I welcome the Minister to the House.
Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016: Second Stage
The purpose of this Bill is to make necessary provision in Irish law to enable the State to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and the 1999 protocol that supplements it. The 1954 convention and the 1999 protocol are instruments of international humanitarian law, which is the branch of international law that regulates armed conflict in the interests of humanity. It has been developed over a period of more than 150 years and its principal rules are currently set out in the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 additional protocols, supplemented by a range of other instruments on specific issues such as anti-personnel mines, the International Criminal Court and the protection of cultural property.
International humanitarian law does not determine whether war or armed conflict in any particular case is lawful - that is a question of general international law. Instead, it recognises that armed conflicts take place, whether lawful or not, and it has developed rules to limit the consequences of armed conflict on its victims. Without international humanitarian law, the barbarity of war would be unmitigated. Although humanitarian law has developed a very large and detailed body of rules, they can be reduced in summary to two basic concepts: first, the means and methods that parties to armed conflict may employ are not unlimited. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, for instance, and certain weapon systems are unlawful. Second, parties to conflicts are required to protect civilians, the sick and wounded, prisoners of war and civilian property.
There are regularly calls for the development of new rules imposing greater restrictions on parties to armed conflicts and Ireland has been prepared to join with others to develop the law where necessary. For instance, Ireland took a leading role in the development of new rules prohibiting the use of cluster munitions, hosting and chairing the diplomatic conference in 2008 in Croke Park, Dublin at which the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted. A hundred countries are now parties to that convention and such is its success that even for those states that have refused to become parties to it, the use of cluster munitions has been so stigmatised that they will avoid or deny using them.
However, notwithstanding the need to develop new rules from time to time, the greatest challenge to protecting human life in modern armed conflicts is the frequent, and often shocking, failure by both the armed forces of states and non-state armed groups to respect the existing rules. We need only look at the appalling behaviour of all sides in the conflict in Syria. Failure to respect the rules of international humanitarian law may occur for a number of reasons - lack of knowledge of the law, absence of political will to ensure respect for the law, or the promotion or tolerance of a culture of impunity. In the case of Daesh there has been a clear rejection of the law. In addition to destroying the ancient and important cultural heritage in Palmyra and elsewhere, it has been responsible for the rape, enslavement and murder of civilians among other reprehensible acts. I share the dismay of all Members of this House at the flagrant violations of the international humanitarian law committed in Syria and elsewhere.
It goes without saying that if the existing rules were respected, much of the dreadful human suffering in contemporary armed conflicts would not occur, but where they are not respected there must also be a measure of accountability. Successive Irish Governments have sought to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of violations of international humanitarian law. Ireland has been a leading supporter of the International Criminal Court and the Government has consistently supported referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The 1954 convention was negotiated to prevent the type of extensive destruction and loss of cultural property during the Second World War that resulted from looting, bombardment and vandalism. Countless historic buildings and monuments were destroyed in that war and artefacts were lost and stolen and never recovered in many cases. The 1954 convention imposes a number of obligations on states, including to make preparations in time of peace to safeguard cultural property against the foreseeable effects of armed conflict; not to use cultural property for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage during armed conflict, and to refrain from any hostile act against cultural property, except in cases of "imperative military necessity".
In addition, states are obliged to prohibit, prevent and stop theft and pillage of cultural property during armed conflict.
The convention also establishes a system allowing states to nominate specific monuments for a type of enhanced protection called special protection, although in practice the system has been essentially unworkable. The blue shield is recognised as a distinctive emblem that can be used to identify cultural property in the event of armed conflict. Ireland signed the convention in 1954 but did not proceed to ratify it. Although the convention was regarded as a welcome development in international law at the time, it is broadly recognised as having failed to provide effective protection for cultural property during armed conflict. This is because ultimately the key obligations it imposes on states could be set aside in circumstances of imperative military necessity. It did not act as an effective restraint on the extensive damage to cultural property during conflicts in south-east Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1954 negotiations took place not long after the end of the Second World War at a time when blanket bombing of cities was still regarded as a legitimate military tactic. It was not until 1977 that humanitarian concerns were given greater weight and agreement was reached in the First Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions that only military objectives could be attacked during armed conflict. Military objectives must be more clearly defined and carefully selected. Parties to armed conflict were now required to take precautions in attack, indiscriminate attacks were prohibited and attacks against civilian property, including schools, hospitals, places of worship and cultural property, were prohibited unless they were being used for military purposes by the other side.
The Balkan and Afghan wars in the 1990s led to a growing sense that the 1954 convention needed to be replaced or at least updated to reflect developments in the law since 1977. A conference was therefore convened in Hague in 1999. It was decided there that rather than replace the convention, it should be supplemented by a new protocol. The 1999 protocol supplements the convention by making detailed provision for the steps to be taken in time of peace to protect cultural property. It restricts the scope for action in circumstances of imperative military necessity. It establishes a system of enhanced protection for specific monuments and introduces the element of individual criminal responsibility in cases of violation of the law. To date, 69 states have become parties to the protocol, including most EU member states as well as Canada and New Zealand.
The Bill has been developed in consultation with the Departments of Defence and Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as well as the Defence Forces. Many of the obligations the State will assume in becoming a party to the convention and the protocol are already met by a mixture of policy and administrative measures. For instance, the State's national cultural institutions have all developed disaster planning and emergency response plans to protect their collections. Defence Forces doctrine and training has long reflected the rules set down by the 1999 protocol. Legislation is required, however, to protect and regulate the use of the blue shield in law and to create specific criminal offences. This is the purpose of the Bill before the House.
Section 1 defines certain terms for the purposes of the Bill. Sections 2 and 3 create the offences. The protocol requires that certain acts committed during an armed conflict within the State shall be criminal offences here, and that criminal jurisdiction be extended over Irish nationals and members of the Defence Forces participating in armed conflicts outside the State. It also creates a rule of "extradite or prosecute" in respect of offences alleged to have been committed in the territories of other states parties to the protocol, such that if Ireland does not extradite a person present in the State for alleged offences under the protocol to another state party, it must have jurisdiction to try that person in this jurisdiction. Accordingly, under section 2 it will be a serious offence to attack, during an armed conflict in the State, any cultural property under enhanced protection, use such property in support of military action or to destroy extensively or appropriate any cultural property.
Section 3 makes it an offence in Ireland for any person to commit any of these acts during an armed conflict in a state to which the 1999 protocol applies. This means a person can be arrested and tried in Ireland for these offences. It will also be an offence under section 2 to attack, steal, pillage, misappropriate or vandalise cultural property during an armed conflict in the State. Section 3 makes it an offence for an Irish citizen, a member of the Defence Forces or a person ordinarily resident in Ireland to do these things during an armed conflict outside the State. Section 3 also makes it an offence for an Irish citizen or a member of the Defence Forces to export or otherwise remove cultural property from an occupied territory.
Section 4 provides for penalties upon conviction for an offence under sections 2, 3 or 8. The maximum penalty, on summary conviction, will be imprisonment for a period of 12 months, a class A fine - currently at a maximum of €5,000 - or both. To reflect the potentially serious nature of these offences, for conviction on indictment the maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to 30 years, a fine to be determined by the court or both.
Section 5 provides that commanders and other superiors are criminally responsible for offences committed by their subordinates if they knew, or had reason to know, that the subordinates were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary, appropriate and reasonable measures in their power to prevent their commission, or if such crimes had been committed, to ensure investigation and prosecution of those responsible. This element of the 1999 protocol is regarded as essential to ensure that military commanders respect and ensure respect for protected cultural property.
Section 6 provides a defence in any proceedings under the Act where the person charged can prove that he was acting under an order which he was required by law to obey and believed the order to be lawful. Section 7 combined with section 10 applies the modern rule against double jeopardy.
Section 8 provides for the protection in law of the blue shield emblem and empowers the Minister for Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to authorise use of the blue shield in our jurisdiction. The blue shield emblem is the distinctive emblem created by the 1954 convention as a means of identifying cultural property to protect it in the event of armed conflict as well as to protect personnel engaged in its protection. The conditions of its use and protection are set out in the convention. Of course it is important to appreciate that use of the blue shield is not essential for protection of cultural property which, as such, enjoys the protection of the protocol anyway. The main purpose of section 8 is to protect the emblem in law from misuse. Accordingly, section 8 enables the Minister to authorise use of the emblem subject to appropriate conditions and authorises its use where a person applies in writing to use it. In addition, section 8 makes it an offence to use the emblem without authorisation or contrary to the conditions set out by the Minister.
Section 9 enables the State to provide mutual legal assistance to another state party to the 1999 protocol in the investigation and prosecution in that state of offences under the protocol. To enable extradition of persons sought for prosecution by another state party to the protocol, a separate order under the Extradition Acts will be necessary.
Section 11 is a standard provision setting out the Short Title of the Act and providing for commencement. The texts of the convention and the protocol are set out in the Schedules to the Act.
Ratification of the 1954 convention and accession to the 1999 protocol would be a further demonstration of Ireland's commitment to support and promote international humanitarian law. The enactment of the Bill will enable the State to take that step and, accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill. We are happy to support the Bill, its aim and its intent. Obviously, we hope it is not something that would ever have to be directly applied in Ireland. That said, we are happy to support other colleagues in other jurisdictions where the cultural property of armed conflict has been vandalised or stolen.
I have a question relating to the practical application of this measure. I know the Minister has outlined some cases involving ISIS and others in which there has been vandalism, wanton destruction and theft. In one case during the second Gulf War all the artefacts in the museums in Baghdad were stolen during looting.
At that stage, depending on whose version of history one wants to believe, the US was in control and was standing by without intervening as the looting was going on. I note that the information I have does not list the US as being a party to this. Given that the Iraqi army had disintegrated and that the new occupying force which was in place was watching while looting was happening, was there a case for this part of the Hague Convention to be used? Was such an attempt ever made?
Obviously, this has been a long time coming. As we deal with these issues, it is important to support other countries. It is clear from the case of the Convention on Cluster Munitions that the more countries sign up to these treaties, the greater the moral obligation on others to ensure they do likewise. If they do not sign up, they are in danger of becoming pariah states under international law.
The essence of attempts to prosecute warring parties during or after conflicts is that the destruction of cultural artefacts, as happened with ISIS in Syria, would probably not rank high in the international courts' grand scale of priorities. Nevertheless, it is important to protect cultural and heritage artefacts and sites of historical interest and importance to civilisation. For that reason, we support both the Bill and the Minister in bringing it to the House.
Senator McFadden has eight minutes.
I believe that is a limit rather than a target. I will not be here for too long. I welcome the Minister to the House.
Palmyra is an oasis in the Syrian Desert to the north east of Damascus. Until 2014, Palmyra contained the ruins of a great city that was once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, standing at the crossroads of western and eastern civilisations. The art and architecture of Palmyra from the 1st and 2nd centuries married Greco-Roman design with Persian influences. The grand colonnaded street, open in the centre and with covered side passages, formed an outstanding illustration of architecture and urban layout at the height of the Roman Empire in around 260 AD. The great temple of Ba'al was considered one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st century AD in the east and was of unique design. The carved monumental archway through which the city is approached from the great temple is an outstanding example of Persian art. From June 2014 to February 2015, ISIL systematically plundered and destroyed at least 28 historic religious buildings in Palmyra. It has also been making use of antiquities to finance its activities. Despite the UN ban on the trade of artefacts looted from Syria, since 2011 ISIL has been smuggling such artefacts out of the Middle East and into the underground antique markets of Europe. There is a need to ensure each European country has legislation in place to enable those who export, sell or purchase any of these items to be published severely.
In the absence of respect for international humanitarian law, the barbarity of war is limitless. The world witnessed the true barbarity of war yet again two weeks ago when civilian areas in Aleppo were ruthlessly bombed by Russian and Syrian forces. Ireland needs to play its part in establishing the international rule of law to prevent atrocities like those at Palmyra from happening again. We need to make sure that anyone who commits such atrocities is held accountable after hostilities have ended. This Bill establishes a system of enhanced protection for ancient monuments. It introduces an element of individual criminal responsibility and provides for penalties of imprisonment of up to 30 years when the rule of international law is broken. We have a responsibility to protect the inheritance of future generations. I warmly support this Bill.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Cuireann Sinn Féin fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Go baileach, baineann an Bille seo leis an dúchas. Tá sé scríofa ag an antraipeolaí Éireannach Diarmuid Ó Giolláin go gciallaíonn dúchas go bunúsach "an nádúr dosheachanta agus an oidhreacht" agus go mbaineann "an réigiún arb as do dhuine agus an teanga a labhrann sé lena oidhreacht". Tá sé tábhachtach nach ndíríonn muid isteach ar fhoirgnimh agus iarsmlanna amháin agus muid ag plé an ábhair seo. Déantar go leor dochair gach bliain do theangacha agus do chultúir dhaoine ar fud an domhain. Go minic is tri fhaillí a dhéantar an dochar seo, go háirithe sa tír seo.
A total of 126 states are party to the treaty we are discussing today. Four states - Andorra, Britain, Ireland and the Philippines - have signed the treaty but have yet to ratify it. I wish to acknowledge the work of my colleague, Carál Ní Chuilín, in this regard. When she served as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Six Counties, she supported the passage of similar legislation through the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I broadly welcome the definition of "cultural property" set out in section 1 of the Bill. It is useful to be cognisant of the various aspects of cultural property in this country during peacetime. It would be farcical for us to lament the destruction of the Arch of Triumph at the Roman settlement of Palmyra in Syria without applying the same standards to the preservation of our historical revolutionary quarter at Moore Street. While I accept that this Bill involves giving effect to the terms of the Hague Convention, I must mention the appalling treatment of our cultural heritage by the current Government. While we are at peace, thankfully, I wonder whether outsiders looking in would consider that our Government is guilty of the destruction of cultural property through gross negligence and ignorance. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht is refusing to meet Conradh na Gaeilge. The effect of the decision to use moneys from the centenary fund to fight a legal battle against the Save Moore Street campaign is to side with developers whose only appreciation of culture is from the pictures on bank notes.
I welcome this Bill and support it wholeheartedly. It is unfortunate that it is timely due to events in Syria. Western news outlets recently carried images of ISIS members destroying artefacts and buildings which they viewed as idolatrous or not in line with their myopic vision. In 2001, the world watched as the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban. All of these events were crimes against civilisation. The destruction that has been caused will leave future generations culturally poorer and less able to fully interpret the past. War destroys communities physically and socially. The task of rebuilding after armed conflict is made all the more difficult if cultural property has been destroyed. Culture helps to bind communities together and gives cohesion in times of change and reconciliation.
I must ask whether this convention will retrospectively look at the case of the Palestinians. Over many years and through constant misplacement and military action, Palestine has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was. Its language, customs and physical heritage have been eroded away at a pace just slow enough not to elicit outrage from the international community, as in the recent cases of Syria and Mali.
I note from the Bill that there is a provision for awarding Blue Shield status in the event of armed conflict. I would like to raise a technical point in that regard. I appreciate that the Minister might not be able to answer this question. The difficulty with the prosecution of the cultural destruction in Syria is that Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and, therefore, it is necessary for Syria to make a direct request to the International Criminal Court to carry out an investigation or to get the UN Security Council to do so. Will this legislation now cover all countries regardless of their status in the International Criminal Court?
As this initiative is being driven by UNESCO and western powers, there is a danger that it may be seen as western powers telling the rest of the world how to preserve their heritage. There is also a danger that due to advances in satellite technology and news reporting, only terrorist groups are highlighted as destroying cultural property. The recent air bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia against the native population of Yemen has resulted in the destruction of a UNESCO world heritage site. The same Saudi bombers were armed with weapons provided by the British Government and tacitly supported by it through its abject silence and refusal to condemn the fanatic religious regime in Saudi Arabia. All sides are guilty of this type of destruction.
It is interesting that in the years after the Hague Convention was signed in 1954, the British Government allowed the Welsh village of Capel Celyn to be drowned to provide drinking water for Liverpool Corporation.
This village was a vibrant community with native Welsh speakers living and working in the valley. They, of course, resisted the scheme and even received a letter giving strong support from no less than Éamon de Valera. I raise this simply to point out that while cultural property must be defended during armed conflict, there is much destruction that occurs in peacetime democracies with the assent of democratic bodies, yet its effects are the same as bombing in wartime. Capel Celyn is now submerged and its native speakers are gone. It might as well have been bombed.
The days immediately after the illegal British-American invasion of Iraq saw looting of cultural institutions and their contents on a shocking scale. The invaders had no plan. They did not even envisage that this could happen. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that they either thought these cultural institutions were unworthy of protection or, in a true colonialist manner, that the cultural property was not on a par with their own and, therefore, no big loss if looted or destroyed.
I welcome this Bill but Sinn Féin wants to see the application of its core principles in this country, and at all times. Ba chóir go mbeadh na pionóis chéanna atá leagtha amach sa Bhille i bhfeidhm sa tír seo dóibh siúd a dhéannann coireanna i gcoinne an chultúir trí reachtaíocht agus cásanna cúirte.
I welcome the Minister, and I welcome and support the Bill. It is very appropriate and timely that we are moving forward to ratify in Irish law not only the convention of 1954 but also the very important strengthening protocol on the protection of cultural property of 1999. It is important that we recognise the wide definition of culture that sees it as both moveable and immovable. There is something to be examined in this regard when we consider the question of protection. The vandalism and destruction we have seen are often not simply most prominently against obvious sites such as Palmyra, described by UNESCO as a place of outstanding universal value, Nimrud or the libraries of Mosul, which were destroyed by ISIL. When we talk about destruction, we are aware there are forms of culture being destroyed in addition to the very obvious ones, which may be destroyed by explosion. I refer to the erosion of cultural practices, for example, which happens at times of conflict. I include cultural practices of minority communities, which can often be casual victims of armed conflict.
It is appropriate that we are engaged in ratification now given that, just one month ago, the International Criminal Court had its first prosecution for a war crime entirely focused on the question of crimes against culture. On 27 September, Mr. al-Mahdi was found guilty of the war crime of co-ordinating the attack on sites of historic and religious significance in Timbuktu and was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment. It is a sign of the seriousness with which the International Criminal Court is now taking these cases. In the trial, it is sending a very important message on the ongoing destruction in Syria and elsewhere. I commend in passing the work of people such as Dr. Abdel Kader Haïdara and those who very bravely took steps, at great personal risk, to save and preserve cultural property. Dr. Abdel Kader Haïdara did extensive work to try to preserve the libraries of Timbuktu on foot of attacks by Mr. al-Mahdi and others.
In addition to considering the question of destruction, I am very conscious of sections 2 and 3, which refer to stealing, pillaging, misappropriation and the exportation and removal from occupied territories of cultural artefacts. I refer to the trafficking effect. We could be much more vigilant in this regard. While Ireland may not be in conflict now, we have auctions and antique fairs, and we do see goods that are trafficked through our system. In signing the agreement, we need to allocate resources so we will have persons ready and able to screen our auction houses to ensure we are in no way complicit in the sale or trafficking of cultural artefacts. It is not a one-way phenomenon. The market for cultural artefacts taken during times of war and in the period immediately afterwards, or during times of occupation, is well established in Europe. It has been built up over centuries of colonialism and occupation. In that sense, it behoves us as Europeans to ensure we are tackling the market in every place. We must bear in mind some of the legacy assumptions made in our museums on the treatment of property taken from times of conflict and in circumstances of oppression.
I wish to highlight a possible concern I am sure the Minister can address. I welcome that there are measures to address the export or removal of cultural property from an occupied territory, not just in times of conflict. Could the Minister clarify whether this covers the period pursuant to or immediately after armed conflict? In many cases, as seen in recent conflicts, it is not during the conflict itself that the issue arises but in the months or years following it, during which time opportunistic pillaging and exportation of property may take place, along with the purchase of property without proper paperwork, authorisation or verification of the authenticity of the source.
The looting of antiquities in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad is a stain on all of us. It is unfortunate that Ireland was complicit to a small extent in facilitating the stopping over of aeroplanes in respect of the war in Iraq. Some of the worst destruction we have seen was in that immediate period. I refer not only to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq but also to the burning of the library of Baghdad. We need to learn from that and be more cognisant of our shared duties.
My colleague spoke about Palestine. There are circumstances in which occupation may be over a very long period. It is a question of ensuring that those territories regarded as occupied are afforded all the cultural protection possible, even if the occupation is for decades, as in some cases.
The question of provenance and paperwork must be borne in mind. The Blue Shield is an important step. I hope it will be very much welcomed by our national museum and others.
Unfortunately, while 69 countries have ratified this convention and protocol, there has been a notable lack of prosecution. I absolutely appreciate the Minister's points on symbolic value. I was part of the cluster munitions campaign and played a role in Ireland's leadership in this area. I urge that in addition to providing symbolic leadership, we provide concrete leadership. It would only strengthen Ireland's Defence Forces' already-strong reputation and our own strong cultural reputation if we passed this legislation and implemented it really strongly.
I welcome the Minister to the House to debate this important Bill and I thank him for his remarks. The Bill presents a serious responsibility for Ireland as an actor on the world stage. As mentioned by some Senators, the context and relevance of this aspect of the Hague Convention will be quite clear to any of us who have watched the evening news in recent times. Images from conflict areas, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have shown the wilful destruction and desecration of numerous ancient and historic treasures. Centuries-old religious and cultural artefacts, structures and antiquities have been destroyed, stolen or damaged beyond recognition.
That the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention has been ratified by only 69 states so far is, in itself, very disappointing. It is, therefore, important that Ireland does not delay its own ratification process. While I fully support this Bill and have no desire to delay Ireland's ratification process unnecessarily, I have a few questions the Minister might clarify in his closing remarks. It will be an offence under section 2 to attack, steal, pillage, misappropriate or vandalise cultural property during an armed conflict in a state. Section 3 makes it an offence for an Irish citizen, member of the Defence Forces or person ordinarily resident in Ireland to do these things during an armed conflict outside the State.
It also makes it an offence for an Irish citizen or a member of the Defence Forces to export or otherwise remove cultural property from an occupied territory.
As of January 2015, the Department of Justice and Equality estimated that approximately 50 Irish residents had travelled to Syria to fight for rebel forces in the civil war since 2011. According to media reports Garda and military intelligence are monitoring between 30 and 60 potential Islamist fighters in the State and Irish citizens fighting abroad in Syria and Iraq. Will those returning home from these areas of conflict be questioned about their activities abroad regarding the destruction of cultural property? What measures can be taken to regulate and monitor Irish citizens working in a private security capacity in conflict zones? It might be worth questioning these people about such activities.
The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court constitutes a landmark treaty on individual responsibility regarding international crimes and contains important provision for crimes against cultural property. Two sections are relevant in Article 8 of the statute which gives a description of certain places and buildings that cannot be deliberately attacked unless they are made into military objectives.
In Ireland we have a relationship with religion that for many people is a central part of our culture. We have seen some of the worst consequences of this cultural identification with religion with hundreds of sectarian attacks on churches across this island by groups linked to paramilitary organisations. Will attacks on religious institutions by paramilitary groups waging attacks on this State be considered as crimes under the Bill? In the not too distant past we have seen paramilitary groups involved in the theft, purchase and sale of valuable cultural artefacts such as paintings from the Beit collection. While I acknowledge that at the time of their theft, the Beit collection was in private ownership, would this type of crime on collections held by the State be amenable to prosecution under the Bill?
Does the Minister have plans to expand the training for members of the Defence Forces such as that undertaken by the Austrian defence forces in this area? Could we follow the example of the Dutch defence forces, whose members being deployed abroad are issued with playing cards depicting local sites and items of cultural significance? It is a slightly more informal way of doing things, but it might be appropriate in this case.
I again thank the Minister for his time and repeat my strong welcome for the Bill. I hope he can address the points I have raised.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I give my wholehearted support and that of the Labour Party to the Bill. It is very welcome and all who have spoken have endorsed it. The Minister set out clearly the impetus behind the Bill and set it in the context of international humanitarian law more generally and in the context of a climate where we are seeing increasing recognition of the need to ensure accountability in the international forum for international crimes, notably through the mechanism of the International Criminal Court.
The Bill is topical. Others have commented on recent armed conflicts involving appalling destructions of property and cultural heritage. I will return to that. I very much welcome the substance of the Bill, based as it is on the convention. I particularly welcome the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction over Irish nationals. Senator Richmond has referred to a particular rationale for that in the context of ISIS and the phenomenon known as foreign fighters who have travelled from a number of EU and other countries to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We need to be mindful of that in our jurisdiction.
The Minister has rightly commented a number of times on the superb record of the Defence Forces and in particular their recent record in the rescue of 13,000 people on recent missions in the Mediterranean by the Naval Service.
I wish to focus on two issues. First is how we could assist with the preservation of cultural heritage in a practical way on the international stage, not just through this Bill, but also in a different mechanism. Second, I wish to speak about Syria and the Irish response to the crisis in Syria.
Others have spoken about matters related to protection of cultural heritage to do with the smuggling of artefacts and the need for interagency co-operation and interplay with other UNESCO conventions. At the end of September at an important meeting, the importance of interplay between the six UNESCO cultural conventions was highlighted. The chairperson of the committee on the second protocol to this Hague Convention - the original convention of 1954 - spoke about a cultural cleansing taking place. She said that protecting cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict is more urgent than ever given that the destruction of cultural heritage has reached unprecedented levels. She underscored the need for those agencies engaged under the different conventions to work together to address, in particular, illicit trafficking in cultural property flowing from conflict situations - the looting that Senator Higgins mentioned.
We are all very conscious of the major role of the international art market and customs officials in different countries. This was also highlighted at the UNESCO conference. Decades later we are still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust and the seizure of properties from Jewish families in Germany and their dispersal across different countries internationally. Clearly there is an important point about interplay and other measures and mechanisms beyond this sort of Bill to address destruction of cultural heritage.
In that respect, last year when the UK announced its intention to ratify this convention, the UK Secretary of State for Culture not only announced ratification of the convention, but also made a commitment to a UK financial fund to assist in the preservation and rescue of artefacts, a move which some commentators said conjured up images of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. On a serious level, resources clearly need to be put at the disposal of those working on the ground to try to protect artefacts in countries in conflict where artefacts, cultural objects and buildings are under siege.
The US State Department has backed a cultural heritage project run by Professor Michael Danti from Boston University. He has talked about the worst cultural heritage crisis since the Second World War taking place in Syria and northern Iraq. Will Ireland consider putting resources into a similar fund for the protection of cultural artefacts? We may already be doing that through the Irish Aid programme and other programmes. It is worth talking about the need to resource protection and preservation measures when discussing the Bill.
As we saw in Palmyra in 2015, ISIS is trying to erase Syrian culture and the history of its civilisation, as it is also doing in northern Iraq. Senator McFadden eloquently described the appalling destruction of Palmyra. The extensive breaches of international humanitarian law in Syria are being committed by other parties as well and we must also speak about the Syrian Government and Russia. We have spoken about that both here and most recently at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. At my initiative, this House passed unanimously an all-party motion condemning the destruction of Aleppo and condemning the bombardment of civilians in Aleppo and other urban centres across Syria.
We are also working on putting together a motion with the Not On Our Watch group to ask the Government to welcome up to 200 unaccompanied minors here from the Calais camp, many of them children who have fled conflict and destruction in Syria and other countries, such as Afghanistan, and who are currently languishing in this very chaotic situation with the destruction by the French authorities of the Calais jungle. I ask the Minister to press the Government for Ireland to extend a welcome to a number of unaccompanied minors, to whom we owe a duty.
Last week at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister spoke eloquently about our commitments to resettlement and relocation programmes. Along with the Minister, many of us expressed our concern at the very slow pace of relocating people here from Greece and Italy who have come from Syria. It was envisaged that they would be processed at a much quicker rate to come to Ireland from temporary camps in Greece and Italy. The Minister indicated that only 69 people have come through from Greece. There is a particular issue with delays in Italy. We need to speed up the process of bringing in the 4,000 people we have already committed to bringing. In the shorter term we should also consider welcoming a number of unaccompanied minors who have fled conflict and who are now languishing in Calais.
Breaches of international humanitarian law include cultural destruction of the sort being targeted in the Bill. Of course, we all support every effort that can be made to preserve cultural heritage and to pass legislation such as this.
We need to offer financial support to efforts to preserve cultural heritage in different conflict situations and moral support to civilians fleeing destruction and carnage in their home countries.
Our cultural institutions and buildings embody where we have come from as a society and what previous generations have projected to shape society. In turn, those institutions shape who we are today. When one considers our culture and cultural buildings, one does not have to look further than this House and the surrounding campus to view buildings that house cultural activity. It often troubles me that those institutions are identified as repositories. Instead, they should be living, mobile and national institutions that prioritise outreach. The marks of British colonialism and the aristocracy of the Victorian and Georgian eras remain ever present. We do not shy away from this past and we view those buildings as part of our history and heritage.
In times of war, culture is a forgotten priority of government as it is difficult to value in monetary terms when stringent economic measures often need to be taken. Ironically, culture is often more valued by its citizens and shaped more in war times as the affected people grasp their identity and the factors that shape it.
In wars in the Middle East, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, in particular, we have seen cultural property directly and deliberately demolished. Both sides have done so with the great intention of whitewashing local identity and cleansing identity, consistent mainstays of indigenous heritage. It is clear that these targets are often used not only as a grave act of war but as an attack on the morale of the natives who hold their heritage dear.
In May I attended a public conference in Liberty Hall called Conflict + The City organised by Dublin City Council and SIPTU. At the event, Professor Luke Gibbons from Maynooth University recalled how in the months that followed the Rising a small group of Bolsheviks visited Dublin who ultimately adopted urban warfare tactics in advance of the 1917 October revolution. Among that group was a Russian playwright and future Soviet ambassador to Britain. Those newfound tactics of urban warfare that James Connolly had researched and lectured on were inspired by the 1871 Paris Commune. Moore Street and the lanes of history represent that newfound urban warfare. Professor Luke Gibbons noted the personal and the political sacrifice for the public good, the transformation of the public and private, where the interiors of people's homes were tunnelled through by volunteers making inner streets. There was a fusing of the public and private sphere. I suppose it was the concept of republicanism operating alongside socialism that the professor was getting at.
I wish to note the attacks on Moore Street. In 1916, devastation was rained on Dublin city by the British owned SS Helga. The Four Courts was shelled, resulting in the destruction of the Public Records Office. We can all understand the cultural and historical separation that has caused. Alien as it may seem, should this State be attacked in the future, we should consider what effigies of our culture we should seek to protect.
Sinn Féin supports this Bill but we should scrutinise the State's record of protecting our culture, and I mention in particular Moore Street. The intended relocation of the Seanad to the National Museum of Ireland should see the State or Dublin City Council submit a planning application because it may breach the walls of a 19th century protected structure in at least three places and attach a lift to the facade. We need to be conscious of our attitude towards cultural institutions. As I said, Sinn Féin supports the Bill and hopes the legislation will remind the Government of the duty of care we have towards our culture, heritage and the arts. Sinn Féin wishes to remind the Government that its record on culture precedes what it might do in a time of war and we urge that a great emphasis is put into upholding culture now.
I thank Senators for their contributions and consideration of the Bill. As I indicated in my opening statement, this Bill has something of a narrow focus. It is concerned with the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. Its enactment will nevertheless be a further important demonstration of Ireland's support for international humanitarian law and the vital role that it plays in limiting the effects of armed conflicts on civilians and civilian property.
Senator Higgins was right when she made the case that we should not only be engaged in what might be a symbolic signing or ratification. She said we should, at all times, be conscious of the need to back that up in terms of our own resources, activities and actualities rather than just symbolism. I hope that the passing of this legislation could be followed by the type of real action to which reference has been made.
I assure the House that this Bill is by no means an attempt by the Executive to introduce legislation to the Legislature for debate and, ultimately, for ratification. This is not a question of prioritising property over people. On the contrary, it is fair to say that the Government has been forthright in its condemnation of the appalling tactics by the parties to the current conflict in Syria as has been evidenced not only in the course of this debate, but in previous debates in the Seanad. I acknowledge the role Senator Bacik played in ensuring the Seanad spoke with one voice on this issue by reaching agreement on a motion. That was very important and I wish to compliment Senators on their contributions to that. It is an important statement by the Oireachtas and the Seanad. The fact that it was agreed without a division was really important. It was also important to me, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I extend words of appreciation to the Cathaoirleach and all the Members.
I am sure everyone in this House would agree there is no justification for excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on a defenceless civilian population and, indeed, critical civilian infrastructure, such as medical installations, hospitals, medi-centres and surgeries and power and sanitation facilities, all of which we have seen in recent weeks in the city of Aleppo. This behaviour, without doubt, violates the relevant rules of international humanitarian law. It is totally unacceptable as are attacks on cultural property. The destruction and theft of cultural property are totally unacceptable. Senator McFadden mentioned in graphic detail the destruction of artefacts in the ancient and culturally important area of Palmyra. Buildings, monuments and artefacts of cultural importance are essential, as has been said, to the history, heritage and identity of all people. Any attempt or deliberate act to destroy them is an attempt to diminish the people and fundamentally injure their identity. It strikes at the heart of humanity. Indeed, the rules set out in the 1954 convention and the 1999 protocol, like those in the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international humanitarian law, rest on respect for the inherent dignity of the individual.
Without them, the barbarism and brutality of armed conflict would remain unmitigated. They are not mere pious aspirations but concrete standards formulated in the light of bitter experience and agreed by the international community as a basis for civilised conduct. It is in this context that the Government proposes that Ireland now becomes a party to the Hague Convention and Protocol, which the enactment of this legislation will facilitate and allow.
A number of specific points were raised by Senators during the course of the debate. Senator Daly rightly adverted to the Baghdad museums. Neither Iraq nor the United States are parties to the 1999 protocol, which would have obliged them to prevent looting of cultural property. It is important that by becoming a party to the protocol, Ireland provides practical support for its rules. We continue to encourage. The passing of this legislation in the Seanad and afterwards in Dáil Éireann will act as an encouraging factor for all states to follow suit.
Reference was made to Palmyra. However, Syria is not a party to the protocol. The United Nations Security Council resolution applies in Ireland and there are criminal offences here under the European Union sanctions regulations relating to Syria. The issue of the destruction in Palmyra was rightly referred to by Senator McFadden and others.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh posed a number of questions. I will deal with them briefly because he is not here. It is important to note that the International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over offences committed in states that are not parties to the statutes of the court only if they are referred to it by the UN Security Council. That is an established means by which these issues can be dealt with. Reference was made to Iraq. It is clear that neither Syria nor Iraq have ratified the protocol. A total of 69 states are parties. Ireland is pleased to play its part. Syria has signed but not ratified the protocol. Every effort will be made to ensure as many states as possible can participate by signing and ratifying. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of Palestine. He will be aware that Israel is a party to the Hague Convention but not yet a party to the second protocol of 1999. Meanwhile, Palestine is a party to both.
I acknowledge the remarks of Senator Higgins with regard to persons taking personal risks in order to safeguard important artefacts and property of cultural and historical significance, not only for our generation but for future generations. The Senator is right. Oftentimes, this requires acts of great courage on the part of individuals. We should applaud such acts, as the Senator has done. The trafficking of cultural objects through our jurisdiction is an issue upon which many in our communities remain vigilant outside of this regulation or protocol, which deals exclusively with armed conflict. We have a body of criminal law and that is the reference point in the context of the trafficking of goods and objects of dubious origin or source. Senator Higgins is correct to speak of the need for actual and real leadership to accompany what we are doing this afternoon.
Senator Richmond referred to foreign fighters and a number of Irish foreign fighters who have been identified as being involved in armed conflict in areas like Syria and Iraq. He also referred to the status of the returnees. Again, a significant body of law already exists on the Statute Book to deal with criminal offences. Obviously, there is a need to gather an appropriate level of evidence. This is an issue upon which I know my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, has been actively engaged with EU colleagues and other international actors. The sharing of information is vital. I am pleased to note that, as far as Ireland is concerned, everyone would agree that the level of information gathering and sharing between the forces of law and order in this State and our counterparts in other jurisdictions is especially high. In fact, it has never been as close. I hope this will continue. Since we live in a globalised society, the need for sharing information, international protocols, concepts like the European arrest warrant and other international conventions are all important in the context of the gathering of appropriate levels of evidence that will ultimately result in persons engaging in illegal activity being brought to justice.
Senator Richmond also raised the matter of training. That is an issue for the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. In the context of this Bill there has been a significant degree of discussion between the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence and officials in my Department. I will communicate to the Senator on the matter of training but I agree with his view that this is an important issue and one I will clarify with the Senator before the completion of the legislation.
Senators referred to the status or definition of occupied territory. Occupied territory is territory occupied by an invading force after fighting. A point was made about whether this Bill would be relevant in respect of states, countries, members or parties engaged in armed conflict and what would happen afterwards. When can the conflict be regarded as having come to an end? Oftentimes that is a matter of dispute. Of course, the removal of cultural property from the occupied territory of a state that is a party to the protocol will be a specific offence in this jurisdiction. There is also the question of Irish residents participating in a war in Syria and what will happen to them once the appropriate investigation has taken place. Action will take place in respect of persons being suspected of an offence. This will be a matter for the Garda Síochána, as it is in respect of all and any offences across the range of criminal justice issues.
The authorities here are aware of the issue of international foreign fighters. This legislation deals with the theft of cultural property outside the State in the context of armed conflict. Ordinary theft remains an offence on the Statute Book and that is the means by which these people would ultimately be brought to justice. There are also conventions which deal specifically with trafficking cultural property. These are under consideration by my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. She is the line Minister responsible for the matter of funding of the type that has been mentioned by a number of Senators in the context of the consolidation of our legislation, in particular the National Monument Acts.
I am happy to raise the issue of funding with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys.
I acknowledge the contributions of Senators and thank them for their careful consideration of this Bill, as well as for their advice and guidance. I am pleased to acknowledge the positive perception the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 has received and look forward to the continuing support of the House for it.
Senator Bacik raised the issue again of the Syrian conflict. There is a strong participation on our part when dealing with this ongoing issue and the appalling violence on the part of the Assad regime. At this stage, it seems the Assad regime is entirely dependent on the support of outside groups. Without support from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and a variety of other sectarian militia forces, I have no doubt the brutal regime of terror in Syria under Assad would have collapsed some time ago. Assad's backers know exactly what they are doing. They continue to perpetuate a brutal war by a regime, which lacks any legitimacy, against the Syrian people. I had an opportunity, on behalf of the Seanad, Dáil, the Government and the people of Ireland, to directly convey our revulsion at these activities in Syria. I spoke directly to the Russian ambassador, the representative of the Russian Government here, and made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that we regard the actions of his government as being totally unacceptable in these circumstances.
This conflict has given rise to an unprecedented migration challenge for the European Union and for Ireland. I am having ongoing discussions with my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, on the intake and reception in this jurisdiction of a number of refugees in accordance with our stated target of 4,000 people. I acknowledge the process is slow and it needs to be the subject of some order. I regret the administrative issues are such that there is a level of frustration on the part of elected representatives, as well as among the wider public. This is an issue upon which we are anxious to proceed in a way that will demonstrate to our people and the international community that Ireland continues to be willing to play its part in a way we can ensure the suffering of these individuals is mitigated, that they can enjoy a welcome in this jurisdiction and settle in our rural and urban communities for a period to be determined. I am happy to communicate with Senators on this ongoing matter, as I am sure the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is doing.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
On Wednesday, 9 November 2016.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 November 2016.