure that Ireland has a supportive framework with regard to potential future launches of space objects for commercial or educational purposes.

Ireland previously signed and ratified two agreements, the outer space agreement in 1967 and the liability convention in 1972, of which the latter arose from the need for effective international rules to deal with the liability for damage caused by space objects and to ensure the prompt payment of compensation. At the time of their signing, the agreements were laid before the Dáil in compliance with the Constitution. The Attorney General has now advised that formal Dáil approval is required for both agreements again. Under national law, Ireland is party to both these agreements.

The key provisions of the outer space treaty include prohibiting of nuclear weapons in space, limiting the use of the moon and all other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and establishing that space shall be freely explored and used by all nations. The treaty precludes any country from claiming any type of sovereignty over outer space or any other celestial body. Although it forbids the establishing of military bases, testing of weapons and conducting of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies, the treaty does not expressly ban all military activities in space, the establishment of military space forces or the placement of conventional weapons in space.

From 1968 to 1984, the outer space treaty birthed four additional agreements on the rules for activities on the moon, liability for damages caused by space craft, the safe return of fallen astronauts, and the registration of all space vehicles, respectively. The treaty provided many practical uses and was the most important link in the chain of international legal agreements for space, from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s. The treaty was at the heart of a network of inter-state treaties and strategic power negotiations to achieve the best available conditions for nuclear weapons world security. It also declares that space is an area for free use and exploration by all and "shall be the province of all mankind".

Drawing heavily on the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, the outer space treaty likewise focuses on regulating certain activities and preventing unrestricted competition that could lead to conflict. Consequently, it is largely silent or ambiguous on newly developed space activities, such as lunar and asteroid mining. Nevertheless, the treaty is the first and most fundamental legal instrument of space law and its broader principles of promoting the civil and peaceful use of space continue to underpin multilateral initiatives in space, such as the International Space Station and the Artemis programme. It is very important that Ireland do everything we can to promote and encourage the educational use of space for future generations.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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This debate has thrown up all the different types of "Star Trek" references and every other reference to space and space use. I was thinking about speaking on this motion on my way down to Dublin today. There was an item on the radio about the James Webb telescope which has sent fancy pictures back of the formation of the galaxy many thousands of years ago. It was probably appropriate that the motion of confidence was tabled today instead of this motion because they both hark back to the past and how great it was, rather than look to the future.

The discussion on this motion was assigned a couple of hours today when important legislation was to be taken. It is to approve a treaty that was ratified more than 50 years ago. It shocking that we ratified a treaty 50 years ago and we have still not put it into law. It shows how the Government works. I remember all of the other treaties that have been ratified and never enacted, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. These treaties were passed and enacted, not 50 years ago but ten, 11 or 12 years ago, and nothing was done with regard to implementing them.

I wondered why this was being done now. In many countries, space use is for a military purpose. Maybe we just have to make sure we get all of our ducks in a row and ratify these treaties to ensure there is no comeback in this area in future. The Minister of State outlined that space development has many useful purposes in peacetime but many developments in space have been done from a military point of view. Will we see this tied in with the European Space Agency in a few years' time for something it will do with satellites for the defence of Europe?

It would be interesting to see what that is.

The Minister went on to say that, "As it stands, Ireland is bound by the Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention under international law, while not complying with the requirements of the Constitution required for the domestic legal system to recognise those obligations." That is a strange statement. How can we comply with something when it has not been ratified under the Constitution, which is the primary legal article in our State? I do not see how that complies. It would be interesting to see what the legal situation is of any work that has gone on before now on that. I am not saying this as a way of scuppering anything that is going on at the minute but why this is all happening now is very interesting. It is interesting it is happening when there is talk about Ireland moving into the European defence mechanisms and everything else like that. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next year or two. We will see then how it goes. I hope much of the work that is ongoing and that is of value will continue. I hope we will not see the Irish space agency working with the ESA on developing satellite weapons technology and stuff like that. That is probably what is at the heart of this, when it comes to happen.

8:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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With Deputies' co-operation I am going to go back to People Before Profit.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It is difficult to resist, when discussing a treaty on outer space, the gag about this Government living on a different planet, but I will resist it and try to take the issue seriously.

It is quite incredible it has taken 50 years to get to the point of actually transcribing this treaty into law. That is a pretty extraordinary fact. The objectives and intentions of the treaty seem laudable on the face of it. However, when I looked at what are called the depository nations where the treaty, I understand, will be deposited, I saw they are the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is now obviously the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the UK. That says it all. We have a treaty that is supposed to prohibit anybody trying to claim sovereignty over outer space or to use space for the purposes of war and the depository nations for that are three of the biggest warmongers and imperialist powers in the world. The idea they can be trusted with ensuring there are not attempts to colonise space for selfish strategic interests or to use space for military purposes is frankly preposterous. There is zero chance of that having any meaningful effect.

I heard the Minister of State talking earlier about the wonderful impact of satellite technology and how it helps us navigate, identify problems with the climate, deforestation and impacts on water. It is incredible, not that the world takes much notice, most of the time, of the information we gather from this amazing technology. However, it is also that same technology that allows the US, Russia, Britain, China or some of the other big military powers in the world to guide precision missiles to hit people from hundreds and thousands of kilometres away and blow those human beings to pieces. That is happening all the time. That is what the US and the UK did in Iraq with utterly devastating consequences and it is what the Russian Federation is now doing to people in Ukraine. Indeed, those very same states are now ramping up their military expenditure, in a great irony of the discourse of such powers, by saying that to guard somehow against the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine, we must spend more on weapons and the military, as if that is not ultimately going to result in more disaster for humanity and the climate. It is difficult, therefore, to believe this treaty is going to make any difference in preventing the use of space for this. In reality it is being used for it already. I was quite shocked to read Elon Musk, who is very close to the American political establishment, is the owner of 40% of the satellites circulating around the Earth at the moment. That is one individual and he has a very close relationship with the American state.

The other interesting issue is the space debris floating around. In orbit of the Earth, or floating around there, are thousands of old satellites and bits of debris that have been thrown up into space.

The objectives of all this are laudable but it is difficult to credit the idea it actually is going to achieve those objectives when you look at the states and the big corporations that are utterly dominating the use of space, as they are the main users of military technology both terrestrially and in space.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the House for its support for this motion. As the Minister of State said at the outset, the motion will resolve an issue that has been outstanding since the great era of space exploration back in the 1960s. The motion will also help Ireland to stimulate further space activity.

The treaty itself dates back to a radically different time when space exploration was in its infancy and the race was under way to put the first man on the moon. However, its core aims are as relevant today as they ever were. The treaty states international responsibility for missions lies with the jurisdictions that launches them. It prohibits nuclear weapons in space and limits the use of the moon and all other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes only. It says no country can claim sovereignty over a celestial body or establish military bases on them but does not preclude all military activity. Exploration is open to all signatories and, rather quaintly, it requires that astronauts be treated kindly as envoys of mankind.

I want Ireland to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, and by its very nature that must include working in outer space. This motion will ensure Ireland is able to make further progress in this very exciting area. Commercial space is a real growth sector. The number of Irish companies involved in space is growing, as is the amount of activity. Ireland has been a member of the ESA since 1975 and its governing conventions ensure it is used exclusively for peaceful purposes. We now have 94 Irish companies engaged in contracts with the ESA, and all these companies are operating at the very cutting edge of technological development. We are almost certain we will hit our target of having 100 Irish companies engaged with the ESA three years ahead of schedule. ESA membership is essential for Irish companies to access expertise in space technology. It also generates strong returns. Enterprise Ireland estimates a return on investment of something close to 5:1 in 2025 and rising to 10:1 by 2030.

In the long run, we may need bespoke legislation for further work in space. Although it is not currently necessary, we are monitoring this area.

As well as this commercial space activity involving Irish companies, there is also great work under way in education. Our membership of the ESA has helped UCD secure the opportunity to launch Ireland's first satellite, which will be named EIRSAT-1. I am not sure how exactly satellites are named and maybe we did not have discretion on this matter but I am a little sorry a somewhat more imaginative name was not chosen. I suggest we might call the next one Ulysses 22, for example, in recognition of the classics and the wonderful journeys that occurred in that time.

It would also be a nod to our own literary history. As a child who grew up as a big fan of "Ulysses 31", it would give me particular pleasure.

To date, believe it or not, Ireland is the only ESA member which has not launched a satellite. However, we are now about to take that first foray into outer space. It is a big and exciting moment. That is why we need to ratify this treaty formally now. The ESA is covering the cost of the launch, with free access to its test facilities. The launch will be from French Guiana and the launch window is scheduled for some point between November of this year and January of 2023. Officials are still progressing a number of legal and policy issues in advance of seeking Government approval for EIRSAT-1 to launch later this year. It will require a Government memo for us to do so and we hope to do that in the autumn.

It is a fantastic opportunity for UCD, its academic staff and students. I recognise the presence in the Gallery of some of the EIRSAT team. Lorraine Hanlon, David McKeown, Gabriel Finneran, Joe Thompson, Joe Mangan and Ronan Wall are all very welcome to the House.

We are now finally going to join the growing number of nations engaged in satellite activity and, therefore, take our place among the nations of the world. Hundreds of Irish people, including the Minister of State, Deputy English, and I, are looking forward to the launch with great excitement. The passing of this motion will allow Ireland to further its scientific, educational and commercial interests in space. I thank Deputies for their support and commend the motion to the House.

I should mention that the second motion will be taken without debate on Thursday. Apologies for the error in that regard.

8:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Therefore, we are only dealing with one motion that has been formally moved already.

Question put and agreed to.