The purpose of the Bill is to give effect in Irish domestic law to the convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation which was drawn up at Montreal on 23rd September, 1971. This convention came into force internationally on 26th January, 1973, after the 10th ratification was made and is now in operation between 59 states. Many of the states with which we have regular air services—for example, the US, the UK, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands —have already ratified.
The convention is the third in a series of conventions which are concerned with the protection of civil aviation against unlawful acts of any kind. The two previous conventions, Tokyo and Hague, were primarily concerned with offences on board aircraft, particularly hijacking, and the development of an international legal code to combat the hijacking problem.
The first convention was drawn up at Tokyo in 1965 and was intended to make offences aboard aircraft amenable to law. While it conferred certain powers on the aircraft commander and dealt with the obligations of states regarding the treatment of hijackers, it did not require that the offender be punished. This inadequacy clearly indicated the necessity for stronger measures and opened the way for the Hague Convention of 1970 which provided for the definition of hijacking as an international offence, establishment of jurisdiction over it and its punishment by heavy penalties. Both of these conventions were given legislative effect by the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1973.
It soon became apparent, however, that hijackings were not the only type of offence which could be committed against civil aviation and the need for a further convention was underlined with the emergence of such new sabotage tactics as armed attacks on airports and aircraft on the ground. The Montreal Convention, with which this Bill is concerned, consequently deals with a wider range of offences. It provides that a person commits an offence if he performs an act of violence which is likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft, damages or destroys an aircraft or places a device on board which would endanger the aircraft's safety. It is also an offence to destroy air navigation facilities or to communicate information known to be false, thereby endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. A person also commits an offence if he conspires in any way with someone who commits any of the offences specified. As in the case of the Hague Convention, the Montreal Convention creates international jurisdiction for the offences and all offences are punishable by severe penalties.
The Bill gives full effect to the convention in making the offences which I have outlined amenable to Irish law, irrespective of where they are committed. It goes beyond the terms of the convention in some respects in that it extends to offences committed against aircraft and installations used for domestic flights; the convention confined itself to offences of an international nature. This is in line with the logic of the 1973 Act which similarly went beyond the terms of the Tokyo and Hague Conventions by the inclusion of hijacking offences on domestic flights. The Bill, therefore, gives the greatest possible protection to all forms of civil aviation.
Under the 1973 Act commanders of aircraft already have wide powers as regards restraint of persons who jeopardise the safety of aircraft. While the Montreal Convention does not require such provisions, the Bill does give the commander additional powers to prevent a suspect person from boarding an aircraft or to remove him from it. It further requires the commander to notify the appropriate authority that he has done so. The Bill, Senators will notice, also contains similar provisions to the Act of 1973 as regards extradition arrangements.
As the Seanad will see, the range of offences covered by the Bill is quite comprehensive and, coupled with the earlier Act of 1973, provides a very marked deterrent to the potential hijacker and saboteur and bestows effective powers to deal with those guilty of such crimes. Civil aviation has proved itself highly vulnerable to attack worldwide in recent years. While this legislation goes a long way towards making it safer against security threats, it is clear that legislation alone is no cure for the crime of interference with aviation.
Apart from the implementation of our international obligations, which this Bill will complete, we are taking all practical measures possible to secure the safety of air transport. It would be inappropriate for me to outline these measures in any detail but the House can rest assured that the security forces of the State, Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and other interests concerned are fully alive to the dangers involved and are taking effective measures to deal with the situation. In order to co-ordinate these efforts and keep our security measures under constant review, I have set up a National Civil Aviation Security Committee representative of the Government Departments concerned, including the Garda and Defence Forces, Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association. In addition local airport security committees are functioning at each of the three airports. The measures being taken cause considerable inconvenience to passengers but this is inevitable and passengers must, and do, accept that safety comes before convenience.
I commend this Bill to the House in the assurance that all Senators will support it and, in doing so, make Ireland's contribution to a peaceful and safe development of civil aviation throughout the world. The Bill is not a controversial one because, as I have stated, its main purpose is to give force in Irish law to the provisions of an international instrument designed to promote aviation security on a world-wide scale and in particular to protect the safety of passengers and air crews who are at such serious risk in all forms of attack on civil aviation.