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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 7 Jul 2004

Vol. 588 No. 6

Maritime Security Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Report Stage.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, to delete lines 1 to 3.

I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, again. I hope when the inevitable considerations are made about the Cabinet later this year the mighty efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in his Department will be fully recognised.

Unfortunately, I have no influence with that man.

This amendment seeks to delete lines 1 to 3 in the definition and interpretation section on page 4, which excludes a warship or a ship owned or operated by a state when being used as a naval auxiliary or for customs or police purposes. Initially, I put down this amendment to extend the remit of the convention. Obviously, if we made fundamental changes to lessen the impact of the convention and the protocol, it would render our legislation ludicrous. However, there is nothing preventing us from increasing the powers under these two international measures.

New measures will be developed through the coast guard and the marine safety directorate and ships operating under that aegis should have the full protection of these protocols. We could extend it to this area if we wish. If the vessels belong to a democratic state and are defending their territorial waters and the state, an act of terrorism against them obviously would be an attack on the democracy of that country. The Minister should consider the amendment.

This amendment is opposed. The 1988 maritime security convention, to which the Bill gives effect, specifically excludes warships and any ship owned or operated by a state when used as a naval auxiliary or for customs or police purposes from its scope as it is concerned with the protection of commercial shipping, including Government-owned commercial vessels and non-commercial vessels not in state ownership. The Bill, which is strictly confined to implementing the 1988 convention and the 1988 protocol thereto also contains a definition of "ship" in section 1 which mirrors Article 2.1 of the convention.

The convention is an international instrument, signed and ratified by a large number of states, and to ensure consistency in the application of the regime put in place by the convention in international law, it is essential to keep implementation within the agreed framework. The provisions in the Bill and in the convention apply not only to Irish ships but also to ships of other nationalities. It is essential to maintain consistency between Irish and international law. That is not to say there are no statutory provisions that penalise unlawful acts against Irish State-owned or operated naval, customs or police ships. The Criminal Justice Acts, for example, and the Criminal Damage Act 1991 already contain such provisions. Any offence involving acts on an Irish ship, whether in private or State ownership, anywhere in the world is within Irish jurisdiction and an offence is covered by Irish law.

The point I made stands but to expedite the business of the House and given the general tenor of the Bill, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

"(3) No person engaged in a peaceful protest on board a ship or fixed platform, or directed at a ship or fixed platform, and not engaged in an action that constitutes a scheduled offence under the Offences against the State Act, shall be deemed to be guilty of an offence under section 2.”.

Section 2 is ambiguous in so far as it outlines what are believed to be offences. In drafting this section no consideration was given to history, particularly that of the oil industry. Oil platforms and rigs are located off coasts throughout the world. I can speak personally on this issue from my experience of working on an oil platform in the Porcupine in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Were it not for the trade union movement upholding the rights and protections of workers, the conditions under which they would have had to work and live and the threatening abuse by unscrupulous individuals employed in the oil industry would have amounted to Irish workers being treated as cattle.

I worked on the Ocean Ranger which was the largest oil platform in the world at the time. She was built primarily for what a person from Louisiana who was assistant rig manager at the time termed “niggers”. That is the word that was used by the person who held the most senior position on the rig at that time. In the accommodation area, which was underneath the platform floor just above the sea, there was a speaker in every single sleeping accommodation from which people could hear an announcement every 15 minutes of the weight and velocity of the mud. This made it impossible for anybody to sleep. When I was on that rig we organised under the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, now SIPTU, and took on the management. The management threatened to run us off the rig and stated it had an arsenal at its disposal with which to do this. Fortunately, the strength of workers organised in a trade union movement, with the support of the trade union movement on land in Dublin acting in our interests, was able to prevent that rig management from doing what it wanted to do.

Oil companies and rig management have won out in Irish waters because nobody working on Irish rigs off the Irish coast during recent years has union recognition. This is the result of a deal negotiated with the oil companies. They were not taking on Irish labour. For Irish people to work on the rigs on Irish waters, they had first to go and work on the North Sea or elsewhere and come in through the back door. They were also required to give an undertaking not to be part of a union. That is a possibility for which this section allows. Effectively, it will be deemed unlawful in the eyes of management for workers to organise themselves on a rig. If workers take a militant approach and attempt to close down the rig, that will be deemed a navigational hazard placing the safety of the rig in jeopardy. Under this section, anybody who places the safety of a rig in jeopardy can be convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life.

I have asked at all stages that an amendment be made to protect the rights of workers working on fixed platforms or on ships to organise in the interests of workers. The fact that this is not included leaves the legislation wide open to interpretation by an individual who can determine what is lawful and what is unlawful on board a rig or ship, or what is a navigational safety factor on any rig or vessel. The legislation will be wide open to abuse.

We need only look back to what happened in 1913 when William Martin Murphy tried to destroy the unions and people who went onto the streets were beaten off the streets and imprisoned. This is the same type of legislation. It will undermine the rights of workers. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment and strengthen the Bill in the interests of workers everywhere.

I support the amendment. There has been concern from the outset about the Bill within the trade union movement and particularly within the International Transport Workers' Federation. Workers, trade union leaders, and shop stewards who work in this difficult area have long experience of legislation, passed for the best of purposes, being used viciously against workers in the context of fundamental and basic issues of pay and conditions.

The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions submitted a number of concerns to me in late May. They related mainly to the apparent lack of protection for seafarers and other workers engaged in trade union activities and industrial action. He suggested that perhaps the Attorney General was not sufficiently forthcoming in advising the Minister as to the apparent dangers. That is why the general secretary, Mr. Begg, believes the Bill needs to be amended to insure against any possibility that current rights, immunities and protections afforded to seafarers, workers and trade union officials could be undermined. Of particular concern are the rights of workers on fixed platforms in the oil and gas industry. This is an industry which is and will be of interest and concern to Ireland in future decades.

This amendment, and a further amendment in the name of Deputy Ferris, seeks to remove the remit of this Bill from the industrial relations mechanisms of the State. The offences are set out in detail in section 2. They include seizing or exercising control over a ship or fixed platform by force or threat of force, performing an act of violence against a person on board a ship or fixed platform, destroying a ship, causing damage to a ship or fixed platform, placing or causing to be placed any device or substance which could destroy the ship or fixed platform, destroying or seriously damaging maritime navigational facilities, endangering the safe navigation of a ship by communication of information which the person knows to be false, or injuring or killing any person with aim of compelling person to do or not to do something. These are serious crimes and are certainly worthy of the most severe punishment. However, the history of the maritime industry is such that there are genuine concerns that this could in future be used against a group of men and women engaged in a lawful and peaceful form of protest in pursuit of improved conditions.

This is linked to an issue I have raised throughout debates in this House on these matters, namely, flags of convenience and the administration of international maritime economic conditions. Approximately 48% of new vessels operate under flags of convenience. We can take it for granted that the conditions and wages of seafarers will be under severe pressure. That is why, with the doubling of our register in recent months, I have asked the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to monitor the situation closely to ensure that Ireland is in no way associated with vessels which fly the tricolour and treat workers disgracefully or intimidate them. Given what we know of the existence of this, and I have much literature from my trade union colleagues, Mr. Tony Ayton and others, regarding the operation of flag of convenience vessels and fixed platforms, the concerns are genuine. This amendment would be an important saving grace to ensure that this legislation is not at some stage used against a genuine appeal for better conditions by a workforce, particularly on a fixed platform. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment.

I also ask the Minister to support the amendment. I will not repeat what Deputies Ferris and Broughan have said, but the protection of workers' rights on fixed platforms is of the utmost importance.

I have carefully considered the concerns the Deputies raised in the select committee, as well as those of the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Mr. Tony Ayton, from whom I received correspondence. Having taken further legal advice on the matter, I confirm that no refinement of the Bill is necessary in that regard. As already explained, the only activities falling within the scope of the Bill are very serious criminal offences involving a threat or likelihood of personal injury, death, damage or the destruction of property. Any modification of the application of the convention or protocol in question would not be acceptable to the other contracting states, of which there are already 70. Any employer or other person who attempted to use the law for a purpose not intended would be open to court proceedings for wrongful action. It is the courts which ultimately decide the issue in any individual case.

I fully share the concerns regarding proper conditions applying on ships generally, and I expect that workers' representatives will keep in close touch with the maritime safety directorate of my Department, the European Commission, the International Maritime Organisation and other relevant international bodies with a view to making progress on international measures to that end. On 17 and 30 June I exchanged correspondence with Mr. Tony Ayton. I also corresponded with Mr. David Begg regarding letters sent to me. I referred the correspondence from them to the Attorney General before sending back a comprehensive reply to both. They seemed reasonably satisfied.

I share the views that Mr. Ayton expressed to me, not only in this context, about flags of convenience and improper working conditions. I hope through efforts at international level and our own work during our tenure of the European Presidency we will see changes in that area. There are already signs that flags of convenience are becoming less and less available to irresponsible operators.

Regarding people working on rigs, last year I met Mr. Dowling of the union, with whom I went through several issues, particularly at the time of the Seven Heads development off Kinsale. There was a view that the company involved should employ Irish people on board, and I understand that has happened to a certain extent. Mr. Dowling has kept in close touch with my Department and is involved in a departmental committee on that area. We have engaged in very strong correspondence. At this stage in the Bill, I see no need for change, particularly given the legal advice we have received.

I beg to differ completely from the legal advice the Minister has been given. It is quite clear from the description of exercising control over a ship or fixed platform using force or the threat of force or by any other form of intimidation, that unscrupulous employers would take a strike as a form of intimidation. The oil industry is well known for such employers, since control is the basis of power. We need only think of events within the past 18 months to see the power of the oil companies and what is done in their interest, not merely nationally but world-wide. To me, it is wide open.

On a non-union ship, rig or platform, the workers may decide to go on strike for the sake of working conditions, better pay or safety reasons. I was on the Ocean Ranger, where we threatened to go on strike. We outlined all the issues regarding the dangers on board that rig, which was the largest in the world at the time. Within 12 months of the rig leaving Irish waters, she sank off the east coast of Canada with the loss of 84 people. That rig was designed for low-paid workers from the southern United States with no union rights whatsoever. If they challenged the management, they were treated like animals and shuttered off, their wages being withheld. Some of the people working on that rig could not go back to their own areas because of what they had done to the workers.

It is very little different in many parts of the world today, where oil management treat workers as numbers to facilitate their objective of maximising profits at the expense of labour. I have asked the Minister to reconsider, but he will obviously not do so. I will have to call a vote on this. I will also respond to him regarding his meeting with Michael Dowling on the Seven Heads and having Irish labour on board. I am part of the offshore oil workers' committee, and we have had a terrible time trying to deal with the oil companies in that regard. They have a very sneaky way of doing things. They claim someone who comes in through the backdoor, working on the rigs in the North Sea is coming into Ireland, as part of Irish labour. However, they are coming in under UK rules for UK wages and without being unionised.

There is a substantial job to do, and I hope we can get it right. The industry is large and can offer a great deal of employment both on and offshore. That must all be examined and addressed. I would welcome the opportunity to work with the Minister and the trade union movement in that regard, but I must oppose this, since it is wide open and does a terrible disservice to the trades union movement and workers not just here but throughout the world.

This is the type of amendment the Minister might have considered. It is difficult when one is dealing with international legislation, as I said in my first contribution on the first amendment. Obviously, some of this goes back to 1989, and it is a fairly lengthy process getting countries to sign up. That is the difficult background. Having said that, my colleague has spoken of the very vulnerable position in which seafarers and maritime workers are placed. One need only listen to the stories of our colleagues who represent workers in the trades union movement to know the great difficulties they have speaking to workers and visiting ships or platforms. Even to determine conditions, they must effectively sneak on to vessels and they feel intimidated since given the long history in this area, vessels are like little states.

Looking back on the history of maritime law one knows terrible things were done in the past. This type of amendment is necessary, and perhaps the Minister and the Attorney General could have examined the wording in Deputy Ferris's name to see how it might best have been shaped. However one looks at it, we need a safeguard along those lines given what we know about the industry and how workers have been treated in every decade of its history. I urge the Minister once more to consider the amendment.

I have given it a great deal of consideration and sought legal advice on the matter on two, if not three, occasions. While I share concerns about the conditions of those working on ships flying flags of convenience, this is not the legislation to deal with it. The Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) Act 1987 deals with some of the concerns of the Deputies opposite. The Health and Safety Authority is there to investigate, and we also have the maritime safety directorate of my Department. There is the European Commission and the International Maritime Organisation, so several bodies are there already to deal with some of the Deputies' concerns. Therefore I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 60.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G. V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Ferris and Broughan; Níl, Deputies Hanafin and McGuinness.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, to delete lines 25 to 29 and substitute the following:

"(3) In this section—

‘fixed platform' and ‘ship' mean a fixed platform and ship which are outside the State;

‘outside the State' means—

(a) in relation to a fixed platform, outside an area designated under section 2 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968, and

(b) in relation to a ship, outside the territorial seas of the State.”.

This amendment is designed to put beyond doubt the required extra-territorial jurisdiction of section 3 by covering clearly and specifically ships and fixed platforms which are outside the State. It was drawn up in response to an amendment tabled on Committee Stage by Deputy Broughan who put forward a strong argument to support his case. I am pleased to be able to take his suggestion on board.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments. The amendment will clarify the position as regards section 3(3). We originally highlighted this issue in respect of extra-territorial jurisdiction. Amendment No. 4 in my name, which suggests that "fixed platform" and "ship" mean "such a platform or ship wherever situated", is also an attempt to deal with the matter. The Minister of State has moved a long way towards our position in amendment No. 3 and I welcome that.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, to delete line 9 and substitute the following:

"(5) A person arrested by or delivered to a member of the Defence Forces under this section".

The purpose of this amendment to section 4(5) which was also drawn up in response to concerns raised on Committee Stage is to close the procedural loophole where a suspected offender is arrested directly by a member of the Defence Forces. It requires the arrested person to be delivered to a member of the Garda Síochána as soon as practicable for necessary action. Section 4(3) already requires such delivery where a suspected offender is delivered to a member of the Defence Forces by a master of a ship or by a person for the time being in charge of a fixed platform.

This amendment appears to clarify the original intention in section 4(5) and, in that regard, it is acceptable.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"(2) All actions covered by the Industrial Relations Act 1990; the Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention 1976 (No. 147); the Protocol of 1996 to the Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention 1976; the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention 1948 (No. 87); and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 1949 (No. 98) shall be excluded from this Act.".

This amendment again relates to criminal procedures and attempts to safeguard the rights of people involved in industrial relations and people's right to organise, whether it be on a rig or a ship. The argument in respect of it is similar to that I made in respect of my earlier amendment. I want to protect the rights of workers and enshrine in the Bill an exclusion for people involved in the type of activity to which I refer.

I support the amendment, which is similar to the earlier amendment dealing with peaceful protest. We are concerned about the issue of workers' rights. I accept that we are entering into a wide-ranging area in terms of the application of law. The Minister of State referred earlier to existing legislation which offered a measure of protection to workers.

Presumably all of these important Acts were considered in the formulation of that legislation. The industry is unique although there is evidently a background of protection. We have had some interesting discussions on the legislation. Departmental officials brought some points to our attention this year and matters were also raised during discussions in committee.

When one looks at some of the events that have taken place, even in far distant territories in the south Asia seas, for example, or in the Caribbean and various other places, it is understandable that trade union officials, specifically those in the International Transport Federation which is affiliated to SIPTU, our largest union, would have some concerns. They believe it is necessary to have a system of exclusions to ensure that fundamental basic rights gained by workers over many decades will not be whittled away. In that context, it is understandable that the right to organise, have collective bargaining and the minimum standard rights which are articulated in the amendment could be excluded to ensure no rogue or criminal employer could use this very draconian and necessarily tough legislation against a workforce and trade union representatives because in the past every opportunity was taken to attack workers' rights.

We are a maritime nation with a vast expanse of sea that is ten times the size of our land mass. We are responsible for the marine environment and for everything that happens within it in terms of the conditions of workers. This matter could provide a useful subject for debate in future if we were to return to it to examine it in more detail. While we cannot police the seas of the world, we have to ensure trade union rights and the basic civil and working rights of workers are respected on our seas and in our ports. In the past, they have not been, which is the problem the amendment seeks to address.

We already had a lengthy debate on this issue when we discussed the amendments tabled by the Deputies to section 2. The Bill, and the 1988 maritime convention and protocol to which it gives effect, addresses serious criminal acts that do not apply to normal activities, including industrial relations matters on board a ship or offshore fixed platform. The Industrial Relations Act 1990 does not provide immunity from prosecution for any terrorist act. It would clearly be inappropriate to amend the Bill so as to modify the application of the convention or protocol to exclude trade unions.

The essential feature of both the convention and protocol is their standard international application, in that they are applicable to foreign as well as Irish ships and offshore fixed platforms. Ireland could not act unilaterally. As I explained, there is no need for the amendment suggested to cover non-criminal acts. As I said previously, from meeting trade unions and workers on ships, I have some concerns in regard to flags of convenience. Perhaps we can take up Deputy Broughan's suggestion that in the new session we would undertake to have a meaningful examination and discussion of how ships operate, especially in Irish waters, in regard to compliance with standards.

I am disappointed the Minister of State is not accepting the amendment, although his response was a foregone conclusion when the previous amendment was not accepted. It is regrettable that he has not accepted the two amendments tabled to enshrine the established rights of workers in the Bill and to protect workers from unscrupulous and criminal elements that are involved in the types of industry we have debated.

It would have been a welcome development for Irish and international workers if the Government had accepted the amendments for which I am sure there would have been all-party support. Unfortunately, the Minister of State has not accepted the amendments. It would have been a strong statement to workers worldwide if this House had shown support for them by incorporating the amendments in the Bill. I regret he has not accepted the amendment and will, accordingly, be opposing the Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies for their contributions and support for the Maritime Security Bill. We accepted a number of amendments since the initiation of the Bill in the Seanad. I thank Deputies Kehoe, Broughan and Ferris for their contributions and for encouraging me to make some changes along the way.

Question put and declared carried.

As the Bill is considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution to be a Bill initiated in the Dáil, it will be sent to the Seanad.