I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I offer the Ceann Comhairle my good wishes. His courtesy to new Members of the House and the manner in which he conducted the business of the House have been a great example to all Members.
This is an important day for the country and I thank the Opposition parties for their co-operation in agreeing to take all Stages of the Chemical Weapons Bill, 1997 today. As we approach the end of the 20th century, with all its turmoil and tragedies, it is gratifying to be involved in efforts to finally eliminate one of the great obscenities of our time — chemical weapons.
While chemical warfare probably goes back to earlier centuries when opponents used poisons to incapacitate their enemies, the first major use of chemical weapons was in the First World War and many of us will recall stories of the terrible injuries inflicted by chemicals in that conflict. Since then chemical warfare has moved on from the relatively simple weapons of the First World War to the more sophisticated and deadlier weapons of today. As technology progresses it has become easier for so-called "rogue states" with sufficient resources to buy a chemical sector "off the shelf" and use it to produce chemical weapons.There is also the disturbing problem of individuals obtaining highly toxic chemicals and using them in public places, as in the chemical attack on the Tokyo underground a few years ago.
Many efforts have been made to curtail the use of chemical weapons over the years going back to the Brussels Declaration of 1874 which prohibited the use of poisons and poisoned bullets in warfare. In 1925 the Geneva Protocol banned chemical and bacteriological warfare. Despite this, the threat and the fear of chemical warfare remained. World powers continued to produce, develop and stockpile chemical weapons with the implication that, if sufficiently threatened, they would use these weapons. Thankfully there have always been countries and individuals who were sufficiently concerned to persevere with efforts to finally put an end not just to chemical weapons but to the fear of such weapons.
For 24 years negotiations took place in Geneva under the auspices of the Conference on Disarmarment.Agreement was finally reached in 1992 and the convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction was opened for signature on 13 January 1993. The convention represents a radical departure in the concept of disarmament and Ireland was one of the first countries to sign. Not only does the convention prohibit warfare in chemical weapons, it also sets up an organisation — the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — with wide-ranging powers to enforce the convention at international level.
I will put on record a summary of Article I of the convention because it represents the essential commitment required by the convention. Each state party to the convention undertakes not to develop, produce or otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone; not to use chemical weapons; not to engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons; not to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under the convention; to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses; to destroy chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses; not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare. The commitment is not limited to the non-use of these weapons but to their elimination over a specified period.
However, commitments are not sufficient. There must be a confidence within the international community that countries who have ratified the convention are abiding by its terms. Over 70 per cent of the text of the convention, the verification annex, is concerned in one way or another with ensuring the terms of the convention are kept by the states which ratify it. This shows that the convention is not merely aspirational but that there is an extensive verification mechanism which will ensure that state parties are complying with its terms. It is this enforcement element to the convention which perhaps makes it unique among disarmament conventions.
Under its terms, a new UN body will be established called the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which will be based in The Hague and oversee implementation of the convention.It will also have the power and resources to ensure the ratifying states comply with the convention's terms.
I will describe in greater detail the verification aspect of the convention. The system is based on declarations by state parties which can be verified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The most important declarations refer to chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities. Within 30 days of the convention entering into force, 29 May 1997, state parties must make declarations in respect of chemical weapons as to quantities, location, type of chemicals concerned, storage facilities, etc. Similar declarations must be made in respect of chemical weapons production facilities. As well as declaring the existence of these weapons and facilities, state parties must submit plans for their destruction.
The verification aspect of the convention then comes into play. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will have an inspectorate whose function will be to ensure state parties keep to their commitments. The inspectorate will have diplomatic status and the convention obliges state parties to grant inspectors rights of access to facilities covered by it.
One of the reassuring uses of the international inspectorate will be the undertaking of "challenge inspections". This is a mechanism whereby state parties, concerned about possible non-compliance by another state party with the convention, have the right to request the international inspectorate to inspect a specific site. I will come to the implications for Ireland of this inspectorate.
The international inspectors will be appointed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. By 29 May, the names of every inspector, together with their qualifications and experience, will be notified to state parties which have the right to object to the appointment of any inspector by giving 30 days notice. If an objection is lodged, that inspector will not be involved in any inspections in the territory of the objecting state party.
When an inspection team arrives, it has the right to assistance from the state party and of access to the site it wishes to inspect. Facilities, in the nature of offices, communications, interpretation where necessary, transportation, etc., must be provided. Any cost to the state or companies will be reimbursed later. The inspection team must be able to reach its target site no later than 12 hours from arriving in the country. While on site, it has the right to unimpeded access to the inspection site or factory. It has the right to inspect documents and records it deems relevant and to interview personnel. Samples of chemicals may be tested on site and taken away for further analysis.
No later than ten days after the inspection visit, the inspection team will submit a report which will deal with matters relevant to compliance with the convention. The report will also refer to the level of co-operation the inspection team experienced.I have dealt with this aspect of the convention in some detail because I wish to emphasise this is an agreement which will be enforced.
The powers of the international inspectorate which I have described are far reaching but necessary, given the subject matter of the convention but what will be the impact of the international inspectors and the convention itself on Ireland? I have mentioned the declarations state parties have to make regarding chemical weapons and chemical weapon production facilities. These declarations will have to be made in respect of Ireland by 29 May 1997. Declarations are being prepared to enable me to say Ireland neither holds chemical weapons nor does it have chemical weapon production facilities. We will still have to make declarations, however, in respect of the chemicals set out in the convention and repeated in the Schedules to the Bill. This is a statistical exercise but important nevertheless.
Because the chemicals which can be used to manufacture chemical weapons can also have a legitimate use for industry, their use is permitted under the convention so long as it is for peaceful purposes. Because of the potential of these chemicals, their use must be controlled in the case of the most toxic. For the rest, detailed records must be kept by companies and returns made each year on the quantities produced, consumed and transferred. Even though we do not hold or produce chemical weapons, it is important that the information required by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons be accurately and efficiently collated. The international inspectorate will have the same powers to enter and inspect sites which are involved in the peaceful use of the designated chemicals as it has for sites involved in the production of chemical weapons.
It will be obvious that the chemical industry in Ireland will be directly affected by the convention and the Bill. Far from viewing the Bill as another regulation imposed by the State, the industry welcomes it because of its implications for trade. All 15 members of the European Union have now ratified the convention. The latest information available to me is that 74 states have ratified it but this number is increasing as the date on which the convention enters into force, 29 April 1997, approaches. I am informed the United States Senate will vote on ratification on Friday, 25 April 1997. It is clearly important that such an important country in the disarmament area ratifies the convention.
I mention the number of states which have ratified the convention to raise the issue of trade. As more and more states ratify the convention, industry becomes more positively disposed towards it. In the United States, I understand it is the chemical industry which is most anxious for ratification to take place. The reason is the convention will restrict trade in the chemicals covered by it. In the case of First Schedule chemicals, trade will only be possible with other state parties. In three years time, trade in Second Schedule chemicals will only be permitted with other state parties and for Third Schedule chemicals the position will be reviewed after five years.
When the Bill was being drafted, industry, through its representative associations, and relevant academic institutions were consulted. There have been no objections to it. As for compliance costs, there will be few, if any, extra costs involved in companies complying with the convention.The principal obligation on companies will be to keep records of their use of the chemicals covered by the convention and to allow inspectors to enter their premises to check compliance.
That brings me to the enforcement of the convention in Ireland. The Bill will appoint the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health as the national authority for the purposes of the convention. The Authority which was established in 1989 has proved in its relatively short life that it can take on a challenge such as the convention. It has the necessary scientific and technical expertise to carry out its function of national authority and the benefit of being regionally based.
The Authority will not just be a post box for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. An important function of the Authority will be as a focus for the communication of information-instructions from the organisation to Irish industry and accompanying the international inspectors on their inspections to Irish firms. In ratifying the convention we undertake to abide by its terms and need to have the powers necessary to ensure compliance. The Bill will give the Authority wide-ranging powers to enforce the convention. By this means, we can assure ourselves and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that we are abiding by its terms.
In June last year, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs brought forward a motion which asked the House to approve the terms of the convention. I am pleased the House approved that motion which enabled Ireland to ratify the convention.
I will deal briefly with what is contained in the various sections of the Bill. Sections 1 and 2 are the usual citation and interpretation sections. The National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, the HSA, is defined as the national authority for the purposes of the convention. Section 3 prohibits the production, development, use, retention or transfer of chemical weapons. The use of premises or equipment for the production, development, etc. of chemical weapons is also prohibited. The maximum penalty for contravention of this section is life imprisonment. Section 4 places restrictions on the use of certain toxic chemicals.
Section 5 to 8, inclusive, are concerned with inspection and enforcement. Inspectors of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be allowed to enter the State under the terms of the convention. Section 5 gives such inspectors the same powers as an inspector of the HSA. Sections 6 and 7 are concerned respectively with the appointment of inspectors by the HSA for the purposes of the convention and their powers of inspection. Section 8 gives to a member of the Garda Síochána the powers of an inspector under the Bill in addition to his or her existing powers.
Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, are concerned with the information needed by the national authority to comply with the convention. Companies which produce, consume, etc., the chemicals listed in the Second and Third Schedules to the Bill must provide information and keep records in accordance with the requirements of the HSA. Any information obtained pursuant to the Bill or the convention is privileged but may be disclosed if there is a severe danger to the public.
Section 12 provides powers to the Minister to make regulations to give effect to the convention. Section 13 outlines the penalties for offences under the Bill. Section 14 provides for the forfeiture and destruction of chemical weapons seized by the authorities as required by the convention. An appeals procedure against forfeiture is provided.Section 15 states that prosecutions may be brought by the HSA. Section 16 states that the expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill will be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas as sanctioned by the Minister for Finance.The Schedules list the categories of chemicals covered by the convention.
This is important legislation. Ireland has always been to the forefront in advocating peace and disarmament.It took 22 years to draft this massive convention. I am pleased Ireland was one of the first signatories. I am sure the Bill, which gives effect to that commitment and which will put in place the structures which will enable Ireland to fulfil its obligations under the convention, will have the unanimous support of the House to which I commend it.