Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Ceisteanna (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

6 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14284/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the National Security Committee which have been held to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16022/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

8 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the role and function of the National Security Committee; when it last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16089/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

9 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16192/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; when the next meeting is scheduled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17144/06]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 10, inclusive, together.

The National Security Committee is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and comprises representatives at the highest level of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Defence and Foreign Affairs and of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

The committee meets as required and will continue to do so. However, as I indicated in reply to a question in November last, I am satisfied that having regard to the security nature of the committee's work, it is not appropriate to disclose information about the dates of individual meetings or any of its proceedings. However, I can confirm that it met recently. In addition to their meetings, the members liaise on an ongoing basis to monitor developments which might have national security implications, in particular in the international arena.

The committee is concerned with ensuring the Government and I are advised of high level security issues and the responses to them — but not involving operational security issues.

In view of the comments made by the British Government in respect of new nuclear plants in Britain, has the Government received any briefing for the National Security Committee, given al-Qaeda reports in the past that Britain is a legitimate terrorist target? I know the Taoiseach cannot give all of the details concerning security arrangements for Sellafield or any other proposed nuclear station on the west coast of Britain. He could not go the UN route and has taken the issue back to Europe. It is, obviously, a consideration at the National Security Committee.

Previously, I raised the issue of the emergency planning procedures being split between quite a disparate number of Departments, State agencies and sub-groups, including the task force on emergency planning, the interdepartmental working group on emergency planning, the Office of Emergency Planning and the National Security Committee. I raised the possibility of co-ordination under one roof to deal with national emergency planning. Has the Government given any consideration to streamlining, clarity and concentration of responsibility in this area?

The Office of Emergency Planning and the working groups on emergency planning are all co-ordinated under the various emergency services involved in all our contingency plans. The contingency group is chaired by the Minister for Defence, meets frequently and is under his control. It is working well and has set up a superstructure pulling together the people from each area. It is deemed not necessary — I hope it never is — to set it up as a tidier arrangement. It would involve significant cost to do that. We are a small enough area to be able to pull the people from the various groups. As long as it is under one Minister and committee, it works well.

The National Security Committee falls under the remit of my Department. It deals primarily with international issues and with the information that flows to us through Europol and Eurojust. This information flows on a well organised basis since 11 September 2001 which, if it achieved nothing else, at least got the European security system to work well.

We continue our efforts on the Sellafield question. We have engaged a high level group of legal and technical experts to work on the legal case. We continue to pursue the case and the Attorney General has given much effort and time to it. At a recent international conference he set out his full position and gave a full update on the situation. I refer Deputies to his speech on that occasion because it comprehensively pulls together all the aspects of the situation. We are continuing with the case.

As I predicted, for its own reasons the British Government is hell-bent on taking the nuclear route. It tells us that it will be done with the best of security and safety measures, but we are never totally convinced. We continue to make our case. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and others have outlined our concerns. We have good dialogue with the British on these issues and are able to put forward our case and point of view, but I do not think that will stop them. If France and the UK have decided that their future energy interests lie with the nuclear option, they will continue on that path.

My question mirrors that of Deputy Kenny. With regard to the role and function of the National Security Committee, does it have a responsibility to address the threat posed to the people of this island by not only Sellafield, but the British nuclear arms stockpile of some 185 long-range missiles? There is no indication of any attempt at decommissioning on Britain's part, rather it is all talk of expansion. The Taoiseach did not address this matter in his reply to the previous question.

That might be a question for the line Minister.

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether this is part of the focus of the National Security Committee. While we know the record of the Government with regard to Sellafield, has the Taoiseach ever raised the issue of the British nuclear arms stockpile directly with the Prime Minister?

The National Security Committee is comprised of senior officials of Departments, the Garda and the Defence Forces and is a high-level forum for mutual awareness and consultation on issues of security. Any issue of security is raised at it and followed through, back to the line Departments. Sellafield is, obviously, an issue of concern. The committee provides for exchange of information and collective assessment on an ongoing basis. Its work precludes me from giving a description of the issues, but all the obvious issues are debated and discussed at a high level. The committee agrees on what action should be taken and this is followed through by the relevant Ministers or, if it is an issue that directly concerns the British Government, I follow through.

What about the nuclear armament stockpile? Has that been addressed by the committee?

That matter does not arise at this point.

On a minor point of clarity, do I understand that the committee only deals with potential security threats and has no role in anticipating or dealing with civil disasters? I heard what the Taoiseach said about continuing to prepare the case on Sellafield. Has the committee any role in monitoring the potential threat from Sellafield in the event of a disaster occurring?

The Office of Emergency Planning deals with that, but obviously Departments, in particular, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, have a major role to play. The National Security Committee discusses any issue or intelligence it receives. If it has information, it passes it on to the relevant sources, but does not as a group meet individuals or governments. The Office of Emergency planning deals with national disasters and preparations to deal with them. The input into that committee comes mainly from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which has control over most of the emergency services, for example, the fire and local authority services.

The Taoiseach mentioned earlier his concerns about Sellafield and the extension of nuclear power stations in Britain. Does he, through the National Security Committee, hope to address information that may come from Britain with regard to threats to civil aviation? We had the example in recent months of planes flying over Sellafield that had to be diverted to Scottish airports because of engine failure. The Government was not given advance warning of this information. Did the Taoiseach seek further information on these diversions or an apology from the British Government for not being informed? Does the National Security Committee deal with these issues?

Does the committee give consideration to the colour code systems that operate in the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to threats from international terrorism?

In reply to questions on national security in November 2005, the Taoiseach only informed the Dáil then that the committee had met in the previous month. Why is there such secrecy with regard to past meetings of the committee? Why can the House not be informed that the committee met X number of times in the previous year?

On the general point, most of the information we get on international terrorism usually comes from Europol or Eurojust. Substantial information is transferred from them.

With regard to not being informed on rogue aircraft, there is an agreement, which is renewed annually, with the Department of Foreign Affairs on procedures for dealing with such events or any breaches of the agreement. The Department of Foreign Affairs is very careful to follow up any issues which arise, whether they arise along the Border, along the coast or in the sea between Ireland and Britain. There is a procedure for dealing with such issues. Traditionally, the National Security Committee does not give the dates of its meetings. While the committee meets fairly regularly, it does not meet monthly. The various elements of the committee, such as the Garda and the Defence Forces, are in contact with one another on a more regular basis to consider various issues. I suppose the reason for the traditional practice is that if the committee were to start making the dates of its meetings known, people would start to ask what it was talking about etc. Many of the committee's dealings relate to international terrorism and much of the information it discusses relates to the movement of individuals. That was probably the convention in the past. There are many more discussions of that nature now for the obvious reason that there is a fair bit of movement of people who are of interest to the international agencies in Ireland and other countries.