Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Bill 2008: Second Stage.

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

I welcome the opportunity to present this Bill in the Seanad. I value the support of this House for the role played by the Government in international efforts to end the use of cluster munitions. The principal purpose of the Bill is to provide in domestic law for the obligations the State will assume under the Convention on Cluster Munitions. As the House will be aware, the convention was adopted by consensus at the conclusion of the Dublin diplomatic conference on cluster munitions last May at Croke Park. It will be opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo on 3 December and will enter into force six months after 30 states have ratified it.

The Government is committed to promoting the earliest possible entry into force of the convention and, as a demonstration of that commitment, we have prioritised the early passage of the Bill such that Ireland will be in a position both to sign and ratify the convention next week. The programme for Government commits us to campaign for a complete ban on cluster munitions. This priority is also shared by all Members of this House. Senators are aware of the loss of life and limb due to these horrendous weapons and have expressed previously their support for action to bring an end to this scourge.

The successful conclusion of negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions under Irish chairmanship represents one of the most significant contributions to the development of international humanitarian law in recent years. International humanitarian law is the branch of the law concerned with the conduct of armed conflict. Once an armed conflict begins, international humanitarian law applies to limit its effects. Without it, the barbarism and brutality of armed conflict would be without restriction. International humanitarian law limits the right of the parties to an armed conflict in their choice of methods and means of warfare. It also requires them to spare those who do not, or can no longer, take a direct part in hostilities, thereby protecting civilians in addition to captured and incapacitated combatants, from the effects of conflict.

The basic rule of international humanitarian law in the protection of the civilian population in times of armed conflict is that the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives. The rule permits them to direct their operations against combatants and military targets only. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.

Where a weapon is incapable of distinguishing between civilian and combatant or where it is prone to use in such a manner that the effect is similar, it will tend to violate this general basic rule. It has been found, however, that just as with anti-personnel mines, the general rule has not been sufficient in itself to prevent the atrocious humanitarian consequences arising from the use of cluster munitions. A number of states continued to insist that it was possible to observe the basic rule and still use cluster munitions. For Ireland and our partners in the Oslo process, and for the many like-minded countries that joined us, it was clear that a new instrument of international humanitarian law dealing specifically with cluster munitions was essential.

Historically, cluster bombs have had significant humanitarian consequences in every conflict in which they have been used, and they have repeatedly caused excessive harm to civilians. Among the first uses of cluster munitions was an attack on Grimsby during the Second World War, where many civilians were killed and injured by munitions that had not exploded upon impact. The weapons subsequently formed part of NATO arsenals during the Cold War. They were used on an enormous scale during the Vietnam war, with Laos, which was not even a declared participant in that war, becoming the most affected country in the world. In excess of 260 million submunitions were dropped during that conflict and, at its end, it was estimated that 80 million of them were left unexploded. They continue to cause civilian casualties, restrict access to land and impede social and economic development in that country.

Cluster munitions were also used extensively during the conflict in Kosovo. Almost 235,000 submunitions were dropped across the region against a range of mobile and static targets during the NATO campaign in 1999. Human Rights Watch has documented 75 civilian deaths and injuries as a direct result of cluster munitions during the bombing campaign. They continued to affect civilians there even after hostilities had ceased. To date, at least 152 post-conflict casualties are estimated to have been caused by unexploded bomblets. In 2002 Landmine Action published detailed case studies of social and economic impacts resulting from cluster munitions contamination in western Kosovo. These case studies highlighted issues such as the abandonment of traditional pastoral practices due to contamination of high summer pastures; extensive contamination that made agricultural subsistence doubtful, and hampered infrastructure renovation which, in turn, acted as a barrier to the return of displaced populations.

The high failure rate, large numbers of submunitions and an extremely wide strike pattern means that even a single cluster munitions strike in or near an agricultural area can pose a significant long-term, socio-economic and physical threat to the population. Reports by the Iraq Landmine Impact Survey in 2006 revealed that in some areas of southern Iraq, 100% of agricultural land and 95% of pasture land was inaccessible due to explosive remnants of war, a high proportion of which were cluster bomb submunitions. Due to desperation, necessity and the long time it takes to clear affected areas, many people take the conscious risk to return to their land before it has been cleared. All too often, this results in the most tragic of consequences.

The 2006 Lebanon war offers a substantial example of the destruction and devastation that the widespread use of cluster munitions can cause. Some four million submunitions were fired into South Lebanon by Israel. This left around one million unexploded individual submunitions in the area. Areas contaminated included agricultural land and water and power infrastructure. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that in large areas of southern Lebanon at least 25% of the cultivated area was contaminated by unexploded cluster submunitions. By December 2007, 217 civilians in Lebanon had been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance, almost all by submunitions.

Most recently, it has been reported that both sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict engaged in the use of cluster munitions. It is our hope that even states which do not immediately become party to the new convention will nonetheless be inhibited from using cluster munitions by the stigmatisation effect of widespread adherence by others. The initial denials of use by both sides — despite clear evidence to the contrary — suggest that there is already a stigma attached to these weapons.

In the light of the absence of progress in the Geneva forum offered by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, and inspired by the process which led to the conclusion of the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, Norway convened a meeting in Oslo in February 2007 of countries that were ready to explore ways to address the issue of cluster munitions in a determined and effective manner. Ireland was among the 46 states, including some cluster munition users and-or producers such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which committed themselves in the Oslo declaration to complete an international treaty by the end of 2008 to, "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."

The Oslo Process, as it became known, was driven forward by a core group of like-minded countries comprising Norway, Ireland, Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru, and was characterised by a strong partnership between governments, international organisations and civil society. From the outset, there was a strong humanitarian focus to ensure that any agreement reached would address adequately the numerous relief and development issues that are left in the wake of the use of cluster munitions. The attitude taken was that this was not a classic disarmament negotiation, where both sides face each other in an atmosphere of mutual distrust, but rather a humanitarian one in which there was general agreement and commitment to our objective. How best to achieve this had still to be established. I am pleased to say this spirit of collaboration prevailed throughout and contributed to the excellent outcome.

Significantly, at the second international conference of the Oslo Process in Lima, in May 2007, the composition of the process began to evolve and expand, with 68 countries represented. Many were developing states from Latin America, Africa and Asia, including many states affected by cluster munitions. An enduring feature of the Oslo Process would be the increasingly widespread participation from developing and affected states.

Momentum for the Oslo Process continued to grow exponentially and the third international conference in Vienna in December 2007 was attended by 138 countries. The core group discussion text tabled at the conference resulted in collective indications of support for a strong treaty that would focus not only on a widespread ban on cluster munitions but also on support for victim assistance and co-operation. The discussions also identified a number of potentially contentious issues, including the definition of cluster munitions and the so-called "interoperability" issue of military co-operation with states not party to a future treaty. Far from derailing the Oslo Process, these difficulties served to encourage us to redouble our efforts in order to achieve a successful outcome to the penultimate conference in Wellington in February 2008. Wellington was an extremely important stage in the process because the anticipated final declaration was intended to act as a basis on which formal treaty negotiations could be held in Dublin.

Although the conference saw some tense and even difficult exchanges, much was achieved. The draft convention text was discussed in detail. While major differences remained on key issues of scope and definitions, and on interoperability and transition periods, prospective solutions for many less contentious issues were identified. The Irish delegation worked extremely hard to encourage support for the Wellington declaration and by the conclusion of the conference there was an overwhelming endorsement by 82 states to associate themselves with the text. Japan and South Africa, neither of which had signed up to Oslo, also endorsed the declaration and committed to attend the Dublin conference. Commitment to the Wellington declaration was, in effect, the entry ticket to the Dublin conference, and many more states committed themselves in the run-up to Dublin.

The Dublin diplomatic conference was attended by 127 states, with 107 attending as participants and 20 as observers. A large number of international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations also attended as observers. Many significant differences required to be resolved on key issues such as definitions, any possible period of transition to a ban, and future military co-operation, including in UN-mandated missions, with states not party to the convention. However, following two weeks of intense work, and building on the preparatory discussions held at the earlier meetings, the conference adopted, by consensus, the text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The main provisions of this ground-breaking convention are as follows. There is now a comprehensive prohibition on the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions, and on assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in behaviour prohibited to a state party under the convention. The definition of a cluster munition under the convention is comprehensive and will lead to the prohibition of all cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The convention prohibits all types of cluster munitions that have ever been used in an armed conflict. Furthermore, following proposals made by the Irish delegation, the convention also prohibits explosive bomblets that are specifically designed to be dispersed or released from dispensers affixed to aircraft, in the same way as it does cluster munitions proper. This is an extremely important provision which closes potential loopholes created by new technologies. The convention provides that a state party's stockpiles of cluster munitions must be destroyed within eight years of the convention's entry into force for that state party. This period may, under exceptional circumstances, be extended.

In view of the fact that some states may not have facilities suitable for destroying stockpiled cluster munitions, the transfer of cluster munitions to another state party for the purpose of destruction is permitted. In addition, the retention or acquisition of a limited number of cluster munitions and explosive submunitions for training purposes, as well as their transfer to another state party for such purposes, is permitted. The number of submunitions retained or acquired shall not exceed the minimum absolutely necessary and there is an obligation to report on the numbers retained or acquired and the use made of them.

Cluster munition remnants in areas under the jurisdiction or control of a state party are to be cleared and destroyed within ten years of the convention's entry into force for that state party, or within ten years of the end of active hostilities in cases where such remnants arise after such entry into force. Provision is made for the extension of this deadline where circumstances warrant it.

An important feature of the convention is the onus it puts on state parties that have used cluster munitions against other state parties to assist in the clearance of cluster munition remnants. They are strongly encouraged to provide technical, financial, material or human resource assistance to the latter state party, as well as providing the precise locations of any strike.

This element of the convention, as the International Committee of the Red Cross has stated, establishes a broader norm that those who engage in armed conflict can no longer walk away from the long-term consequences of the munitions they use, leaving the burden to devastated local communities. The convention includes comprehensive provisions on assistance by state parties to cluster munition victims in areas under their jurisdiction or control. They should adequately provide age and gender sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for social and economic inclusion.

Article 6 of the convention includes detailed provisions regarding international co-operation and assistance. This will be most relevant to the obligations regarding stockpile destruction, clearance and destruction of cluster munition remnants and victim assistance. The article also stipulates that states in a position to do so shall provide technical, material and financial assistance to state parties affected by cluster munitions. Furthermore, a state party may seek assistance from the international community, including state parties, the UN and NGOs, in developing a national action plan.

The provisions of the convention in regard to victim assistance have been acknowledged as setting a new benchmark in this area. Irish Aid is urgently examining how best to integrate this aspect into its funding and co-operation activities. Ireland is fully committed to support for victim assistance. A case in point is our dedication to the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel land mines. In 2007 alone, we provided funding for 11 affected countries, including €1 million for integrated mine clearance projects in Laos.

The convention lays down detailed obligations regarding annual reporting by state parties on the implementation of their obligations. It also provides for meetings between the state parties. The first meeting must be convened within one year of the entry into force of the convention with subsequent meetings to be convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations annually until the first review conference.

Taking account of the fact that, at least initially, not all states will be party to the convention and that some states not party may wish to continue to use cluster munitions, provision is made in Article 21 for state parties to engage in military co-operation and operations with states not party to the convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a state party. This provision specifically does not authorise a state party to develop, produce or otherwise acquire cluster munitions, to itself stockpile or transfer cluster munitions, to itself use cluster munitions or to expressly request the use of cluster munitions in cases where the choice of munitions used is within its exclusive control. When considering this article it should be noted that each state party is obliged to encourage states not party to the convention to become party to it and, where it engages in military co-operation or operations as referred to above, to notify the states concerned of its obligations under the convention, promote the norms established by the convention and make its best efforts to discourage states not party to the convention from using cluster munitions.

Ireland believes that the prohibition on cluster munitions contained in the convention will become established as a new norm of international humanitarian law. This will happen when states begin to feel obliged to behave in accordance with it, irrespective of whether they are parties to it. It has happened already, very successfully, in the case of the anti-personnel mine ban convention. We hope the Convention on Cluster Munitions will have a similar effect. It would be difficult to over-estimate the importance of this convention and the positive impact it will have for present and future generations of civilians caught up in zones of conflict. With the ground breaking provisions for victim assistance and clearance of contaminated areas, it represents a major advance in international humanitarian law. At the conclusion of the Dublin conference, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered a statement stressing its humanitarian significance in which it observed:

The implementation of this treaty will undoubtedly allow many children in future conflict zones the chance to grow up to be adults. It will also afford their parents the chance to feed those children from the harvests of lands not contaminated with cluster munitions.

The statement went on to note:

In adopting this Convention [we] have put in place the last essential element in an international legal regime to address the effects of weapons that can't stop killing .... we now have the tools to prevent or remedy the often tragic consequences for civilians of all explosive munitions used in armed conflicts.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed the opening of the conference by video message and at the conclusion expressed his delight that the strong calls to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions had been answered. He described the convention as a new international standard that would enhance the protection of civilians, strengthen human rights and improve prospects for development. He also confirmed that he would accept depository functions and pledged the support and assistance of the entire United Nations system to state parties in implementing their treaty obligations.

On 30 October, the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution brought forward by Ireland, which provides the mandate for the UN Secretary General to perform the administrative functions conferred on him by the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The convention will be opened for signature in Oslo next week and will enter into force six months after the deposit of the 30th instrument of ratification. Given our involvement with the Oslo process and our leadership throughout, the Government considers it imperative for Ireland to be in a position to both sign and ratify the convention on 3 December. This would be in keeping with our record on the anti-personnel mine ban convention, where Ireland was one of only three states which signed and ratified on the first day. To be best placed to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions the Government is seeking to enact this Bill within a very tight timeframe. Early enactment will ensure the State is in a position to meet its obligations from the moment of the convention's entry into force. It was with this aim in mind that, as soon as the convention was adopted on 30 May, the relevant Departments began work on preparing the Bill.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to create offences in respect of the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention or transfer of cluster munitions and explosive bomblets as required under the convention. We are also taking this opportunity to make similar provision for anti-personnel mines in order further to implement the anti-personnel mine ban convention, which was ratified by Ireland in 1997. The current law on anti-personnel mines is set out in the Explosives (Land Mines) Order 1996, which was made under the Explosives Act 1875. This order is likely to be revoked by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform upon enactment of new explosives legislation and the consequent repeal of the 1875 Act and we wish to avoid a legal vacuum.

Section 1 sets out the Short Title of the Bill and provides for its commencement. Section 2 provides for the interpretation of key terms as defined in both conventions and other relevant terms. Many of the terms defined for the purposes of the Bill have been the subject of agreement in the negotiation of the two conventions and their reproduction in the domestic laws of state parties is necessary to ensure that their obligations are observed in a consistent manner among them. This is especially true for the definitions of a cluster munition, an explosive bomblet and an anti-personnel mine. If different states were to define key terms in their domestic laws in different ways, co-operation between the parties to the conventions would become extremely complex and problematic and would inevitably frustrate coherent implementation of the convention.

Sections 3 and 4 are standard provisions for the laying of orders and expenses. Section 5 allows the Minister to declare by order which states are parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This is necessary for the purposes of co-operation with those states under section 7 of the Bill. A similar provision enabling the Minister to declare by order the states parties to the anti-personnel mine ban convention is made in section 8.

Section 6 makes it a criminal offence, with certain exceptions set out in section 7, to use, develop, produce, acquire, possess, retain or transfer a cluster munition or an explosive bomblet. It will also be an offence to assist, encourage or induce the commission of such an offence. Any such act committed outside the State on board an Irish ship or aircraft or by a member of the Defence Forces will also be an offence. Section 6 gives effect to the requirement under Article 9 of the convention to take all appropriate measures to implement the convention, including the imposition of penal sanctions to prevent and suppress any prohibited activity.

In accordance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions, section 7 permits certain acts that might otherwise be offences under section 6, namely, retention or acquisition of a limited number of cluster munitions or explosive bomblets for development of and training in detection, clearance and destruction of these munitions, or for the development of counter-measures. This is in accordance with Article 3 of the convention. It also provides for their possession in the context of criminal investigations or proceedings and their transfer to the Defence Forces or another state party for the purposes of their destruction.

Provision is also made to enable the Defence Forces to participate in United Nations mandated peacekeeping forces with a state or states that may not be party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,in accordance with Article 21 of that convention. This is the so-called "interoperability" provision of the convention, which was the most difficult issue to resolve in the negotiations at Croke Park. Agreement was reached on Article 21 only at the last moment. Section 7(4) of the Bill will ensure that future participation by the Defence Forces in UN mandated peacekeeping operations will be consistent with the convention. Its purpose is to ensure that no member of the Defence Forces, while serving abroad with military personnel of states that are not party to the convention, such as in a UN peacekeeping mission, may find himself or herself criminally liable for an inadvertent, unintended or unavoidable act that might otherwise be an offence. The Bill makes clear that under no circumstances may he or she expressly request the use of cluster munitions.

It is very unlikely that section 7(4) of the Bill will ever be invoked. It is important to recall that Article 21 obliges every state party to the convention to work to promote universal adherence to it and the Government will continue to urge all states to become parties to the convention. Our preference in considering future contributions to peacekeeping missions naturally will be to join with states that are parties to the convention and in these circumstances the question of interoperability with states not party will not arise. Even were we to find ourselves as members of a peacekeeping mission that included the armed forces of a state that is not party to the convention, every effort will be made in the elaboration of codes of conduct, rules of engagement, caveats and similar agreements prepared for the mission to ensure there is no prospect of cluster munitions playing any role. It is highly unlikely therefore that section 7(4) will ever apply but I think all Members would agree on the importance of ensuring that no member of the Defence Forces should ever face prosecution for simply carrying out his or her duty as a member of a peacekeeping mission.

Section 9 makes the use, development, production, acquisition, possession, retention or transfer of an anti-personnel mine an offence, in accordance with Article 9 of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Certain exceptions are permitted, in accordance with the convention, and these are provided for in section 10.

As the House may be aware, I introduced a new Part 4 of the Bill by way of amendment on Committee Stage covering sections 11 to 15, inclusive. That new part puts in place a clear legislative framework providing that any statutory investment mandate is qualified by a requirement to exclude investments in the manufacturers of cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines. Part 4 sets down the requirement to avoid initial investments of public moneys directly or indirectly in manufacturers of prohibited munitions. It also sets out clear requirements and guidelines for dealing with circumstances where such investments occur despite best efforts to avoid them.

Section 17 provides for penalties to be imposed upon summary conviction and conviction on indictment of an offence under sections 6, relating to cluster munitions, and 9, relating to anti-personnel mines. The maximum penalty for conviction on indictment is ten years imprisonment or a fine of €1,000,000, or both.

Section 18 provides for liability of a body corporate and is a standard provision to ensure that bodies corporate do not avoid responsibility for conduct prohibited to individuals. Section 19 allows for the forfeiture of items to the State and is necessary to ensure that a cluster munition, explosive bomblet or anti-personnel mine seized during the investigation of a suspected offence is not returned to a claimant under the Police (Property) Act 1897 but is sent for destruction. Subsection 2 allows the court to recover from the offender the cost of destroying cluster munitions or anti-personnel mines following a successful prosecution.

The texts of the two conventions are set out for ease of reference in the Schedules to the Bill. This comprehensive legislation was drawn up in consultation with the National Committee on International Humanitarian Law, which was established in advance of the diplomatic conference. My Department has also consulted closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which intends to publish a model law for the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

I must reiterate that it is an absolute priority for Ireland to be in a position to both sign and ratify the convention in Oslo on 3 December and this legislation will facilitate that objective. I very much appreciate the co-operation and support of this House in what I am sure all here agree is a very important humanitarian endeavour.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his comprehensive contribution. I welcome the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Bill 2008, which is before the House today and acknowledge that my colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Billy Timmins, introduced a similar Bill earlier in the year. The Bill before us, after amendment in the other House, contains many of the objectives that were in Deputy Timmins's Bill. This House also had a very informative and constructive debate on this issue earlier in the year. I am glad that many of the issues raised in the Seanad are also covered in the Bill.

The Bill contains reference to two similar but very different types of weaponry, cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines. Both are similar in impact but subject to different international conventions. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed in Dublin in 2008 and the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines was signed in Oslo in 1997. It is significant, as regards avoiding confusion over the two conventions and other treaties and declarations that preceded them, that the two categories are dealt with separately in this Bill.

Cluster munitions are one of the most controversial and despicable weapons to be used in modern warfare. They are designed not to target soldiers or armies but areas of land. Large numbers of unexploded cluster munitions may litter an area, like landmines, for many years after a war has ended. It is often farmland owned by the poorest, in war-torn countries that is left littered with cluster munitions, many the size of coke tins, some bright in colour that attract and kill innocent children in many instances. Today, more than 30 countries produce cluster munitions and up to 20 use them. The first cluster bombs to be used were of German manufacture and dropped during the Second World War, as mentioned by the Minister. As recently as 1999, the US, Britain and the Netherlands used them in Kosovo. The footprint of a single cluster bomb can be as large as a sportsfield. The fragments of exploding submunitions travel unguided at high velocity and often miss their mark, hitting nearby civilian objects in many instances.

The first thing that struck Deputy Timmins when he arrived in the Lebanon to serve with the Irish Army in the 1980s was the number of young children with missing limbs — one leg, no legs, one arm or no arms. Most of these injuries were caused by bomblets from cluster munitions. He says that seeing that first-hand leaves an indelible impact on an individual. It is a dreadful statistic that some 98% of cluster munition casualties are civilians, killed and injured while returning home in the aftermath of conflict or going about their daily work.

In southern Lebanon almost 90% of the land used for farming and grazing is contaminated by unexploded cluster munitions. It is estimated that for more than 400 million living in affected areas, cluster munitions turn their homes and communities intode facto minefields. It is shocking to think that in Vietnam, more than 300 people are still being killed each year as a result of cluster munitions. In Kosovo they were used by NATO, removing the need for the deployment of troops on the ground. People continue to die in Kosovo each year as a result of the 1,400 cluster bombs dropped there. Some of the American cluster bombs dropped were bright yellow in colour and visually appealing to children. The BBC in a programme stated that these bomblets contained an incendiary device, shrapnel and armour-piercing explosive that could pierce steel 25 cm thick.

The Minister has outlined many other areas where cluster munitions were used to devastating effect and I shall not repeat the facts and statistics he outlined. I shall deal with the process that, hopefully, will rid the world of these dreadful weapons. We should be proud that Ireland was part of the Oslo process — a series of global conferences on cluster munitions that began in Oslo in February 2007. The core group of countries, as they were known, included Ireland, Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Peru. The Dublin convention, held in Croke Park in May 2008, was the completion of the process. The signing conference will take place next week, on 3 December, in Oslo.

Let us hope this international agreement will bring an end to the use of cluster munitions and secure adequate provision for care and rehabilitation of survivors, as well as the clearance of all contaminated areas. If these aims are achieved our work today will have been worthwhile. The Oslo process will prove to be a beacon of light for all the nations who have to contend with the results of cluster munitions on a daily basis.

Anti-personnel mines are activated by pressure, trip-wire or remote detonation and they kill or disable their victims. Like cluster munitions, fragmentation mines can cause injury from up to 200 metres away and kill at closer distances. The fragments in these mines are metal or glass. The mine ban treaty, sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention or the Oslo treaty, was signed in 1997 and is the most comprehensive international instrument to rid the world of the scourge of anti-personnel mines. It deals with everything from mine use, production and trade to victim assistance, mine clearance and stockpile destruction. Ireland formally singed the mine ban treaty on 3 December 1997. It is regrettable that states not party to that treaty include China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States. Until some or all of these countries sign up to this treaty the effectiveness of it will not be as robust and as binding as we would all wish.

On the question of investing in companies listed as being involved in the production of cluster munitions, it was deeply regrettable that the National Pensions Reserve Fund invested in some of these companies but they moved swiftly when this was highlighted to end any investment of pension money in companies linked to the manufacture of cluster munitions. I am delighted that Part 4, section 11 of the Bill covers investment of public moneys in munitions companies. The penalties and miscellaneous provisions are also included in Part 5.

I welcome this Bill. It contains most of the provisions provided for in Deputy Timmins's Bill. It is necessary legislation in an area where Ireland has played a proud role and I wish the Minister well when he signs and ratifies the convention in Oslo next week.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and wish him well in his role as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for Overseas Development Aid. I also thank the Minister for his comprehensive presentation and outlining in detail the different aspects of the Bill.

The Bill is the result of one of the greatest contributions Ireland has made to international human rights and diplomacy since our country took its place on the world stage. When Ireland hosted more than 130 countries at the cluster munitions conference in Croke Park last May, few could have predicted the giant leap that would be taken to remove the scourge of one of the deadliest weapons the world has developed. In two short weeks Ireland convinced an unprecedented number of countries to help confine cluster bombs to the bin of history. The convention agreed in Dublin, which will be signed by states in Oslo next week, represents the first step in removing weapons that have caused decades of misery and continue to harm people today.

In the diplomatic and political language of this Bill we can easily forget the countless lives that have been affected. In Croke Park the victims of cluster bombs were given a key role and voice. Victims, non-governmental organisations and others were invited to the conference and were there to be heard and lobby for change. Their messages and stories, documented in the media worldwide, were key in securing a successful outcome. Whenever talks were deadlocked their stories were the spur to drive countries on.

Cluster munitions are small bombs, often the size of a tennis ball, which are dropped when a larger missile explodes in midair. They can litter a wide area and lie undiscovered long after a conflict is over. Frequently the long-forgotten bomblets are picked up by a child, farm labourer, hill walker or people who are passing and the results are devastating. In extreme cases they can be fatal and for many more they cause the loss of a limb or disfigurement. Some child victims of cluster bombs are injured by devices dropped in wars waged before they were born.

The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that we must stand by these victims to ban these landmines forever so that children can run free in the fields and go to school, and parents can till their land and draw water from their wells without fear of being blown up by cluster bombs or landmines. It is because of their stories that we should support this Bill. These bombs have left us nothing but a legacy of misery and suffering. The path of destruction they have caused stretches from Grimsby in England during the Second World War to Vietnam, Laos, Lebanon and, if reports are to be believed, as recently as last August, Georgia. They are indiscriminate, no one is safe and the danger often lingers for decades.

At the centre of the convention agreed at Croke Park is an immediate and unconditional ban on all cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Each state signing up to the convention undertakes to never, in any circumstances, use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions. It is a wide-ranging international agreement. The convention has a number of important aspects. The definition of a cluster munition is comprehensive and the agreement is clear that stockpiles of bombs must be destroyed. There are also clear provisions on assistance for victims. I would like to see work progress in this area so we can ensure the maximum level of support is given to those whose lives have been devastated by bombs.

Ireland has spearheaded the international effort to outlaw these horrible weapons and is the vanguard of international efforts to rid the planet of them. I am assured by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that we are working even now to bring more countries around to our way of thinking and to join the international ban. The reaction has been very positive and although it is not possible to say how many governments will be represented at Oslo the signs are very encouraging.

What has been achieved to date has been remarkable but there are challenges ahead. There are still countries that remain to be convinced to take the leap to join the worldwide ban. They have yet to be convinced that cluster bombs are an unnecessary evil which must be permanently removed. Ireland must remain at the forefront of the efforts to convince these countries to come on-side. I pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, his predecessor, Deputy Dermot Ahern and the many officials in his Department, as well as those in Irish embassies across the globe who worked tirelessly to bring us to this stage.

The Minister was present at the opening and the successful conclusion of the conference at Croke Park, while officials of the Department were on hand at all times to ensure the event was a success. Even as we debate the issue, the lobbying continues to ensure that as many countries as possible stand by the commitment they gave in Dublin and sign up to the convention in Oslo. Given the lead role we have taken, it is imperative Ireland is represented in Oslo on 3 December to become one of the first countries to sign the cluster munitions convention. Therefore, I encourage all my colleagues to support this important Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, to the House and welcome the introduction of this timely Bill. While it is not perfect, it is good legislation. I propose to put some of my reservations about the Bill on the record, but to begin I congratulate those civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs who worked so hard to achieve what they thought was the best achievable. I witnessed their hard work at close range through the various meetings that took place here of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the various receptions, conferences and so on. They may be right that they got the best achievable, but I believe in a council of excellence and in raising the bar all the time. This approach worked with the previous landmines legislation, where we were lobbied by the Clinton administration to permit loopholes in the legislation. However, we stood out against that. It would have been preferable if we could have done the same with this legislation. Therefore, I have reservations and will put down some amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage.

It is a remarkable achievement to get this far. These are filthy weapons and they are not something that is far from us. It was not just in Grimsby in the closing days of the war that these weapons were used, they were a product of the Nazi war machine, but, extraordinarily, they were used recently by NATO and approximately 250,000 were dropped on Kosovo. I regard that as an unacceptable use, because these weapons have no precise military application. They are a weapon of terror and nothing else. They have never once achieved a specific military objective. They are for use against the civilian population to create terror, to maim and injure civilians, particularly children and women working in the fields, and to render agricultural land unusable. They are both a terror and an economic weapon. I agree with the Minister they are weapons of barbarism and brutality and we will be well shot of them. We have reason to be proud that Dublin will enter history as having been the focus of the intense diplomatic effort that has led to the treaty that will be signed in Oslo. I am happy this Bill will be facilitated in order to allow Ireland to sign the international convention.

I have raised this issue on a number of previous occasions and am glad to say we managed to pass, unanimously, a motion on cluster munitions that was discussed here, having been given the special facility of Government time, on 6 March this year. Previously, I and Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who is extremely active in this area, put through a similar motion, that was also unanimously adopted, in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Dermot Ahern, spoke in this House with great passion on this issue, because he had come across victims of this kind of atrocity, as did I in the Middle East. I also remember going, as many of Dublin's citizens did, to a remarkable exhibition of photographs which told the horrible, human story of what happens to people who innocently pick up these kinds of munitions.

I compliment Pax Christi Ireland, in particular, Tony D'Costa, on the work it has done. I know the Minister does not agree with this because I saw his article in theIrish Examiner today. It is a pity he selected Mr. D’Costa by name to reprimand. He said:

I am very disappointed at efforts to diminish this major achievement for Irish foreign policy. Tony D'Costa is out of step with the vast majority of people actively campaigning on this issue. The Cluster Munition Coalition, the umbrella body for more than 250 NGOs, views the convention as the most significant treaty of its kind since the ban on anti-personnel landmines in 1997.

The Minister is wrong in one sense. Of course the coalition welcomed it. However, I was involved in the campaign and in all the discussions and I can tell the House, incontrovertibly, that the coalition was disappointed. It wanted exactly what Tony D'Costa wanted and its members said that to me. I was at every meeting and the members of the coalition said again and again, "we want these things banned." They were against the definition that exempts landmines under a capacity of ten droplets, ten smaller munitions. At one of the meetings I asked why we were including the interoperability clause. I know the diplomatic reason for it and can understand and sympathise with it. I do not criticise the civil servants in our diplomatic corps who took that line. However, we should have taken a principled and moral stance on this.

In the recent debate in the Dáil, my friend and colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, made the same point. That reassures me because if there is one person in the Oireachtas who knows his way around international treaties and conventions and the way these matters are handled diplomatically, it is he. He said:

In 2006 and 2007, Belgium and Austria had followed such a path in the preparation of domestic legislation. [In other words, they went for the stars and upped the ante beyond what was in the treaty.] This is a rather long way of stating a point of view that I hold, which is that one should always use one's domestic legislation, given the activist achievement Ireland can point to, to go beyond the minimum required in the convention. In that way, one is continually raising the bar.

I used the phrase "upping the ante" and he used the phrase "raising the bar". We did this before on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Therefore, it is not against the ethos of the Department to take such a view and approach the matter in that way.

The exemption clause is one of the clauses to which I object, to which Tony D'Costa objected and to which the people in the Cluster Munition Coalition objected, although, of course, they accept the goodwill of the Department and the fact that it did what it saw as the best achievable in the circumstances. Section 2(1)(c) of the Bill exempts munitions with the following characteristics, each munition contains fewer than ten explosive submunitions; each explosive sub-munition weighs more than 4 kg — they weigh between four and 20 kg, and they are outlawed when they reach 20 kg; each explosive sub-munition is designed to detect and engage a single target object; each explosive sub-munition is equipped with an electronic self-destruction mechanism; and each explosive sub-munition is equipped with an electronic self-deactivating feature.

It is nonsense that the Bill accepts these munitions as long as they are below a certain standard. They are totally unacceptable. We know, for example, that they cannot detect and engage with a single object with any certainty. If one fires one that contains nine and one of those nine hits the target, what happens to the other eight? Where do they go? We know the self-destruct mechanism does not work most of the time as we have had plenty of experience of that and of the manner in which they are cynically used. Take, for example, the last days of the war in Lebanon, when Israel dropped 4 million cluster bombs, despite the fact that the conflict was over. The diplomatic moves had been made and Israel knew there would be no fighting, yet it dropped 4 million cluster bombs to terrorise the civilian population.

Most of the time the electronic self-destruct mechanism does not work. If it does, what happens if it lands in a civilian area and blows up? We know the most evil thing about these is that it is often children who pick them up. Each explosive sub-munition is equipped with an electronic self-deactivating feature. It is for these reasons I am against these provisions.

It is a pity we could not have gone further than the treaty in our domestic legislation. I do not believe this would have legally inhibited us from signing something that was slightly weaker. It was a pity for that reason and I will table some amendments. Just as in the case of the landmines convention, where Ireland resisted such loopholes, we have given in and have allowed such loopholes to exist.

I refer to the Minister of State's speech. He sets out, quite rightly, the basic international humanitarian law that one must distinguish between civilians and armed combatants and so on. However, he goes on to refer to a scenario "where a weapon is incapable of distinguishing between civilian and combatant". Can the Minister of State provide an instance of a weapon that is capable of so doing? I never have come across one as they do not exist and no weapon is capable of so distinguishing. Moreover, the Minister of State should not mention smart bombs. One heard all about them during the blitz on Baghdad and it all turned out to be a tissue of lies. There is no such instrument that can distinguish between a civilian and a military target.

Although the Minister mentioned a number of states, it is a pity he did not name and shame them. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, may not be aware that Senator Leyden makes a habit of employing the war cry, "name and shame". Why not name and shame such states, even if they are our allies?

In a speech that was good in a number of respects and which provided Members with a wide-ranging historical background to the matter, the Minister spoke about the definition of a cluster munition under the convention and stated it is comprehensive. I have just given reasons I do not consider this to be the case because it exempts certain objects that clearly are cluster munitions. Nine components constitute a cluster and yet this legislation permits them. The Minister then spoke of the "retention or acquisition of a limited number of cluster munitions and explosive submunitions for training purposes". I seek further explanations in this regard. What are these training purposes and what is their point? If they are for the purpose of giving people access to techniques of mine clearance, that is fine. However, if they are to continue with military exercises, then it most definitely is not fine.

The Minister also noted:

[T]he convention includes comprehensive provisions on assistance by state parties to cluster munition victims in areas under their jurisdiction or control. They should adequately provide age and gender-sensitive assistance [and so on].

This is splendid and such assistance for victims was something for which Deputy Michael D. Higgins and I were fighting. However, those who manufacture the bombs should pay. I do not believe it is right to bomb the crap out of people and then expect them to pay, if Members will excuse the expression. I beg the Cathaoirleach's pardon as it just slipped out. Why should they? I am sure Senator Boyle will agree the polluter should pay. Is that not the principle? The countries that——

The Senator's time has concluded.

I wish to make one further point. It is absolutely appalling to think that Ireland would consider engaging in military exercise of either an aggressive or defensive kind with people who may well use such weapons during the course of that military operation. We must not do so as it is the wink and snigger and gives them moral permission. It is so queasily ambiguous that I am 100% against it.

I started on a positive note, although I made some criticisms. The Government should lay off Tony D'Costa who is a very decent man without whom we might not be in this position. However, I wish to end on a congratulatory note. On 6 March this year, I listed a number of the companies with which Ireland, probably accidentally or unintentionally, had invested sums of money through the pensions fund. I brought this matter to the attention of the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan. He was horrified and pushed in the direction of ethical investment. I welcome its copperfastening in this Bill and our hands will be much cleaner after its passage. However, they could have been snow white.

This is a significant Bill and at a time when we live in a world full of economic and environmental crises, the ability to consider legislation that has consequences towards bringing about a safer world, however far it goes down that particular road, should be welcomed by all Members. This Bill recalls the proud role played by previous Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Governments in trying to inform and persuade the international arena regarding better moral standards in the conduct of international affairs. It is not going too far to compare it to the role performed by the then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, in respect of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It also is worth remarking that in that work, while he did not bring an end to nuclear weapons, he informed the beginning of a debate that such weapons were morally repugnant. Sadly, that debate still is ongoing. Likewise, this Bill and this international treaty will not bring an immediate end to the use of an odious class of weapons. However, it starts that process and the role played by the Government in this regard, including officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the current Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Dermot Ahern, must be acknowledged in the debate.

Like Senator Norris, I wish to concentrate on a particular aspect of the Bill, namely, the provisions on non-investment in companies engaged in the practice of producing cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines. Sections 11 to 15, inclusive, put in place in Irish law for the first time principles of ethical investment in the spending of public money. I class this as being one of the Bill's more important aspects. As a Member of the other House, I introduced a Private Members' Bill to have the principles of ethical investment adopted as formal Government policy and in particular to have those principles included as part of the terms of reference of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. As the latter is not mentioned specifically in this Bill, perhaps this can be considered on Committee and Report Stages. However, the sense of the Bill pertains to any level of Government spending in this regard. It even would cover the point made by Senator Norris in that I cannot discern how, were we to spend money engaging in defence activities with other countries that use such weapons, this would be compatible with sections 11 to 15, inclusive, of the Bill. The legislation makes a clear statement of intent regarding the spending of public moneys that is in any way related to the use of cluster bombs and anti-personnel weapons. Moreover, these principles should be expanded into wider legislation. While such legislation would not be dealt with directly by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Finance, which I presume has been consulted about these provisions, could examine the wider ethical context of how public moneys are invested. When one begins to so do, one begins to add more weight to the conviction one expresses in international organisations and during the framing of international agreements.

It is somewhat unusual, because of the active involvement of the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs in this Bill, that Members are ratifying legislation for an international agreement so quickly. However, circumstances demand they do as Ireland has been a forerunner in bringing about this agreement and has hosted a conference in Croke Park. The necessity to be among the first countries to ratify and sign this convention is something in which Members should take a great deal of pride. However, it also is fair to put down a marker that Ireland does not always tend to do this in respect of international agreements. Perhaps the process involved in publishing this Bill and bringing it through both Houses of the Oireachtas could be put in place as a new standard or a new set of goalposts for Members to play with to ensure that wherever and whenever they can implement international treaties of this type, they so do as quickly as possible. Ireland's record in this regard is not always the best and I could cite environmental agreements in particular.

There are a number of exemptions in the Bill that Senator Norris rightly has pointed out. We could take the moral high ground and produce a Bill outlining Ireland's opinion that these weapons should never be used from tomorrow on, but it likely would be an empty, rhetorical and moral statement.

We have produced an international treaty through the efforts of Government officials. The next step is to ensure the agreement goes further and a timetable is put in place to eliminate these odious weapons once and for all. The moral credit earned by Government officials by being part of the process from the beginning will make that elimination inevitable. Everyone should take pride in this and legislators should recognise what is a great achievement for Irish diplomacy.

The Senator has one minute remaining.

Having already passed through the Lower House, the changes that need to be made to the Bill are narrow in nature. The overall principle of the Bill is widely accepted in the Houses and the body public. On these grounds, I would not only welcome the expeditious passage of the Bill, but also encourage those involved in the process to ensure that another treaty on these and other odious weapons of destruction can be brought about through the lessons learned and experience gained by Government officials.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Like Senator Boyle and others, I support the swift passage of the Bill through both Houses. I commend the efforts of Deputies and Senators on their efforts to ensure the Bill passes as expeditiously as possible.

This is important legislation because it ensures that Ireland plays a large part in the global effort to eradicate the use of cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines. As well as providing the necessary legislative framework in advance of next month's Oslo conference, the Bill makes an important statement to the peoples of the world about what our nation and the world believes is acceptable in times of war. The use of cluster munitions in modern military offensive operations is indefensible. Small, bright and attractive to children at play, unexploded bomblets have been responsible for killing and maiming countless innocent lives.

The issue has been ignored for too long. It is a shame that it took scenes of mass carnage in countries such as Lebanon for the world to unite and act. The Red Cross estimates that more than 250 million cluster munitions were dropped in the 1960s and 1970s. A UN report indicates that, during the conflict in Lebanon, up to 1 million cluster munitions failed to explode upon impact. Consequently, approximately 40 million sq. m of land is contaminated.

I witnessed the impact of cluster bombs and other unexploded munitions on a civilian population when I was in Khe Sanh on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam where the Americans had a base. Children are still losing their lives to the many unexploded munitions there. The threat is present for many people across the world. Vietnam is one of our programme countries and the Minister of State, who has visited it, has presumably seen what I am referring to. It is important that the issue be tackled.

The Bill and, more importantly, next month's treaty signing will add an unambiguous and overdue chapter to what constitutes acceptable behaviour during times of war. I commend the Government, the Minister of State and everyone involved in the endorsement of the convention on cluster bomb munitions some months ago. The strength of the treaty lies in its drafting and language. It specifically prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. It states that signatories in possession of cluster munitions should have them destroyed. It is important to point out that, as we speak, approximately 107 countries are enacting legislation similar to the Bill before the House. It is a victory for diplomacy and proof that negotiation and international consensus remain the best vehicles to effect change.

I regret that China, Russia and India did not attend the May conference. It is unfortunate that they do not intend to sign the Oslo treaty. Their shameful inaction flies in the face of the opinions of the peoples and the nations of the world, but I hold out great hope that the incoming US Administration will reverse America's policy and sign up. It is encouraging that the conference was attended by Senator Patrick Leahy, who indicated that the Obama Administration, if elected, would add the US to the list of signatories. Barack Obama, who is now president-elect, voted in the Senate for a Bill on the restriction of America's use of cluster munitions. However, it is important to note that Senator Clinton, the presumptive Secretary of State, voted against the same measure.

I hope that the tide of collective opinion and moral pressure will encourage those countries that do not intend to sign the treaty to do so or to adhere to the spirit of its contents. I commend the provision in section 21 of the Bill, which recommends that Ireland encourage non-signatories to accept, approve or accede to the treaty. Given that Ireland is seen as an honest broker on the international stage, I welcome this provision.

The section that prohibits the use of public money or State-funded investments in munition companies states, "Nothing in any enactment that authorises the investment of public moneys shall be taken to authorise any investment, direct or indirect, in a munitions company." That the State should refrain from investing in such companies should go without saying, but the revelation that the National Pensions Reserve Fund has connections with some of the companies in question means that a provision prohibiting the practice is welcome and necessary.

I am pleased that the Bill will be approved by the House, I commend the bipartisan efforts to ensure it will be enacted as soon as possible and I look forward to the treaty signing in Oslo next month, which will represent an important milestone in the protection of civilians during wartime.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach anocht and I compliment him on his good work in overseas aid. He has displayed a tremendous grasp of and feel for his area of responsibility. We all support his humanitarian efforts.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss a fine example of international humanitarian law. As the Minister of State mentioned, it sets us a new benchmark. It is good news, although we might not see it in tomorrow's headlines or it might not be the first item on news programmes on television. Obviously, the situation would be reversed were it bad news. This is a pity, as the Bill is an indication of Ireland's role in this area. As Senator Hannigan stated, we can be proud of the respect and regard in which Ireland is held for initiating and playing a part in many humanitarian issues.

The Minister of State clearly outlined how the basic rule of international humanitarian law is the protection of civilians, particularly in times of armed conflict. While a clear distinction must be made between combatants and civilians, it is not always done. The rule permits people to direct operations against combatants and military objectives only and prohibits indiscriminate attacks. Where a weapon is incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, as in the case of cluster munitions and landmines, it violates the rule. It is good that we have taken the initiative.

There are many areas across the globe where conflicts took place in the past and where people, generally children, are suffering the consequences of indiscriminate military activity such as that to which I refer. In the past two years, my wife and I spent a week's holiday in Japan and took a 900-mile detour in order to visit Hiroshima. We were shocked by what we saw. Unfortunately, immediately after the Second World War, the Japanese moved to eradicate the evidence of the attack on Hiroshima because there was an element of national shame attached to what happened. They did, however, preserve that iconic public building with which everyone is familiar from photographs in books and on postcards. There is also a very good museum at that location. When one realises that more than 250,000 were killed when Hiroshima was bombed and that so many were affected subsequently, one comes to the conclusion that it was an extremely appalling and unjustified attack on innocent people. Nagasaki was the subject of a similar attack under a week later. There is much evidence that indiscriminate attacks took place during the Second World War.

I watched a recent television programme on the Korean War. During that conflict, many innocent civilians were killed. Other Members referred to the Vietnam War. As the Minister indicated, Laos was most affected by the use of cluster munitions during that war, even though it was not party to the conflict. The Vietnam War gave rise to much revulsion across the globe, including in America where many student and other public campaigns opposing the war took place. More than 260 million cluster munitions were dropped during this conflict. Apparently 80 million of these did not explode and they continue to cause civilian casualties.

The Balkans were affected by the use of cluster munitions, as was Iraq. Up to 100% of significant land areas in the latter are inaccessible because they were peppered with such munitions. The conflict in the Lebanon lasted approximately two decades. Even though it was brought to an end in 2007, some 217 people have since been killed as a result of accidents involving cluster munitions.

Senator Hannigan referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which adjudicates on the atrocities committed by war criminals against civilians in conflicts that took place in the past two decades. That court was established in order to bring people to account but also to act as a deterrent to those involved in conflicts from indiscriminately injuring or killing civilians. It is a pity that not all countries recognise the court. A notable example in this regard is the US. This is a sad reflection on the US because the latter was party to many of the conflicts to which I refer. President-elect Barack Obama's new administration, which will include Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, is determined to restore confidence in the US. The latter is a world leader in so many ways but it should also be a world leader in observing human rights during periods of conflict. One of the actions President-elect Obama could take would be to bring the US under the remit of the International Court of Justice.

The Bill will allow Ireland's representatives to travel to Oslo on 3 December to sign the convention. Only two of the 95 countries that will sign the convention, namely, Ireland and Norway, will already have ratified it in legislation. That is as it should be, particularly when one considers that the Convention on Cluster Munitions was brought into being at the diplomatic conference that took place in Croke Park in Dublin last May.

I note the sensible exclusions that have been made in the provisions of the Bill. There is an onus on signatories to the convention to play their part in encouraging those countries that are not party to it to sign up. I hope that in time all major countries and all those who may be involved in future conflicts will adhere to what is an extremely desirable instrument. The convention is a credit to the country and to the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who spearheaded the campaign to have it introduced, and to the current Minister, Deputy Martin, for pursuing it. This highlights the positive aspect of politics and the type of change we can bring about, in Ireland and globally, through our collective and individual efforts.

I thank the Minister for coming before the House earlier and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, who is now present. Like Senator Norris and others, I congratulate the Department on the tremendous work it has done in bringing this matter to the point at which it currently stands.

This is an extremely important debate. Ignorance can be a great thing at times. I am completely ignorant as to what are landmines, cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines. The same probably goes for the majority of people in Ireland. We are so lucky we have no experience of these items. I presume the only individuals in the country who might have knowledge of them are members of the Defence Forces and perhaps a handful of other individuals. If one of these devices was placed in front of me, I would not have a clue with regard to what it was or what destruction it could do. However, I took the opportunity to investigate these munitions and the damage they can cause.

Cluster munitions are weapons deployed from the air by aircraft including fighters, bombers and helicopters. These weapons open in mid-air and scatter dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions to the ground. Cluster munitions can be also deployed by being launched from artillery, rocket and missile systems on the ground. Submunitions released by air-dropped cluster bombs are most often called "bomblets", while those delivered from the ground are usually referred to as "grenades."

Cluster munitions are among the most controversial weapons used in modern warfare. They are what are known as area effect weapons and are designed not to target soldiers or armies but rather areas of land. The theory behind them is simple. They can be deployed from the air to remove an area of land from use by an enemy. Such an area of land will be left unsafe to travel through due to bomb craters and the possibility of unexploded ordnance. In practice, the tactical benefit they may produce is more than outweighed by the negative connotations attaching to them. Large quantities of unexploded cluster munitions may, like landmines, litter an area when a war has ended. It is often farmland owned by the poorest people in war-torn countries that is left covered with these munitions, many of which are the size of Coke cans and can cause the mass deaths of men, women and children.

The damage that can be done by cluster munitions is horrific. The footprint of a single cluster bomb can be as large as a football pitch. Fragments of exploded submunitions travel at high velocity. When they strike they set off people pressure waves within the body, which do horrific damage to soft tissue and organs. Even a single fragment can rupture the spleen or cause the intestines to explode. If a victim survives the accident, he or she may suffer from a variety of injuries including the loss of limbs, burns, puncture wounds, ruptured eardrums and blindness. As already stated, the majority of people in Ireland can count themselves lucky not to ever have come across munitions of this nature.

I have a number of questions for the Minister of State in regard to particular areas of the Bill. Section 17 provides for penalties to be imposed upon summary conviction and conviction on indictment of an offence under section 6 and that the maximum penalty for conviction on indictment is ten years imprisonment or a fine of €1 million or both. Will this provision apply where a person leaves a cluster bomb or grenade under a car, as has happened in Dublin during the past couple of years? Will such offence be covered by this provision? I believe it should and that it might encourage people to think twice about their actions in this regard.

The Minister stated that provision is made in the Bill for the use of cluster bombs in practice by the Defence Force and others, thus requiring a certain amount of cluster bombs to be manufactured. Should we not be seeking a total ban on cluster bombs given the damage they do? While we are endeavouring to do so through this Bill we are on the other hand stating they may be produced in some form for training and other purposes. There is a little ambiguity in this regard. We should be seeking to introduce a total ban on cluster bombs given the damage they do.

I am sure the people who manufacture cluster bombs must produce a particular amount as per their manufacturing process. Obviously, many of them will be put out of business as a result of this convention brought into place by many countries. Will these manufacturers be bought out or paid off? How is this aspect of the matter being dealt with? I believe this is an important issue given the significant amount of this type of armoury which manufacturers will have to dispose of one way or the other, perhaps to countries not signed up to the convention. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify the position in regard to the manufacturing process in terms of how it is to be down-sized.

I thank all Senators who welcomed me to the House. I join Senators Burke, Ormonde and others in sending our compliments and praise to all those involved in the production of this international agreement, in particular officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs who were involved in the drafting, redrafting and detailed negotiation of this international agreement, which is a victory for the diplomatic and negotiating skills of our officials. It enhances Ireland's reputation once again as an honest broker on the international stage and a country able to take a lead in these areas and to bring with it the vast majority of countries, in an inclusive manner, to produce an effective convention that meets overall agreement. I share in the praise expressed to all those involved in the process.

Senators raised a number of issues, with which I will deal later. I thank them for their contributions to this debate which were, as always, interesting and constructive. We will, prior to the taking of Committee and Remaining Stages of this Bill, reflect carefully on all the comments made this afternoon. I know all of us share the common objective of ensuring the timely passage of this important Bill to enable the earliest possible ratification by Ireland of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

As indicated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Bill provides in domestic law for the obligations the State will assume under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM. Achieving a comprehensive international prohibition on the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions was an important objective of the programme for Government. It has been met early in the lifetime of the Government and it is, I believe, fair to say that the Oslo process and the Convention on Cluster Munitions exceeded the early levels of ambition of what could be achieved internationally on this issue.

As the House will be aware, the convention, which was adopted by consensus at the conclusion of the Dublin Diplomatic Conference at Croke Park last May, will be opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo on 3 December. It will enter into force six months following its ratification by 30 states. The successful conclusion of negotiations on the CCM under Irish chairmanship represents one of the most significant contributions to the development of international humanitarian law in recent years and a major achievement in Irish foreign policy. As the Minister emphasised, the Government is anxious to develop further this excellent work by being in a position to sign and ratify the convention at the ceremony in Oslo next week. The enactment of the Bill facilitates this and will clearly demonstrate Ireland's commitment to promoting its earliest possible entry into force.

As Senators will know, the convention is the result of a common endeavour by governments and civil society and is an example of what can be achieved where these actors pool resources in pursuit of a shared objective. It is the result of widely-shared concerns at the unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions at the time of their use — due to their wide-area effects — and following conflicts, when unexploded submunitions remain as a lethal hazard to civilian populations seeking to return to their homes, farms and places of employment. In recognition of the appalling humanitarian consequences that cluster munition use has had in the past, the 107 states that participated in the diplomatic conference in Dublin in May reached agreement on a very robust new instrument of international humanitarian law.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions establishes a comprehensive prohibition on the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions. "Cluster munitions" are defined for the purposes of the convention and the definition is reproduced, as it must be, in the Bill. Weapons systems with certain characteristics, which do not create indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions, have been excluded from the definition and thus from the operative provisions of the convention that apply to cluster munitions. "Explosive bomblets" that are specifically designed to be dispersed or released from dispensers affixed to aircraft are subject to the same prohibitions as cluster munitions. These very robust definitions enable the convention effectively to prohibit all cluster munitions ever used in armed conflict. Moreover, the incorporation of the same agreed definitions into the domestic laws of all states-parties ensures consistency of implementation of the convention and enables those states to continue to co-operate with each other, in particular in peacekeeping missions, in accordance with its terms and its agreed standards.

In addition to the convention's comprehensive ban, its provisions on clearance of unexploded and hazardous cluster munition remnants and on assistance to the victims of cluster munitions, including their families, are a source of particular satisfaction to the Government. These provisions have been acknowledged as having set a new benchmark in international humanitarian law and the Government will integrate into our development assistance funding and co-operation activities the commitments we undertake pursuant to the convention .

Perhaps most important, however, is the onus the convention places on those who have caused the damage to assist in the clearance of cluster munitions remnants. They are strongly encouraged to provide as much assistance as possible, including financial and material aid, to the affected country. This ensures that countries that engage in the use of these weapons will no longer be able to walk away from the indiscriminate damage they cause.

A number of Senators, particularly Senator Norris, indicated they would table amendments on Committee Stage, which is their right. However, a number of amendments were tabled on Committee Stage in the Dáil that sought to change what is meant, for the purposes of the Bill, by the terms "cluster munition" and "anti-personnel mines". These changes would have the effect of broadening the scope of the legislation by prohibiting the use of weapons that are not prohibited by the two conventions concerned. The Government has not accepted these amendments for a number of reasons.

Mine would be the same amendments basically.

The Government takes the view that we cannot renegotiate the conventions after negotiations have been concluded. Senator Hannigan made the point that in the coming months all 107 countries will be engaged in the same process as we are engaged in here and will introduce the convention's provisions into their domestic law in a uniform way. We chaired these negotiations and have an obligation to ensure that the provisions we negotiated are introduced into our law.

Will the legislation be identical in every single country?

That would certainly be the intention. The people may have different views on the definitions reached. However, those definitions have been reached by consensus as I indicated before Senator Norris came in. That was the product of much negotiation and the use of great diplomatic skills by our officials. That is what we need to deal with and that is why we are implementing it in this way.

I apologise to the Minister of State for missing those few sentences. I needed to take an urgent telephone call.

Agreement on definitions in both cases was very difficult to secure. If individual countries then go back home and legislate for different types of weapon systems, it inevitably raises the question of why we sought international agreement in the first place. Different countries implementing different standards in their domestic laws will frustrate the implementation of the international standard which is the subject of a convention that we all endeavoured to secure. Moreover, if one country bans a weapon system that is permitted under the relevant convention, it will not be able to work with a country that has not taken this course of action.

That would be great.

It would be extremely harmful to efforts to assemble international peacekeeping forces under UN mandate. It would certainly affect the participation of Ireland's Defence Forces in such operations.

These are the practical effects of such amendments.

Excellent. I will push those amendments with renewed vigour. I thank the Minister of State for his help.

Allow the Minister of State to speak without interruption.

We will certainly deal with those amendments and will be able to deal with them in greater detail. We welcome amendments on Committee Stage.

I take this opportunity to reject the idea that the Convention on Cluster Munitions contains loopholes, as some would seem to suggest. The definition of a cluster munition agreed in the negotiations is a comprehensive one that meets the objective set by the Oslo process of banning all cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. A number of systems that do not meet the criterion of causing unacceptable harm to civilians were excluded from the definition of "cluster munitions".

What is acceptable harm to civilians?

These exclusions are replicated in the Bill before us. The definition in the convention, which is the definition in the Bill, enables us effectively to prohibit all cluster munitions that have ever been used in armed conflict. I draw the attention of the House to a statement made earlier this month in Geneva by Dr. Philip Spoerri, director for international law and co-operation within the International Committee of the Red Cross, an international organisation that has been intensively involved in dealing with this issue for decades. It has been at the vanguard in promoting this sort of international convention. He stated:

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) adopted in Dublin, which the ICRC strongly supports, provides an effective response to the cluster munitions problem. It meets the ICRC's call for the prohibition of unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions. We urge all States to sign this Convention in Oslo and to ratify and implement its provisions as a matter of priority. In our view, the comprehensive approach taken in this Convention will finally put an end to the long-term suffering among civilian populations that cluster munitions cause.

That is the considered view of the international body that has been at the vanguard regarding this issue.

Senator Burke asked a technical question about the placing of a device beneath a car. If it meets the definition of a cluster munition within the definitions section of the Bill and if it amounts to an action as set out in section 7 or section 9, that person will be charged with an offence under this Act.

Regarding manufacturers, stockpiles must be destroyed within ten years under the convention. Cluster munitions can only be transferred in small quantities for training purposes to states that are also parties to the convention. Ireland's efforts on cluster munitions have not ended with the successful completion of the Dublin conference. In the run-up to the signature in Oslo, much work has been carried out to encourage as many governments as possible to sign the convention and to promote awareness of it, as many Senators have requested. Three regional conferences have been held in Sofia, Kampala and Laos, with more to come, aimed at encouraging states to sign and ratify the convention. Ireland, as one of the core group, has been highly active at these conferences, presenting papers and lobbying governments. We organised a large event on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly last month to promote the convention. The reaction has been very positive and international momentum for signature in Oslo continues to grow. This is a clear and tangible sign that Ireland as a small nation but with a very distinguished history on the international stage is capable of taking the lead on issues such as this one.

The Oslo process was successful because of the hard work of Ireland and the other core group members, UN organisations, the International Committee for the Red Cross and numerous NGOs. In particular, the hard work of the Cluster Munition Coalition, including more than 20 Irish NGOs, was vital in creating awareness of the humanitarian consequences of cluster munition use. Ireland and other key actors intend to begin work immediately after the signing ceremony to ensure that momentum for the convention is maintained.

Some of the key issues we have already started to consider are the lessons we have learned from the implementation of the 1997 anti-personnel mine ban treaty and how they might be applied to implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Ireland will also work to support any actions that will need to be carried out in the run-up to the first meeting of state parties, which must be convened within one year of the entry into force of the convention.

I again thank Members of this House for their, as usual, constructive contributions on this matter, their suggestions and the amendments that have been signalled. Those amendments will be considered very closely in advance of Committee State to ensure the Bill is given full, proper and complete consideration so that when it is enacted it will represent the best endeavours of the Lower House and this, the Upper House.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 27 November 2008.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.