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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 May 1968

Vol. 64 No. 15

Continental Shelf Bill, 1967: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of the Bill is to provide the statutory framework for the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of this country's part of the continental shelf, that is the sea bed and subsoil outside its territorial waters to where the sea bed falls to the ocean floor. The concept that a State might have exclusive rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the continental shelf adjacent to its coast assumed growing importance after the last war. Technological advances were making it possible to explore and exploit such natural resources, but considerable uncertainty existed in international law as to the precise rights of individual States to the parts of the continental shelf adjoining their shores. At the request of the United Nations, the International Law Commission carried out a study of the problem with a view to bringing the definition and control of these rights within the ambit of international law. The Report of the International Law Commission was considered by the International Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1958, which was convened at Geneva by the United Nations, and this resulted in the drafting of the Convention on the Continental Shelf.

The Convention was signed by this country's delegates, subject to ratification by the Government, but has not yet been ratified. The Convention came into force internationally in 1964, after being ratified by 22 countries. To date the Convention has been ratified by 37 of the 46 countries which signed it, including the West European countries Britain, France, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

The Convention clarifies the position in international law regarding the continental shelf, deals with the allocation of the shelf between adjacent States or States whose coasts are opposite each other and defines the right of the adjacent coastal State to explore and exploit the natural resources of its particular area of shelf, subject to the State assuming certain obligations. The continental shelf is defined as the sea bed and subsoil of the submarine area adjacent to the coast but outside the territorial waters to a depth of 200 metres or beyond that limit where the depth of the waters permits exploration. The natural resources covered by the Convention are defined as mineral, including oil and gas, and other nonliving resources of the sea and subsoil. together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species. I might add that this definition excludes all swimming fish. Under the Convention, the rights the coastal State may exercise over its area of continental shelf are limited to such rights as are necessary for the exploration and exploitation of its natural resources. These rights do not amount to full sovereignty which would be inconsistent with the legal status of the waters above the shelf as high seas and of the air space above these waters. The exercise of the rights must not interfere unduly with navigation, the laying or maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines, conservation of the living resources of the sea or with fundamental oceanographic or scientific research carried out with the intention of open publication.

While the potential of the natural resources of the sea bed has long been recognised, the exploration and exploitation of these resources did not become of real economic significance in most parts of the world until quite recently. The development of these resources has been made possible only by notable advances in technology and it is still a very difficult and hazardous operation compared with similar work on dry land. Metallic ores under the floor of the sea bed may still be developed only by driving shafts and tunnels from adjoining land and, in view of the inconvenience and the high cost of their exploitation, these minerals would not appear to possess much potential significance at present. Petroleum and gas are, probably, the resources of greatest value and potential to be found in continental shelf areas and some spectacular progress has already been made in the exploitation of these off-shore deposits in many parts of the world.

I should mention, however, that the sea bed is not specially favoured with deposits of oil or gas as compared with adjoining land areas. In general, the mineral resources of the continental shelf are similar to those of the contiguous land area. In European waters the outstanding example of submarine exploration is the search for gas and oil in the North Sea. The potentialities of this area had long been recognised but it was the discovery of a huge gas field in the adjoining land area of Northern Holland in 1959 which gave rise to the present intensive exploration, which has yielded such promising results. Of growing importance is the dredging from the sea floor of sands and gravels for use as concrete aggregate and of banks of shells and other organic material for use as lime and fertiliser.

This country's area of continental shelf includes half the Irish Sea area and an area of Atlantic shelf extending about 200 miles off the south west coast and 165 miles off the west coast. These are very approximate indications of the extent of the area but it will, very probably, exceed the size of the national territory. The amount of geological information available about our shelf area is very little and it is not possible to give at this stage any real indication of the exploitable resources likely to be found there.

Lest spectacular success elsewhere should give rise to too much optimism as to the potential of our area of shelf, I think I should point out that the results of the search for oil and natural gas carried out over the whole country and the territorial waters by a group of American companies have not been encouraging and the limited geological information at present available does not suggest the presence in our area of shelf of gas deposits comparable with those discovered in the North Sea. Some oil companies have, however, indicated an interest in exploring our area of shelf which suggests that the area has possibilities for oil and gas and there is no reason why we should not entertain hopes of success. We know that sand and gravel aggregate is present in great abundance in the many banks and shoals fringing our east coast and beds of organic mud of possible use as fertiliser have been noted off the west coast.

While the potential of our area of shelf must be regarded as largely unknown at present, the important fact is that technological advances have now made the exploration of this vast area possible and such exploration offers the exciting possibility of locating valuable resources, the exploration of which could prove to be of great benefit to our economy. It is, therefore, considered desirable that we should now provide a statutory framework for the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the area. We will then be in a position to grant licences and leases to competent parties desirous of exploring and exploiting the resources of our area of shelf.

As I already pointed out, the rights which the coastal State may exercise over its area of continental shelf do not amount to full sovereignty. Our existing laws could not, therefore be taken as applying automatically to our area of the shelf and it is necessary to extend the application of a number of existing statutes to the area so as to provide a basis of law and order for operations there. Much of the Bill is concerned with the extension of the application of these statutes. The interests of many Departments are concerned, and the Bill has been drafted in consultation with these Departments.

The Bill provides that the Government may by Order designate the area of continental shelf over which the rights which accrue to the State will be exercised. These rights are vested in and exercisable by the Minister for Industry and Commerce except where the Government may by directions vest the rights in another Minister. The rights relating to minerals, oil and gas will be exercised by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and if the exploration or exploitation of any other natural resources, such as sedentary fisheries, should arise at some future date the Government will by direction provide for the exercise of the rights by the appropriate Minister.

We are applying the provisions of the Minerals Development Act, 1940 and the Petroleum and other Minerals Development Act, 1960, which govern mineral and petroleum exploration and exploitation in the land area and territorial waters, to similar operations in the shelf area thus providing a legal framework for the grant of exploration licences and exploitation facilities to operators in the area.

Provision is made for the extension of criminal and civil law to installations in designated areas and waters within 500 metres of such installations and in the case of other parts of designated areas, to any act or omission arising out of the exploration or exploitation of the natural resources of the areas and for the prosecution of offences taking place in the shelf area.

The Bill also provides for the safety of navigation and installations in the shelf area and for the prevention of the pollution of the sea from pipe lines or installations.

The provisions of the Submarine Telegraph Act, 1885 which deals with the wilful or negligent breaking or injuring of cables or pipelines, are being extended to all cables and pipelines and the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Acts, 1926 and 1956, which relate to the control of and interference with wireless telegraphy, are being extended to wireless apparatus on or near installations.

Provision is also made for the extension of insurance cover under the Social Welfare Acts and the Insurance (Intermittent Unemployment) Acts to persons engaged in exploration or exploitation in the designated shelf areas.

I am sure that the Senators feel, as I do, that the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of our continental shelf area is highly desirable and I hope that they will agree that this measure will provide a satisfactory legal framework for the carrying out of such work.

We welcome the Bill though there are some things in it which we would welcome clarification on. Certainly it is a useful Bill and one which we hope we will have to put into practical application in the not too distant future. The Minister did not raise too many hopes on the question of the existence of oil deposits in the seas, which are relevant to the Bill. Nevertheless, it is something we should continue to concern ourselves with. There have been from time to time reports, possibly ill-informed ones, of the possibility of oil being discovered in the Irish Sea, and I think that we ought to, as I presume the Government are turning their minds to the question of how the exploration of those possibilities should best be carried on.

In the Dáil one of the speakers, Deputy Moore, seemed to blame God for our lack of national resources, and I suppose if anybody is to be blamed it must be God, but we have tended not to look for our national resources and to blame Him unfairly and prematurely, as indicated by our experience recently in regard to certain metal ores found under our soil.

This reminds me of a Sinn Féin meeting I attended 11 years ago when the Sinn Féin Party was more active than it was before or since perhaps. I went to it to inform myself of their point of view and to find out what they had to offer, not that I was thinking or desirous of joining them. I thought that in fairness I ought to find out their viewpoint and whether there was anything in what they held that should be considered either with a view to resisting or accepting it. So I attended that meeting in College Green and stayed there throughout the meeting.

The thing that struck me about it was that the orator was saying then that there must be extensive and rich coal deposits under Ireland. He had much more faith in his argument than Deputy Moore had. He said this on the grounds that God could not have been unfair to Ireland by giving us less coal than England. From that he drew the firm conclusion that the facility of bankers and others was preventing the exploitation of these coal resources which certainly existed. I would not go that far in regard to either the sea or the land but I would hope that the possibility of exploring for oil will be followed up. This raises several questions.

First of all, I should like to be clear as to the oil concession we have already given the Ambassador Company—I forget into whose hands it has now fallen; it has changed hands once or twice. Does it extend only to the land area of Ireland or does it extend to any coastal waters and if it extends to any coastal waters, does it extend beyond, say, the three mile limit? Are we, in fact, free to give concessions for exploration and development within the terms of the existing concession being given to this company and whoever their successor may be? If the concession given to this company extends to any coastal waters, could we know what coastal waters? My recollection— the concession was given some years ago—is that one quarter of the country was to fall in at some point. They had to opt after five years in favour of giving up the concession in respect of a quarter of the country. If the concession extended to all coastal waters, then this would involve the giving up of the concession to those coastal waters also.

Could we know is there any relevance in this concession to the Bill or are we in the position that all the coastal waters, including the area between land and the three mile limit, are available to us and are not the subject to an existing concession to any particular company?

As regards the exploration for development of these mineral rights, and particularly oil rights, I think that we should turn our attention as much as possible towards developing these rights ourselves. We have tended hitherto automatically without much thought to hand over the mineral rights on a concession basis to various foreign concerns from whom we will get royalties in due course, although in some instances the concessions we have had to make to them will outweigh for a long time to come any royalties we could get. This inability on our part of unwillingness to contemplate undertaking any of this work ourselves is in part at least a reflection of our general technological weakness and the fact that we simply are not geared to undertake or organise this kind of work. It has been a serious problem that we have not had available to us the necessary expertise even to contemplate organising this on a basis in which the State would participate.

In the North Sea if I recall correctly the British Petroleum Company is one of the concerns that has substantial concessions. This is, of course, owned by the British Government to a very large degree. I should like to feel that there is some prospect that the Government are looking into the question of ensuring that if there are possibilities here to be explored and possibilities of development they would not automatically be given as a concession to foreign concerns if a joint concern or, and this may be less probable, an Irish state-owned concern could do this work. We should not allow ourselves automatically to assume that this is out of the question, that we have not got the necessary technological resources. We should certainly at least endeavour to ensure that anything of this kind in the future would be done by a concern in which the State had not merely a right to secure royalties but, through share participation, a right to share in the profits.

We recognise, of course, that any such exploration work would be highly speculative and the Minister is right not to raise too many hopes in this regard in what he said. The tradition has been in this country that the State does not engage in unduly speculative adventures, that these are very much for private enerprise. This, I think, may have been a mistake. Our tradition has been to discourage speculative activity by the State and, indeed, this is true in relation to industrial grants. We have tended to measure the success of industrial grant programmes by how small the trade relations can achieve.

The Taoiseach speaking at Killarney at the Irish Management Institute conference said a couple of weeks ago that, perhaps, we had gone too far in that direction and that we would, perhaps, be more successful if we were not attempting to keep the failure rate down by being too stringent about projects but were prepared to take a chance occasionally. I would agree with this. I know that the contrary view can be held. The contrary view is rigidly held about certain major projects which the Government walked into because they were attracted by the scale of the project and the possible gains not always of a purely economic character but perhaps of a political character which came after. I would be critical of some of these projects such as the Potez project, some of these major ones in which I think errors have been made. Nevertheless, even saying that, we should be prepared to encourage the State, while endeavouring to ensure that these types of major blunders are not made, to be prepared to speculate and to ensure that if there are any resourses that we benefit from these directly if in order to achieve this it is necessary to invest a certain amount of money very speculatively in exploration rather than to hand over the whole venture to foreign concerns. I think that on all sides of the House we would prefer that would be done and that we would prefer that a certain amount of money be lost if it does not come off than that all the benefits of this, apart, perhaps, from some royalties, should accrue to interests outside this country. It is worth making that point at this stage.

One thing that puzzled me in what the Minister said here and in the Dáil is about the extent of the area over which we are taking to ourselves rights under this Bill arising out of the international Convention with which it is connected. In his opening remarks here and in the Dáil he said that the area concerned ran into several hundred miles off the coast in certain directions and half way across the Irish Sea. In reply to the Dáil debate he said that on one interpretation it might extend half way out into the Atlantic, if I understood him correctly. This puzzles me a little because the Minister's opening statement referred to the depth in the area concerned as being not more than 200 metres or where exploitation is possible. I should like to know up to what depth is exploitation possible because I thought the middle of the Atlantic was very deep and that nobody could even get to the bottom never mind to dig anything out.

I cannot quite reconcile his statement that the area over which you can extend control under the Convention in this Bill is the area in which you can exploit these resources at the bottom of the sea but, at the same time, this could extend to the middle of the Atlantic unless the Minister is talking about sedentary swimming fish which are floating half way up in the middle of the Atlantic. I should like him to expand that a little because there is a difficulty in reconciling his statements here.

We ought to be as clear as possible as to what area of control we are potentially taking charge of. It would be nice to think we might own half the Atlantic Ocean at least in respect of these rights here but is this realistic? Is there any possibility of exploiting this area when it goes to a great depth? What, in fact, is the depth to which these explorations currently go? Is this 200 metre figure realistic? Is it the actual depth to which it is now possible to exploit for oil, for example, or is the depth less or greater than this? We ought to have some indication as to what, in fact, is the practicable depth at this point in time, although, of course, due to development, it may be extended.

Another point arose in the Dáil as to the possibility of having a map. The Minister evaded this point, understandably I suppose, as far as the Atlantic is concerned in view of the doubt as to how one might interpret a Convention in the Bill in that direction. One thing that is certain must be the dividing line in the Irish Sea because the one thing that is fixed is the position of Ireland, England and the Isle of Man. They will not change much in the years ahead. It should be possible to tell us where this line is within the Irish Sea. It must be a little complicated to draw because what is the position of the Isle of Man? Is it regarded as part of Britain and is the sea between it and Britain, therefore, regarded as an inland sea or do you disregard it and go half way across the Irish Sea and possibly draw your line through the Isle of Man—having it and the three-mile area around it as a separate enclave? How, in fact, is this line to be drawn in the Irish Sea?

We ought to be shown on a map what area is involved in this as far as the Irish Sea is concerned because there you do not have the same problem of definition which you have when you move in the other direction out into the Atlantic. The Minister should clarify this. Even if at this stage he can by description indicate to us what part of the Irish Sea is involved and what happens about the Isle of Man—I cannot quite visualise this—this would help us to have some idea as to what we are doing in regard to the Bill. We have a right to know just what areas we are taking control of under this Bill.

Douglas and the Isle of Man are Irish during the summer months.

Not as much as they used to be. Every time I look at an Aer Lingus timetable there seems to be one flight less than there was when I used to be making them up about 12 years ago. The distinction between swimming fish and sedentary fish in the Bill is also important because it might be that the Bill would extend our resources in this regard. It is important that we should be told what the distinction is between these two types of fish.

I seem to recall being told many years ago that under the Treaty the coastal waters of Ireland were vested in the Irish Free State. When Northern Ireland opted out of the Irish Free State, and that is what happened because under the Treaty the island of Ireland opted out of the United Kingdom and about a month later Northern Ireland opted out of the Irish Free State and went back to the United Kingdom, and I seem to remember that this opting out of Northern Ireland did not include the coastal waters of Ireland and that they remain under our control and protection. We have heard no more about that matter since but the question does arise under this Bill. I would like to know what would happen in this matter between us and Northern Ireland, how do you propose to draw a line across the sea between us? Is it the legal position that we have control over the coastal waters around the whole island and not merely that part of it which was formerly the Irish Free State and is now the Republic of Ireland?

In the Dáil the Minister seemed to brush aside the question of the police problems that might be involved under this Bill and he seemed to feel that any exploitation of resources under the Bill would have to be more fixed and less mobile than fishing vessels and that the control and policing of these would not create problems of providing additional vessels of the fishery protection kind. I can see problems with policing involved if there is exploitation of resources around our coasts and I am not sure if we are equipped to cope with such problems, such as problems created by certain dangers that might be involved. Are we equipped, and I doubt if we are, to inspect and control such activities? Oil rights have been known to collapse and while the Minister seems to think that these activities will not create any such problems I feel that we might have to extend our existing resources to secure adequate policing.

I should like also to ask the Minister what would be the position in the case of a pirate radio station or a station such as Radio Caroline operating within our half of the Irish sea? Will it be within our power to control any such activities from a ship or from a fixed structure, because if that is so the pirate radio problem will no longer exist? I am not quite clear if this problem is fully covered in the Bill.

There is a point of detail which I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister although, perhaps, it might be better dealt with on Committee Stage. I notice that in section 5, subsection (5), there is provision for costs to be imposed by a person holding an inquiry under this section on any other person who appears or is represented at the inquiry even if these costs are incurred by someone else. I should like to know what exactly is the meaning behind that provision. It seems odd to me but I am sure there is some quite good reason for it. I should also like to know if there are any provisions for an appeal in this section. The person against whom costs are given might like to appeal against that decision. Such a decision in the courts can be appealed against but I do not see any appeal mechanism here.

It appears to me that the passage of this Bill will open up a completely new position as far as the jurisdiction of this country is concerned. At the moment it seems that we have jurisdiction to the 12-mile limit but this Bill is going to extend that limit. It is mentioned in the Bill that the continental shelf includes half the Irish sea, 200 miles off the south-west coast of Ireland and 160 miles off the west coast. It is probable that this matter was in the mind of the Minister when he did not mention what the area north of Ireland would be. Has the Minister considered the waters off County Donegal? The legislation mentions the east coast, the south-west coast, the west coast but there is nothing about the northern coast.

County Donegal has a west coast too.

I know that but the north of Donegal has not been mentioned in the Bill and I wonder why that area was omitted from the Minister's statement. I also wonder whether any consideration was given to the question of the northern part of Donegal and to the northern part of Ireland. I feel that there are prospects for the finding of oil, gas and petroleum around our coasts. We are moving with the times in bringing in a Bill of this nature. We have seen what modern techniques are capable of achieving, and this Bill will prepare us not alone to deal with the implications of the advent of new techniques but also to put ourselves on an organised basis in so far as any discoveries in this field may arise.

I noted in the Minister's speech that a number of European countries have not yet opted into this arrangement. The Minister may correct me if my interpretation is not right. Spain, for instance, was not mentioned. Spain is a very large country on the west coast of the Continent with a very large coastline, and when it was not mentioned in the Minister's statement I began to wonder if there is any reason why a country like Spain has omitted to make these arrangements or has decided not to take steps in that direction.

I agree with Senator FitzGerald that with the aid of modern techniques, particularly depth sounding apparatus which we have now, we might have some kind of contour map made of the continental shelf particularly since we are bringing in legislation defining the continental shelf and conferring certain powers in regard to it. It is desirable such a map should be made.

When reading the Minister's statement I was surprised in relation to the limit of the continental shelf to the west and south-west of Ireland. There must have been some reason why our continental shelf limit was brought down to something around 165 miles or 200 miles beyond the coast of west and south-west Ireland. Why is it that we have not the same arrangement as there is in the Irish Sea—that our limit should extend half-way between the US and this country?

It has been mentioned that the new area which this Bill proposes to bring in will probably be bigger than Ireland itself and I have no doubt this new arrangement will bring with it further responsibilities. There will be repercussions as far as the jurisdiction of the area is concerned. Again, with the advance of technological knowledge, we may find ourselves having to do further policing of the continental shelf around this country. Already we have to police the 12-mile limit and if modern technology brings us to a stage where the highly-developed countries will be able to get advantages from certain activities within the limits of that continental shelf, further responsibility for jurisdiction within that area will fall on us.

They are just some of the implications of the Bill. Bringing in this legislation was a timely move at this stage in anticipation of what may be discovered as a result of new techniques in relation to prospecting, particularly the exploration of the sea bed. There is a length of 200 metres mentioned in the Minister's statement and it was not clear to me whether that measurement is from sea level or from a certain depth——

It is a depth of 200 metres.

I thought it was a depth of 200 metres from the sea bed itself—involving underwater mountains if you like. Off the coast of Japan, for instance, you might have a depth of seven or eight miles in the Pacific. I misread it. It is fair to say that the need for this legislation became clear as a result of the valuable discoveries by Holland in 1959 when they found a huge gas field adjoining Northern Holland. In Britain, too, there is a movement towards the use of natural gas and I know that some of the hardware merchants are advertising, not alone in Britain but here, various gadgets which can be adapted to the use of natural gas. It shows the trend.

What has been done here in relation to the continental shelf around this country is negligible. We cannot say yet if there is any potential in regard to gas, petroleum or mineral products. We know that underwater prospecting is extremely expensive and even if we make a discovery we shall be dependent on the larger financial resources of other countries to provide the various techniques and to take an interest in prospecting work because, it is so much more expensive to do this kind of exploration in winning gas or petroleum from the sea bed, that it is beyond our capacity to do.

Another point which arises is this. Will the Minister have a prospecting licence arrangement such as there has been for the mainland territory of the Republic where prospecting licences are made available in certain circumstances? Have we reached the stage here in relation to the continental shelf when the Minister will consider it desirable to have the question of prospecting licences issued and if so will the conditions attaching to them be on the same lines as those attached to the mainland? Because there is not much knowledge available yet in relation to undersea exploration, we should delay making a decision in relation to the conditions that would apply to the issue of prospecting licences for a reasonable time. We have watched with interest some of the efforts in the North Sea, particularly.

In the North Sea some very large pockets of natural gas have been discovered and it is quite possible similar deposits could be found inside our continental shelf. Until we see these techniques developed I think the Minister would be advised not to make it easy for people to get prospecting licences which would be of great advantage to them and possibly a great disadvantage as far as benefits to this country would be concerned. I welcome the Bill. I think that it is moving along with the times and modern techniques.

There are one or two points about this Bill on which I should like some clarification if possible. It is entitled an Act to make provision in relation to the exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf. The continental shelf is not defined in the Bill. There are only two definitions in the Bill. One of them tells us what a designated area is and the other tells us what the Minister is. Those are the only two items defined in the Bill. The Minister in his speech referred, of course, to the International Convention on the Continental Shelf and he said: "The continental shelf is defined as the sea bed and subsoil of the submarine area adjacent to the coast but outside the territorial waters to a depth of 200 metres or beyond that limit where the depth of the waters permits exploitation". Two points arise out of that definition. The first one is that the word "depth" is used apparently with two different meanings in the same sentence. If I understand the Minister correctly "outside the territorial waters to a depth of 200 metres" means to a distance of 200 metres or does it mean as long as the water is only 200 metres or not deeper? The second point is that apparently the continental shelf definition is flexible in that if it becomes possible to exploit further beyond that limit then it is still the continental shelf beyond that limit where the depth of the water permits exploitation. Exploitation under present conditions or under future conditions? With technical developments it might be possible to exploit down to a depth of half a mile, two miles or five miles. I take it that this definition is in the Convention but is it a satisfactory one? Does it really cover only the continental shelf or what we might understand as such? Is it, in fact, to be exploited beyond the limit of 200 metres where the depth of the water permits exploitation?

In relation to the definition of our rights under this Continental Shelf Convention section 2, subsection (1) of the Bill says:

Any rights of the State outside territorial waters over the sea bed and subsoil for the purpose of exploring such sea bed and subsoil and exploiting their natural resources are, subject to subsection (2) of this section, hereby vested in the Minister and shall be exercisable by the Minister.

This means any rights we have outside our territorial waters. I take it this means rights under the continental shelf Convention. Then we find from the Minister, rather to our dismay, that although we signed this Convention we have not ratified it yet. The Minister mentioned that this had been ratified by practically every country concerned. Out of 46 countries 37 have ratified it, including Britain, France, Denmark, Portugal, Holland, Sweden and even Switzerland. The Irish Republic is still pondering on this question. I should like to ask the Minister why. What has been holding us up? I would say that, in general, Ireland's record in the ratification of international Conventions, duly signed, is fairly good. We have been fairly quick. I do not know why we have been so slow here. The Convention came into force internationally in 1964. It was first discussed in 1958. This is 1968 and of the 46 countries, nine have not ratified it and we are one of those. Can the Minister tell us why?

The only other point I should like to make is in support of the socialist point of view put before us by Senator FitzGerald that the State here should be a little bolder in its willingness to develop our resources itself and should not be too eager to pass over the powers of the Minister, which we give him under this Bill, to some private entrepreneur and private profit seeker. We got our fingers badly burned in the question of the Avoca mines. We had this approved by both the big Parties and although Mianraí Teoranta had, in fact, been hoping to be allowed to develop the copper resources and had, in fact, made proposals for the slow development of these mines, a development geared not to world markets but to our own national needs, although this was put forward our worthy politicians decided that it would be marvellous to get Canadians to burn their fingers rather than the Irish and decided to lend them money to do it and then lent them money to pay us the interest on the money we had lent them and we took as security the mines which they were running with money we had lent them. This is called private enterprise as interpreted by politicians of the big Parties in this country. I hope that there will not be anything like that in relation to exploitation of possible deposits on the Atlantic shelf.

I remember being told at the time the Canadians came over and had a look at the Avoca mines they were told by some of the Irish engineers who had done some of the prospecting that the Finns had developed a slow method of smelting the ore in Finland using local resources and that this might be possible here, whereupon the Canadians flew immediately to Finland. Within 10 days they came back with full knowledge of what was being done there and produced it to our Government and our Government accepted this as wonderful Canadian know-how in deference to the fact that they came from the North American continent. I feel we have got a lot of know-how in this country and I think the present Minister is one of those politicians who is more prepared than most to place confidence in this local know-how and our local skills. I should like, therefore, to support what Senator FitzGerald said in relation to a certain boldness in relation to those resources and in relation to State ventures in general because if mineral resources are to be discovered arising out of the powers we give to the Minister under this Bill, then I should like to feel that the major benefits will be spread to the community as a whole and not merely be piped off as profits to either local or outside speculators coming in for the purpose of satisfying their greed for profit. I would prefer to see those kinds of resources which are not due to any individual in the country but if we are to claim ownership of them I should like to see the benefit from them accruing to the whole community. I support, therefore, what Senator FitzGerald said in that connection and I support it with at least a measure of confidence that the Minister now before us would, in general, be in sympathy with that view.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide, I hope, a statutory framework for the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of this country's part of the continental shelf. On the face of it that seems to be a very desirable objective and it is, but I do not think anybody should have any illusions whatever. Judging by our exploitation and exploration of natural resources on land or under the country, we can see how far we are from reality in a measure of this nature. There is no objection, of course, to the measure before the House but I should like to ask one or two questions on it. It is ten years since this issue came up and it has taken the Government quite a long time to come to a decision. I should like to know whether or not at present the Government have applications from companies, either American or Canadian, to carry out some prospecting on our continental shelf? Would the Minister, when he is replying, comment on that?

It is rather significant that we have had a rush of prospectors from all parts of the globe to this country over the last few years and it would not surprise me that a few more would be anxious to explore what they can get from our seas. I always believe in first things first and priority for those things within our reach. To judge from the attempts made to explore and develop our natural resources the record of various Governments in that field is disgraceful.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington mentioned the Avoca Mines affair where the name of poor St. Patrick was involved. Whenever a shady venture is involved in this country you may be sure some Saint's name is attached to it or the shamrock is utilised to give it the appearance of being aboveboard. Let us take another mining area in this country to indicate how pathetic the Government's efforts are to utilise the resources of the skilled manpower we have in Ireland. I refer to the Tynagh mines. We allowed a consortium from Canada to pull out of the earth the greatest possible wealth we have for smelting in European industrial concerns.

We have had statements by the Canadians to the effect that it is too soon yet to make any decision about setting up a smelting plant but, of course, they have no intention of doing that. Their whole aim is to get as much as they can out of the country and produce financial reasons why it would not pay them to process in Ireland. Of course, Tynagh benefits from the employment given to extract the ore but the profits go outside the country after the ores are dug up. We pursue the lunatic policy of spending large sums of money on transport and on port facilities to permit the export of the raw material instead of insisting, if we want private enterprise and this type of exploration of our natural resources, that the material should be processed within the State. Another natural resource we have is our fishing industry. I am afraid we are not giving any help to that industry.

The Senator will have to relate that to the Bill under discussion.

The fishing industry is mentioned.

Acting Chairman

There is just a passing reference.

There is more than a passing reference in it. There is the question swimming fish and other fish.

They all come under this Bill. The swimming fish are excluded.

I have no responsibility in that regard.

I know you have not.

Acting Chairman

I think the Senator had better get to the Bill as quickly as possible. He is going far away from it.

I should not like to cross swords with the Chair. I want to see the fishing developed, whether sedentary fish, swimming fish or flying fish are involved. We are not doing much about any of them.

Flying fish are not in the Bill.

We have some board called An Bord Iascaigh Mhara making noises about the fishing industry at present. They are not getting to the root of the matter.

They are too sedentary.

Does the Senator know what has happened in England and in Holland? The Senator is talking so much about the fishing industry that we are anxious to discover if he knows what is happening in Holland.

Acting Chairman

That may be so but this is not in the Bill.

He talked a lot about Tynagh and now he is talking about fishing.

Does Senator Ó Maoláin know anything about the fishing industry? If he does he should be ashamed of his life because he has done nothing about it although he was in a position to do something about it. I forgive him because I think he knows nothing about it. The only thing he knows about it is to eat a couple of herring on Friday.

Acting Chairman

Perhaps we might discuss the Continental Shelf Bill now.

The Senator's question was not an intelligent question.

It is an intelligent question.

I am precluded by the Chair from dealing with it. If there are difficulties as far as the fishing industry is concerned and if there are difficulties as far as the fishing industry in Iceland is concerned that is no reason why we should hang our heads and say: "We will not do anything about our own industry." Leave it at that.

Acting Chairman

You will.

In deference to your ruling, I will until he trots it out again.

Acting Chairman

It is not a ruling. It is a suggestion.

Our efforts in that regard have been pathetic. Therefore, anybody foolish enough, when he reads this White Paper, to think because this Bill provides the necessary statutory framework that we will get great things is only codding himself. I believe it is only an attempt to raise a noise to say we have already got applications for prospecting licences from some people outside. Even if we were in a position to do any development work ourselves the question of protection arises.

Are we being practical about matters of this nature at all? Again, in relation to the fishing industry we are unable to keep an eye on our fishing grounds and protect the 12-mile limit. Is it seriously suggested that we have been in a position to enforce our legal and other rights 50, 60 or 70 miles outside the 12-mile limit? What steps could be taken by this Government to ensure that our legal rights were safeguarded? We had this terrible tragedy off the coast of Wexford recently and were it not for our kindly neighbours we would not be able to do a thing about it.

What could we do to protect something that we laid claim to off the coast that might be of value and that some outsider decided he would take control of? Could we have any idea from the Fianna Fáil Government what steps they would take under such circumstances? Would they ask John Bull to do the job? It is all very fine to put down here items in legislation but it is a different kettle of fish altogether when you go to implement them. As I have said, we are not able to look after our fishing within the 12-mile limit not to mind talking of our mineral resources on the continental shelf from people outside who do not give a continental damn about us if they want to exploit what we have.

There is another point that struck me while the Minister was reading his brief, and that is the question of wrecks off our coast. I do not know whether this is of great importance or not, but I gather that at the moment with the latest techniques available it is quite possible that valuable cargo which has been in ships sunk off our coasts for hundreds of years may now be salvaged. If such a vessel lies on the continental shelf in our new territory and there is an attempt made to salvage it, and perhaps it is discovered that there are substantial valuable goods on it, who is the owner in such circumstances? Have the Government under this legislation any rights in regard to treasure of that nature? I am not talking about what is within the 12-mile or the three-mile limit.

Again, in this field we should consider that only recently off the Kerry coast we had a little bit of competition with two groups, one amateur and the other professional, exploring the possibilities of salvaging a sunken vessel. Indeed, they are looked upon with amusement and astonishment by the local people who wonder at all this. The reason I mention it is that the very people who live on our coasts have lost the traditional feeling for the sea and the spirit of adventure in that regard, and when people come from Welsh coastal towns to exploit what is off our own coasts and to do it in their own time as amateurs the prospects do not look good as far as we are concerned as to going out and exploiting the continental shelf ourselves.

I should like to support the views put by both Senators Sheehy Skeffington and FitzGerald that the State itself should be more interested in this development and show more drive. I do not know whether I would be misquoting Senator FitzGerald in saying that he felt that the State should not allow private enterprise so much scope to reap benefits without giving to the community full measure in return. We know that as far as the development and exploration carried out in connection with natural gas is concerned the British Government are taking a very keen interest in this to make sure that this natural wealth will not be exploited for the purpose of private greed but that the good of the community must come first. In all the developments that have taken place in this country it was private greed that got priority, not the public good. I think that we should alter our views in that regard and start off on the right footing as far as this is concerned whenever we do start.

Obviously this is a necessary and acceptable Bill. I share the view, however, of Senator FitzGerald that some further definition seems desirable. When I took the Bill up first I expected to see a fairly elaborate schedule at the end setting out and defining limits and boundaries and so on, and I do agree with Senator FitzGerald that further definitions should be added.

There is one particular point I would like to ask about. Strictly speaking it belongs to Committee Stage but it may save an unnecessary amendment if I raise it now. I find in section 7 that any person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £100 on summary conviction. It appears to me that this is a most trifling sum in the eyes of big oil magnates making, perhaps, millions of pounds out of exploiting the oil on our continental shelf. I should like to be assured by the Minister—I imagine he can do this—that the district justice or whoever it is who would be concerned with such an action is not liable to feel himself restricted to this £100 limit in the case of a major discharge or escape of oil. What I am trying to clarify is, supposing you have a gigantic escape of oil from one of those machines on the continental shelf, and suppose this causes something like the disastrous conditions they had on the south west coast of England last year, I am hoping that our courts of justice would be entitled to put a colossal fine on the people responsible for it. I would hope that our courts would not be limited to a £100 fine in those circumstances. I take it that what would happen in those circumstances would be that the district justice would say that this was not a matter for summary conviction and there must be an indictment, but I should like to be absolutely certain about that.

If I may, perhaps, deal with Senator Stanford's point first, the question of the amount of the fine. This provision of the Act applies only in the case of summary conviction. In the case of a serious offence the conviction would be by way of indictment, in which case there is no limit to the fine that may be imposed, and, indeed, imprisonment may be imposed. We have not got, as far as I know, any provision in other Acts of the Oireachtas for fines exceeding £100 on summary conviction, and it seems to me to be a reasonable practice that we should not depart from that provided we make provision for cases of much more importance than that by providing for conviction on indictment.

There is also another point raised by Senator FitzGerald which I might dispose of. That was in relation to section 5 subsection (5) regarding the imposition of costs of an inquiry. This provision is similar to the provision in section 18 (f) and (g) of the Foreshore Act, 1933. Senators will appreciate that what we are doing is to apply the existing civil and criminal law in the main to our area of the continental shelf, and in this case we apply this provision of the Foreshore Act to our area of the continental shelf. The provision is, in fact, taken from the Foreshore Act, 1933.

On the question raised by Senator McQuillan about our right to recover some of the lost treasure ships of the Spanish Armada or otherwise which are reputed to lie off our coasts, I am sorry to say that this Bill will not advance our efforts to recover them or our claims in respect of them. The Bill deals only with the rights of this country to explore and exploit the natural resources of our areas of the continental shelf. I am sure Senator McQuillan is well aware of our natural resources. Senator McQuillan also asked whether there had been inquiries or requests by foreign groups or companies to be allowed to explore areas of our continental shelf. The answer is "yes" and I said so in my introductory speech. On page 4 I said that some oil companies have, however, indicated an interest in exploring our area of shelf, which suggests the area has possibilities for oil and gas and there is no reason why they should not entertain hopes of success.

Some Senators displayed concern about the delineation of our area of the continental shelf and, indeed, I think one Senator suggested that we might have a map showing our area. There may be some misconception here. Let me reiterate that the basis on which our area is defined is that in the case of our western coast our rights extend where the sea has a depth of 200 metres or we may go beyond that where it is feasible to exploit the resources. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

As between ourselves and Britain, roughly speaking, the division is half-way across the Irish Sea because I believe most of it is not deeper than 200 metres. I assume this is the reason. If it is not deeper it is certainly clearly within the continental shelf. The question that arises on the east side of the country is the definition of the boundary between ourselves and Britain, as to where our rights finish and begin and vice versa. There is no problem about the main portion of the Irish Sea with which we will be concerned. That is quite clear. These are the areas in which we would be directly interested for some time to come.

The definition of the boundary between us will depend on negotiations which will take place between us and the British Government. In delineating the boundaries lines on maps must have regard to charts and geographical features as they exist at a particular date and reference must be made to permanent fixed points on land: so that, as far as the east coast is concerned, we do not propose to define the limits as yet, pending completion of negotiation with the British Government.

In regard to the western coast the definition of the continental shelf to which I have referred allows of at least two interpretations. The clause permitting extension of the area of 200 metres of depth where the waters permit exploitation of the area would give rise to the different interpretations. One concept is that while the coastal State may extend its jurisdiction beyond the 200 metre depth the area to which it may lay claim is limited by the phrase "adjacent to the coast" which is in the definition. A separate interpretation is that exploitation ability is the only criterion and as that exploitation ability develops coastal States may extend their area to the deep sea floor, and they may extend to waters between ourselves and the United States. This question will probably be clarified by international agreement before it becomes one of practical importance which it is not at the moment.

The 1958 Convention may be revised next year, which is five years after its coming into force, and it is possible that it may be settled then but it is not a practical difficulty at the moment. I am sure Senators will see that in these circumstances it is not feasible for us to define ultimately the extent of our portion of the continental shelf. That is why we are providing in the Bill that this sea may be defined by order. It will change from time to time depending on technical developments. Also, the case of eastern waters will depend on the result of negotiations with the British Government.

I raised a question about the Isle of Man and that was not entirely frivolous.

This will be a matter for negotiation with the British Government.

The Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom but is a separate territory under the control of the United Kingdom Government and the Minister should not too easily permit the British to claim that their area includes the Isle of Man, that it should be included as a separate enclave, ignoring it and then inventing it.

I appreciate the Senator's point. He may rest assured that at any such negotiations any point which may be of advantage to us will be used. That brings me to a matter which I think Senator FitzGerald mentor' tioned. It referred to the view he heard expressed that for technical reasons at the time of the creation of the State of Northern Ireland the territorial waters around that area remain with us. I have heard this argument put forward but, as of now, I am not aware of the basis for the argument, nor am I aware of any practice that has occurred that has lent substance to it, but I am not to be taken as foregoing any rights we may have in that area. I am not aware of that but if we have them we will claim them.

It would be nice to see the Treaty coming into use again for this purpose.

The Senator should not draw me on this further. The question was asked whether it was proposed to proceed on the continental shelf area as we do on the land area; that is, the granting of licences to explore the area and subsequently, if necessary, the granting of mining leases. This is, in fact, the way we propose to proceed as is provided for in section 4 of the Bill. In general, what we are doing is to proceed in that area as we have proceeded on the land area and to import into these areas, as far as it is possible, the various legal entities in introducing the statutes which operate in our land area at present.

A question was also raised as to whether as a result of this Bill we will be dealing with such institutions as Radio Caroline. This is not contemplated as far as this Bill is concerned because our rights in this regard relate only to such rights as are necessary to us to explore and exploit the natural resources of the continental shelf. This would not include dealing with such matters as Radio Caroline. The reference in the Bill to wireless apparatus refers to wireless apparatus on installations within our area of the continental shelf. If something like Radio Caroline was to be set up in that area on an installation put there for the purposes of exploration or exploitation of the continental shelf this would come within the terms of the Bill but this is unlikely.

Surely Radio Caroline is exploiting the continental shelf?

That may be so but I am not aware of it.

If the pop records are exploitation, then that is part of it.

That is for the next Bill.

I should like to make it clear that in regard to our rights in this matter the better legal view is that these rights are not conferred on us by the international Convention but that they exist and obtain through our national sovereignty although they are not sovereign rights in that area. The Convention had defined our rights but they exist through our national sovereignty. Some Senators have raised the question of the manner in which it is proposed to exploit them and have complained that we have in land areas allowed our resources to be exploited by private interests instead of having the State exploit them.

By private external interests.

Some of the people referred to are, in fact, Irish people. Many people who have been particularly successful in this regard are Irish people. They may have acquired their expertise in other countries but they are Irish people, Irish born.

A Canadian company.

Yes. I wonder, when I hear people saying this kind of thing, how far back they cast their minds? It is not so far back when we were all told that we had no mineral resources in Ireland. It is not so far back when the State embarked on mineral exploration and spent a good deal of money on it, apart altogether from the Avoca mines. That is not so far back but it is some years and a good deal of money was spent and the fact of the matter is that we did not discover our mineral resources to any great extent until we engaged private enterprise to do this.

That was not so in the case of the Avoca mines. The prospecting was done and the discovery was made by Mianraí Teoranta but the exploitation was done by foreign interests.

The Senator is speaking of the Avoca mines in particular but I am speaking about the situation in general. If Senators think I am exaggerating the importance of the inducements we are now offering in this regard I would ask them to have a look across the Border and to wonder why it is that all the mineral exploitation going on in this country is all going on south of the Border.

It must be God's fault again.

That is one particular explanation which I am not prepared to accept.

Acting Chairman

Not now, Senator

It is very easy to say, when somebody has done a job, that we ought to take it over. It is a different thing to say, before the job is done, that we ought to do it when we do not know where we stand.

Like the Shannon Scheme.

Any reasonable person looking at what has happened in this country in recent years is going to say that if we compare the two lines of approach there is no question as to which has been the most successful. It might be argued that the State record in this matter could be improved and that, having learned from private enterprise in this field, the State could now go in and do the job successfully. This may be correct but I doubt if it is so when we are talking about exploring and exploiting the continental shelf where the importance of technical know-how and of expense is a good deal greater than in the case of exploitation in the land. The risks are far greater, the chances of success far less, and the capital involved much greater.

I wonder if the State embarked on this and spent a number of years and many millions of pounds and paid high salaries to people with the know-how, people from outside with the know-how, and did not find any natural gas or petroleum, what the Senators would have to say about the extravagance of the Government and about their failure to do the job efficiently. If there is any area of commercial enterprise in which private enterprise has a role to play and the State has not, it is in mineral exploration which is such a hazardous occupation and which is very largely a gamble, requiring a great deal of capital and technical know-how.

There are many other areas of the economy in which the State could usefully play a much larger part than at the moment, but mineral exploration is not one of these. People who believe that the State ought to engage in commercial or industrial activities as against private enterprise are very foolish to take this area as a basis for their argument. It is the last area they should take. There are other areas in which a more successful case could be made but in this area it seems to me quite clear that the correct line of approach is the one we are taking. This is not to say that we propose to hand over completely the whole of our area of the continental shelf.

This whole matter is somewhat clouded. Senator FitzGerald asked a question as to the position arising under the Oil Agreement of 1959. The position is that an exploration licence under that Agreement was granted to the people who received it at the time —as the Senator has said, it has since changed hands—granting sole and exclusive rights to explore for and develop petroleum and natural gas resources, and I shall quote: "the whole of Ireland including the sea bed and the subsoil beneath the territorial waters and high seas contiguous thereto under the control and jurisdiction of the Government of Ireland at that time or in the future."

There is some argument as to what that means and, naturally, the people who are in receipt of this licence—I am not dealing with the question of the surrender provisions of the licence —argued for its interpretation on the widest possible basis but that does not mean necessarily that they are correct. There have, in fact, been some discussions with those people. They have made certain proposals which are under consideration at present, but the House may take it that the exclusive right to explore and exploit the area of our continental shelf will not be granted to one company or one licensee. As I have mentioned, a number of inquiries have come from different international firms and these are being considered at present.

Is the Minister satisfied that no interpretation of that will be upheld which would give this company, now holding the licence, this right over the continental shelf?

It sounds a very unfortunately worded concession.

That may be so but the House will appreciate that at the time it was made nobody here or abroad contemplated what has since developed.

I must say somebody should have, because, after all, there have been oilwells off the coast of Texas for much longer than eight years. That is a rather weak explanation.

The Senator can inquire a little further and he will find that what I have said is correct. I am satisfied that there is no question of an exclusive right to our continental shelf——

It is important that this should be brought out in a more developed way than the Minister has done in his statement. I have heard rumours that this is what has been holding things up.

That is not so. The time the Bill comes forward is not related in any way——

I have been told that is what is holding up exploration in the Irish Sea—this dispute.

That has been said but I do not think it is true because the company concerned has been carrying out preliminary surveys, seismic and otherwise, which must be carried out first.

Is there a question of other companies being inhibited from doing so in the belief that the concession has been granted solely to this company?

I do not think so because the people who have made applications have been told their requests will be considered and when they have inquired further they have been told that what I have just said is so—that exclusive rights will not be given to one licensee.

The Minister should consider making a further statement in due course because, may I say, it is not satisfactory that it should come out——

Acting Chairman

May I say that this should be left to the next Stage of the Bill? It is not right to engage in a debate during the Minister's reply.

I have objected before to this question-and-answer racket which Senator FitzGerald engages in.

Senator Ó Maoláin also engages in what he calls "this racket".

I will engage the Senator one of these days and he will not like it. I am tired of his quips.

Acting Chairman

The Minister, on the Bill.

I am tired of him.

Acting Chairman

Not half as tired as I.

So is the Chair.

The question of policing this area was also raised. In so far as we need to extend our resources in order to police offences on installations in the continental shelf area we will do so, but some of the discussion here and in Dáil Éireann on this point was related to the concept of people coming in and taking away our resources in the continental shelf area without let or hindrance from us, rather in the way a foreign trawler might come in and poach our fisheries. It was to this matter I was referring when I spoke in Dáil Éireann and Senator FitzGerald said he thinks I made rather light of it.

If he realises this is what I was referring to, he will appreciate that I was not making light of it but that I was making the point that the resources we are talking about are fixed in the ground under the water, that they are not easily removable, that anybody who wants to do it on any economic scale must spend a great deal of money and instal more or less permanent apparatus. Therefore, it is not a question of coming in fast and getting out fast and consequently I said that the policing would not present undue difficulties to us. I believe that is so. As far as I can see, I have covered all the main points raised in the debate. The others will arise on the next Stage and can be dealt with then.

Question put and agreed to.

Would Senators be agreeable to continue the Bill now?

I do not think so. There will be amendments.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15th May, 1968.