Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Prohibition of Depleted Uranium Weapons Bill 2009: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, subsection (2), line 14, after "Minister" to insert "for Foreign Affairs".
The purpose of the amendment is to insert "for Foreign Affairs" after "Minister" because there is no definition of "Minister" in the Bill.
I am quite happy to expand on the decision on the proposed amendments. The Bill is quite specific on a category of weapons known as depleted uranium. The deletion of the word "depleted" would mean the Bill would be about uranium weapons in general, which is a far wider scope and includes nuclear weapons which would require a far deeper definition. The Bill is meant to be narrow in its focus to achieve a certain goal and on those grounds the amendments have been ruled out of order.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, to delete line 24 and substitute the following:
"(1) No person may within the State (including on any Irish registered ship or aircraft), or, being an Irish citizen, whether within or without the State:".
It was remiss of me to fail to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche. I also welcome the Bill. It is a tremendous piece of work and I compliment Senator Dan Boyle on his work in bringing it to the House. I also wish to pay tribute to a previous Member of the House, Deirdre de Búrca, who was also instrumental in ensuring the Bill came before us. She has since moved on to other things; I believe she is alive and well and happy. It is only fair and right to record her influence in ensuring the Bill saw the light of day.
We contend that amendment No. 4 is necessary because the Bill as drafted imposes obligations only on the State. We believe it should apply to all persons and I am interested to hear Senator Boyle's response on this.
I will speak briefly on amendment No. 6. We are concerned that the Bill as drafted has no penalties for breach of the obligations set out in it. Amendment No. 6 would insert a clause calling for penalties such as a term of imprisonment of ten years or a fine or both. We believe this would strengthen the Bill.
With regard to amendment No. 4, I am curious to know what type of persons Senator Hannigan and the Labour Party have in mind for the functions that are involved. Perhaps, with reason, he would extend beyond the forces of the State - the State or its agencies - prohibition from testing, developing and producing uranium ammunition and armoured plate or from using, acquiring or disposing of depleted uranium in any way for military purposes. I wonder whether anyone other than prescribed or terrorist organisations or criminals would get involved in this type of thing. I would assume they might be covered by other aspects of the criminal law if they were so occupied.
I would have no difficulty with the amendment and I certainly support strongly its sentiments. I do not think anybody in the State should be messing around with this material. I support the intention of the amendment but I am curious to know what is the target of the amendment. Is there a feeling that there are people who are, as we speak, testing, acquiring or developing uranium ammunition, uranium armour-plate or other uranium weapons? I am reluctant to think so but perhaps I am just naive.
I completely endorse amendment No. 6. The Bill will be toothless if we do not have penalties. There is no point in stating something is wrong and that it is prohibited unless there are penalties attached to such behaviour. My reading of this very admirably concise Bill does not suggest to me that there are any and this would seem to be a serious omission. There may be a technical reason for this; I do not know. I certainly encourage the formulators of this legislation to examine the possibility of including some penalty. If we want to deter people just ink on paper will not be very effective, particularly if they are the type of people who are interested in manufacturing, using or employing uranium ammunition, uranium armour-plate or other uranium weapons. I suppose this would only come into effect because they are linked if they were people in addition to the State who were involved. On the other hand, people who are in the employ of the State might well involve themselves in this, despite the fact it was against the law and in that case they should be punished. I am not sure the State can punish itself but it can certainly punish its agents.
I did not have the opportunity to welcome the Minister of State. I saw him on television last night on a programme. The Minister of State's charming visage suddenly loomed at me out of the night and I expect he could have done with a bit of depleted uranium armour on that occasion.
I would never accuse Senator Norris of being naive. As regards the concept of the State being able to punish itself, we currently seem to be involved in a national self-flagellation exercise so it is obviously physically possible but whether it is possible in a more formal legal sense can be debated further.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 are intrinsically linked because one follows on from the other. I am not unsympathetic towards them. Senator Norris has pointed out one of the difficulties involved in that there can only be two categories of people involved in both definitions being accepted; one category is Irish citizens involved in terrorist activities and the presumption is that this would in any case be precluded by existing legislation; the other category is members of the Defence Forces engaged in international duties and any proximity they may have to forces of other countries who have not taken this legislative approach of banning depleted uranium weapons. This might be a step too far and my hope is that if we pass All Stages of the Bill in this House that when adopted in another form in the other House and subsequently returned to this House we can return to the question of fines and imprisonment because it is important. On that basis I am not willing to accept these amendments as of now.
I welcome the view that this is an incremental situation. We had this argument about the cluster bombs issue and most Members who have taken the trouble to be involved in this issue were also involved in that debate. It was the same situation in which some substantial armies, regrettably involving people who present themselves as defenders of western values, were quite prepared to use and manufacture cluster munitions until a pretty late stage. We wanted to detach ourselves from this. I would regard that as the correct position. As my distinguished colleague, Senator Boyle spoke, I was more inclined to support the Labour Party's amendment because I do not think it right, correct or honourable for Irish military personnel to be involved in the use of these things. If we regard them as wrong and as dangerous and that inevitably there will be civilian casualties - although this is denied in a most dishonest way by the British military authorities - then if in light of those impacts on the civilian population, particularly the development of various diseases, notably clusters of cancers and blood diseases, I do not think our soldiers, sailors or members of the Air Corps should be involved. I strongly support the Labour Party amendment.
I was being slightly jocose about the Minister of State's appearance on television last night but I wish to put on the record of the House that the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, has been right to the fore in supporting this kind of progressive legislation. I raised related issues quite recently and the Minister of State was not available as he was abroad. I think the debate would have taken a very different turn in terms of the script written for the particular Minister in the House at the time had Deputy Roche been in the driving seat on that occasion. I am very glad he is here to take charge of this debate. In a circumstance where a Minister is not available, through no fault of his own, and a script is delivered that contradicts what was said on previous occasions by that Minister, it is only honourable that those of us on this side of the House who are taking part in both debates should place on the record of the House the honourable position adopted by the Minister of State in these matters. It is all part and parcel of his approach to human rights in terms of defence and strategy. I welcome the fact he is here and the leader of the Green Party and his colleagues are here to present the Bill.
I am pleased with the support I have obtained from my colleague, Senator Norris. I listened carefully to Senator Boyle and I am content to wait on the deliberations from the other House if he is saying he is convinced that the law, as it currently stands, will cater for the situations we outlined. I will be happy to withdraw the amendment and return to it at a later stage and I take the Senator at his word.
I am grateful for that approach from Senator Hannigan. As I said in my earlier contribution I am quite happy to have the definition of penalties such as fines and imprisonment included in an eventual piece of legislation. We are trying to get the principle through. While recognising the positive contribution the Minister of State has made to this legislation, particularly on Second Stage, the House should know that if it decides tonight, Ireland would be only the second or third country in the world to pass legislation of this type. Ireland has pioneered successful legislation on cluster bombs. This Bill adopts the same principles by providing for a general prohibition on a class of weapons. I would be glad to assist the process of trying to encourage other countries to support an international ban. I hope this legislation will be dealt with in both Houses.
I wish to make a brief comment on amendments Nos. 4 and 6. It is a continuation of the discussion between Senator Boyle and Senator Hannigan. As I understand what Senator Boyle said, there would be no need for this kind of offence to be punishable by fine or imprisonment in terms of the criminal classes because other legislation will come into play there. However, I do not believe he intended to imply that this would exist for military personnel under the command, for example, of an allied commander in Chad or wherever. There are two situations, one, the criminal situation which is addressed and two, the military situation which is not addressed but there is a tactical reason for this, in other words, that the Bill might have difficulty in passing or that it might be a step too far for our allies. I would be prepared to take that risk but I will not force it to a vote as it would not be my choice in any case. It is very important to continue this historic progress but we should do so knowing exactly what we are doing and not with a vague assumption that everything is as the House and all Members of the House wish because I do not think that is the case. It may very well be that my distinguished colleague, Senator Hannigan, will wish to speak to his colleagues in the Lower House and advise them of the situation to see whether they wish to table these amendments. It is very important that we assist in the passage of this legislation.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, subsection (2), line 3, to delete "Republic of Ireland" and substitute "State".
This is a straightforward amendment which seeks to delete the words "Republic of Ireland" and substitute "State" as this is the correct way to refer to the State in legislation.
I am grateful to Senator Hannigan for his amendment. The official name of the State is not "Republic of Ireland", although it is the official name of our soccer team. As his amendment represents a drafting improvement, I am happy to accept it.
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the Prohibition of Depleted Uranium Weapons Bill 2009 because, as Senator Norris noted, I have a particular interest in this issue. I commend Senator Boyle for highlighting the importance of this legislation. This House will be only the second legislature in the world to take this step. I am not a Member of this House but, if I was, I would vote for this Bill.
Ireland has never possessed armaments or munitions containing depleted uranium. We share the concerns raised by the United Nations General Assembly about the potential risks associated with the use of depleted uranium. Since 2007, we have voted in favour of UN resolutions on depleted uranium munitions and remain fully committed to pursuing our concerns through all appropriate fora.
In 2008, UN Resolution A/C.1/63/L.26 called on the Secretary General "to request relevant international organizations, to update and complete, as appropriate, their studies and research on the effects of the use of armaments and ammunition containing depleted uranium on human health and the environment". The resolution also invited member states to facilitate such studies and research and "to communicate to the Secretary-General their views on the effects of the use of armaments and munitions containing depleted uranium". Ireland submitted a report to the Secretary General setting out our views and confirming our concerns about the potential harmful effects of munitions containing depleted uranium on human health and the environment. The report also noted that, while a number of studies have been conducted by international organisations, no definitive conclusion has been drawn on the potential adverse effect of use of such munitions.
I am somewhat surprised that international agencies do not share a view, which seems to stem from common sense, that putting depleted uranium in weapons and pumping it into the ground of unfortunate countries is not a good thing to do. That, however, is the way of international politics.
Ireland will continue to monitor the issue closely, particularly in respect of studies and research. We recognise the vital work being done by NGOs such as the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs keep in contact with the latter organisation.
Senator Boyle's Bill will have the effect of enshrining in statute Government policy. This Bill is welcome because it states where we stand. When this issue next arises for discussion within the European Union, we will be able to say that Ireland has taken this step. While the Government takes the view that it is probably not necessary to give legislative effect to this matter, it has decided against opposing the Bill. I welcome that decision because, as Senator Boyle will be aware, my clearly expressed view is that we should introduce legislation.
Were we to accept Senator Hannigan's proposed amendments, a regulatory impact assessment would be necessary to determine the knock-on effect of creating a criminal offence. It might, for example, have implications for the Defence Forces in UN operations.
The Government supports enshrining in legislation our decision as a nation to have no truck with this form of weaponry. We support the spirit of the Bill and commend Senator Boyle and other Senators on raising the profile of the important issue. I assure Senators that the Government will address the concerns that underlie the Bill at a policy level and we will continue to advocate for progress at international disarmament fora. Given the unanimous support the Bill has enjoyed in this House, it would be very difficult for any future Government to reverse it.
I wholeheartedly agree with the remarks of the Minister of State and commend Senator Boyle and the former Senator, Deirdre de Búrca, on introducing this legislation. Although we are in a difficult financial situation at present, we should not lose sight of the other important matters on our agenda. I am pleased to support the Bill's passage through the House.
Several of our European neighbours continue to stockpile depleted uranium weapons. I will not name them now, although I have identified them in the past. I hope this legislation puts pressure on our European neighbours as well as on the international community because if we have acted, so can they.
I commend Senator Boyle and his Green Party colleagues on this Bill. It is refreshing to hear from a Minister of State who takes such a wide-ranging interest in these matters. A very estimable organisation, Afri, has campaigned for legislation in this area, as well as on the issue of cluster bombs. It was instrumental in bringing over Mr. Doug Weir, who is the head of a lobby group that is based in the United Kingdom but not confined to that jurisdiction. The group in question has campaigned for many years for the banning of these weapons.
I strongly feel it is important that we issue an instruction that our military personnel should not engage with these weapons. I think that would be universally accepted in this House. It may well be a tactical matter. That is why I did not call a vote on it. I suggest that the Labour Party and Green Party should talk to their colleagues in the other House and to the Government to see whether this can be done. The Minister of State made a cogent point when he said this principle was universally accepted in the Seanad this evening. Nobody spoke against it.
I will say what I have to say and you will have to put up with it. The European Parliament has passed a similar resolution, supported by 94% of MEPs, requiring a total ban. However, the United Kingdom will not do so. I insist on making this point. I am not ashamed to mention the UK authorities in this context. They have withheld information, including scientific information, on the disposition of landmines, etc. They have claimed that there is no point in supporting research because of the lack of information. They are playing a damnably double game. I hope the transcript of this debate will be sent to them. I am glad the Bill is being passed tonight. I welcome the legislation and congratulate those involved.
I will be brief. I commend all Senators on their positive approach to this important landmark legislation. I particularly commend the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, for his positive contribution. He took the trouble to sit down with the Green Party Senators on a number of occasions to discuss the issue. It is obvious that we want to move forward on a Europe-wide basis also. We need to look at this aspect, as we want this legislation to be effective. It is in keeping with Ireland's great tradition of introducing progressive legislation in this area. I refer to initiatives such as those taken by Mr. Frank Aiken. This is a good Bill. I particularly commend the work of my colleague, Senator Boyle. I also commend Senator Dearey. As Senator Hannigan rightly pointed out, our former colleague, Déirdre de Búrca, should also be mentioned in this context.
I hope the passage of this Bill will encourage other countries to introduce legislation on depleted uranium weapons. A raft of other legislation will probably be required in the future because depleted uranium weapons leave behind a legacy that affect civilians, rather than military personnel. Their legacy is not covered by the Ottawa and Oslo treaties which set out specific requirements for dealing with anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs. The only legislative hold on the matter is through international human rights legislation. A lot of work remains to be done at international level and further treaties need to be agreed to deal with the explosive remnants of war. We need to address the lacuna in international treaties. If this legislation prompts our colleagues around Europe, in particular, to introduce similar measures and extend the reach of existing treaties to deal with depleted uranium weapons left behind after combat, we will have done a good evening's work of lasting consequence. I thank Senators Hannigan and Norris for their contributions. I am always extremely enervated by debate on nuclear matters and I look forward to a further debate on nuclear energy at some stage.
The passage of a Private Members' Bill in either House is a rare and significant event. I thank those who helped us to arrive at this stage. The passage of this important Bill which relates to a weapon that is horrible in its content and effect is a statement of what this House and the country can do to bring about a better world. I thank the staff of the Bills Office for the assistance they offered us when we were preparing the Bill. I thank the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs who shared their expertise in parsing its various sections. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, for his ongoing support both this evening and on Second Stage. I thank Opposition Senators for their full-blooded co-operation throughout our consideration of the Bill. I thank the staff of the Seanad Office for their help with the procedures involved in bringing a Private Members' Bill through all Stages which is, as I said, a significant and rare event.
We now have to consider whether we should try to bring the legislation through the Dáil in Private Members' time. Perhaps the Government will choose to adopt the spirit of the Bill. We will have interesting negotiations on the matter. I encourage all Members to use the co-operation they enjoy with Members of the other House and legislators in other European Parliaments to try to have this concept accepted. I especially thank many of Afri's key workers in Ireland who have helped to push it. I also thank those involved in the international campaign against the use of depleted uranium weapons. I hope today's events will be marked by those of us who sit in this Chamber and others who care about making progress on this agenda. I thank everyone for their co-operation.