That Seanad Éireann commends the Government on the recent developments with regard to Sellafield, in particular the pro-tem order issued by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that both Governments must exchange information on nuclear safety, and calls for the case to remain at the Tribunal and to continue to be pressed vigorously by the Government.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher, to the House. I commend him and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and their Department on their ongoing battle against Sellafield. The decision to continue a relentless campaign against Sellafield despite the setback of the OSPAR tribunal ruling underlines our determination to defuse this time bomb on our doorsteps. This ruling is disappointing but we can draw comfort from the fact that the OSPAR tribunal decided that it has jurisdiction in such cases and this leaves open the possibility of further legal action. The Minister and the Attorney General must explore every possible legal avenue.
The case before a UN tribunal under international maritime law is one of the most significant legal actions we have undertaken as a country. This shows that many people on this side of the Irish sea are genuinely terrified of the danger that Sellafield represents. While the operators of Sellafield, BNFL, have shown themselves to be experts in the game of PR they cannot hide the fact that there is no economic or environmental reason for the plant to remain in operation. Experts are frequently hauled out in an effort to assure a disbelieving public that the discharges from Sellafield do not represent a danger. We regard any level of discharge as unacceptable. There simply should not be such radioactive waste. Internationally, I would like to see greater effort in trying to pull together a coalition of like-minded countries against Sellafield. I ask the Minister to pursue the issue until we have secured a successful outcome.
Since 1994, when planning permission for the MOX plant was granted, Ireland has conveyed to the UK authorities on numerous occasions, at official and ministerial level, by letter and at meetings, its opposition to the MOX plant, including detailed responses to five rounds of public consultation convened by the UK authorities. In October 2001 the UK Government announced that the manufacture of MOX fuel was justified in accordance with EU law. On 20 December that year the UK regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, gave the go-ahead for the plutonium commissioning of the plant.
Ireland has initiated legal proceedings on two separate fronts regarding the MOX plant: under the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In June 2001 Ireland initiated arbitration proceedings against the United Kingdom under the OSPAR Convention regarding the commissioning of the MOX plant at Sellafield in Cumbria. In the OSPAR Convention case Ireland has sought disclosure of two UK reports that addressed the justification for the production of and trading in MOX fuel. They were prepared for the UK Government and formed the basis of five separate rounds of public consultation in the United Kingdom. Edited versions of both were made available to the public as part of the consultations in response to which Ireland asked to be given the complete texts. This was denied on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Oral hearings regarding the proceedings took place in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA, in The Hague in October 2002 before an international tribunal consisting of the chairman, Professor Michael Reisman, Mr. Gavan Griffith, QC, and Rt. Hon. Lord Michael Mustill, QC. Today, 2 July, the OSPAR tribunal published its judgment, making five principal determinations: a unanimous rejection of the United Kingdom's argument that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction; a unanimous rejection of the United Kingdom's argument that Ireland's claim was inadmissible; a two-to-one majority rejection of the United Kingdom's argument that Ireland had no right to sue at an international tribunal; a two-to-one majority rejection of Ireland's argument that the specific information requested was covered by the scope of OSPAR Convention; and a unanimous decision that each side should pay its own costs.
Although Ireland failed to gain access to the confidential information contained in the consultants' reports, the tribunal established an important international legal precedent: the United Kingdom is now accountable to an international tribunal to disclose information to another state which relates to the marine environment. This gives Ireland the legal right to access information on the United Kingdom's nuclear industry, using the provisions of the OSPAR Convention, should the need arise.
An arbitration tribunal, also under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, was established to hear the substantive issues in Ireland's case. Hearings in the case were heard in The Hague from 10 to 21 June. Ireland's legal team was led by the Attorney General. They discussed issues relating to the threat from the continued operation and expansion of Sellafield.
At the hearing arguments were introduced by the United Kingdom that Ireland should have taken its case before the European Court of Justice. A Commission reply to a European Parliament question tabled by Proinsias De Rossa MEP was cited by the United Kingdom as evidence. In its reply the Commission stated it would not take a position on the merits of the case brought by Ireland but cited article 292 of the EC treaty, which stated questions of Community law should be considered only by the European Court of Justice.
The past week has seen us reach a milestone in our relentless battle against Sellafield. Britain must now consult us about future developments at the plant. For that reason, the decision is historic and perhaps the most significant ruling in our favour since we started the long battle decades ago. The legitimacy of our concerns has also been underlined in the past week by revelations that traces of Sellafield waste have been found in packets of salmon in UK supermarkets. While the health authorities are arguing that the traces found do not represent a threat to consumers, there should not be any amount of such material in the food chain.
The revelations over the waste in supermarket salmon are also causing concern in other countries, particularly Scandinavia, Iceland and the Isle of Man. We are committed to co-operating with other countries concerned about Sellafield to increase the international pressure on Britain finally to clean up its act. We have been successful in getting support from those countries. I believe we can also build on the growing concerns in Germany and other continental countries.
Sellafield's record certainly does not inspire confidence. Since the Windscale fire in 1957, the plant has built up a catalogue of accidents and safety breaches. We are pursuing our legal actions because we see a very real threat to our environment. The people have ongoing concerns about the nature, safety and frequency of shipments of nuclear fuel. The events of 11 September 2001 have added a further worry about malicious attacks and security. This represents an unacceptable and avoidable risk.
Assertions by BNFL and the UK Government that emissions from Sellafield and the MOX plant do not pose significant health risks oversimplify the issue. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has explained that there is simply not enough known about the long-term implications of the discharge of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea and its subsequent effects on the marine environment to justify that position.
It is good that relations between the Irish and UK Governments are closer than ever before. However, that close relationship between our two countries, though very important and valued greatly, also means that we should continue our battles regarding Sellafield. The Irish Government has a responsibility to the Irish people as well as the environment – responsibilities we must honour. Others support the promotion of the nuclear sector but we are focused on the issues of protection and safety. We believe we are entitled to no less.
The Government has made many attempts during the years to have the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria shut down. I pay tribute to the Attorney General, Mr. Rory Brady. The legal team led by him has made a very strong case, particularly recently in The Hague regarding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, radioactive discharges and pollution of the Irish Sea. He made a strong case that the Government's protests were not taken into account when the licence for the Cumbrian complex was granted. The Minister has also expressed his concern at the inadequacy of the environmental assessment undertaken by the United Kingdom regarding the facility and the failure properly to assess the risk of terrorist attacks on the site. He has described the action at the United Nations court as essential to protect Ireland's interests, though he said he regretted that such a step was necessary. The British Government has rejected claims that discharges from the MOX plant pollute the Irish Sea.
This debate is very useful. I hope we will have all-party agreement on the motion in order that we can put a united case to secure what we seek. We certainly want to ensure Government action will continue to be supported by all parties in this House and also that we work in a united fashion, making a strong case for us to remain at the tribunal and continue to press vigorously.