Seanad Éireann - Volume 122 - 10 May, 1989

Adjournment Matter. - South African Alleged Involvement in Arms Importation.

[1583] Mr. Bromell: Ba mhaith liom t-ábhar seo leanas a phlé sar a scoireann an Teach: “That Seanad Éireann notes with concern the alleged involvement of the South African Government in the importation of arms by a Loyalist organisation.” The salient facts are well known to Members of the House. Just to recall them very briefly, members of a Loyalist organisation, Ulster Resistance, with American businessmen and a South African diplomat, were apprehended in a hotel in Paris. It is said that negotiations were in progress between these people with regard to the selling of secrets in relation to very sophisticated armoury made in Shorts in Belfast in return for the importation of what is euphemistically called ordinary armaments to Loyalist groups in the Six Counties.

The news tonight at six o'clock informed us that over 700 people are being laid off in Shorts in Belfast. It gives no pleasure to Seanad Éireann, no more than it will to the Loyalist population in east Belfast, that this should happen. It is conceivable that as a result of what is happening in Shorts, people taking secrets from the factory, visiting South Africa and taking jobs in armament factories in South Africa and the whole business in Shorts in Belfast, their reputation is being undermined. This is another corollary to what has happened and what has been happening over the years with regard to the involvement between South Africa and certain Loyalist organisations in the North with regard to the whole question of the importation of arms. Indeed the media honed in on this as if it were something new. However, anybody who has been to the North or in consultation with people who are living there will know that everybody knows — or everybody up there says — there is a well founded and well formed train of importation of arms, particularly from South Africa, and especially in transit [1584] through Scotland, coming into the Loyalist organisations for the last 20 years, if not more, because over the last number of years the propaganda put out by Westminister and by the Northern Ireland Government, aided and abetted by certain elements here is very simplistic. It says that all you have to do is to get rid of the Provos and the whole question of Northern Ireland is solved, cause and effect.

I am not going into that but it is very easy for anybody with eyes in his head or with ears to listen to realise that there are illegal Loyalist organisations, North and South, importing arms, much of those arms from South Africa. One would imagine that the whole Loyalist approach has been one of reconciliation and peace. Of course that is not the case. The whole Loyalist approach has been one of threatening confrontation. It is unfortunate that the cause on one side has the opposite effect on the other side. Therefore, the tit for tat goes on. It is important to note that the South African Government are prepared to sell their armaments to organisations, in this case the Loyalist organisations, in the same way that other countries are prepared to sell armaments, guns and ammunitions to the Provos for the killing and maiming of people, the destruction of property and so forth like that in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately some of the Loyalist armaments and guns have been used here in Dublin and other parts of the South as well. It has to be brought home to the South African Government that we will not tolerate that and that we are not at all satisfied with the conduct of the South African Government in this regard. We have no diplomatic relations with South Africa. We abhor the régime although it is very easy for us to talk about a régime of repression and discrimination and to criticise it when it is so many thousand miles away. It is probably more difficult to criticise régimes of discrimination and intolerance when they are nearer home.

Indeed it is rather surprising that a person should mention Arbour Hill in the Seanad and be criticised for it by speakers [1585] on the opposite side. However, questions arise with regard to the position of the South African Government, and their dealings with the Loyalist organisations. Questions arise particularly with regard to the personnel on the Loyalist side who were members — or had been members — of the security forces in the North. The question arises in regard to how much collusion there is between the security forces in the North and the various organisations for destruction on the Loyalist side.

I note that questions have been raised in the House of Commons with regard to what knowledge the British security forces, Westminister and the Tory Government under Mrs. Thatcher, had of these dealings, not just in Paris two or three weeks ago but over a considerable number of years in the importation of arms to the North, especially through Scotland. Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement we should bring to the attention of the British that we are very concerned about the importation of arms. We have demonstrated that we are very concerned with the importation of arms by the Provos, the Government have been zealous in trying to stop that activity. We should demand from the British Government through the Anglo-Irish Agreement and through our Ambassador in London that Mrs. Thatcher, one of the few friends that the South African Government have in the western world, takes this up very seriously with the South African authorities and brings to their notice that all they are doing is adding to the destruction, the death list, loss of life and property and the casualties of the North by their dealings.

It is disturbing as well when we see the close involvement of so-called democratic politicians of the Unionist side with the beginning of this Ulster Resistance Movement and their close involvement up to quite recently with it. It again begs the question: what does democracy mean in the North? Why do people who sit in a Parliament and profess loyalty to that Parliament and their Queen, at the same time have not only very strong links with [1586] but are involved in setting up these Loyalist organisations?

The South have a very solid democratic record. We have given no quarter and it is only our right to ask that our record here be part and parcel of the record of the British authorities in dealing with all illegal and subversive organisations and indeed all organisations importing arms for the destruction of life and property and the maiming of people. The conflagration has gone on for much too long. The importation of arms on the Loyalist side went on, of course, naturally before the setting up of the State: you can go back to the Larne importation and right through the thirties, forties and fifties. We will not go into history. We had enough history a while ago from people on the revisionist side.

Another facet that worries me is that the diplomat from South Africa was set free due to diplomatic immunity. If a person is involved in a criminal act, should that person — and this applies to all countries — have diplomatic immunity? It is now said that the Loyalist people and the American businessman will get off with just a very light indictment in regard to theft. If they do get off in the French courts will these people be extradited to the North and will they face the courts in the North? It will be an interesting development and I hope our Government will insist, through the Anglo-Irish Agreement and through our ambassador in London, that serious consideration is given by the British Government to this development.

This is the first conclusive and concrete evidence we have of the association of Loyalist organisations with South Africa. It is important that we look upon it very seriously and take whatever measures we can to bring it to an end. It is very important to impress this on the British authorities, particularly on Mrs. Thatcher who is perhaps the only friend the South African regime have in the western world. Therefore, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I propose this motion, that we note with concern what has taken place between a South African diplomat and this Loyalist organisation. I hope the Government will [1587] take up the matter directly with the British Government and again through the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Calleary): In his statement of 25 April, the Tánaiste informed Dáil Éireann that our ambassador in Paris had conveyed our congratulations to the French authorities on the success of their security measures against an operation which, apart from its possible grave implications for security in Northern Ireland, could have resulted in the breaking of the arms embargo on South Africa imposed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 of 1977.

I would like to take the opportunity afforded by this debate to repeat in the Seanad our appreciation of the effective action of the French authorities in foiling an apparent attempt to obtain sophisticated military technology for South Africa. We do not know yet what may have been on offer to the Loyalists in return, but it is safe to assume that any assistance or weapons, or cash for weapons, could only have resulted in further loss of life in Northern Ireland. Our appreciation of the action taken by the French authorities is all the greater for this reason.

At the first indication of the developments in Paris, the Tánaiste instructed our embassy there to make inquiries and report back urgently. The embassy subsequently reported that three persons from Northern Ireland, Mr. Noel Little, Mr. James King and Mr. Samuel Quinn, had been arrested, together with an American citizen, Mr. Douglas Bernhart and an official of the South African embassy in Paris, Mr. Daniel Storm, who was released because of his official status. The embassy have continued to remain closely in contact with the French authorities.

In the light of this very grave development, the Tánaiste instructed, on 24 April, that a protest be made in the strongest possible terms to the South African Government. As Ireland does not maintain diplomatic relations with [1588] South Africa, this protest was delivered by our ambassador in London to the South African ambassador there. The ambassador told the South African ambassador that the Government strongly condemn the provision of weapons, or funds for the purchase of weapons, to any group in Northern Ireland and that they wished to have the assurance of the South African Government that South Africa will not supply any such weapons or funds.

In the course of the protest, the ambassador also informed the South African ambassador that the Irish Government rejected the use of violence as a means of promoting political objectives in Northern Ireland and were making every effort to achieve peace, stability and political progress. The ambassador reminded the South African ambassador that sectarian attacks by Loyalists in Northern Ireland had killed to date almost 700 persons and, this year alone, had resulted in the deaths of 11 people.

In reply, the South African ambassador said he would transmit the Government's message to his Government. He informed the ambassador that the South African Minister for Foreign Affairs had said that the South African Government were investigating the matter; that he had given the assurance that the South African Government are not supplying weapons to any terrorist organisation; he had stated that should any organisation or individual in South Africa have transgressed in this sphere, action would be taken against those concerned and an assurance would be given that this would not happen again. Subsequently, on 3 May, the South African Minister for Defence, General Malan, was reported to have told the South African Parliament that Daniel Storm was acting on behalf of the South African arms agency, Armscor, but that his involvement with the Loyalists did not have the approval of the South African Government. In the course of his statement, General Malan said that South Africa did attempt to obtain weapons on the black market to counter the United Nations arms embargo and that, as he put it, “anyone [1589] subjected to an arms embargo cannot pick and choose with whom they fulfil these requirements”. He added that the international arms trade followed its own rules and moral code and did not always follow diplomatic and legal standards.

The United Nations arms embargo was decided by the UN Security Council for very good reasons and has the force of binding international law. It goes without saying that we reject completely these remarks by General Malan.

On 28 April the French Government summoned the South African ambassador and informed him of the expulsion of three members of the South African embassy for activities contrary to their status. One of these officials was Mr. Storm.

In a statement on 5 May, the British Government said that they had considered carefully the South African Government's response, in particular General Malan's statement to the South African Parliament on 3 May and that, because of the gravity of the matter, they had decided that three members of the South African embassy in London should leave Britain within seven days. In the convention of international relations, expulsion is a most severe expression of disapproval by Governments.

The Government have maintained close contact with the British Government on this matter and they have, of course, conveyed through the embassy in London and the Secretariat in Belfast their great concern about the deeply worrying security implications of this affair. In particular, the ability of Loyalist organisations to steal military equipment from establishments in Northern Ireland is a very grave matter.

In this general regard, our discussions with the British authorities covered the recent breaches of security at Shorts and at a Territorial Army base at Newtownards. In response, we have been informed that, following the theft from the Shorts factory at the end of October 1988, a thorough review of security had been carried out which had resulted in improvements to security arrangements both in relation to the security of the [1590] premises and to the screening of staff employed at the factory. Similarly, since the theft last month from the Territorial Army base in Newtownards, a full security review is being carried out into security at the base and other such bases in Northern Ireland. We have also been informed that the equipment stolen from Shorts in the theft of October 1988 was an aiming unit of the Javelin missile system and the equipment stolen from the Territorial Army base at Newtownards last month was a training model of the Blowpipe missile system. It was, in fact, a cut-away section of this training model of the Blowpipe system which was found in the possession of the three Loyalists in Paris. It has been stressed by the British authorities that none of this equipment was capable of operational use.

The three Loyalists are now in custody. They have been charged with arms trafficking, receipt of stolen goods and conspiracy of a criminal nature; and their case is under judicial investigation. This is a dimension that we should all be conscious of this evening. Two of the loyalists, Mr. Little and Mr. King, are known to have links with the organisation known as “Ulster Resistance”. Senators will, I know, be aware of the history of this organisation, which was founded in 1986. What is known about this affair, and this organisation, illustrates the absolute necessity for politicians engaged in the democratic process to clearly reject the use of violence in the promotion of political objectives. The third Northern Ireland person arrested, Samuel Quinn, was a member of the Territorial Army at Newtownards. As I have said, the Government have been informed that a full review of security at Territorial Army bases in the North is in progress.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate, on behalf of the Government, our deep concern at any attempt to provide weapons or funds to organisations or persons who are engaged in the promotion of political objectives by violent means. The Government will maintain contact with the British and French Governments in regard to all relevant aspects of this [1591] matter. The South African Government have publicly indicated that the activities of their agent in Paris, Mr. Storm, did not have their approval in so far as they concerned contacts with Loyalist organisations. Nonetheless, the fact remains that an agent of the South African [1592] Government did engage in such contacts with possible grave implications for security in Northern Ireland. Such behaviour is completely unacceptable.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 11 May 1989.