Dáil Éireann - Volume 379 - 16 March, 1988

Maritime Jurisdiction (Amendment) Bill, 1987: Second Stage (Resumed).

Mr. Pattison: When I moved the Adjournment I was making the point that the three mile zone had been flagrantly ignored and violated in the past with instances of nuclear submarines passing across the mouth of Dublin Bay. I also made the point that we would have to do more than pass a Bill in this House to ensure that our coastal waters and our coastline are protected from these nuclear vessels.

To go some way towards making the legislation more effective, the Government must declare our territorial waters a nuclear free zone. The Ministers for Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Marine must combine resources and political clout to take this message to the nations responsible for the nuclear piracy of the Irish Sea and insist that our national territory and domestic legislation be taken seriously. A nuclear free zone means that no vessel carrying nuclear weapons or dangerous chemical substances should travel within the 12-mile territorial limit. In addition, nuclear propelled submarines should identify themselves and travel above water while travelling within the exclusion zone. This nuclear free zone must be declared on the enactment of this legislation. If this is not done the legislation will not be effective. It will be by-passed by the NATO and Soviet authorities in much the same way as they have by-passed the 1959 Act which declared a three-mile exclusion zone.

The Labour Party are not attempting to prohibit innocent passage of seagoing vessels but we regard the declaration of a nuclear free zone as a vital component of the legislation. In addition we, like [406] other environmental groups, view the use of our waters by these military vessels with growing concern. We would like to see the Government take the initiative in making this declaration, not alone for our own safety but also to give leadership to other European countries who are concerned about the nuclear threat. New Zealand has already declared its territorial waters a nuclear free zone and Iceland has insisted on a 200-mile exclusion zone because it, too, was alarmed at the abuse to its coastal waters.

Ireland is not alone in its concern about nuclear submarines but it would be a first within the European Community if we took a final stand to protect the lives of our fishermen and people against the nuclear threat which stalks our coastline daily. Following the enactment of this legislation, together with our declaration of a nuclear free zone, the Government should move on to initiate legislation within the EC and through the International Maritime Organisation.

To identify the magnitude of the problem to this House, I should like to give some brief details about the risks which pertain in particular to Ireland. Since 1981 at least 36 fishermen have died in submarine related accidents. No country claimed responsibility. At present, there are 17 nuclear submarines based permanently on the Clyde estuary — ten American and seven British. Supporting them are two Dutch and three British conventional diesel-driven submarines whose responsibility it is to patrol the Irish Sea and Clyde approaches in order to detect intruding Soviet submarines. The Soviet submarines tend to shadow the NATO submarines but there is no known figure to tell us how many might be passing through Irish waters.

Clyde-based missile submarines spend about two months at sea. It is estimated by environmental and marine scientists that between rotation of shifts the submarines make more than 100 two-way journeys through the Irish Sea every year. It is about a ten hour trip between Scotland and the Tuskar Rock and from there they go deep into the ocean. The [407] majority of the submarines carry American Poseidon missiles. Four British submarines carry 16 missiles with six independent Chevaline warheads. Each of these 96 nuclear bombs has an explosive force of 40 kiltons, which is about four times the size of the bombs which devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a long way from the cannon shot rule referred to in the Minister's speech. It is perhaps nothing less than a miracle that there has not been a major nuclear catastrophe off our coastline over the last 20 years, although there have been at least 17 known accidents, involving submarines, and the details have been documented by marine scientists.

What is most startling about these nuclear vessels is that we have no knowledge of where they are at any given time. We can only guess at their cargo and we have no possible protection should any of them have a major nuclear accident. Unlike land-based nuclear reactors, submarines do not have any containment area, so a nuclear accident would have far reaching coastal and land repercussions. Once again, we can only guess at the possible outcome, but a useful yardstick is the Chernobyl reactor which had a containment area which held back about 95 per cent of the nuclear contamination. The remaining 5 per cent escaped to do untold damage to crops and cattle across Europe. This example gives some small indication of what might happen if the nuclear carrying submarines should run into serious problems beneath our coastline. There would be no containment and these islands would become a wasteland for decades, maybe centuries.

It is not alarmist to point to the reality of the facts. These submarines pose a growing threat to Ireland. We need to bring it home to the military powers responsible that Ireland will not tolerate their negligent use of our waters. The Irish Sea is narrow and shallow — a most unsuitable area for such heavy military arsenal. There is nothing quite like this nuclear traffic, with its close proximity to land, in any other waterway in the world.

[408] Two weeks ago we discussed Committee Stage of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill when Deputies highlighted the dangers posed to our environment from oil spillages from tankers. That Bill attempts to come some way towards ensuring compensation for Ireland. In relation to the Bill before us today, it must be pointed out that there is no insurance whatsoever on these submarines, even though the risk of accident is greater and the possible consequences more damaging. However, the point could also be made that the potential damage is perhaps uninsurable.

I regret that the Bill gives no commitment to increase the naval or air operations around our waters to monitor the seas for incursions by foreign vessels. Indeed, if I could refer the House to the Estimates for Defence for the last two years, there has been a substantial cutback in allocations for ships and naval stores, also for marine pollution control measures. It is not possible to implement legislation of this nature without providing the backup naval or air personnel, equipped with the technological radar to detect underwater vessels. I understand that there is quite an inexpensive piece of sounding equipment which can be attached to light aircraft to detect submarines and eventually force them to surface. Perhaps the Minister might refer to this technology, which is in use in Britain at the moment.

Finally, I would urge the Minister that this legislation be accompanied by a declaration of nuclear-free status for the Irish territorial waters. Only such a declaration, followed by international legislation will guarantee that our waters will not be used by nuclear carrying vessels.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Lenihan): I should like to thank all those Deputies who have contributed to the debate. As has been said on several occasions, although it is a small Bill it is a very important one because it extends our national sovereignty further into areas which will certainly be of importance in the future. All the indications are that the seas will be the source of [409] development in the future, looking ahead over a long period, so it is important from the point of view of coastal states that they have the maximum degree of territorial sovereignty, fishing rights and seabed rights in regard to exploration and exploitation and development generally and economic rights over as wide an area as possible.

Here, nature has put us in a reasonably good position as we are on the periphery of Europe and we happen to be a coastal State which is in a position to maximise benefits under the various headings to the greatest possible extent, particularly off our north-western, western, south-western and southern coasts.

The main legal problems remaining are, first, to do with the Irish Sea. This problem will have to be resolved fully with our neighbour on a bilateral basis. Deputy Barry, in particular, raised the question of Northern Ireland waters and that stretch of water as between Antrim and Scotland where there is an overlap. In general, in the Irish Sea as between Britain and Ireland the matter has not been resolved by the courts or otherwise. As we know, Ireland is in a de jure position with regard to these seas off the Northern Ireland coast and Britain is in a de facto position. How that can be tested fully, or whether it would be better that some arrangement be entered into, if possible, remains for the future. As of now, the position is undetermined, as it were. We have our claim, which is written into our Constitution. The British have their claim to 12 miles from their coast, also. That position applies to all the waters in the Irish Sea. With a greater immediacy it applies to the area to which Deputy Barry has referred.

The whole question of the passage of potentially dangerous ships at sea, such as nuclear submarines, enters into the equation in a very practical way. We each have our position under our respective legislation, the United Kingdom and ourselves. Our position is enshrined in the Constitution and the matter remains unresolved.

There is the other matter concerning [410] Carlingford Lough, which is still unresolved in the legal sense. We claim full jurisdiction over all the waters in that lough and have always acted accordingly. I suggest that these are matters for resolution between ourselves and the British. To that extent it is less complex than the legal position concerning Rockall and the north-western part of the seas outside the territorial waters. In this respect I particularly refer to Rockall and at present the waters in that area are the subject of ongoing discussions between the British and ourselves.

We are trying to work out a number of preliminary issues prior to the commencement of any arbitration on an appropriate delimitation as far as Britain and Ireland are concerned in the north-west Atlantic and Rockall areas. We wish to protect our rights to a 200 miles economic zone also. The British claim refers to some islands off the Hebrides. However, the matter is further complicated by the fact that Iceland and Denmark sought to establish claims based on the Faroe Islands. There are two indeterminate and unresolved legal areas between the British and ourselves, that is regarding the Irish Sea, especially the waters off the north-eastern coast and a claim also in regard to the north-western part coming towards Rockall between Britain and Ireland.

There are no difficulties regarding the continental shelf opposite our south and south-west coasts. Our rights under the various jurisdictions are safeguarded. The only difficulty that might arise in the future is probably in the area coming towards Rockall off the north-west coast but that matter is under discussion with the British at the moment.

Some matters are not very clear but at least under this legislation we have clarified our position in regard to our territorial seas and soveriegnty. There the matter stands and it is essential, in the national interest, to put forward in the Bill our position under the Constitution.

Mr. Barry: The Minister may have [411] clarified the position for Deputy Pattison but he lost me about ten minutes ago.

Mr. Lenihan: This is very complex legislation. There have been numerous conferences and people have spent months seeking to resolve the problems. At least, in this legislation there is one example of all nations coming together to agree on a single concept of the 12 miles territorial seas sovereignty for every country.

Deputy Barry also raised the question of the extension of the patrolling capacity of the Irish Navy in terms of fishery protection. An application has been made to the Community in that respect. As Deputy Barry and the House are aware, on a previous occasion we got substantial allocations from EC funds for the initiative of our fisheries protection fleet when we decided to put our Navy virtually wholetime on fisheries protection, on which they have been now for some years. The grants from the EC were as high as 70 per cent of the cost in the late seventies to the mid-eighties. There is a precedent for it——

Mr. Barry: When was the application lodged?

Mr. Lenihan: I do not have the date but I will send it to the Deputy. The grants from the EC covered the existing fleet. The money has all been spent and we are now talking about replacements for two of the boats. We would, naturally, like to get the necessary funds as boats of this kind are very expensive; the cost ranges from £30 million to £50 million per boat. That is what is involved if we want an efficient patrol boat which can cover 200 miles from the coast and equipped with the latest technology. The last boat for which we got a grant has a helicopter pad which means that the helicopter can operate in conjunction with the boat which adds to its effectiveness. That is the only sensible way to think in terms of fisheries protection. Two of the boats needing replacement [412] are minesweepers which were not originally intended for this purpose but which did the job very well.

Deputy Kennedy raised the question of the north-east coast, to which I already referred, and she also asked about Rockall. Rockall is really outside the terms of this legislation. The British, under the law relating to the sea, cannot base any economic zone or continental shelf on what they claim in regard to Rockall. Such claims to ownership of the rock by the British Government are not acknowledged or agreed to by us but they cannot, in any event, on the basis of that, get any extension into the economic zone of 200 miles or for exploration or exploitation purposes. That is already decided by the Law of the Sea Conference. The question of her territorial claim is another day's work. We maintain, and have maintained, the position under the discussions so far that Rockall should not form such a basis as it is not an island within the meaning of international law on which rights, zones or jurisdiction or sovereignty of any kind can be founded. There is the pragmatic question of interpretation, when does a rock become an island sufficient to justify rights being based upon it.

Mr. Barry: It is a question of whether it can support life.

Mr. Lenihan: That is the normally accepted criteria which Deputy Barry has referred to. It is a matter for further negotiation and possibly ultimate arbitration. Our case, as of now is that one cannot base any rights on such a rock. That is where we stand in the matter.

Deputy Kennedy inquired about the state of arbitration with regard to Rockall. Regular discussions continue to take place on a number of preliminary issues which can best be resolved prior to arbitration. It is complicated by two additional countries which showed an interest in the area along with Britain and Ireland. We are still a long way from that.

Deputy Pattison and also Deputy [413] Barry raised the nuclear issue and submarines and the dangers flowing from nuclear submarines. At least, the extension to 12 miles means that vessels must be on surface within the 12 miles. Control existed for the three miles and now it exists for 12 miles.

Mr. Pattison: Are you satisfied that it was honoured in regard to the three miles.

Mr. Lenihan: In regard to the three miles there was ample passage outside the three mile zone which constituted the normal passageway. In fact it is outside the 12 miles if you take a median line up the Irish Sea apart from the area referred to by Deputy Barry off the north-east coast where there is overlapping. There is no real channel within the three miles at all and apart from straying, any of the accidents that happened vis-à-vis fishing nets, fishing materials or fishing boats happened outside the three miles. The 12 miles limit imposes a more difficult onus as far as submarines are concerned, particularly off our north-east coast and that is a matter we will have to pursue. The strict meaning of that legislation, once it becomes law, is that such vessels must surface within 12 miles from our coast and be displayed as such on the surface of the sea.

The concern shown by Deputy Pattison is valid. I do not want to elaborate on what would happen if a nuclear submarine went wrong in any adjacent area. The practical aspects of pollution and the nuclear submarines are two important practical aspects to which we will have to address ourselves particularly in the Irish Sea corridor. The position is shown quite clearly in the Bill and it is a matter for us to devise the appropriate regulations and the appropriate patrolling capacity to ensure that the legislation is given effect by way of proper regulation, direction, control and supervision.

A number of other important points were made here during the debate to which I have already referred, including pollution of the sea. I would like to assure Deputies that dumping at sea is a matter [414] that raises very important issues for any coastal state especially as far as we are concerned on the south-eastern, eastern and north-eastern coasts. Our regulations in that respect are very important and if they require to be stiffened they will be.

We have an advantage here with the 12 nautical miles that we have a broader area where we can exclusively prevent anybody from engaging in any form of dumping of any materials whatever. There must be an express prior approval of the coastal state to any such dumping. In other words, it cannot be done by anybody if we do not approve. To that extent there is a considerable enhancement under the law of our sovereignty and of our rights to control pollution or in particular the dumping of waste and nuclear waste in the area of our territorial seas.

Deputies can rest assured that I am certain that no Irish Government would permit anything in that area which would be detrimental in any way to the interests of this country. As far as this Government are concerned — and I think I can speak for all Governments of the future — we would not permit the dumping of any hazardous or deleterious material whatever from whatever source within our territorial seas.

The only other matter that arises is the question of innocent passage. That is a matter which, on the other side of the coin, has to be allowed because of trade and commerce and so on. It is welcome to have such innocent passage and that will always be an essential part of any law of the sea between civilised nations.

As indicated by all sides of the House there is no objection to the commencement date being 1 September which requires an amendment to the legislation. Optimistically I had put in 1 March as the operative date. I would like it to be 1 September because that is about right in terms of giving due notice to other countries; it will enable us to put our house in order regarding patrolling or control regulations which may be necessary, and at the same time it is sufficiently soon.

[415] In reply to Deputy Geraldine Kennedy we have acted swiftly in this matter, and throughout the whole progress of the Law of the Sea negotiations have taken a very active part and have had very fruitful results.

I would like to pay tribute to successive Governments in this respect because this has been a long-standing, almost torturous series of negotiations. It was a very difficult and complex task to bring landlocked countries and coastal countries with such diverse interests together. Some landlocked countries are more concerned with using the sea as a highway and coastal countries are more concerned about the exploration and exploitation of the sea. To bring them together within an overall umbrella was a very difficult task.

This Bill implements part of a series of recommendations. I hope to be in a position — or if I am not here, somebody else — to bring in legislation dealing with the delineation of an economic zone ranging out for 200 miles. The territorial seas legislation is now in place, as is our fisheries legislation. We also have legislation relating to the continental shelf. All that will be required following today's Bill is legislation delineating the economic zone of 200 miles.

Apart from the various Ministers for Foreign Affairs who were involved directly in the preparation of Ireland's case and its successful conclusion, I should like to thank the officials who participated in these very difficult and complex matters, which are very difficult to explain. Although I may not have fully elucidated or clarified, I may say that the brains of important international lawyers have been kept fully occupied over a long period in dealing with these matters. That their deliberations are reaching some finality is to be welcomed.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.