Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 23 Apr 1997

Vol. 478 No. 2

Chemical Weapons Bill, 1997: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I offer the Ceann Comhairle my good wishes. His courtesy to new Members of the House and the manner in which he conducted the business of the House have been a great example to all Members.

This is an important day for the country and I thank the Opposition parties for their co-operation in agreeing to take all Stages of the Chemical Weapons Bill, 1997 today. As we approach the end of the 20th century, with all its turmoil and tragedies, it is gratifying to be involved in efforts to finally eliminate one of the great obscenities of our time — chemical weapons.

While chemical warfare probably goes back to earlier centuries when opponents used poisons to incapacitate their enemies, the first major use of chemical weapons was in the First World War and many of us will recall stories of the terrible injuries inflicted by chemicals in that conflict. Since then chemical warfare has moved on from the relatively simple weapons of the First World War to the more sophisticated and deadlier weapons of today. As technology progresses it has become easier for so-called "rogue states" with sufficient resources to buy a chemical sector "off the shelf" and use it to produce chemical weapons.There is also the disturbing problem of individuals obtaining highly toxic chemicals and using them in public places, as in the chemical attack on the Tokyo underground a few years ago.

Many efforts have been made to curtail the use of chemical weapons over the years going back to the Brussels Declaration of 1874 which prohibited the use of poisons and poisoned bullets in warfare. In 1925 the Geneva Protocol banned chemical and bacteriological warfare. Despite this, the threat and the fear of chemical warfare remained. World powers continued to produce, develop and stockpile chemical weapons with the implication that, if sufficiently threatened, they would use these weapons. Thankfully there have always been countries and individuals who were sufficiently concerned to persevere with efforts to finally put an end not just to chemical weapons but to the fear of such weapons.

For 24 years negotiations took place in Geneva under the auspices of the Conference on Disarmarment.Agreement was finally reached in 1992 and the convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction was opened for signature on 13 January 1993. The convention represents a radical departure in the concept of disarmament and Ireland was one of the first countries to sign. Not only does the convention prohibit warfare in chemical weapons, it also sets up an organisation — the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — with wide-ranging powers to enforce the convention at international level.

I will put on record a summary of Article I of the convention because it represents the essential commitment required by the convention. Each state party to the convention undertakes not to develop, produce or otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone; not to use chemical weapons; not to engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons; not to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under the convention; to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses; to destroy chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses; not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare. The commitment is not limited to the non-use of these weapons but to their elimination over a specified period.

However, commitments are not sufficient. There must be a confidence within the international community that countries who have ratified the convention are abiding by its terms. Over 70 per cent of the text of the convention, the verification annex, is concerned in one way or another with ensuring the terms of the convention are kept by the states which ratify it. This shows that the convention is not merely aspirational but that there is an extensive verification mechanism which will ensure that state parties are complying with its terms. It is this enforcement element to the convention which perhaps makes it unique among disarmament conventions.

Under its terms, a new UN body will be established called the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which will be based in The Hague and oversee implementation of the convention.It will also have the power and resources to ensure the ratifying states comply with the convention's terms.

I will describe in greater detail the verification aspect of the convention. The system is based on declarations by state parties which can be verified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The most important declarations refer to chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities. Within 30 days of the convention entering into force, 29 May 1997, state parties must make declarations in respect of chemical weapons as to quantities, location, type of chemicals concerned, storage facilities, etc. Similar declarations must be made in respect of chemical weapons production facilities. As well as declaring the existence of these weapons and facilities, state parties must submit plans for their destruction.

The verification aspect of the convention then comes into play. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will have an inspectorate whose function will be to ensure state parties keep to their commitments. The inspectorate will have diplomatic status and the convention obliges state parties to grant inspectors rights of access to facilities covered by it.

One of the reassuring uses of the international inspectorate will be the undertaking of "challenge inspections". This is a mechanism whereby state parties, concerned about possible non-compliance by another state party with the convention, have the right to request the international inspectorate to inspect a specific site. I will come to the implications for Ireland of this inspectorate.

The international inspectors will be appointed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. By 29 May, the names of every inspector, together with their qualifications and experience, will be notified to state parties which have the right to object to the appointment of any inspector by giving 30 days notice. If an objection is lodged, that inspector will not be involved in any inspections in the territory of the objecting state party.

When an inspection team arrives, it has the right to assistance from the state party and of access to the site it wishes to inspect. Facilities, in the nature of offices, communications, interpretation where necessary, transportation, etc., must be provided. Any cost to the state or companies will be reimbursed later. The inspection team must be able to reach its target site no later than 12 hours from arriving in the country. While on site, it has the right to unimpeded access to the inspection site or factory. It has the right to inspect documents and records it deems relevant and to interview personnel. Samples of chemicals may be tested on site and taken away for further analysis.

No later than ten days after the inspection visit, the inspection team will submit a report which will deal with matters relevant to compliance with the convention. The report will also refer to the level of co-operation the inspection team experienced.I have dealt with this aspect of the convention in some detail because I wish to emphasise this is an agreement which will be enforced.

The powers of the international inspectorate which I have described are far reaching but necessary, given the subject matter of the convention but what will be the impact of the international inspectors and the convention itself on Ireland? I have mentioned the declarations state parties have to make regarding chemical weapons and chemical weapon production facilities. These declarations will have to be made in respect of Ireland by 29 May 1997. Declarations are being prepared to enable me to say Ireland neither holds chemical weapons nor does it have chemical weapon production facilities. We will still have to make declarations, however, in respect of the chemicals set out in the convention and repeated in the Schedules to the Bill. This is a statistical exercise but important nevertheless.

Because the chemicals which can be used to manufacture chemical weapons can also have a legitimate use for industry, their use is permitted under the convention so long as it is for peaceful purposes. Because of the potential of these chemicals, their use must be controlled in the case of the most toxic. For the rest, detailed records must be kept by companies and returns made each year on the quantities produced, consumed and transferred. Even though we do not hold or produce chemical weapons, it is important that the information required by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons be accurately and efficiently collated. The international inspectorate will have the same powers to enter and inspect sites which are involved in the peaceful use of the designated chemicals as it has for sites involved in the production of chemical weapons.

It will be obvious that the chemical industry in Ireland will be directly affected by the convention and the Bill. Far from viewing the Bill as another regulation imposed by the State, the industry welcomes it because of its implications for trade. All 15 members of the European Union have now ratified the convention. The latest information available to me is that 74 states have ratified it but this number is increasing as the date on which the convention enters into force, 29 April 1997, approaches. I am informed the United States Senate will vote on ratification on Friday, 25 April 1997. It is clearly important that such an important country in the disarmament area ratifies the convention.

I mention the number of states which have ratified the convention to raise the issue of trade. As more and more states ratify the convention, industry becomes more positively disposed towards it. In the United States, I understand it is the chemical industry which is most anxious for ratification to take place. The reason is the convention will restrict trade in the chemicals covered by it. In the case of First Schedule chemicals, trade will only be possible with other state parties. In three years time, trade in Second Schedule chemicals will only be permitted with other state parties and for Third Schedule chemicals the position will be reviewed after five years.

When the Bill was being drafted, industry, through its representative associations, and relevant academic institutions were consulted. There have been no objections to it. As for compliance costs, there will be few, if any, extra costs involved in companies complying with the convention.The principal obligation on companies will be to keep records of their use of the chemicals covered by the convention and to allow inspectors to enter their premises to check compliance.

That brings me to the enforcement of the convention in Ireland. The Bill will appoint the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health as the national authority for the purposes of the convention. The Authority which was established in 1989 has proved in its relatively short life that it can take on a challenge such as the convention. It has the necessary scientific and technical expertise to carry out its function of national authority and the benefit of being regionally based.

The Authority will not just be a post box for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. An important function of the Authority will be as a focus for the communication of information-instructions from the organisation to Irish industry and accompanying the international inspectors on their inspections to Irish firms. In ratifying the convention we undertake to abide by its terms and need to have the powers necessary to ensure compliance. The Bill will give the Authority wide-ranging powers to enforce the convention. By this means, we can assure ourselves and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that we are abiding by its terms.

In June last year, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs brought forward a motion which asked the House to approve the terms of the convention. I am pleased the House approved that motion which enabled Ireland to ratify the convention.

I will deal briefly with what is contained in the various sections of the Bill. Sections 1 and 2 are the usual citation and interpretation sections. The National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, the HSA, is defined as the national authority for the purposes of the convention. Section 3 prohibits the production, development, use, retention or transfer of chemical weapons. The use of premises or equipment for the production, development, etc. of chemical weapons is also prohibited. The maximum penalty for contravention of this section is life imprisonment. Section 4 places restrictions on the use of certain toxic chemicals.

Section 5 to 8, inclusive, are concerned with inspection and enforcement. Inspectors of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be allowed to enter the State under the terms of the convention. Section 5 gives such inspectors the same powers as an inspector of the HSA. Sections 6 and 7 are concerned respectively with the appointment of inspectors by the HSA for the purposes of the convention and their powers of inspection. Section 8 gives to a member of the Garda Síochána the powers of an inspector under the Bill in addition to his or her existing powers.

Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, are concerned with the information needed by the national authority to comply with the convention. Companies which produce, consume, etc., the chemicals listed in the Second and Third Schedules to the Bill must provide information and keep records in accordance with the requirements of the HSA. Any information obtained pursuant to the Bill or the convention is privileged but may be disclosed if there is a severe danger to the public.

Section 12 provides powers to the Minister to make regulations to give effect to the convention. Section 13 outlines the penalties for offences under the Bill. Section 14 provides for the forfeiture and destruction of chemical weapons seized by the authorities as required by the convention. An appeals procedure against forfeiture is provided.Section 15 states that prosecutions may be brought by the HSA. Section 16 states that the expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill will be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas as sanctioned by the Minister for Finance.The Schedules list the categories of chemicals covered by the convention.

This is important legislation. Ireland has always been to the forefront in advocating peace and disarmament.It took 22 years to draft this massive convention. I am pleased Ireland was one of the first signatories. I am sure the Bill, which gives effect to that commitment and which will put in place the structures which will enable Ireland to fulfil its obligations under the convention, will have the unanimous support of the House to which I commend it.

Like my colleagues, I wish the Ceann Comhairle well in his retirement from his busy life in the Dáil. It is sometimes difficult to keep order in the House and many of us have ended up on the wrong side of his firm stewardship.Nevertheless we appreciate his contribution to public life, the way he upheld the dignity of the House and the welcome he extended to many dignitaries over the years.

Fianna Fáil warmly welcomes this Bill. This convention, which has been in gestation for many years, had its origin in the UN Convention on Disarmament negotiated in Geneva more than 20 years ago. I know from my interest and involvement in international debates on peace and disarmament that many parliamentarians throughout the world will welcome the developments taking place in the countries which ratify the convention.

As the Minister correctly said, the key is to get the major players, China, Russia and the US, to ratify the convention. Ireland is meeting its obligations in this regard. As many countries as possible must ratify the convention by the end of the month. The convention is important not only from the point of view of preventing stockpiling and research but also in ensuring that chemical weapons are not used. Seventy four countries have ratified the convention to date. We have no chemical weapons but the convention will ensure that such weapons are destroyed in other countries.

The Minister referred to the historical context of the debate and to the use of chemical weapons during the First World War. It goes without saying that one of the most evil products ever produced by mankind is chemical weapons. It is a sad reflection on society that some countries are still producing and stockpiling chemical weapons. Chemical weapons were used during the war between Iran and Iraq. While there is a public perception that this issue has been dealt with and that we have moved to deal with other threats in regard to arms, it is clear that we need to put in place a legislative framework to deal with this issue.

The US Senate at its meeting next Friday has some very important work to do in this area. There has been some reaction to the move by President Clinton to bring this matter to a conclusion and to ensure that the Senate ratifies the convention. Failure by the US to ratify the convention will send a wrong signal to the other key players. The Russians have not yet ratified the convention and it is obvious that they will follow the US. China has its instruments of ratification ready and the decision of the US is obviously crucial in this regard.

A very important element of the convention is the verification process. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be established in The Hague. This organisation, which will come into being on 29 May when countries have fulfilled their obligations, will have an inspectorate.It is important that we follow through on its commitments.

The purpose of the UN Convention on Chemical Weapons is to prohibit the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and to require their destruction.The terms of the convention are very comprehensive and the key element is the reference to "destruction". Ireland will fulfil its role in this regard by enacting this Bill. One may say that what we are doing is symbolic as we are a non-possessor state. However, it is important that we are to the fore in enacting legislation of this kind. This is in line with our foreign policy position to promote peace and disarmament and to protect human rights throughout the world.

The main impact of the legislation will relate to the controls imposed by the convention on a range of chemicals which have the potential for use in making chemical weapons but which also have wide legitimate commercial uses. I am glad the industry has broadly welcomed the Bill as this has clear implications for trade. There will be annual declarations on the production and, in some cases, consumption, processing and transfer of chemical weapons. These matters are dealt with in the schedule to the convention. Companies which are required to make such declarations will also be subject to inspection.

The convention provides for the setting up of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW. I am glad this organisation which will oversee the implementation of the convention will be based in The Hague. It is important that the role of the European Union is centre stage in any debate on disarmament and the promotion of peace. I was very vocal during the debate on French nuclear testing and many of my colleagues in the House shared my concern that a EU member state should adopt such an independent line on nuclear testing. In many ways it demonstrates to us yet again the lack of cohesion in EU policies on disarmament. I hope the establishment of the headquarters of the OPCW in Europe will ensure a more cohesive approach at EU level on the issue of disarmament.

The OPCW will establish an inspectorate which will have the right to conduct, at short notice, a range of on-site verification and inspection activities and to establish and confirm the validity of each state's returns. The convention imposes restrictions on trade in certain chemicals. In some cases these restrictions will prohibit trade in these chemicals with states which have not ratified the convention. The legislation clearly recognises that a mechanism is required to encourage those countries which have not ratified the convention to do so. Many countries similar to Ireland will ratify the convention on the nod. I do not envisage a lengthy debate on the Bill as the Minister and the Government have fulfilled their obligations in this area. However, the key point is that we must use the legislation internationally to bring on board those countries which have decided not to ratify the convention.

I wish to deal with the broader issue of the arms trade. The Minister will be aware that other Deputies and I recently raised Ireland's links with the arms trade and military industry. We should use this debate to add our concerns to those of the AFrI organisation, which raised legitimate points in its report regarding Ireland's links with the arms trade and the military industry. Following the publication of that report, I stated in the House that Ireland must ensure it does not have any links with the international arms industry.

Ireland has rightly questioned the connection between some European countries and the involvement of people in the arms industry in countries like East Timor. Indonesia could not have carried out its genocidal policy against the people of East Timor without the support of some European states which supplied them with arms. It is important we follow through on our principal position, enunciated in the White Paper, that we want to see an end to the arms industry. The AFrI report produced evidence of links between some European states and the arms industry.

I do not condone attacks on Irish industries — the IDA is trying to attract industry to this country, particularly in the electronics area — but we must have a mechanism in place to ensure Irish industries do not have any connection with the international arms industry. The AFrI report suggests some subcontractors are supplying main contractors in the international arms industry. If that is true, it is a matter of great concern but further evidence is required in this respect.

The AFrI report refers to the role of the arms industry in Nigeria, the destruction of Ogoniland and the crisis in East Timor. The involvement of some EU states in supplying arms to these countries is deplorable. That practice is continuing, despite protestations from countries like Ireland and many non-governmental organisations. I hope consensus will be reached on this issue at EU level because, from my experience as a Minister of State, double standards are being applied.

We hear much talk about promoting human rights, ending the arms industry and bringing peace to developing countries, yet some of the countries whose leaders are making these pronouncements are involved in the supply of arms. Ireland must ensure it does not have any links with the activities of some of our European colleagues in regard to this issue, and that agreements are reached at EU level in the future.

I welcome the Bill. The origins of this debate date back to the UN conference on disarmament in Geneva 24 years ago. Many parliamentarians, from this country and abroad, have been directly involved in advancing this matter. It is unfortunate that Ireland has taken such a long time to ratify this convention, but we are fulfilling our duties in bringing this Bill before the House, which I welcome.

I begin my brief contribution by adding my voice to the tributes paid this morning to the Ceann Comhairle. Deputy Sean Treacy brought unique qualities to the office of Ceann Comhairle. He conducted his business with a mix of intelligence, patience, charm and good humour.He brought dignity to this House which, by its very nature, can be a place of controversy and conflict. He always dealt with that in a very efficient manner. By his long years of service to this House and to democracy in general, he has done his country and himself great credit.

I commend the Minister for introducing the Bill to the House. It is right that Ireland should support the terms of this convention. It is a milestone that there is total unity among the parties in the House with regard to the objectives of the Bill.

At the heart of this convention is a strong attempt to ensure that good triumphs over evil. The development of chemical weapons in this century was one of the most destructive purposes to which human intelligence could have been put, not only in terms of the devastation it wreaked on human life and health, but the environmental contamination that followed the use of chemical weapons during two world wars.

It is appropriate that we seek to undo the damage caused by the use of chemical weapons. Civilised nations should seek to put in place mechanisms whereby the further stockpiling of chemical weapons would be brought to a halt. Small nations like East Timor should not be the pawns of larger countries. We must try, in so far as we can, to bring about a moral climate, particularly at EU level, in which the continuation of the use of these weapons is not condoned.

I welcome the putting in place of an inspectorate.I ask the Minister of State to outline in her reply the way the inspectorate will link up with existing bodies which inspect the commercial chemical industry in Ireland. Will points of conflict arise with Irish health and safety personnel and the Environmental Protection Agency, which sets very high standards for our chemical industry?The new chemical industries, which are prolific in my area, comply with very high standards and in most cases have exceeded the requirements placed on them by Government appointed bodies.

I record my concern and that of my party about what happened at the Beaufort Dyke, one of the largest munitions dumps in the world, which lies six miles off the coast of Northern Ireland. Over the past 50 years successive British Governments may have dumped up to 9 million tonnes of munitions into the Beaufort Dyke, including phosphorous bombs, waste artillery shells and possibly even nuclear waste. It is important that we establish exactly what is deposited in the Beaufort Dyke and the dangers from these deposits. The Beaufort Dyke has been described as an environmental disaster waiting to happen. I have argued for a long time that the site deserves closer attention from the Irish authorities. It is important that the matter should be raised again in the context of the convention for which we are signing on. It is equally important that the inspectorate to be put in place as a result of this convention should direct its attention to what is happening at the Beaufort Dyke. That and Sellafield represent the two greatest threats to our environment. I will not deal with Sellafield today because it is a nuclear issue, separate from the issue of chemical weapons, but it is certainly a parallel issue.

In matters of this nature that pose such a huge threat to human life and to human health in every sense of the word, directly through killing and maiming and indirectly through damage done to our physical environment, to our soil, to our air, to our water and to the food that is grown in our soil, it is of key importance that as we turn away from the destructive elements of the 20th century and face towards the 21st century we should seek, with might and main, with all the technology and moral and practical force at our command, to confront the constructive elements of chemical weaponry and of the nuclear industry in terms of a cross-boundary, cross-member states inspectorate that will seek to fulfil the objectives of this convention to which Ireland is signing on.

I endorse fully what has been said by the Minister of State and by Deputy Tom Kitt. They have both spoken for the vast majority of our people. There is no point in my repeating what they and other Members have said. The objectives of this Bill have the total support of me and my party.

I thank the Members opposite for supporting the Bill. We are ad idem in this House on the importance of this convention. Would that the same unanimity were to prevail in the US Senate. However, I am glad to say that we are giving a lead here.

Deputy Kitt raised the issue of the Russian ratification. There is work before the Duma at the moment. The EU states have offered assistance with the destruction of weapons, which would be a major problem for them, as part of the package of European aid to the former countries of the Soviet Union.

Deputy Quill raised two points, the first in relation to the Beaufort Dyke. This is a concern that is shared right across this House. It was investigated by the British-Irish Parliamentary Body. Scientific studies concluded that there is currently no biological or chemical contamination of fish life or marine life there and that it would be better not to disturb the material because it could cause worse trouble if material broke up in the process. There is joint monitoring of the area by the British-Irish Parliamentary Body.

Deputy Quill's other point relates to the role of the inspectorate. International inspectors will be appointed by the Hague and they will work alongside the health and safety authority inspectors.There are requirements for record keeping. We have no chemical weapons and no chemical weapon production here, so their destruction does not arise. However, there may be minor quantities of toxic chemicals in use for peaceful purposes that could potentially be combined into chemical weapon format. For that reason, and to guarantee that nothing wrong or untoward is being done in the Irish chemical industry, there must be inspections and schedules and listed information handed to the Hague.

That work will be done by the safety inspectorate as part of their routine inspection of the chemical industry. They have built up a very good expertise in this area. Dr. Pratt would be regarded as one of the international experts in the chemical area. This work will be done by the inspectorate as part of their mainstream job. The powers for inspectors in section 7 of the Bill are almost identical to the powers in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989. The Garda Síochána are being given similar powers to look for documentation, seize materials and so on because, although it is hoped that it will never arise, there could well be cases where the Garda will be required to act in support of the civil authorities, the Health and Safety Authority. I am happy with the support the Bill has received on all sides.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill put through Committee and reported without amendment.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the staff in the Department and the Health and Safety Authority who compiled this technical Bill. I thank Deputy Kitt for his forbearance in not asking me to read out the list of chemicals included in the Second and Third Schedules. I welcome the co-operation and unanimity on a humanitarian measure such as this.

Question put and agreed to.