Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Bill, 1967—Second Stage.

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

This Bill covers two separate though related subject matters: firstly, the immunities and privileges of diplomatic and consular personnel and, secondly, the immunities and privileges of international organisations.

Under Article 29 of our Constitution, Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as our rule of conduct in our relations with other States. We must therefore apply here the same rules of diplomatic law and procedure as are applied in other States. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which this Bill seeks to give the force of law, were drafted in 1961 and 1963 at conferences in Vienna attended by about 90 nations, including Ireland. These two Conventions reflect the general agreement reached in Vienna as to the appropriate immunities and privileges which are essential for the effective functioning of diplomatic missions and consular offices. Similarly, the member Governments of the United Nations and other international organisations covered by the Bill had agreed some years before upon an appropriate range of immunities and privileges for the organisations concerned.

The purpose of granting immunities to diplomats and consuls is to ensure that they are independent in the performance of their functions. The full range of immunities may sometimes be indispensable to diplomats to enable them to exercise their duties in the State in which they are accredited. The immunities which we make available to foreign diplomats and consuls in Ireland are the same as our own diplomats and consuls receive in other countries when representing Ireland abroad.

The preambles to both the Vienna Conventions refer to the fact that— and I quote from the Diplomatic Convention preamble:—

The purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing states.

The texts of the Vienna Conventions are set out in the First and Second Schedules of the Bill. These Conventions are already and seem likely to remain for a long time to come the world code in diplomatic and consular relations. There is great convenience in having available such complete statements or codes of international law with regard to both diplomatic and consular relations. Hitherto, we have had to deal with these questions in the light of international practice as it appeared to us at any particular time. Now, however, when the full text of these agreements are placed on the Irish statute book, all concerned will know precisely what is the legal position on any particular matter in this field in which they may be interested.

These Conventions resulted from the conferences which met pursuant to a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations and form part of the general movement in recent years towards the progressive codification of international law. The Conventions largely confirm the practice in Ireland in regard to immunities, et cetera. Section 48 of the Bill sets out the long accepted principle of reciprocity by providing that in the event of another Government not granting immunities to our representatives, the Irish Government may withdraw the immunities here of the representatives of the State concerned.

Apart from the Diplomatic and Consular Conventions, most of the text of this Bill is concerned with international organisations. The need for the application of many of these provisions in Ireland does not often arise. Consequently, the same formula is not used in regard to the application of these Conventions in Ireland as has been used with regard to the Vienna Conventions each of which is given the force of law in the State. The General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as long ago as 1946 and 1947 respectively. Up to the present, it has usually been possible for us to give effect to any of their provisions which have become applicable from time to time by administrative measures without the necessity of legislation. We must, however, be in a position, when the need arises, to make available to international organisations operating in Ireland and to their officials and experts, the necessary immunities. In fact, the Charter of the United Nations provides in Article 104:

The Organisation shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes.

and in Article 105:

1. The Organisation shall enjoy in the territory of each of its members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfilment of its purposes.

2. Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and Officials of the Organisation shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organisation.

In Part III of the Bill we deal not only with the General Convention of the United Nations but also with the position of judges and persons connected with the International Court of Justice. This gives effect to a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted on the 11th December, 1946, and covering the immunities which are contained in sections 10 to 15 of the Bill.

In Part IV of the Bill provision is made for the privileges and immunities of the international organisations set out in section 16. We are members of all the organisations indicated. These organisations would require that their officials coming to Ireland on duty should have the protection which is afforded by these international agreements and which assure those officials their independence in the exercise of their functions.

Part V of the Bill relates generally to the Council of Europe. This covers not only the Council itself but also Government representatives, members of the Consultative Assembly, officials of the Council attending meetings of the Council, the judges of the European Court of Human Rights and members of the European Commission of Human Rights.

Parts VI and VII of the Bill are concerned with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Monetary Agreement, the Customs Co-operation Council, the International Wheat Council and the International Sugar Council.

Part VIII allows in sections 39 to 43 that the Government may in the future by order, and without the need for new legislation in each particular case, provide for the immunities which by international agreement we may wish to make available to an international organisation, a community or body, or an international judicial body or semi-judicial body, or an arbitration or conciliation board.

It is also proposed in sections 44 and 45 to make it possible to grant immunities to appropriate persons attending important international conferences in Ireland. This is a provision which many other countries have in their law and, in certain circumstances, it might be necessary that the Government should be in a position to make available these immunities for the representatives of other Governments coming to Ireland so that they would feel completely free and independent in the performance of their functions.

I hope that Senators will agree that this Bill is desirable in that it gives effect generally to our international obligations and places on our statute book provisions which are already incorporated, or are in course of being incorporated, in the laws of most other countries.

We have, of course, no difficulty about welcoming this Bill in principle. Indeed, it came as a surprise to me when I received the Bill to realise that from the nature of the Bill and the limited range of repeals we do not appear to have had any legislative provision covering diplomatic immunities hitherto. Indeed, I am still in some doubt about this. I had thought that diplomatic immunities had a legislative basis in this country, perhaps inherited from the period of British rule and that this Bill, therefore, might be amending something which already existed but as the repeals at the back apart from three which relate to specific international organisations are confined to the Income Tax Act of 1918 and to two of our other Finance Acts it would appear on the face of it that this is the first legal provision to be made in this country by way of legislation for diplomatic immunities other than those relating to taxation.

I should like the Minister to clarify this for me because it does appear, from this Bill and from what we have understood always to be international practice accepted here, that diplomats enjoy a wide range of diplomatic immunities in this country, for example, from prosecution in relation to criminal offences. I wonder how they can enjoy such immunities if there is not any legislative provision entitling them to such in existence at the moment and for the last forty to fifty years. If there is such legislative provision how is it we are not repealing it, bearing in mind that this appears to be a comprehensive Bill covering the whole range of immunities and not for simply adding some new immunities? This leaves me puzzled. I listened to what the Minister said at the outset but he did not seem to make this quite clear. There seemed to be an implication that this was something new and that it had been dealt with hitherto by administrative methods but I am puzzled as to how that could be when it involves a dispensation of persons within the State from, for example, criminal jurisdiction. Perhaps when replying the Minister might clarify that particular point.

One is also struck by the time it has taken to implement some of the provisions. It is true that the diplomatic conventions which are being enacted by this Bill directly are all of relatively recent origin, being only three or five years old. I suppose that is a reasonable time-lag having regard to the basis on which things of this kind reach the Statute Book, but the provisions relating to the United Nations go back to 1946 and in one case to 1949. It seems odd that we have taken so long to ratify what was decided at the United Nations over 20 years ago, in one respect, particularly in view of the fact that we have been involved as active members of the UN for over ten years and, indeed, that the Minister himself has been particularly interested in its work and has made such a special contribution to its work. One wonders how it has taken so long to implement those provisions in relation to the UN and, indeed, how we have got along so far without implementing them. I suppose the answer is that while we are represented at the UN they are not represented here, and the provisions that are now being introduced are probably not of much practical importance at the present time in the absence of any international organisation of the UN located in this country, and that it is simply a question of implementing these provisions as part of the immunities of these two diplomatic conventions, taking the opportunity of these conventions to cover the UN case as well, not because it is of great practical importance, but just to complete the picture. However, it does seem rather a long time to wait to implement these agreements in the UN which preceded our membership but in respect of which we have presumably had obligation since we joined it.

The Bill is, of course, desirable in principle. Many of us feel at times that some of the diplomatic immunities go beyond what might be necessary in a particular instance. We may feel at times that they are abused slightly but this is a case in which we must err on the side of permitting even the abuse at times of those immunities so that the intercourse between our State and other States can be carried on in accordance with international practice, assuring the complete freedom that diplomats ought to have representing their countries' interests in other parts of the world.

Provision appears to be made in the relevant convention for the continuation by States which have this practice of the arrangement under which the Papal Nuncio is automatically the doyen of the diplomatic corps in the country in question, regardless of the seniority of other representatives. I take it I am right in thinking it is, in fact, the practice we adopt under the Congress of Vienna arrangements of 1815 which we have inherited and that although it is not the practice in Britain that we propose to continue to do so and to carry on with the tradition established at the time of the Congress in Vienna, which was not, of course, adopted by Britain and is not universal today. One is struck, in reading through the Bill and the Schedules to it, by the very wide range of international organisations with which the Bill has to deal. Quite apart from the United Nations and 13 specialised agencies of the United Nations, we have the Council of Europe and two bodies associated with it—the Commission of Human Rights and the European Court on Human Rights, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with which we are actively involved, and then some other bodies— the International Wheat and Sugar Councils, the International Courts of Justice—and, in some odd way, the European Monetary Agreement. I cannot see how it comes in but it is mentioned here.

I notice also there is provision for diplomatic immunity for people attending international governmental conferences. This is of importance, particularly as this country is one which ought to be seeking and obtaining the location here of international conferences of this kind. We have been highly successful in attracting to Ireland non-Government conferences and, in this area, Bord Fáilte have done excellent work. We are geographically well located between Europe and the United States—in a reasonably busy part of the world, on a main route, as you might say—to attract conferences of this kind. This is something which would be to our benefit from the point of view of prestige and even, indeed, the financial return from such meetings. One would hope we would attract such international government conferences in the future, more than in the past and it is right that we should make provision for immunities in these cases.

I am not entirely happy with the arrangements existing in some countries in this respect. I seem to recall some recent incident in Poland when an official of UNESCO, I think, was not treated as enjoying diplomatic immunity. I also recall a case graphically described to me by an Irishman attending a meeting at the International Labour Office in Venezuela, when a Dutchman at the meeting was kidnapped by the Venezuelan Government in the hotel and taken out of the country by plane within the hour, after being rushed through the streets by fast cars, and switched from car to car at various points in the most dramatic manner. He had offended by having criticised the labour laws of Venezuela which were apparently at that period under the dictatorship rather restrictive.

That kind of performance is one which should not be tolerated. I think we should take a strong line, if any event of that kind occurs. We should guarantee diplomatic immunity to those people because it is proper that we ourselves should guarantee diplomatic immunities to people. If, indeed, some visitor to this country of another Government did on some occasion criticise some aspect of our law— although it is not very likely as our laws are liberal and democratic — even if we did not like it, we should lump it and ensure he enjoys the respect and diplomatic immunity he should have as a representative of a foreign Government attending such a meeting.

I am not entirely clear — and I do not think the Bill and its Schedules make it clear — what level of officials in these various organisations, in fact, enjoy diplomatic immunity. The relevant Schedule dealing with the specialised agencies of the United Nations states that each specialised agency will specify the categories of officials to which the provisions of this Article and of Article 8 shall apply, and shall communicate them to the Governments of all States parties to this Convention, in respect of that agency and to the Secretary General of the United Nations. There is a provision, then, for a slightly different procedure in relation to the question of military service; the exemption of officials from military service in their own country, which has to have the approval of the Government concerned. Otherwise it appears those agencies are in a position to nominate officials for diplomatic immunity regardless of rank.

It is my impression that in practice those agencies confine diplomatic immunity to senior officials above a certain grade. This, I think, is proper because the agencies in the countries in which they operate employ large numbers of resident staff who are engaged in routine work and the extension of diplomatic immunity to all of them can reach some heights of absurdity. It is proper that they should be careful in the practice they adopt in nominating for diplomatic immunity officials of their organisations. Perhaps the Minister could tell us something about the actual practice here so that we may be assured that this is something which applies above a level of seniority and responsibility, where it is appropriate, and does not go the whole way down, for example, to the typists in the typing pool.

More generally, it is perhaps appropriate on a Bill of this kind— which deals with diplomatic relations and immunities — to say that our own diplomatic representation abroad is a matter which we are properly concerned about and to ensure it is adequate at all times. There has recently been a Dáil debate in which remarks were made that should not have been made. I would not want to make any criticism of our existing staff in this respect, except to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied — bearing in mind the very large range of international organisations with which we are associated — that his staff is adequate for this purpose. I have the impression at times — I know there are other people who take opposite views— that his Department operate on something of a shoestring and that the number of staff available for the enormously wide range of the work involved must make it very difficult for people to specialise adequately in the work connected with particular organisations.

It is important that we be adequately informed about the activities of all those organisations and that we should have an adequate link, through the Minister's Department, between the Government and Civil Service in this country and the organisations concerned. I think I said something akin to this in a debate on another matter seven months ago, but I should like to raise the matter again, particularly when one sees how wide are the responsibilities of the Department. There are many people who have delusions that our diplomats simply spend their time in foreign capitals attending cocktail parties. The fact is that the volume and range of work involved in the diplomatic service are a very heavy burden, indeed, on a very small group of people. I would fear that the present staffing might not be adequate and that, as I think I mentioned in the other debate, this might lead to an excessive reliance on the specialised Government Departments associated with the particular work of the agency being the people entirely responsible, with the Department of External Affairs not playing the full role it should play in the work of those agencies, but simply being something of a postbox between the relevant Government Departments and the agency concerned. I would be keen that the Department should play their fullest possible role here and that they should have within their ranks a sufficient range of expertees to cope with the many extremely complex problems involved in the work of these agencies with all of which, as the Minister has said, we are directly associated and involved.

I feel also that our present arrangements as regards diplomatic representation abroad could perhaps be widened. It is true that criticism has been made from time to time in relation to one or two cases where our missions are located in areas in which we have limited connections. But I would think and hope that the present range of our diplomatic contacts, despite criticisms made, could be widened so that we may be adequately represented and may have representation in this country from countries with which we have close interests.

Acting Chairman

Unfortunately, now, I think the Senator is widening the scope of the debate.

I see. I was just about to try to make what I was saying relevant to the debate by pointing out that this Bill is concerned with granting diplomatic immunities to foreign missions in this country; that I do not think we have enough contact with sufficient countries and that I do not think the missions in Ireland represent the full range — and enjoy the immunity that this Bill sets out to give them — of countries with which we have interests and business to transact. I am thinking particularly of some of the countries of Eastern Europe with which we ought to be in closer contact than we are in view of their important diplomatic role in the world today. But beyond that I shall not go, in view of what you said, and I conclude by welcoming the Bill again and asking the Minister if he would give us a little more information on the one or two points I raised.

Senator Garret FitzGerald asks how it is that we have delayed so long in bringing in this particular Bill, under what authority had we granted immunities and what immunities had, in fact, been granted up to now. In fact this Bill — and some of those Conventions, the Vienna Convention — is simply putting into writing what has been the accepted practice for many hundreds of years. Here, as our Constitution provides, we are bound by international law. If we had breached those immunities or denied the immunities and privileges to some diplomats here we might very well have been held by our courts to be contravening the Constitution. I do not know. However, I am glad to say we need not worry too much about this question because it has never been raised and I do not believe that anybody taking a case to any court in the future will find that in the past we have breached those privileges and immunities.

These diplomatic privileges and immunities are, of course, very far-reaching but it has been recognised if States are to do their utmost to live at peace and settle their differences they have to have people whom they can send to other capitals and they should go with such security that they will not be whisked away as a certain gentleman was in a Latin American country. Some of our diplomats who were in Europe between 1939 and 1945 were protected in the good work they did for our own citizens by it having been generally recognised that diplomats had immunities and privileges that are spelled out in the recent Vienna Convention. The Vienna Convention was negotiated in 1961 only and the consular convention was as recent as 1963.

As the Senator said the representative of the Holy Father has had precedence here and continues to hold it. The European monetary agreement is associated with the OECD and a section of this Bill gives immunity to any funds it may hold here. The European Monetary Agreement is an heir to or successor of the old European Payments Union.

We have had in recent years a growing number of international conventions here of various kinds. I am glad to say that no question ever arose as to whether they had immunity or not. Everything passed off very well but it was understood between ourselves and the organisers of those conferences that we would act towards those representatives here as if they were fully accredited diplomats to this country. The Senator asked what was the level of officials of specialised agencies who will get immunities or privileges? It is generally recognised, in regard to diplomats who are being exchanged between countries, that it is a question of negotiation and agreement. There are certain privileges granted. Full diplomatic immunity is restricted to the ambassador and some of the top-ranking officials. Privileges and immunity are reduced as the rank of the officials concerned goes down. In regard to specialised agencies of the United Nations the officials of the United Nations will be treated in somewhat the equivalent fashion in which we treat diplomats from a single State.

Senator FitzGerald finished up on a note which all Ministers in charge of Departments like to hear, that is, that we have not enough staff. Every Government Department would pretty well agree with anybody who says that they required more staff. However, we have to cut our coat according to our cloth. We have all those organisations to service and if the list of committees was set out as well as the parent organisations it would make a very long list indeed. It is necessary, therefore, that where a home Department are affected by the activities of particular organisations or if a home Department are particularly interested in the matters being discussed at a conference, the home Department concerned should provide some of the staff to go to the conference. In all cases of international conferences we try to provide that a representative of the Department of External Affairs will be present. At most of the important conferences that have any political implication we try to arrange that the Irish delegation is led by an ambassador or a senior official of the Department of External Affairs.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Next Stage?

I understand that some Senators may have amendments on Committee Stage and I should like if we could leave it over for a week.

Committee Stage ordered for next sitting day.