Seanad debates

Monday, 9 November 2009

Defence Forces Equipment


10:00 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for Finance for staying behind to hear the debate on this motion at a late hour.

This is a matter of military provision and also morality. I was able to change my vote on the Lisbon treaty on foot of a clear guarantee I had received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs that we would distance ourselves from the attitudes displayed by the European armaments group, now known as the European Defence Agency. I also changed my vote in the light of the fact that the Minister's brother, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, had strongly supported ethical investment. This is a question of ethical purchasing. I will not hold the Minister personally responsible because I know he is simply reading a script and imagine his heart would be where mine is on the matter.

The state of Israel now stands at the bar of international public opinion because of the invasion of Gaza, the construction of the wall and so on. The Israelis have flagrantly violated international legal norms and are consequently disbarred by certain countries from particular investments. The Norwegians refuse to buy military equipment from them on an ethical basis. Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen recently stated, "We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international human rights law." However, the Irish Army has continued and extended the policy of purchasing military equipment from a company clearly implicated in the illegal activities of the Israeli Government and army in Gaza and along the wall. I remind the Minister that the wall, coyly described as a fence by the Israelis, has been adjudged by the International Court of Justice to be illegal. It has also been so described by distinguished members of his own family in this House.

I am referring to a Haifa based company, Elbit Systems, which has been given a multi-million euro contract to supply the Irish Defence Forces with equipment to be mounted on a new fleet of RG 32M armoured vehicles being built in South Africa. It consists of surveillance pods and masks for the new fleet. This is a considerable involvement in monetary terms. The Israeli company Rabintex Industries Limited received a similar contract a year ago from the Irish military. The company won a €2.5 million competition to supply 12,000 helmets to the Irish Defence Forces. Israel also supplied Ireland with an artillery fire control system valued at €1.5 million. I understand these matters were raised previously by Senator Doherty.

The involvement of Elbit Systems which is directly concerned in the matter of surveillance of the illegal wall and the appalling confinement of Palestinian people in what amounts to a ghetto makes this matter far worse. I previously raised the involvement of Cement Roadstone Holdings with one of the large cement companies in Israel, as a result of which some of us tried to maintain that it was complicit in the construction of the wall. Here we have a company which is much more clearly involved and complicit in illegal activities. This is very regrettable, especially since the Norwegian Government has already taken a principled stand on the matter. Mr. Halvorsen has said the International Court of Justice has stated that the fence construction breaches the fourth Geneva Convention, that Elbit Systems is clearly aware of exactly where and how the system is intended to be used.

In reply to a question in the other House, interestingly posed by Government backbencher Deputy Chris Andrews, the Minister for Defence said the contract had been awarded on the basis of an open competition and that the code of conduct on defence procurement was observed, that competitions were advertised by the European Defence Agency, including the tender competition in this case. That was an absolutely shameful answer and I anticipate that the Minister for Finance will tonight have the miserable responsibility of reading out such discredited words. I pity him at this late hour of the night, with all the other problems he has so manfully confronted. I am distressed to see such a decent man placed in this embarrassing and invidious position and will not hold him personally responsible for the tripe he is about to read into the record of the House.


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