Dáil Éireann - Volume 613 - 31 January, 2006
Written Answers. - International Agreements.
Mr. M. Higgins Mr. M. Higgins
376. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the international treaties and agreements which Ireland has signed or are currently to be put before the Houses of the Oireachtas; if there are treaties and agreements which have not yet been put before the Houses of the Oireachtas, when same will be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3159/06]
Mr. M. Higgins Mr. M. Higgins
377. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the agreement between the Government of the USA and the Government of Ireland concerning security measures for the protection of classified military information and the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, with annexes, will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; the delay of same; and if same will be approached as a matter of priority. [3160/06]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
 Mr. D. Ahern: I propose to take Questions Nos. 376 and 377 together.
Article 29.5 of the Constitution provides that every international agreement to which the State becomes a party, except international agreements of a technical and administrative character, must be laid before Dáil Éireann. However, my Department has gone further and introduced the practice of laying all international agreements, regardless of their character, before the House.
The obligation to lay an international agreement before the House arises only when the State becomes a party to such an agreement. It has been made clear by the courts that, for the purpose of Article 29.5, Ireland is to be considered a party to an international agreement only when it has been ratified or acceded to, signed without reservation as to ratification or where it otherwise binds the State in international law. In addition, the agreement must be in force for Ireland. For example, if it is a bilateral agreement, the other country must also have ratified it.
Accordingly, an international agreement is not laid before Dáil Éireann where it has been merely signed, subject to ratification, by Ireland. Similarly, an agreement which has been ratified by Ireland but is not yet in force will not be laid before the Dáil.
It is the policy of my Department to ensure that all international agreements to which the State is a party are laid before Dáil Éireann promptly. The Constitution does not specify a timeframe within which international agreements should be laid before the Dáil, although it is clearly highly desirable, to say the least, that this be done quickly. Until recent years, no specific timetable was in place. However, since 2004, targets have been set. Currently, the target is for all agreements which have entered into force for Ireland in a given calendar year to be laid before the Dáil no later than the end of the following calendar year. Accordingly, all international agreements which entered into force for Ireland in 2005 will be laid before the Dáil no later than the end of 2006.
In addition to the constitutional requirement to lay certain international agreements before the House, as well as the practice of doing the same for all international agreements, there is also the clear desirability of making such agreements widely accessible. Up to recently, agreements were published in hard copy in the Irish Treaty Series at the same time as they were laid before the Dáil. I felt this was somewhat restrictive and, last year, I decided to make the Irish Treaty Series available on my Department’s website. As a result, the texts of all international agreements published since 2002 can be downloaded from the Department’s website free of charge.
In addition, new resources have been made available to help with the above. In particular, a new full-time post of treaty officer has recently  been created in the Department. This should help ensure that, in future, every international agreement is laid before Dáil Éireann in a prompt manner and is also made readily available to the public. The treaty officer will also be able to intensify, in co-operation with colleagues within my own Department and in the wider Civil Service, a process already initiated in 2005 of reviewing departmental files with a view to identifying any international agreements previously entered into which may possibly have not yet been laid before the Dáil.
I will now turn to the two specific agreements in question. The agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Ireland concerning security measures for the protection of classified military information and the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement between the Department of Defence of Ireland and the Department of Defense of the United States of America were both laid before Dáil Éireann on 26 January. The first agreement was laid on a statutory basis and the second on a non-statutory basis. The difference of treatment is due to the fact that the first is regarded as an international agreement for the purposes of Article 29.5, whereas the second is being laid before the House as a matter of good practice.
On 13 January, the full texts of both agreements had been placed in the Oireachtas library for the information of Members and also made available on the Department’s website. In the light of the improvements described above, I am confident that best practice will be followed — over and above, and rightly so, what is strictly required — and that all future international agreements will be laid before the House in a prompt manner.
Dáil Éireann 613 Written Answers. International Agreements.