Seanad Éireann - Volume 81 - 11 June, 1975

Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1974: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. P. Barry): The purpose of the Bill is to give effect in Irish domestic law to the convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation which was drawn up at Montreal on 23rd September, 1971. This convention came into force internationally on 26th January, 1973, after the 10th ratification was made and is now in operation between 59 states. Many of the states with which we have regular air services—for example, the US, the UK, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands —have already ratified.

The convention is the third in a series of conventions which are concerned with the protection of civil aviation against unlawful acts of any kind. The two previous conventions, Tokyo and Hague, were primarily concerned with offences on board aircraft, particularly hijacking, and the development of an international legal code to combat the hijacking problem.

The first convention was drawn up at Tokyo in 1965 and was intended [1107] to make offences aboard aircraft amenable to law. While it conferred certain powers on the aircraft commander and dealt with the obligations of states regarding the treatment of hijackers, it did not require that the offender be punished. This inadequacy clearly indicated the necessity for stronger measures and opened the way for the Hague Convention of 1970 which provided for the definition of hijacking as an international offence, establishment of jurisdiction over it and its punishment by heavy penalties. Both of these conventions were given legislative effect by the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1973.

It soon became apparent, however, that hijackings were not the only type of offence which could be committed against civil aviation and the need for a further convention was underlined with the emergence of such new sabotage tactics as armed attacks on airports and aircraft on the ground. The Montreal Convention, with which this Bill is concerned, consequently deals with a wider range of offences. It provides that a person commits an offence if he performs an act of violence which is likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft, damages or destroys an aircraft or places a device on board which would endanger the aircraft's safety. It is also an offence to destroy air navigation facilities or to communicate information known to be false, thereby endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. A person also commits an offence if he conspires in any way with someone who commits any of the offences specified. As in the case of the Hague Convention, the Montreal Convention creates international jurisdiction for the offences and all offences are punishable by severe penalties.

The Bill gives full effect to the convention in making the offences which I have outlined amenable to Irish law, irrespective of where they are committed. It goes beyond the terms of the convention in some respects in that it extends to offences committed against aircraft and installations used for domestic flights; the convention confined itself to offences of an international [1108] nature. This is in line with the logic of the 1973 Act which similarly went beyond the terms of the Tokyo and Hague Conventions by the inclusion of hijacking offences on domestic flights. The Bill, therefore, gives the greatest possible protection to all forms of civil aviation.

Under the 1973 Act commanders of aircraft already have wide powers as regards restraint of persons who jeopardise the safety of aircraft. While the Montreal Convention does not require such provisions, the Bill does give the commander additional powers to prevent a suspect person from boarding an aircraft or to remove him from it. It further requires the commander to notify the appropriate authority that he has done so. The Bill, Senators will notice, also contains similar provisions to the Act of 1973 as regards extradition arrangements.

As the Seanad will see, the range of offences covered by the Bill is quite comprehensive and, coupled with the earlier Act of 1973, provides a very marked deterrent to the potential hijacker and saboteur and bestows effective powers to deal with those guilty of such crimes. Civil aviation has proved itself highly vulnerable to attack worldwide in recent years. While this legislation goes a long way towards making it safer against security threats, it is clear that legislation alone is no cure for the crime of interference with aviation.

Apart from the implementation of our international obligations, which this Bill will complete, we are taking all practical measures possible to secure the safety of air transport. It would be inappropriate for me to outline these measures in any detail but the House can rest assured that the security forces of the State, Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and other interests concerned are fully alive to the dangers involved and are taking effective measures to deal with the situation. In order to co-ordinate these efforts and keep our security measures under constant review, I have set up a National Civil Aviation Security Committee representative of the Government Departments concerned, including the Garda and Defence Forces, Aer Rianta, Aer [1109] Lingus and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association. In addition local airport security committees are functioning at each of the three airports. The measures being taken cause considerable inconvenience to passengers but this is inevitable and passengers must, and do, accept that safety comes before convenience.

I commend this Bill to the House in the assurance that all Senators will support it and, in doing so, make Ireland's contribution to a peaceful and safe development of civil aviation throughout the world. The Bill is not a controversial one because, as I have stated, its main purpose is to give force in Irish law to the provisions of an international instrument designed to promote aviation security on a world-wide scale and in particular to protect the safety of passengers and air crews who are at such serious risk in all forms of attack on civil aviation.

Mr. Lenihan: This very welcome Bill seeks to follow on both the Tokyo and The Hague Conventions. The latter convention, which made air piracy, or hijacking as it is known, an international offence is incorporated in our legislation in the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1973. We have here an extension of offences in accordance with the decisions made at Montreal, extending the crime of air piracy to other areas specified by the Minister. A number of sabotage tactics were being used in regard to airports, aircraft on the ground and so on. There is a wider range of offences included here. The basic convention, The Hague Convention, was extended and widened by the Montreal Convention. Therefore, between this legislation and the Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1973, one has a completely comprehensive system of international legislation, in accordance with international convention, which will deal with all offences related directly to hijacking or damage caused to installations or apparatus associated with aircraft and airports. I do not want to go over the contentious ground we have been on in the past few weeks, but this is an example of extra-territorial [1110] legislation which is fully acceptable because it is in accordance with international convention. That is the main difference in the extra-territorial principle applying to this Bill and the extra-territorial principle sought to be introduced in the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Bill.

This Bill is about our subscribing to the international convention in Montreal following on the previous conventions in The Hague and Tokyo. A number of countries have come together, at these respective conferences, have agreed that this is an international problem that must be dealt with by civilised states by means of mutual exchange, trial and extradition of offenders. In that context, it is totally acceptable. Indeed, it is written into our Constitution, in Article 29, that such conventions to which this country subscribes are valid in regard to punishment extra-territorially. Therefore, there is a very clear distinction here. The same distinction is observed in the Extradition Act, 1965, also where a number of civilised countries come together, subscribe to a convention, each country then introducing legislation providing for exchange in regard to offenders and punishment.

I shall not go into the other area discussed in great detail in the Dáil, which with respect to the other House is not relevant to the Bill, that is, the question of the position in regard to the Eurocontrol installations in Shannon Airport. That question took up considerable time in the other House. I know the Minister gave the Dáil assurances that there was a misconception on the matter and that, as and from 1st January, 1975, it would be operational.

Mr. P. Barry: 1976.

Mr. Lenihan: As and from 1st January, 1976, the whole concern there would be fully operational.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator said he was not going to deal with these matters. He now seems——

Mr. Lenihan: No, it received considerable latitude in the other House. [1111] Strictly speaking, if I want to be technical, there is reference to Eurocontrol in this.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is quite entitled to deal with the question of records, the keeping of records and non-keeping of records, but that is all that is covered in the present Bill.

Mr. Lenihan: I appreciate that. I shall not go into it any further, as long as the Minister gave an assurance in the other House.

The only other question I would raise is whether the agency arrangement in regard to Eurocontrol which is envisaged will in any way diminish the importance of the operation off our coast. Will it be fully operational? Will it and the other installations established under the aegis of Eurocontrol in County Donegal and West Cork be fully operational under the agency arrangement with Eurocontrol, or will they tend to be dominated in regard to further upper air-space control in the East Atlantic area by installations in Prestwick and elsewhere in Britain? I should like the Minister to comment on that aspect. I would not like to see a rundown operation of Eurocontrol on an agency basis.

I appreciate the Minister's problem regarding the salaries aspect. But I should like to know whether there will be the same expansion, both in regard to our involvement and the employment of Irish air-traffic controllers on the agency basis as against the total integration with Eurocontrol?

I emphasise that it is an extra-territorial aspect of administration and enforcement which is very welcome. As one who travels considerably, I hope it is an area which will lead gradually to the fundamental purpose of such legislation. While emphasising the punitive aspects of this legislation and in the legislation throughout the countries signing the convention, we hope it will lead not just to greater safety but also greater convenience on the part of air-traffic passengers, that it will lead to a diminution or indeed elimination of this type of offence.

[1112] It would appear to me, that since the adoption of these conventions and the introduction of this legislation there has been, superficially anyway, a diminution in the number of these offences. They were a fashionable type of offence in recent years but they appear now to be decreasing. If that is true it shows that this type of measure is acting as a deterrent. If such is the case, it would be interesting in that the way towards diminution in the restrictive practices which unfortunately, have to be adopted for security purposes at airports and which cause such inconvenience to passengers. I know it is a question of timing on the part of the security forces involved but it is a thought.

Mr. Markey: This Bill is welcome even if it is legislation we would prefer not to have to put on our Statute Book. The increase in the legislative measures that have had to be introduced in the past decade is regrettable evidence of the escalating nature of the type of offence, such as hijacking and other offences aboard aircraft experienced.

Air travel has lost much of its appeal and glamour as a result of these offences. The positive image of safety which air transport carried has been damaged to an extent. The considerable advantage which air transport enjoyed, in time saving, has been harmed also by the very stringent security precautions which have had to be taken to counter such offences.

With regard to security checks at both departure and arrival points, there is some inconvenience, in addition to the time factor. But there is a lot to be said for the old adage “Better late than never”. People are prepared to suffer inconvenience and loss of time as a necessary hazard. Whatever about short internal flights there should be some concession granted in regard to security precaution taken for “in transit” passengers on longer flights. Perhaps the Minister would try to do something to ease the inconvenience caused to these passengers.

The punishments contained in legislation to counter these offences are [1113] very important. It is extraordinary to read that the Tokyo Convention of 1965 did not require that the offender be punished. Therefore, it is all the more important that in our legislation the punishment we envisage for the offence of hijacking or the other listed offences should be imposed in full, because it is an abhorrent crime. Apart from the personal and physical danger involved, it is of considerable annoyance and worry to the people involved, their families and everybody else. It is no harm to investigate the motivation behind such offences, particularly that of hijacking, and the very violent acts perpetrated, such as the blowing up of aircraft either on the ground or in flight. Of course, there is the political motivation where the violence launched against airports and against aircraft in flight or on the ground is to be expected. Any organisation or person bent on achieving political aims by violence certainly would have a go at the fastest modern means of travel.

Then, we have the ordinary type blackmail such as hijacking of aircraft and seeking a ransom in cash. This is an abhorrent crime and one which must be suppressed very rigorously.

Unfortunately, we find cases of hijacking being committed by eccentrics, or, worse still, people who do so merely for publicity. One would have pity for them but for the serious consequences and implications involved. Perhaps the media are somewhat to blame for their coverage of such acts. Perhaps they should try to assess the motivation behind a particular case of hijacking and be in a position then to determine whether they should give it all that much publicity coverage. A person who commits such a crime for its publicity value—and, unfortunately there are many such people—tends to repeat the crime. He may encourage another person, similarly mentally unsound, to commit a similar act. I think the media have a part to play in all of this, in playing down such incidents where possible.

Probably this Bill will not be the last we shall have dealing with the [1114] subject, because a person bent on violence will discover always some loopholes, either in legislation or security measures, to give expression to his aims. Unfortunately, the Minister will probably have to come back sometime in the future with further legislation.

I welcome this timely and worthy legislation. I hope it will play its part in reducing the number of violent incidents.

Dr. West: I welcome this Bill aimed at ratifying the Montreal Convention. As with many international agreements, the interest of a state rests more in adherence by other states to the agreement rather than in the actual implementation itself. The Minister might indicate the states that have ratified the Treaty and others considering doing so, because that is very important. The prime need of each state is to protect its aircraft, crews and citizens abroad and to ensure that persons who threaten their safety are brought to justice. Having already had a 1973 Bill to ratify the Tokyo and The Hague Conventions, it is timely that we are now getting on with the business of ratifying the Montreal Convention.

I complained in 1973, when the previous Bill came before the House, that we had taken far too long to ratify it and previous conventions. Therefore, it is encouraging to see this Bill, ratifying the Montreal Convention, being introduced fairly quickly after the Air Navigation and Transport Bill, 1973.

I think also that the Minister has done the right thing in setting up the National Civil Aviation Security Committee representative of the various bodies involved in providing security. Having a committee like that gives the Minister an opportunity to keep up to date with the situation. The fact that the people involved will be on that committee is important. They will be the best qualified people to keep the situation under constant review. I am particularly pleased that the Minister has representation from the Irish Airline Pilots' Association because, naturally, they are the body most concerned with the problem of hijacking. [1115] They are the men in the hot seat. They are the people who have to face these awful decisions when a plane is hijacked.

I should like to say something about the Montreal Convention of 1971. I shall quote from a lecture on Air Hijacking in International Law by Dr. Zouhair Kronfol. On page 10 he writes:

The Montreal Convention of 1971 for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation contains jurisdictional and extradition provisions much like those of the previous two conventions, but it extends legal protection to encompass offences committed on the ground. Included are attacks on international aviation which would not be considered in-flight offences or seizures but still involve considerations similar to those involved in hijackings.

The Convention adopted the innumerative approach to the penal offences to which it is applicable, and makes it clear that the dual element of unlawfulness and intention must be present in all of them. The Convention could be interpreted to mean that the person performing the act of violence does not have to be on board the aircraft in order to come under it. This means that the Convention would apply to a person who, being outside the aircraft, fires a gun at a person on board an aircraft (for example, a low-flying and slow-moving helicopter or light aircraft) in flight or who, while on the ground, has poisoned food which is later consumed by a person on board such an aircraft. Under this Convention, therefore, the act of placing an explosive on board the aircraft at any time would be covered by it.

An Cathaoirleach: Perhaps the Senator would give a detailed reference.

Dr. West: This will require some research. If the Cathaoirleach would bear with me I could obtain this.

[1116] An Cathaoirleach: Perhaps the Senator would make it available to the library.

Dr. West: Yes.

I was making the point that the Montreal Convention considerably extends the Tokyo and The Hague conventions to deal with offences committed when the aircraft is not necessarily in flight. This is very important and is to be welcomed because it gives additional protection to the passengers and crew. The Bill involves adherence to an international convention. I cannot help referring to the discussions we have been having on the Criminal Law Bill and the point there which we talked about in adherence to international conventions because it caused a problem.

I proposed one way of solving the problem by changing the definition of political offences, or amending the Extradition Act and the Minister said it was not possible because we had adhered to an international convention. He said that unless we abrogated that convention or it was broken by the various parties who decided not to agree with it, my method of solving our problems of fugitive criminals in Northern Ireland could not be adopted, because of our adherence to international convention and the status which this has in the Constitution, Article 29.3º.

I should like to quote briefly from the Minister's speech, dealing with adherence to international conventions, at col. 411, Vol. 81 of the Seanad Official Report:

As things stand at the moment, we have an international obligation by reason of our adherence to the European Convention on Extradition to permit exemptions for political offences or offences connected with political offences. Of course, the second leg is, to my way of thinking, unduly wide. It is time that the countries of Europe, because of the growing problem of terrorism that they have, and we are one of them, considered looking again at this question of political exemptions to see can the comity [1117] of nations and civilisation itself any longer allow a procedure to exist where people guilty of the most obnoxious and frightful crimes can escape the consequences by pleading that they were well motivated. It is a rejection of the basis of morality to allow such contention. As I say, because of the particular problem we have here, it would be our lot to take the initiative at international level with our fellow European countries to see if the Extradition Convention should be amended. Until it is amended we, unfortunately, are inhibited from changing domestic law, which must honour our international obligations. This is the essence of the argument in the Law Enforcement Commission on our side for our refusal to bring in extradition for these people.

International conventions can get us in as well as out of trouble. Therefore it is incumbent on us to be careful before we sign such a convention. I think we have taken due time and care and are right to ratify the Montreal Convention of 1971. I should like to ask the Minister what happens if the hijacker claims he has committed a political offence or an offence connected with a political offence? Do we therefore extradite him or does the Extradition Act of 1965, section 11 (1), apply? This reads:

Extradition shall not be granted for an offence which is a political offence or an offence connected with a political offence.

Hijackers fall into roughly two categories, those who commit a hijack for the sake of the money, and apparently with no political motivation—this has been pretty common internally in the United States and could have been dealt with by United States internal law—and the political hijacker. As the second type is more likely to happen here—I do not want to be pessimistic but I am surprised that it has not happened here already, given our political situation and the type of people we are dealing with—I should like to ask the Minister to set out clearly in his reply what is the position if someone hijacks a plane [1118] and lands on Irish soil, an application is made for his extradition but he claims the offence is a political offence or an offence connected with a political offence?

When I asked the Minister for Justice for a definition of “political offence” he said that the term really is not defined. It is not defined in the Extradition Act, 1965. Therefore, anybody can claim that their crime was connected with a political offence, and if the judge who is considering the warrant for their extradition decides that the offence is a political offence or is connected with a political offence, under the terms of the Extradition Act, 1965, we cannot extradite them.

The Extradition Act, 1965, is mentioned in section 5 of this Bill so we will have an opportunity to discuss the technical details of extradition there. In general, I welcome the Bill. My real intention is to raise a few queries on the way it will be put into practice.

Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. P. Barry): This Bill got the reception I expected in this House— it was welcomed by all. We are all agreed that the appalling crime of hijacking or committing violence on board aircraft or even against aircraft installations and aircraft on the ground must be curbed. We want to see people who commit these crimes brought to justice. They should get the punishment they deserve. It had been too easy for them, up to the signing of the three conventions, to escape that punishment. It became more difficult after the first two conventions. I would not like to say that the door is now completely shut, but I hope it is. As Senator Markey said, people with minds like that have ways of circumventing legislation in every country to continue with their evil work.

Perhaps I could set Senator Lenihan's mind at rest about Eurocontrol. There is no drawing back from our commitment to Eurocontrol, except that we will operate and fully use Eurocontrol installations as agents of Eurocontrol rather than allowing the Eurocontrol organisations to come here and operate them directly themselves. [1119] As regards the employment, I would say what influenced me most in the decision I took is that this secures employment for Irish people in operation and control of upper air-space. Although Irish people will be employed by Eurocontrol, we could not guarantee under Eurocontrol direct the same level of employment. It was for that reason I decided we would continue our existing arrangements of operating as an agency from 1st January next.

Senator Lenihan also asked about the diminution and elimination of offences since the signing of these conventions. There has been a marked diminution in the crimes of hijacking and violence in aircraft since the various conventions came into operation. I do not think this could necessarily lead to a scaling down of the security arrangements at airports throughout the world. If the use of rather stringent measures—measures that sometimes cause great inconvenience to people using aircraft— have had the result of bringing down the rate of hijacking, it is possible that if these restrictions were to be relaxed in any way the rate of these crimes would again reach the appalling heights attained five years ago.

In the world in which we live we require continuous vigilance against people who, for various reasons, political, covetous, or notoriety seeking, will hijack aircraft all over the world. If security restrictions at airports were relaxed, it would mean that they would again attempt to do this. This is a situation we will have to live with for a long time to come. The safety of passengers must be placed above the convenience of passengers. We will have to live with inconvenience when using airports and the rather strict controls that are now in operation in regard to passengers.

Senator Markey suggested that transit passengers at international airports should not be subject to the same rigorous searching as people who are either embarking or disembarking from aircraft. This point was also raised in the Dáil. It would not be appropriate for this country to tell another country how they should enforce [1120] security arrangements at their airports. If it were to become known that transit passengers were not treated as rigorously as other passengers, it would be possible for a transit passenger to pick up some kind of a device, be it a gun or a bomb, which would allow him hijack the plane on the second leg of his journey. For both transit passengers and embarking and disembarking passengers, the restrictions will have to be equally strict.

I regret these restrictions in our own airports. I can see the inconvenience caused to passengers. I can see the annoyance it causes to passengers. But for the safety of those same passengers, we must insist on those safety regulations. We must ensure—and not just as far as is humanly possible—that nobody gets on board an aircraft and endangers the lives of the people on board that aircraft. This is not something than can be 90 per cent or 95 per cent effective; it must be 100 per cent effective.

Senator West wanted to know what other states had ratified the treaty. There are 59 ratifications. They range over all types of countries: Argentine, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chad, Republic of China, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Korea, Mali, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the Ukraine, the USSR, Yemen Arab Republic and Yugoslavia. That is a selection from them. It can be seen that, including the European countries of course, they embrace a wide range of countries having different philosophies but with one thing in common—they want to ensure that the crime of hijacking is eliminated from all our societies.

As regards extradition, Senator West raised the point about somebody who commits the crime of hijacking and is arrested, say, in Ireland. In fact this Bill is so wide that if a citizen of Y hijacks a plane travelling between X and Z and subsequently comes here and is arrested here, we can try him. One of the three countries involved can apply for extradition. [1121] If his defence is that it is a political crime or a crime associated with politics and he is not extradited he can be tried here for that crime even though (a) he is not a citizen of Ireland and (b) the plane which he hijacked was not flying into or out of this country, nor had it any connection with it. One of the objects of the Bill is to cast the net wide enough to ensure that hijackers, no matter where they commit their offence, are brought to trial either in their own country, or in the country owning the aircraft which they hijacked, or in one of the countries between which that aircraft was travelling, or wherever they are arrested for that crime. One of the advantages of the Bill is that the person who commits the crime of hijacking will be brought to account for his crime in any one of the 59 countries who ratified this convention.

I was glad Senator West also welcomed the national security committee at airports. It is one of the most important things we have done to ensure that not only passengers on our aircraft but also the installations necessary to operate these aircraft on the ground are safe. There are three local committees, one in Cork, one in Shannon and one in Dublin and an overseeing national committee composed of a wide range of interested people. As I said, I do not think that in the context of this crime we should use the words “as far as is humanly possible”. We have to ensure people who travel by air to or from our country, be they on our own airline or on another airline, will not be hijacked or have their lives put in danger. It is with these objects in view that this country signed the three conventions in question and that this Bill is before the Seanad tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.