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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Dec 2021

Vol. 281 No. 5

Antarctic Treaty: Motion

I move:

“That Seanad Éireann:

acknowledges:

- the time and effort committed by the officials of the Irish Government in the consideration of Ireland’s accession to the Antarctic Treaty;

- that there has been governmental interest in the accession of Ireland to the Antarctic Treaty and that this continues;

- the long association of Ireland with the exploration of the polar regions, especially the Irish contributions to the Heroic Age of exploration of the Antarctic, through people such as Shackleton, Bransfield, Crean, McCarthy, Forde, Keohane and others;

- the modern contributions made by Irish scientists, explorers and others who are involved in Antarctic activities, and that such involvement continues;

is aware that:

- the Antarctic Treaty System dedicates the continent for peaceful purpose, for the benefit of humanity and for the free exchange of scientific research;

- national conflicts have remained in abeyance under the Antarctic Treaty for more than half a century, including periods of extreme tension during which cooperation continued on the Antarctic continent and that a Pax Antarctica has prevailed;

- every national territory in the Antarctic has one or more stations of other countries operating within its boundaries and that no discord results;

- Irish scientists participated in the recent International Polar Years (2007-2009) whose programmes are concentrated in the Arctic and Antarctic and have ongoing involvement in programmes in these regions. It is noted that the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) was a major motivation in the foundation of the Antarctic Treaty;

- the Antarctic Treaty is central to a progressive system which has succeeded in protecting Antarctica’s intrinsic geography, climate, wildlife and ecosystems from damaging practices while highlighting the globally detrimental consequences of external activities on the continent’s environment;

- the Irish Government recently applied for membership of the Arctic Council as an observer, based on Ireland’s position of neutrality, a consistent belief in global cooperation, concerns regarding climate change, strengths in scientific and technological research and a maritime influenced culture, heritage and identity. These arguments equally apply to the Antarctic Treaty;

considers:

- that the Antarctic Treaty, made in 1959 by twelve countries then directly involved in Antarctic research, now has 53 adherents whose governments represent some 80% of the population of the Earth;

- communication regarding Ireland’s accession to the Antarctic Treaty dated 4th October, 2010, from the Minister of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Shackleton Autumn School, Athy, in particular that: ‘all Departments involved are aware of the importance of making progress on this issue before the end of the current Programme for Government in 2012’;

- Ireland’s expression of interest in our role in Antarctic heritage, through the donation made during President McAleese’s visit to New Zealand in 2007, to the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust towards the conservation of historic huts on Ross Island, the sites of expeditions during the ‘heroic age’ led by Ernest Shackleton and others;

observes that:

- in Europe: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine, are adherents to the Antarctic Treaty and there are 22 other countries involved;

- recent membership in the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research has been by Denmark and Portugal and that this committee is a basic part of the Antarctic treaty System;

- Malaysia on 31st October, 2011, Pakistan on 1st March, 2012, Kazakhstan on 27th January, 2015, Mongolia on 23rd March, 2015, Iceland on 13th October, 2015 and Slovenia on 22nd April, 2019 are the most recent adherents to the Treaty;

- that the paucity of Antarctic history of any of these states, especially compared to that of Ireland, is conspicuous;

is cognisant:

- of Dáil Éireann’s declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency on 9th May, 2019 and that the Antarctic Treaty System offers a route for direct involvement in the future of Antarctica, one of the most important mediators of global climate and environment;

- that the benefits of adherence to the Antarctic Treaty may be secured without incurring major expenditure and that such membership will be an advantage to Irish scientific research and related Antarctic activity;

- that as a key active and passive actor in global climate, Antarctica concerns all global citizens and accession to the Antarctic Treaty is the principal vehicle for participation with all aspects of the Antarctic;

- that the Antarctic Treaty and its sub-arrangements are templates for apolitical, science driven agreements towards peaceful, globally beneficial objectives. The experience of their implementation along with international partners opens opportunities for application of their operating principles to other similar settings outside of Antarctica;

- that 2022 marks the centenary of the death of Ernest Shackleton in the Antarctic island of South Georgia where he is also buried. Shackleton was Ireland’s pre-eminent Antarctic persona and a leading global ambassador. Shackleton’s international comrades decreed that he was ‘from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, an Irishman....He has all the best characteristics of the Irish race’;

- of the opportunity for Ireland to mark the centenary of Shackleton’s death by making a commitment to advance our accession to the Antarctic Treaty;

- of the work that needs to be undertaken in order for Ireland to accede to the Treaty;

- of the commitment given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in September 2021, that his Department would undertake an assessment to establish the nature and extent of the administrative, policy and legislative commitments that would be necessary for accession to the Treaty, involving a number of Government Departments;

requests:

- an update from the Minister for Foreign Affairs on progress made by his Department in the assessment of the commitments necessary for accession to the Antarctic Treaty;

urges the Government to:

- promptly complete its assessment of necessary commitments for accession to the Antarctic Treaty; and

- commit to taking all necessary steps to accede to the Antarctic Treaty as soon as possible.”

I second the motion.

I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Chamber. The motion is a detailed one. The last couple of lines urge the Government to commit to taking all necessary steps to accede to the Antarctic Treaty as soon as possible.

The ongoing pandemic has reminded us of the primacy of science in providing solutions to potentially overwhelming problems. Science, be it identifying and analysing the facts or conceiving novel solutions, rises above opinion and behaviours to develop a meaningful way forward. The International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 was a significant event that saw the application of postwar technology, such as radar, rockets and computers to assisting in the understanding of complex workings of Earth systems. One of the most important locations for pursuing the objectives of the International Geophysical Year, IGY, was Antarctica. The scientists involved saw the need to share research and findings to prevent this unique and pristine continent's involvement in the Cold War, to ensure it was not used for strategic or weapons-testing purposes and to negate future territorial claims. Out of these noble ambitions grew the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

It is a short treaty. I will mention a few of its articles that frame its philosophy. Article I states, "Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only". Article II states, "Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end ... shall continue". Article III(c) states "scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available". The treaty promotes Antarctica for the betterment of humankind through its use for scientific research and co-operation in preserving and conserving living resources in Antarctica. We have a situation on that continent where countries that might otherwise be adversaries co-operate. They share knowledge, science, research and information and they make all parts of the continent fully accessible. Since its inception, spanning the Cold War and other superpower hostilities, it has proven itself to be robust and effective, thus ensuring Antarctica remains an uncontaminated theatre for leading-edge environmental and geophysical research.

Antarctica is the newest continent. Its first human footprint is as recent as 1895. We only now learning the crucial role it plays in mediating our global environment. A simple statistic that makes it very clear how important it is that 70% of the world’s freshwater is held in the form of ice in Antarctica. Countries comprising 80% of the world’s population have already signed up to this treaty or adherence to it.

As with many other regions across the globe, our diaspora has ensured Irish connections with Antarctica are very strong. The first confirmed sighting on the Antarctic island was by an Irishman, Edward Bransfield of Ballinacurra, County Cork. The heroic era of polar exploration at the beginning of the 20th century saw characters such as Ferrar, the McCarthy brothers, Crean, Forde and Keohane participate in various expeditions. The colossus among them was Kildare’s Ernest Shackleton, who pioneered the route to the South Pole and for whom Antarctica became a theatre for his instinctive, inspirational leadership and supreme courage in the face of such difficult adversity. Shackleton very much considered himself Irish and so did his contemporaries and one, Professor Edgeworth David, summed him up by saying: "[he is] from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, an Irishman ... He has all the best characteristics of the Irish race". Shackleton stated his interest in the furtherance of knowledge and in doing so laid the groundwork for the continued involvement of Irish scientists in scientific research in Antarctica, and Ireland has a very proud tradition in science.

By acceding to the international Antarctic Treaty, Ireland will establish a right to participate in scientific research and share findings of other members’ work, it will have a voice in the future of Antarctica and have an opportunity to partner with others and devise policies and procedures that have a profound impact on the welfare of our globe. In joining this treaty, as is proposed in this motion submitted by the Green Party-An Comhaontas Glas under Private Members' business, Ireland will become part of an agreement which already comprises countries representing 80% of the world’s population.

Shackleton, born in Kilkea, County Kildare in 1874, led four expeditions to the Antarctic and died on the final one. All his expeditions had exploration, scientific and climate objectives. Shackleton has become a hallmark for his leadership methods His decision-making and genuine interest in his crew, irrespective of where they came from or their class, are now regarded as key elements of effective management and leadership. In 1903 Captain Scott sent him back from the Antarctic as unfit for work in cold climates but undeterred, he organised his own expedition that in 1909 came within 100 miles of the South Pole. Short of supplies, he prioritised his and his team’s welfare. Not preoccupied with overachieving he put their safety first and turned back, explaining to his wife Emily he would prefer to be a live donkey than a dead lion. His final expedition saw him die of a heart attack at the Antarctic island of South Georgia where, at his wife’s direction, he remains buried so his heart can lie in the Antarctic he so loved. Shackleton was and is internationally very highly regarded. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is on record is regarding him as an important inspiration in her role. The famous Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, declared Shackleton’s name would be written in letters of fire on the Antarctic.

The Shackleton Museum, Athy, is a leading institution. We are so proud to have this museum in County Kildare. It is dedicated to preserving, promoting and making relevant Ireland’s legacy in global exploration and, in particular, that of Ernest Shackleton. I put on record the current committee members of this voluntary organisation, which is a beacon of tourism in Kildare.

Committee members include Senator Mark Wall, Councillor Aoife Breslin, Councillor Ivan Keatley, Councillor Brian Dooley, Annette Aspell, Bridget Loughlin, Kevin Kenny, Seamus Taaffe, Joe O'Farrell, Clem Roche, Marc Guernon, Ger Kelly and many other great friends, including renowned artist, Vincent Sheridan, who joined us for the press conference earlier today to express his delight that this motion has now reached the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

I must make a special mention of Naas councillor, Colm Kenny, who was pivotal in getting us to where we are today, and the Kildare Green Party members, including Sean English who was in the Antarctic, and many others. I recently attended a conference organised by Into Kildare in the beautiful Kilkee Castle. Its chairperson, David Mongey, singled out our obvious strengths in Kildare. We are internationally renowned for horse racing but he mentioned two other potential growth areas. St. Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland, and if her feast day became a bank holiday we could see spring schools.

I do not wish to interrupt Senator Martin's speech, but we must stick to the motion.

Yes. To return to the motion, Shackleton is the second thing. Horse racing, St. Brigid and-----

It was when Senator Martin mentioned St. Brigid that I realised we were slightly off the motion, just off course.

We are spoiled for choice in Kildare. St. Brigid, horse racing and Shackleton have huge untapped tourism potential for our county.

And the bank holiday.

Ernest Shackleton's name and reputation go before him. I will hand over soon to my Green Party colleague. Ernest Shackleton died in January 1922. He is buried in the whalers' cemetery on the Antarctic island of South Georgia. It would be most appropriate that we mark the centenary of his death by building on his pioneering Antarctic work by acceding to the Antarctic Treaty. If the Government were to do this, there are strict guidelines on where the treaties are deposited, but we could have a ceremonial signing of this international treaty beside his beautiful statue in Athy, which is outside the museum.

The big question for the Minister is if he is up for this. Will he give us a signal today because there is a lot of goodwill in the room, as there has been for decades? We have now formally tabled it as a motion. I look forward to the Minister's contribution and to his assessment of where we stand and exactly what he can do as Minister for Foreign Affairs to get this over the line, which is the bottom line. We want to take our place among the great nations of the world. Ireland is a leader. This is all good. It is good to have a country with such a rich legacy. It does not make sense to be outside the room when we should be at the top table in Antarctica of all places. I appreciate the Minister's attendance in the Chamber this evening. I will listen attentively to what he has to say in response to the motion. I will now hand over to my Green Party colleague, Senator Garvey.

I second the motion. I feel that this is a Lilywhites PR campaign.

Senator Garvey has not seen anything yet.

Carpe diem. I thank my colleague, Senator Martin, for bringing forward this motion. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who committed to trying to get this done a year ago when he visited Kildare.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 countries. There are now 42 signatories of the treaty, covering 80% of the world's population. It is great timing because we had an historic maritime Bill passed by this House and embraced by the coalition Government and today we have this great motion which will ensure we are at the table and signing up to the treaty to protect Antarctica. We have been accused of being climate laggers in the past and we must show that we are not like that any longer. Yesterday's Bill and today's motion are fitting to show that we are pulling up our socks and treating this as a real climate emergency. Without going into too much detail, everybody knows how important Antarctica is with regard to carbon sequestration and biodiversity. So many of the great whales and sharks come from that area and the krill that are hugely important for carbon sequestration as well. It is great that the Minister has come to the House today. I thank him for coming in and taking the issue seriously.

I will speak briefly on the need to protect this almost pristine environment. The Antarctic Treaty is unique in this world. The land is not owned by any one country and in a fast growing world of greed and globalisation, it is amazing to think we have this one space that we have not found a way to buy and sell and take all the minerals out of it. I am pleased to see that we are up for taking on this motion. The land is not owned by any one country and its management is agreed in this special treaty. This has ensured peace is maintained on this continent, which sadly has not happened anywhere else in the world. The level of environmental protection is also unique, as it explicitly protects against human interference – God knows we play our part everywhere else; the environment and natural world are protected as a result of its inherent and recognised intrinsic value. Its protection is sacred and explicit in limiting human interactions and preventing human extraction of resources, as has happened in almost every other corner of the Earth.

To agree with the Antarctic Treaty and the protections offered therein, allows us to demonstrate that we believe in the intrinsic value of protecting and conserving the natural world. We have so much more to do with regard to the significant challenge we face with the biodiversity and climate emergencies that we see wreaking havoc all over the world and coming closer to home every day. It is important that, as my colleague said, we are at the table for this treaty. It would be madness not to support it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on how we can manifest the motion into action so that Ireland is part of the treaty. I value the presence of the Minister and his giving his time. I thank my colleague, Senator Martin, for his work on the motion. Great people from all over Ireland went to Antarctic, not just Kildare people. The Kerry people would kill me if I did not mention Tom Crean as well. It is an important treaty and it is great that the Minister is here today to give us guidance on what he is going to do to get Ireland to the table.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I will be brief. I support this excellent motion. I do not intend listing all the county councillors from Kildare. I am originally from Kildare, a little place just outside Athy called Narraghmore. Therefore, I know a lot about Ernest Shackleton. I salute the people of Athy in County Kildare for the interpretative centre and museum and also their connection with the nearby town of Ballitore, which many know due to the Leadbeaters and the Quaker history and tradition associated with it. I have spent most of the remaining part of my life in Dún Laoghaire, another great place, which also tried to put in place an interpretation centre on Shackleton and the Antarctic. It has not as yet been successful, yet has had loads of money pumped into it in the wonderful harbour in Dún Laoghaire. That is something that relates to Athy.

I ask Senator Boyhan to stick to the motion.

If we park all of that, I want to make the point-----

-----that there is a commitment and history. I support the motion. The Antarctic is unique. It is an isolated land mass with no permanent human settlements, surrounded by a wild, cold and stormy ocean. Few can perceive the benefits of the Antarctic. Few of us have clear opinions based on personal experience, for many of us will never visit or have the opportunity to visit that continent. The whole of mankind benefits from its isolation, which is part of its uniqueness. Few will ever have an opportunity to visit its unique ecosystems. The treaty is about the ecosystems that are there. It is a global resource, both practically and spiritually and it must be managed, conserved and supported for the benefit of all.

I acknowledge the enormous work done by a former Senator, now MEP, Grace O'Sullivan. She is the Green Party marine spokesperson. She has been so much involved in the sea and ahead of the ball regarding the Antarctic. She is an environmentalist and was personally involved in Greenpeace out on the high seas.

She brought all of that skill, passion and love for the environment here. When she left, she went to the European Parliament, where she continues to be a wonderful advocate for this area. It would be right and proper that we acknowledge her work.

I thank the Minister and I thank the Green Party. I will be supporting this motion.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and acknowledge that his presence is an indication of how seriously he is taking this issue. I congratulate my colleagues in the Green Party for bringing forward the motion. It is a worthy motion and a worthy debate that we should have.

The Antarctic Treaty System effectively allows for peaceful co-operation between countries. It provides that no specific country precisely owns the Antarctic. Countries have stations there, are involved in research there, such as nuclear testing and scientific research, and preserve its biodiversity. The research and work there will improve humankind. There is an interest in accession to the Antarctic Treaty System. I would be interested to hear in the Minister's response where precisely we are at and how he views the future in regard to that.

Irish scientists participated in the International Polar Year experimentation in 2007 and 2009. That was a positive Irish involvement and that is good.

It is a wonderful treaty to the extent that national conflicts have remained in abeyance under the Antarctic Treaty. Every national territory, as I stated earlier, has stations but, importantly, they are not in an ownership situation. The treaty allows for the protection of the intrinsic geography, climate, wildlife and ecosystems in Antarctic and that is important.

I gather that Ireland has sought to join the Arctic Council, in observer status because of our neutrality position. The Minister might elaborate and make us aware of what is happening there. Initially, the treaty was made by 12 countries and it is extremely important that we would be part of it.

Much reference has been made to, and my distinguished colleague Senator Vincent P. Martin gave a learned exposition on, the entire question of explorers there, and specifically on Ernest Shackleton. I had the privilege of meeting the Shackleton family on one occasion. They have interests close to my home area. Senator Martin is probably aware of that. They have family interests in the north Meath area as well. There is a family tradition there. Of course, there are some of the Crean family still around too, and Tom Crean is obviously a celebrated explorer too. Ireland has an interesting tradition of exploration.

Next year will mark the centenary of the death of Ernest Shackleton on the Antarctic island of South Georgia, where he is buried. He was Ireland's pre-eminent Antarctic person and a leading global ambassador. Shackleton's international comrades decreed that he was an Irishman "from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet" and that he had "all the best characteristics of the Irish race".

It is an interesting and worthwhile motion. It is important that we preserve Antarctica, its biodiversity and its ecosystems, that we preserve it in its unspoilt condition and that we make sure it is not a victim of global warming. There have been some alarming reports from there, and alarming evidence on our television screens. We do not welcome that. We are certainly committed in Ireland to the climate change agenda and to making sure we preserve Antarctica and we preserve our planet to the largest possible degree. That is our job. While Ireland cannot do it alone, we will have a moral leadership role. We will by our actions be fit to make the case strongly.

I personally believe that we should go on seeking observer status at the Arctic Council. I believe we should look at accession to the treaty. I am interested in the Minister's response in that regard. The Green Party has done a good day's work. It does not merit further elaboration. I note the time is up.

I thank the Minister for coming in to take this important issue. When I arrived in, I thought we would be debating the White Continent. I started off thinking that it was the Lilywhites that we were debating but there is a long Irish association with Antarctica. I would even say that part of why this is important is that it speaks to the importance of our foreign policy, to which I will refer.

The Antarctic Treaty was unique in that it came about at the time of the Cold War. It came about at a time when many nations were not trusting each other. In a way, it was phenomenal that 12 countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, came together and realised the importance of every area south of 60°.

For Ireland, and this is why I think this is important and why I support Senator Joe O'Reilly's point on the Arctic Council, it is about the core of our foreign policy and our foreign policy values. We, by our nature, support multilateralism. We believe that Ireland's role involves taking our part in global organisations, such as the European Union and the United Nations, and playing an active role. That should include being part of the Antarctic Treaty System because the Antarctic is crucial to every nation in the world and to all lands from a climate change perspective, from a research perspective and from the perspective of understanding our planet.

I believe we should sign up. I believe we should go further than observer status. I favour joining the Arctic Council. I also believe we should join CERN. We should be engaged in any form of participation at a global level in any organisation that supports research that leads to a better understanding of our planet. Ireland's foreign policy, which has always been based on multilateralism, means that there is no reason we should not be at this table, not only for historical reasons but also in terms of what we should do there when we join the Antarctic Treaty System. It is not simply a case of signing up to a piece of paper.

We have an important role in protecting the fisheries and minerals and talking about ensuring we guard against climate change. There will be fears into the future about bioprospecting happening in the Antarctic. It is important that Ireland's voice, along with the voices of other countries, ensures the Antarctic remains as a pristine continent.

One of the problems I see with the Antarctic Treaty System is that essentially there has to be agreement by unanimity. We almost need to end that veto system. We have got to ensure that if the majority of nations on this planet want to stand up and prevent mining and bioprospecting and want to ensure the protection of the great White Continent, Ireland stands with those other nations to ensure that happens because it speaks to our values in terms of foreign policy. I encourage us to sign up as soon as possible and to resist any geopolitical pressures to look at mining, prospecting or changing the fisheries rules when there are challenges on precious resources in the rest of the planet.

It ties into the important debate that we have about multilateralism as the core of our foreign policy. We had a good debate on China last week. I would link it to the debate here. In the last 48 hours, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and several European countries, as part of strong values related to multilateralism and commitment to human rights, indicated that there would be a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. I would like the Minister to indicate, whether on the floor of this House or otherwise as soon as possible, that there will be a diplomatic boycott on Ireland's part and that he will encourage the European Union will take similar action. It would send a strong message that our foreign policy remains committed to human rights.

I commend my Green Party colleagues on this motion. It is important not just for the Antarctic, but it speaks to what Irish foreign policy is all about. Robert Emmet talked about Ireland taking its place among the nations of the world. We have done that. In many ways, the European Union was the agency that allowed us to be able to do that. We stepped out from Britain's shadow. We are punching above our weight. The Minister plays his part in that. Our role on the UN Security Council is crucial. We also have to do that in many other areas, whether climate change, human rights, or membership of multilateral organisations such as this, the Arctic Council, or CERN. We have to play our role.

I am happy that the Government is moving ahead with this. I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer. I hope I will also hear an answer about the Beijing Winter Olympics. This is about a statement of Irish foreign policy and I urge that we move ahead.

The Senator got plenty of value for his time.

As someone who lives close to Newlands Cross, which is almost in Kildare, I think that qualifies me to speak on this motion. I would like to express Sinn Féin’s support for the motion. I commend the Green Party on tabling it. It would be welcome if Ireland joined the treaty. Not only would it be of great benefit to our research community, but I believe Ireland could play an important role in shaping the future of Antarctica and preserving it as a wilderness for future generations. I commend the arguments put forward in the motion about the positive role Ireland could play through its position of neutrality. In my contribution this evening, I would like to build on that and emphasise the positive role, which Ireland, with its own colonial history, understands.

To articulate our position, it is worth taking a critical look at the history of Antarctica through an anti-colonial lens. Antarctic exploration might not have the hallmarks of typical colonial projects because there were no indigenous people to subjugated and dominate, but make no mistake, if colonialism is reduced to its bare-bones definition of a struggle for control over territory and resources, the conquest of Antarctica fits the bill. The fact that states active in Antarctica are not currently plundering its resources does not erase the fact that the bulk of the continent is claimed by a handful of states based on a primitive process of discovering, claiming, and occupying. It is not as if there are no resources there to plunder. The continent likely has vast reserves of oil, particularly in the Ross and Weddell seas, with potential for mineral exploration under the ice sheet.

I will use my remaining time to challenge some themes of the narrative around Antarctic exploration and the treaty. A dominant narrative about the Antarctic Treaty is that it is responsible for "Pax Antarctica", as something that caused the imperial powers to set aside their self-interests for peaceful scientific purposes to the benefit of humanity. It is encapsulated in the motion being debated today, which calls the treaty "a progressive system". It is important to remember that the original flag-planting territorial claims have not gone away but are baked into the Antarctic Treaty, as evidenced by Article IV, which states "Nothing contained in the present treaty shall be interpreted as ... a renunciation ... of previously asserted rights of or claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica". In other words, the Antarctic is being held for science by the countries with territorial claims but they still reserve their right to exploit those reserves if or when the treaty falls apart. The probable reason why the Antarctic is still set aside for science has less to do with the treaty and more to do with the continent being locked under ice, with its resources still being too peripheral to the powers which could exploit them.

The second narrative is that Antarctica is a Terra Scientifica, set aside for the pursuit of knowledge, and that the scientific activity in Antarctica is, as the motion claims, apolitical. The reality is, as political ecologist Manon Burbidge has argued, that science is being used for naked political gain. Science serves to legitimise footholds in strategic locations across the continent. Most recently, we saw the siting of research centres by China, but the British, the Americans and others are equally complicit. The focus on science privileges wealthy countries in the governance of Antarctica to the exclusion of developing and former colonies. The colonial past and present are things that Ireland has a deep understanding of. We should reflect on them if we join this treaty.

I will conclude by looking to the future of the treaty in Antarctica. Unfortunately, the prospect of Antarctica remaining a preserve for science and conservation, free from military and mining activities, is bleak. Thanks to climate change, as the ice melts and technology advances, the barriers to resource exploitation will disintegrate. That is when the strength of this treaty will really be tested. Call me a cynic but it is more likely that we will then see national economic interests prevail, much as they have in the Arctic north. The question should be answered before too long, when the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, or the Madrid Protocol, and the ban on mining come up for review in the 2040s. Antarctica’s future is not yet written. If Ireland succeeds in joining, which I sincerely hope we do, we cannot just join; we have to be active. We must be a voice for a renewed internationalism that will speak up for former colonies and developing nations and protect the vast continent from the next phase of capitalism to materialise in Antarctica.

I welcome the Minister. I put on record my thanks and the thanks of the Shackleton Museum, Athy, and its board of directors to the Green Party for tabling this important motion. I especially thank the Green Party Senators here, particularly Senator Martin. I also acknowledge Councillor Colm Kenny, who played a crucial role in bringing this forward, along with Senator Martin. I acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who recently visited the centre in Athy, and the part that he has played in bringing the motion to us tonight.

It may come as no surprise to Members that I will concentrate on the benefits to Athy and Kildare of having the Shackleton Museum in the town. As Senator Martin said in his introduction, I am a proud director of the Athy Heritage Museum and I have been for over ten years. It is important to the town and its future. The Acting Chairperson mentioned in his contribution the magnificent statue of Ernest Shackleton in the centre of the town, which has attracted much interest internationally. As a previous cathaoirleach of the town council, I recall that we had a yearly event to coincide with the autumn school. On one occasion, people of 12 nationalities, coming from every corner of the world, came to be at the autumn school, such was the interest in Shackleton and in polar exploration. The benefit of that was seen throughout the town of Athy. That has continued every year. Unfortunately, it has been virtual for the past few years, given everything that Covid has brought. I encourage all Members of the House to attend. The autumn Shackleton school is a great weekend and a corner of events in Athy.

I second Senator Martin's invitation to the Minister to come to Athy to sign the treaty. We look forward to the Minister's reply. That will hopefully be an event that we can celebrate in Athy, given its association with Ernest Shackleton. He was born in Kilkea, just outside Athy and near to the town of Castledermot, in 1874. We recently visited his house. Senator O'Loughlin and I took part in the Kildare Sports Partnership Shackleton challenge recently. Senator O'Loughlin is displaying the medal that we both got. Almost 50 people attended that event, from a number of sports clubs.

It shows again the interest in promoting Shackleton and what he has done for the tourism potential of the town of Athy. That is to be celebrated at every opportunity and I thank my Green Party colleagues for giving me the opportunity to state that.

It is important to acknowledge the Government investment in the museum. We will have an iceberg outside the museum in the future. The drawings are on display. I acknowledge Government investment over recent years but we need a few bob more to complete the job. I am sure the Minister and Government will not be found wanting on that because we will have a world centre for Shackleton and polar exploration once the museum is completed. The Minister has been to Athy a couple of times and it is hoped he will be back again when we sign the treaty in the town. He is welcome to come down any time to see the museum and the great work that is going on there.

On the importance of Shackleton to Athy, the chairperson of the local group, Frank Taaffe, referenced in a recent article two important visitors who came to the centre, again showing its tremendous potential. Colin Teague, who is from the US and running a Reach the World initiative for an educational organisation using a virtual platform, recently visited the museum. He is involved with a worldwide educational programme and brought it to Athy. An important recent visitor was Mensun Bound, the person who will look for Endurance in 2022. He has a short window, I am informed, but we look forward to that discovery. He was impressed with what was on show in our museum. I encourage everybody to take part.

The essential reason we are here is the Antarctic Treaty. As has been said by Senator Martin and others, it is important to say that, for many decades and through occasions of conflict and uncertainty, the treaty has stood to protect Antarctica for the betterment of humankind. More than this, the treaty has enabled the science-based co-operation that underpins it to progress our understanding of the world we live in. Today scientists from countries, as has been said by colleagues, representing 80% of the world's population work co-operatively to understand the systems that have formed and control our planet.

I mentioned Ernest Shackleton was born outside Kilkea, Castledermot in 1874. Senator Martin has outlined why this treaty is important to Ireland. As he said, Antarctica is the newest continent and the first human footprint is as recent as 1895. We are only now learning the crucial role it plays in mediating our global environment. A simple statistic makes that role startlingly clear: 70% of the world's fresh water is held in the form of ice in the Antarctic. That is why it is important for Ireland to be there as a global player and, as part of our foreign policy, we need to be at the table. I hope the Minister will be positive in his reply that we will be there.

I welcome the motion and the spirit in which it is put forward. I will support it. There are parts of it I would ask the Minister to embrace and move further on. The tradition identified in terms of Shackleton and others is important. It is also important to note there is now credible evidence of the Maori people visiting the Antarctic more than 1,000 years ago. In the celebration of the spirit of those such as Shackleton, we should not overly glorify some of the era of exploration which has had a mixed record. Senator Boylan made the point there is no terra nullius that is purely for the exploration and the taking. The Antarctic must be protected as being something of global multilateralism and a global good. While the treaty is positive in many senses, it is a document from 1959 that could be somewhat updated and strengthened in some aspects. I will come to that in a moment.

I welcome the fact the Government applied for membership of the Arctic Council. That sets a useful tone for this. I echo the point that Ireland has a particular contribution to make in terms of our history of neutrality. The Pax Antarctica is something we cannot be complacent about. As we see the erosion of the ice floes and resources are potentially uncovered, it is important the principles of an apolitical Antarctic are maintained and that the science conducted there is for the global public good and not for the profit of the few. Much global trust has been lost due to the failure to have a trade-related intellectual property rights, TRIPS, waiver.

I commend a new generation of scientists from Ireland who have travelled. Susanna Gaynor is one I have spoken to and there are many other examples I could give of scientists who have engaged. It is important we do that in the spirit of neutrality. The protection of the principle of peace is important. We cannot be complacent about multilateralism because there is a push in the world at the moment towards a politics of big powers and client states. It is back to that model and away from a politics of principle and multilateralism. We all recall when a certain world leader flew over Greenland and decided he would like to buy some of it. We need to protect against that and that is why things like the Antarctic Treaty are important. We need to strengthen those protections further.

Antarctic marine protected areas are crucial. I commend former Senator Grace O'Sullivan who successfully passed a resolution on Antarctic marine protected areas in the European Parliament. I urge the Minister, as well as supporting the asks in this motion, to ensure Ireland plays an active role in driving forward progress in the negotiations within the framework of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to ensure we have two marine protected areas in the Arctic and Antarctic. A marine protected area framework is a more modern framework in tune with the biodiversity crisis we have acknowledged in Ireland and globally. It is also in tune with issues such as the protection of biodiversity resources and that of fresh water and the role of waters. Oceans, being among the largest carbon sinks, marine biodiversity areas and areas of rich resources for survival on this planet, are crucial. As well as the Antarctic Treaty, we need to copper-fasten marine protection on a global level.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has also made attempts to achieve an agreement to protect marine biological diversity. It is an area where I worry we could lose time and opportunity because, in the context of global warming and the discovery and exploration of minerals and resources in the Arctic, there are those who would find old subclauses and claims or new opportunities and points of leverage or pressure and seek to apply those to exploit such resources for national or commercial gain, to the detriment of our global common good.

This is not just a nice thing to do or an appropriate connection for Ireland. The word "paucity" is used to describe others' connections. However, given everyone has a connection with the Arctic and the Antarctic since we share the same globe, I suggest it is not the best word in the resolution. It is also important in a geopolitical sense to place a marker down in terms of our perspective of the Antarctic, how we value it, and our commitment to multilateral co-operation for the public good, science and our common future.

The Minister is very welcome to the Seanad. Our party certainly welcomes and supports this debate. I compliment my Kildare colleague, Senator Martin, and the Green Party on tabling this motion. It is very important that it is supported in the interests of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation for the benefit of mankind as a whole. The three Government parties are committed to collective climate action, including through engagement in multilateral forums and as a focus of our international development programme. In that context, we have to recognise the value of the Antarctic Treaty System's objective to provide comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, its dependents and its associated ecosystems. There is no doubt that the objectives and achievements of the Antarctic Treaty System are of considerable importance. The commitment of all the signatories is very commendable.

I share the earlier comments of my colleague Senator Wall, in particular, in respect of the greatest Antarctic explorer there has ever been, Ernest Shackleton, who led three expeditions to the Antarctic. On Sunday, 19 September, I was one of 28 people, including Senator Wall, who walked from Shackleton's home in Kilkea to the Shackleton Museum in Athy. Those 28 people were chosen because that is the number of people Shackleton had on his great ship, Endurance, which we have all learned so much about in the intervening years. I am very proud to wear the medal I was presented with that day early on a Sunday morning. It was a very emotive and emotional walk. The reason behind it was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Shackleton's final expedition and all the leadership qualities he showed.

The Shackleton family were very much immersed in the business, farming and educational life of south Kildare. In fact, his father started a multi-denominational school in Ballitore, just outside Athy. They were immersed in and proud of their Irish roots and connections. Shackleton was an incredible leader. His men said that he was the best leader in all mankind. He was a cautious leader and was very good at improvisation. He would never ask his men to do anything he would not do himself. It is just incredible to think of that particular voyage on the Endurance, which was a two-year attempt to traverse the Antarctic that took place from 1914 to 1916. It was a story of remarkable perseverance and survival. Many books have been written about it. Not one man lost his life. It was all men in those days although there are women on some of the expeditions now.

Shackleton was certainly one of the principal figures of the period known as the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. An invitation has already been issued to the Minister, and I recommend that he takes it up, to come to Athy to see the museum, which is a very important asset to Athy and south Kildare. It will only grow in size and development. The highlights include an original sleigh from one of the expeditions, a fabulous model of the ship, Endurance, and many photographs of the families, etc. The hut Shackleton died in is being restored at present and will be returned to the museum.

As Senator Wall said, the excellent annual Ernest Shackleton Autumn School has taken place remotely in the last couple of years, unfortunately. It focuses on the Antarctic and on other aspects of Shackleton's life. About three or four years ago, I took part in a project a local school did on Shackleton's leadership and what pupils could learn from it. It was amazing to participate and the young people took a lot from it. The five elements of Shackleton's leadership are inspiring optimism; developing a clear, shared purpose; building unity and commitment; creating a plan and an alternative plan, and being flexible about both; and making tough decisions. We can all learn a lot from the courage and commitment that Shackleton showed to his team and his immense contribution to exploration and geographic discovery.

I also give accolades to those involved with the museum, Frank Taaffe, Judith O'Brien and Margaret Walsh. Anybody who goes to the museum, and wants to have a tour and to learn, can learn a lot from Margaret and the team there. It is wonderful to talk about Shackleton and what he represents. We are looking forward to the new museum. I endorse this motion.

I thank colleagues for their initiative in tabling this motion on the Antarctic Treaty System in the Seanad. I assure them we are taking it very seriously; that is why I am here.

The wide-ranging provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System are intended to facilitate access to Antarctica for peaceful purposes, to promote scientific co-operation and to govern the relationship among states involved in the Antarctic region. The Antarctic Treaty System comprises the Antarctic Treaty 1959, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals 1972 and the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty 1991. The treaty and conventions deal with issues relating to, among other things, nuclear testing, scientific research, criminal jurisdiction, environmental protection and conservation, waste disposal, territorial claims and military activity. At the time of its conclusion, the treaty was regarded as making an extremely important contribution to international peace and security, as was mentioned by some speakers, because it preserved Antarctica for exclusively peaceful purposes. Territorial claims to Antarctica were, in essence, put in abeyance, new ones were effectively discouraged and nuclear testing there was prohibited. In addition, the treaty provides for freedom of scientific investigation throughout Antarctica and encourages co-operation to that end.

It is fitting that the motion recalls the modern contributions made by Irish scientists and explorers in Antarctica. We recall the diverse Irish connections with this region, not least through the impressive achievements, mentioned by many Senators, especially those from Kildare, of Ernest Shackleton. The Irish have a long history of Antarctic exploration, including men such as Edward Bransfield, Francis Crozier, Tom Crean, Patrick Keohane, Robert Forde, the McCarthy brothers, Mortimer and Timothy, and Ernest Shackleton from Kildare. All are Irishmen associated with Antarctic exploration. The courage and determination shown by Shackleton, particularly during the infamous Endurance expedition, has been an inspiration to many over the years.

Members of this House will be aware that the first article of the Antarctic Treaty relates to the peaceful use of Antarctica. Ireland recognises that multilateral co-operation must be at the heart of how we seek to deal with global challenges, not least with threats to international peace and security. For Ireland, multilateralism is at the core of how we approach international peace and security. This is expressed in our commitment to UN peacekeeping and to promoting disarmament, which is part of Ireland's foreign policy. It has been demonstrated most recently through our membership of the UN Security Council, which is ongoing until the end of next year. Indeed, we have prioritised climate and security since our election to the UN Security Council and have played a leadership role as co-chair of the informal expert group on climate and security. As we speak, we are currently working on trying to get agreement on the first-ever resolution in the Security Council on climate and security, which may well be voted on next week. We will have to wait and see.

During our presidency in September, Ireland hosted a high-level open debate at the Security Council on climate on security, which was chaired by An Taoiseach.

We have since brought forward work on a draft thematic resolution on the matter, to which I have just referred. This builds on an issue that is now firmly embedded in the UN Security Council's work through the inclusion of climate language in several country and regional resolutions and presidential statements. It underlines the link between climate change and the maintenance of international peace and security.

The motion before us also recalls the commitment of the Antarctic Treaty System to protect the climate, wildlife and ecosystems of Antarctica. As I mentioned earlier, Ireland has been actively involved in important global issues such as climate change and acting as an advocate for biodiversity in international forums. Members of this House will be aware that Ireland has signed and ratified a number of international conventions, treaties, protocols and other agreements that seek to provide a global response and approach to protecting biodiversity in ecosystems services, including: the UN Convention on Biological Diversity; the UN Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; the Bonn Convention; the Global Strategy on Plan Conservation; the OSPAR Convention; and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Ireland is also a member of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and it also adopted the sustainable development goals. We did more than adopt them; we were central to getting agreement on them, working closely with Kenya.

In December 2020, Ireland applied for observer status to the Arctic Council. While this application has not yet been considered by the Arctic Council Ministerial, we remain interested in Arctic issues and will seek to engage on these issues in the period ahead. Although Ireland was not an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty and has not since acceded, we support UN General Assembly Resolutions 57/51/2002 and 60/47/2005, which reaffirmed that the management and use of Antarctica should be conducted in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in the interests of maintaining international peace and security, and of promoting international co-operation.

I take note of the call within this motion for the Government to complete its assessment of the necessary commitment for accession to the Antarctic Treaty and to commit to taking all necessary steps to accede as soon as possible. The Government does not oppose this motion; it is positive on it. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the 12 countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. It entered into force in 1961. Some 53 states have acceded to the Antarctic Treaty, as either consultative or non-consultative parties. The motion provides an outline of some of the countries involved. Senators will be aware that not all states support the Antarctic Treaty and that for many years after its conclusion, there was a campaign to have Antarctica treated as the heritage of all mankind, regulated by an agreement within the framework of the United Nations. Given the passage of time and the enduring and developing arrangements within the Antarctic Treaty System, this idea has waned and the Antarctic Treaty is likely to remain the only practical framework for the regulation of human activity in Antarctica.

Consultative parties conduct scientific research in the Arctic and have decision-making authority. Non-consultative parties do not participate in decision-making processes but are bound to carry out the provisions of the treaty and decisions taken within its framework. Accession, as either a consultative or non-consultative party, entails a range of commitments on states. The question of accession by Ireland to the Antarctic Treaty System was last examined over ten years ago and relevant Departments were consulted at that time. That exercise established that accession by Ireland to the Antarctic Treaty and other instruments would require enactment of complex legislation. For example, for Ireland to become a party to the Antarctic Treaty, we would have to enact legislation making it a criminal offence for any citizen of Ireland to commit in Antarctica any act or omission, which if committed in Ireland, would be a criminal offence in the State. It was also considered that accession to the Antarctic Treaty System would likely entail significant commitments by a number of Departments.

Given the passage of time since then, in June 2021 my Department undertook to carry out an assessment to establish the administrative and policy commitments, in addition to the previously identified legislative requirements that would be necessary for accession to the Antarctic Treaty. This initial assessment will form the basis for subsequent discussions with a number of other Departments, including to explore the relative responsibilities of accession. In recent months, my Department has, therefore, been consulting with a number of countries of comparable size to gain further information about their experience of accession and membership of the Antarctic Treaty System. Our embassies have been in contact with the foreign ministries in their countries of accreditation with a view to obtaining this information for relevant Ministers, which include those responsible for the environment, science, public health, education and food safety. This element of the assessment is ongoing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also intends to examine the measures taken to implement the Antarctic Treaty System in common law countries, such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia. In addition, my Department has prepared terms of reference for an assessment to be carried out in Ireland of the range of legislative policy and administrative requirements of accession. It is expected that this assessment will be completed early next year. On conclusion of the assessment, further consultations regarding commitments will be required with relevant Departments. The precise legislative requirements for acceding to the Antarctic Treaty System are among the issues which are subject to more detailed assessment now. Any specific legislative proposals arising from the assessment will be submitted for the approval of Government in the ordinary way prior to accession.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to provide Members of the House with this update on the Antarctic Treaty System and the assessment and consultations that are in progress regarding the commitments and measures required for accession. We need to be credible. If we are going to do this, we need to do it properly. The Government takes note of the provisions of this motion and welcomes them, including the overview of interests of Ireland more generally in Antarctica. I expect this will be the subject of further engagement with relevant Departments, including in regard to legislative and policy requirements, prior to its return to Cabinet.

On a personal level, I am very committed to trying to get this done. I have set myself and my Department a target of trying to make some definitive progress on this by the end of the first quarter of next year. I would be more than happy to come back to the Seanad at that stage to outline where we are at before we, I hope, can bring recommendations to Government in terms of moving this process forward. There are serious commitments that we need to assess to ensure that we have the capacity to do this properly if we are going to do it. Those who have spoken about Shackleton and others would expect nothing less. This is a very good example of multilateralism working and not only protecting an environment but also managing relationships in terms of competing interests on a very important part of our planet. I would like Ireland to be involved in those efforts in the future. I welcome the opportunity to outline the Government's position on this issue and I look forward to returning to the House with an update.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response to the motion. I invite Senator Martin to respond.

I again thank the Minister for his attendance. It is testament to how seriously he takes this matter. I would like to comment favourably on some of the Minister's comments. The Minister said that he welcomes this motion, that he is positively disposed to it and personally committed. Credit where credit is due, he has also put a timeframe on matters and said that he is happy and willing to return to the Upper House. On behalf of the many Senators involved in this cross-party initiative, I thank the Minister. It is about as much progress as we have ever made in a tangible way.

It is not over until it is over. Given that it has been such a long wait, we are not going to get carried away tonight but significant progress has been made. Indeed, we have seen the most progress to date from an Irish Government and we have heard it directly from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I thank him for his very proactive response and his ongoing consultation and assessment. He seems to be going very much in the right direction and I thank him for that. I also want to thank, once again, the Shackleton Museum. I hope I have put the names of all of its members on the record, including Mr. Frank Taaffe, the brilliant chairperson who has published more than 1,000 articles in the local journal. I am also grateful for the cross-party support and the goodwill from all sides of the House. That was epitomised today by the contributions of Senators from the neighbouring Kildare South constituency, Senators Wall and O'Loughlin. While we are national parliamentarians, we all stood together and that is the way forward. This is a community initiative, best epitomised by the Shackleton Museum's voluntary committee. My two friends from south of the border in Kildare South are certainly not letting the side down. They are so dedicated to this and I hope we will have a breakthrough in the not too distant future. That would be so appropriate on the centenary of the death of Ernest Shackleton next year.

This is a leading example of a global, science-driven approach to a global issue. We could have done with more of that in our response to the pandemic and ongoing climate change challenges. If we could replicate some of the co-operation in the Antartic Treaty, it would be great. Comments were made about the science. The science visitors, projects and personnel are declared in advance, all results are shared and unannounced inspections are permitted. The future is global and we have seen that tonight. This House has a tradition of being less adversarial and less partisan than other assemblies and chambers around the world and I have seen that tradition in action tonight. We also saw an avoidance of parochialism. We have explorers from all over Ireland, the most famous of them being the colossus, Shackleton but Ireland is conspicuous by its absence from the table. That said, the future is bright.

I will conclude by quoting my friend and colleague, Grace O’Sullivan, MEP, whom other Senators, including Senators Higgins and Boyhan, generously mentioned:

I first set foot on Antarctic ice in 1986 as an activist with Greenpeace where we campaigned for the protection of Antarctica, one of the last true wildernesses on earth, as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. As an MEP, I have been able to continue that activism and support EU efforts to protect the delicate biodiversity of the Antarctic which plays such an important role in climate regulation.

This is our time and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will lead on it. I have full faith that he will get this over the line, following his expression of clear intent this evening. I look forward to returning to this Chamber when Ireland, not just Kildare, can celebrate taking its rightful place at the table from which it is conspicuously absent at the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 December 2021.
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