Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett was in possession. In view of the fact there is nobody offering on this Bill, will the Minister respond to the debate?

I thank the Deputies for their consideration of the Bill and for their contributions to the debate on it. As I said in my initial contribution, while the Bill has a narrow focus and is concerned with the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, its enactment by the Oireachtas will be a further important demonstration of Ireland's broader support for international humanitarian law generally and the essential role it plays in limiting the horrendous effects of armed conflicts on civilians and civilian property. All Deputies will agree that the wanton destruction and theft of cultural property during armed conflict is totally unacceptable. We all understand that buildings, monuments and artefacts of cultural importance are essential to the history, heritage and identity of all people. Throughout the debate Deputies have correctly recognised that acts intended to damage and destroy them are designed ultimately to break the spirit of the people who value them. The rules set out in the 1954 convention and the 1999 protocol, like those of the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international humanitarian law, rest on respect for the inherent dignity of the individual. Without them the brutality and barbarism of war would be unmitigated. I confirm these rules are not mere pious aspirations but concrete standards formulated in the light of bitter experience and agreed by the international community as a basis for civilised conduct. It is in this context the Government proposes that Ireland now becomes a party to the Hague Convention and protocol which the passing of this legislation will enable.

I will take this opportunity to address a number of points of particular relevance to the Bill and the 1954 convention raised by Deputies in the course of this debate. Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue of the provenance of some items presented to museums in Ireland in the nineteenth century. While this is clearly an important matter, it falls outside the scope of the present Bill and the Hague Convention and protocol. I have brought the matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, whose Department is engaged in the exercise of revising the National Monuments Acts. That exercise is, in part, intended to enable the State to become a contracting party to a number of other international instruments including the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. I am sure the Minister will wish to consider the points Deputy Ó Snodaigh has made and the concerns he raised in that context.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of the shocking vandalism and looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in 2003.

Such was the global reaction to this incident that the UN Security Council shortly afterwards adopted a resolution requiring all states to take steps to facilitate the safe return of Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural and religious importance illegally removed from the museum and other locations in Iraq, including by establishing a prohibition on trade in such items. This was implemented in the European Union by a European Council regulation, and penalties for breaching that regulation were laid down in Irish law by a statutory instrument. While a large number of items stolen have now been recovered and returned to the museum, efforts to recover all stolen items still continue.

I wish to add that while the USA was not a party to the Hague Convention at the time of the looting of the museum in Baghdad, it subsequently took the very welcome step of ratifying the convention in 2008, mainly due to the public reaction in America to the incident at the time.

I thank Deputies for their careful consideration of the Bill and for their thoughtful statements and comments throughout this debate. I am pleased to note the positive reception the Bill has received and the continuing strong support of this House for the protection of human life and dignity in time of war.

Question put and agreed to.