Wednesday, 12 November 2003
Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2000 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. The proposed grouping has been circulated in the House. Senators may speak only once on each grouping on Report Stage. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
I call on the Minister of State to discuss the first group of amendments, which involves amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5 to 7, inclusive, 9 and 10, 13 and 14 and 19 to 24, inclusive.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2000 was passed by the Seanad as long ago as May 2000. With the permission of the House, therefore, it may be wise to provide Members with short introduction to its background and an overview of the amendments that were made to it in the Dáil.
I am pleased to be in the Seanad to report on the amendments made to the Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2000 during its passage through the Dáil. I have said that some time has passed since the Bill was passed by the Seanad. Senators will recall that it was passed by the House in May 2000 and it passed Second Stage in the Dáil in February 2001. An issue arose at that point, however, concerning the administration and implementation of the requirements of the Bill as they relate to the national authority vis-à-vis the role of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. These issues necessitated consultation with, inter alia, the European Union, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. The fact that the State initiated legal action against the UK in respect of Sellafield around that time, when taken with the heightened pressure on emergency planning and management arising from the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, meant that resources in the Department were stretched beyond capacity at that time. This, in turn, resulted in a delay in progressing the Bill to Committee Stage.
Progress was delayed because the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment had reservations about the role accorded to them in respect of administrative and implementation issues arising from the Bill. They saw little or no role for them, in effect, in implementing the provisions of the Bill, most notably in the context of the completion of the Internal Market of the European Union. Nevertheless, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department have information about imports, if any, into Ireland from outside the EU and about exports, if any, of equipment and materials specified in Annex II of the protocol.
It was agreed following consultation between my Department, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that the implementing regulations to be made when the Bill is enacted will stipulate that the information required to be provided by persons engaged in any of the activities set out in the protocol and the Bill should be provided to the national authority, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. It is not intended at this time, therefore, that the implementing regulations will stipulate a role for the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The matter will be reviewed, in consultation with all parties, some two or three years after implementation. Any adjustments necessary or desirable can be carried out, arising from that review, based on actual experience. This has been agreed between the parties as a sensible approach in the circumstances. The Bill resumed its passage through the Dáil when the issues were resolved as indicated. It passed Committee Stage on 8 October and Report and Final Stages in the Dáil on 5 November last.
Although this is a comparatively straightforward Bill and one on which there is a high degree of consensus, it is nevertheless very important. The enactment of the Bill is necessary to enshrine the necessary provisions in Irish law to enable Ireland to ratify and implement its obligations under the protocol to the existing 1973 nuclear safeguards agreement between the 13 non-nuclear weapons states of the European Atomic Energy Community, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Atomic Energy Community itself. The safeguards agreement is a key element of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty, which is the cornerstone of international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The safeguards agreement provides the mechanism by which the IAEA, and through it the international community, can be satisfied that states are fulfilling their obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.
The protocol to the safeguards agreement was signed up to by the 13 non-nuclear weapons states of EURATOM in 1998. It aims to strengthen the effectiveness of the existing safeguards regime by bringing specified equipment and material within the scope of the safeguards agreement. The protocol relates to equipment and material which are ostensibly for the peaceful production of nuclear energy, but which could be used by rogue states, for example, to produce nuclear weapons. The ratification of the protocol is in line with Ireland's long-standing position in respect of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
I have given an overview of the background to this Bill and, with the permission of the Chair, I would like to discuss the first group of amendments made to the Bill in the Dáil. The amendments in the first group are amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5 to 7, inclusive, 9 and 10, 13 and 14, and 19 to 24, inclusive. Senators will have noted that a large proportion of these amendments are of a drafting and presentational nature. They have not altered the substance of the Bill in any way. I am sure Senators will understand if I do not deal with the amendments in question individually, but I will mention a few of them. I will be happy to clarify the position in respect of other amendments if Members so desire.
Amendment No. 2 relates to the definition of "Minister". When the Bill was passed by the Seanad in May 2000, responsibility for nuclear safety matters rested with the then Minister for Public Enterprise. Subsequent changes in ministerial functions and responsibilities mean that responsibility for nuclear safety now rests with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Hence, this amendment was necessary.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which are also Opposition amendments, relate to section 4 of the Bill. This section refers to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, or such other body as may from time to time be prescribed as the national authority in place of the institute, as the designated national authority for carrying out the State's obligations under the protocol. The amendment, which deleted the text in subsections 4(1) and 4(2) referring to "such other body", was accepted on the grounds that the inclusion of the text in this section was superfluous because it was already covered in the definition of national authority in section 2.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 21, also Opposition amendments, concern the protocol which is scheduled to the Bill and effectively delete all the foreign language text from that part of the protocol relating to the signature of the respective States to the protocol. They have the effect of making the text clearer and more comprehensible and have no impact on the legal meaning or interpretation, according to legal advice. The English language text is retained in full. These amendments should also be seen in the context of amendment No. 7, which relates to the definition of "Protocol" in section 2.
I have listed the detail of the changes effected through the amendments in the first group. They do not change the substance of the Bill in any way and they are very much textual. Many of them resulted from my acceptance of Opposition amendments on Committee Stage. They have improved the substance of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his explanation on the background to the Bill. It is three years since it was last dealt with in the House. Does it adequately address the issues of today? Much has happened since, such as the events of 11 September 2001.
I understand the Minister of State took advice from the EU Commission on the implementation of the Bill. I am concerned about the pro-nuclear undercurrents of many EU directives that have come before us in recent times and I am fearful of the advancement of the nuclear option in a number of proposed directives. We discussed one recently at the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government. What we were led to believe is happening throughout Europe with regard to storage of nuclear waste, etc., is alarming. It is important we cover this matter adequately in a Bill at some stage.
I welcome any directive, Bill or amendment thereto that will bring about better safety standards. Will this Bill do so? Does it include acceptable solutions with regard to the management of nuclear weapons? I was not a Member of this House when it last considered the Bill and therefore I am at odds with regard to the safety elements. Maybe the Minister of State could give some guarantees in this respect.
We have inadequate storage systems. I understand many local authorities are storing radioactive materials and I am concerned about this. Much has happened since we first considered the Bill. There has been a huge rise in the level of radioactive waste, as evidenced in several areas of research, etc. Apart from the issue of nuclear weapons, that of hospital, medical and industrial waste must be considered. Perhaps the Minister of State will update the House in this regard.
I raise these issues because we live in a fast-moving world and much can happen in a period of three years, as was the case in the past three. It must be asked, therefore, if this legislation is adequate to cover what has happened in the interim.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his clarifications. He is correct that the amendments under discussion are purely housekeeping in nature. I am a member of the committee of which Senator Bannon is also member and I agree with him that we must take this issue very seriously. Despite the length of time it has taken to deal with this Bill, it addresses the vast majority, if not all, the issues involved. I thank the Minister of State for outlining the amendments proposed in the Dáil which were accepted. Many of them were Opposition amendments, which gives an idea of the cross-party support that exists for the Bill. I await the Minister of State's remaining remarks.
On the question raised by Senator Bannon, the Commission advice was solely on administrative details and clarified how other member states proposed to deal with the administration. Changes that have taken place since the Bill was initiated in the House, such as those pertaining to radioactive waste, are totally outside its scope. The legislation is unaffected by the delay in its passage. It is only concerned with implementing the protocol and has nothing to do with other EU directives.
The protocol cannot come into force in the Union until all 13 member states without nuclear weapons – of the 15 member states, France and the United Kingdom have such weapons – have the necessary requirements in place for enforcing its provisions. Ireland and Italy are the only two states that do not have these in place. The moral authority of Ireland's traditional position on nuclear non-proliferation would be seriously undermined if we did not ratify the protocol. It is necessary that we have the implementing provisions enshrined in Irish law before the end of the year and before we assume the Presidency of the EU. We intend to lead from the front and we are doing so in the national interest.
As soon as the Bill is enacted, the protocol will be ratified and there will be no delay in signing the regulations. Given the Bill's passage through the House today, I hope the protocol, for which there is almost unanimous support, will be signed and brought into force before the end of the year.
I will now elaborate on some of what can be regarded as the more substantive amendments. Some of these are a consequence of other amendments. In saying that they are of a more substantive nature, I am assured, on the basis of legal advice, that they do not alter in any way the original thrust or scope of the Bill.
Amendment No. 4, which has been categorised in the second group of amendments, was an Opposition amendment to amend the definition of "place" in section 2. The purpose of the amendment was to include in the definition the term "land covered by water", which would widen the previous definition to include lakes and rivers.
I will now refer to amendments Nos. 8, 11, 12, 15 and 16 which, with the exception of amendment No. 12, relate to penalties, that is, fines and or imprisonment, for offences under the Act. In the Bill as passed originally by the Seanad the provisions relating to penalties were set out in sections 7(9), 14(1) and 14(2). Section 7(9) provided for penalties for obstructing an authorised officer in the exercise of his powers under the Act or for providing false or misleading information to an authorised officer. Section 14(1) provided for penalties for breaches of the other provisions of the Act. Section 14(2) related to penalties for the continuation by a person of the offence referred to in section 14(1) following conviction.
Amendment No. 8 was effectively a combination of an Opposition and Government counter-amendment. In effect, it inserted in a new section 3(2) the penalties originally mentioned in section 14(1). This amendment was agreed in the Dáil because it was accepted that the level of penalties mentioned in section 14(1) arising from conviction on indictment were more appropriate to breaches of the provisions of section 3 than breaches of other provisions of the Act. As a consequence of this amendment and on foot of amendment No. 15, section 14(1) was amended by the insertion of penalties arising from summary conviction for breaches of other specified sections of the Act, including penalties for breaches of section 7(9). Amendment No. 11 had deleted the original penalties provisions in section 7(9).
Amendment No. 16 was a Government amendment which effectively deleted section 14(2) relating to continued offences as this subsection was deemed to be unnecessary on the basis of legal advice received by my Department. On foot of amendment No. 8, the reference to Annex III of the protocol in section 3(a) of the Bill, and the whole of section 3(c), which also relates to Annex III of the protocol, was deleted on the basis of legal advice received by my Department on the grounds that Annex III is essentially an administrative annex dealing with exchange of information and would not come within the scope of the penalties inserted in section 3(2).
Amendment No. 12 relates to an amendment to section 9(b) of the Bill and is consequential to the amendment to section 3(a), now section 3(1)(a) mentioned in amendment No. 8. Amendment No. 12 was a Government amendment which essentially brought the text in section 9(b) into line with the text in section 3(1)(a), apart from the reference to annex III which is retained in section 9(b).
It is two years since the Bill was before the House and the penalties were laid down, during which we have had the changeover from the punt to the euro. It is evident that penalties are a deterrent to crime in society. The financial penalty laid down in section 14(1) of a fine not exceeding €3,000 is too low. Will the Minister of State increase it to a minimum of €5,000?
We debated the penalties in detail on Committee Stage. The level of penalties laid down in the legislation has been endorsed by the Department's legal advisers. It fits the crime whether on summary conviction or indictment. When Senators raised the issue of the appropriate level of fines during the debate on other legislation, the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2001, I informed the House that I expected the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to introduce a fines Bill, which would link fines to inflation or create some form of index link. Many of the current fines throughout our legislation are much too low. The forthcoming legislation will encompass all fines in all legislation and link them to the consumer price index or another structure. To answer the Senator's question directly, our legal advisors have informed us that the penalties are acceptable and should not be changed.
Amendment No. 17, a Government amendment, concerns section 15 of the Bill which relates to forfeiture to the State of the materials or equipment listed in Annex I or Annex II of the protocol. Amendment No. 17 correctly restricts this forfeiture provision only to offences in respect of section 3 because this section relates specifically to the activities involving Annex I and Annex II equipment and materials. This amendment had been tabled on the basis of legal advice received by my Department.
Although we are incorporating the protocol into our legislation, thankfully we do not have the materials to which the Deputy refers, apart from a small amount in some of our universities, namely Cork University and, possibly, University College Dublin where they are handled transparently. When one considers the materials used by the nuclear industry, the world would be a safer place if all other countries emulated the position obtaining here.
Amendment No. 18, an Opposition amendment, relates to clarification of the District Court district to which an authorised officer may apply for a forfeiture order for any of the equipment or material listed in Annexes I or II.
During a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government, members were informed that a number of disused radioactive sources are stored at various locations in the State. I am not completely satisfied with the Minister of State's reply regarding materials and, therefore, remain concerned about the issue.
Senator Brady's response adequately addressed Senator Bannon's concerns on my behalf. The materials referred to by Senator Bannon do not come within the scope of the Bill as they are regulated already under other legislation and orders. The matter to which he refers is a responsibility of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate on this legislation. The amendments proposed in the Dáil and accepted in the Seanad have improved the text of the Bill, consistent with the requirements of the protocol and our national position on nuclear non-proliferation. This is important legislation which has benefited from the consideration given to it in both Houses. The enactment of the Bill will further reinforce Ireland's stance on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and will ensure that Ireland and the other non-nuclear weapons states of the EU can implement the requirements of the protocol.
I hope the Bill will be enacted, the protocol will be ratified and the regulations signed by the Minister before Ireland assumes the Presidency of the EU. It is expected that Italy will ratify the protocol before the end of the year, after which the protocol will have been ratified by all 13 non-nuclear states in the EU.
I thank the Minister for his informed presentation on the Bill and the amendments thereto. Hopefully, the passing of the Bill will result in better safety standards in this country and in the EU. The Act will probably have to be revisited when the applicant countries become full members of the EU, given that many weapons, including decommissioned weapons, have been stored in various parts of the former Soviet Union.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, for dealing with this matter this morning. The amendments were largely a housekeeping exercise and followed exhaustive debate in the other House during which Government and Opposition amendments were combined to make the Bill more effective and to improve its scope. However, they have not altered the Bill's core provisions.
The Minister obviously has a good grasp of this subject, which some people might not consider particularly interesting but which affects all our lives. I thank the Minister for his time.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.55 a.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.