I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 197 together.
Access to Sellafield by Irish experts has been sought by the Irish Government on an ongoing basis and in February 2000 staff of the RPII received permission for a formal visit to the site. Based on its examination of the safety documentation, in December 2000 the RPII produced a report on the storage of liquid high-level radioactive waste at Sellafield. That set out a number of conclusions and recommendations for BNFL and its regulators. The report is freely available from the RPII.
I understand that the concerns expressed by the RPII relate to the difficulty posed in accessing certain information from the UK authorities regarding Sellafield in the security climate after the attacks of 11 September 2001. A review of security, including access to information, was undertaken by the UK authorities in the aftermath of 11 September regarding sensitive nuclear sites, including Sellafield. That review was welcomed by the Government and considered necessary, given the threat posed by a malicious attack on or accident at Sellafield. It is neither the intention nor in the interests of the Government or its citizens to compromise in any way security arrangements at Sellafield.
However, the current UK policy of restricting access to certain information and to the Sellafield site for RPII on security or other grounds should be balanced against the increased need for assurance after the attacks of 11 September 2001. I firmly believe that the genuine interests and concerns of the Government on behalf of the Irish people must be addressed and a mutually acceptable balance achieved between the reasonable national security requirements of the UK and equally reasonable requirements of Ireland. I consider that the model of the previous visit by RPII to Sellafield in 2000 provides an appropriate basis on which further visits could be accommodated.
The views of the UK on the security issue were set out in a letter from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt MP, on 16 April 2003 in response to my letter of 28 March 2003. I placed the UK letter on the record of the House as part of the reply to Question No. 141 of 14 May 2003. The question of access for the RPII to Sellafield was raised by me at a meeting with the former UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, on 28 May 2003. It was also raised by me and by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in meetings with several UK Ministers.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
It is also one of several issues that have been raised in the context of discussions with the UK following the provisional measures award of the UNCLOS Annex VII Tribunal of 24 June 2003. Those discussions are confidential to the tribunal and the parties pending outcomes to the process. However, under the terms of the order, there is an obligation on both parties to improve co-operation and co-ordination arrangements, and discussions are continuing on that basis.