Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mrs. Robinson: I found myself in agreement with the criticisms voiced by Senator O'Leary about the difficulty of trying to examine this Bill without having an opportunity to get more information about exactly what is in mind. For example, under section 1 (2) the Minister for Foreign Affairs may by order declare that any state specified in the order is a party to the agreement, but we have a definition of “contracting state” which means a state, including the State, which is a party to the agreement. Does that mean that whether the State is a party to the Agreement or not, the Minister for Foreign Affairs can deem a country to be party to the agreement?
(2) The Minister for Foreign Affairs may by order declare that any state specified in the order is a party to the Agreement and, while that order is in force, the order shall be evidence that such state is a party to the Agreement.
Mrs. Robinson: I appreciate that the Minister is using his best endeavours to help us and to enlighten the House, but I was not greatly enlightened by the position he described in relation to the aircraft that carry and switch on the transponder. I am still worried about the over-flights of aircraft that apparently we have no way of knowing anything about,  whether any information is passed to others. Do we not have any way ourselves of monitoring and being aware of what is happening?
Mrs. Robinson: The interpretation appears, if I am reading it correctly, to enable the Minister for Foreign Affairs to determine the party or parties to the multilateral agreement and therefore extend the definition of “contracting state.” Is that what is intended?
Mr. Lanigan: Could I get back again to this transponder and find out exactly what these stations do? We are told the stations cannot pick up an aeroplane unless somebody switches on something in that aeroplane. You only pay charges if you pass through these particular controls. We are waiting for somebody to switch on a signal inside the plane that can be picked up on the radar. If we have a radar station in Shannon and another one in Cork which can equally pick up these, what is the basis for having these stations?
Mr. Donnellan: That has nothing to do with section 1 anyway. Basically we are talking about control of the upper airspace. The general idea behind all this is the safety of the upper airspace. The reason we have taken part in this operation is in order to ensure that we would not have an occurrence similar to that when an aircraft was shot down recently. Even with the best intentions a certain number of accidents occur as, for example, in Spain recently. The main purpose is to ensure the safety of aircraft.
Mr. Ferris: I know that the Minister has said that is is not the proper section but we might as well get our transponders out of the way and get them switched on or switched off, whichever is appropriate.
Mr. Ferris: I will not deal with it any more once I have my mind clear about these transponders. People switch on their transponders, I understand, for their own safety. Would the Minister agree that the reason they turn on their transponders is that they want to avail of the safety we are giving them within a route in an airspace which is decided for them to be safe?
Mr. Ferris: It is a mandatory requirement for civil aircraft for their own safety to have it switched on and we can assist them by the stations that are located in the three areas we have mentioned. Apparently we switch on our transponders in military aircraft when they are transporting members of the Government on Government business.
Mr. Ferris: Does that requirement apply to other states who have military aircraft but are purporting to be using them for civil purposes? Are they required by us under this convention to switch on their transponders and then have we a track on them?
Mr. Robb: Through some transport difficulty I was not here to listen to the Minister's address, for which I apologise. I hope he has not already covered the question that I would like to ask and I hope it is relevant to the section, but if not perhaps I will have an opportunity of asking it again.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the concern amongst many people in Ireland about the link-up there appears to be  between Mount Gabriel, Slyne Head, Keflavik, Bishopscourt, Dublin and London. There is a feeling that this is part of an information-collecting process which is involved in NATO. He may have defused some of this anxiety but I would like to reinforce the question put to him by Senator Lanigan. It does seem a little extraordinary that we have a system which cannot detect unless the people who need to be detected decide they want to be detected. Has the Minister any information on the difference that exists between what is taking place in Bishopscourt and the other systems that exist in the Irish Republic and whether the situation he has outlined as existing in Mount Gabriel and other stations here is, in fact, the same as exists in Bishopscourt? If not, why not, if there is a link between them all?
Mr. Donnellan: My geography is particularly bad when I did not know where Bishopscourt was. If Senator Robb had said it was near Belfast I would probably have had some recognition of it. We have no connection whatsoever with Bishopscourt. I have already explained the situation in relation to the radar station under our control. We have no connection with Bishopscourt.
Mr. O'Leary: I would mention under section 2 the problem concerning the granting to the director-general of this agency immunity from jurisdiction in respect of acts, other than acts which would constitute a road traffic offence or acts whereby damage is caused to a motor vehicle belonging to or driven by him,  but including words spoken or written. Has the Minister information in regard to the extent of that immunity and why it is being extended to the director general of this agency?
Mr. Donnellan: The privileges and immunities specified in this section are intended to ensure the proper functioning of the organisation and the safeguarding of its interest. It is common practice to extend the privileges and immunities enjoyed by other senior diplomatic staff to the secretaries and directors general of international organisations. In subsection (8) the director-general of Eurocontrol is accorded those privileges.
Mr. Ferris: It seems to be extraordinary that we exempt him from everything except a road traffic offence. I am not suggesting that this director-general of the agency would be involved in drug trafficking or anything else, but we are conferring the most extraordinary immunity on a person, perhaps for very good reasons. If he drives on the wrong side of the road he can be charged with an offence. It is extraordinary that he would be exempt from prosecution for other offences for which a person should be apprehended, even anybody in the diplomatic service. It needs to be spelled out fully why such total immunity should be allowed to the director-general. I want to make sure that he would conform to the same code of ethics that we would expect of people travelling in and out of our airports. Recently at one of our airports drugs were removed from within the premises and put outside the fence surrounding the airport. Here we are conferring on somebody an extraordinary privilege that many Members of the House would like to have.
It is extraordinary that we are giving such powers to this person, and just mentioning road traffic offences as being an exception. Why do we not except all the other things that are unacceptable socially to us? I mention specifically the question of drugs, armaments or subversive documents. I do not trust anybody any more.
Mr. O'Leary: I appreciate what the Minister has said and I now understand why the provision is there. Senator McDonald explained to me that similar types of immunities are granted to the directors general and officers of similar status in various European organisations connected with the European Community. Of course, I was not a Member of the House when anything like that was adopted and I am not responsible for it. I am responsible for this and it appears to me that the granting of immunity to diplomats is a very special immunity which is based on their being representatives of the sovereign of another country. That is the basis of it. There is no way one can equate that to the director-general to this worthy organisation. The principle behind it is incorrect. I accept what the Minister says, that it is normal. I want to change that. I do not want it to be normal any more. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to review that aspect of this legislation and of other legislation of a similar type. The granting of immunity for all such acts is incongruous, to say the least.
With subsection (8) of section 3, of the 1962 Act, which has been inserted by section 2 of this Act, the contradiction of granting such wide immunity is recognised by reason of the fact that road traffic offences are excluded. With regard to diplomats, one of the practical effects of giving people diplomatic immunity is that they tend to ignore the road traffic regulations. Here we are effectively saying that we do not think this man deserves this immunity to the extent of not being held responsible for his road traffic offences. But view that in relation to all the other possible offences for which we are saying he should not be held responsible at all and it shows how ridiculous it is to exclude road traffic offences only. Surely it would be sufficient to extend immunity, if immunity were necessary at all, in respect of the acts which he committed in his capacity as director general of the agency, rather than in his capacity as a human being.
This is something which this Minister, other Ministers within the Government,  parliamentary draftsmen and the Attorney General's office should consider because I have the gravest doubts as to whether, in fact, his immunity is constitutional and as to whether one can, just willy-nilly, by Act of the Houses of the Oireachtas, decide that somebody should not be held responsible for, or should have immunity in respect of, all his acts, other than road traffic offences. I do not know if such a thing is possible. I would like to bring this matter to the Minister's attention, not so much in regard to this particular case but in respect of the various other kinds of legislation which come before us concerning matters of this type.
Finally, if the organisation which is again referred to in section 2 wants to get a better image in Ireland it should changes its image from Eurocontrol, because that is enough to set any Irishman's hair on end.
Mr. O'Leary: We should say that the literal translation of some French word has given rise to a considerable amount of adverse reaction in Ireland. On those two points I would ask the Minister to bring to the attention of the various members of the Government and of the Attorney General's office my fears about the granting of such immunity.
Mr. Donnellan: Yes. These are things which solicitors like to talk about among themselves and in public as well and there would certainly be a very long debate where they would disagree and agree on a number of points.
The director general is unlikely to be here any more than a couple of days in any one given year. He is a German whose name is Flentje. This matter was considered by the Attorney General and it is constitutional. This diplomatic immunity that we talk about is not for the personal benefit of the individual in question. I am quite sure that if the individual in question were found to be involved in some of the acts that Senator Ferris mentioned, or any others of a similar nature, diplomatic immunity would be immediately withdrawn in the same way as it is in other cases.
Mr. Robb: Is the point not that the people of this country are, in fact, being deprived of information from which they might benefit? Instead of having a freedom of information it seems that we are having a curtailing of information. If this man or any other person is travelling through this country with papers containing valuable information about which we should know, I can see no reason why, if we have any pride in sovereignty at all, he should be given such an extraordinary amount of immunity, in particular, under subsection (9):
Representatives of Member States of the Organisation shall, whilst exercising their functions, and in the course of any journey to or from a meeting of the Organisation, enjoy inviolability for their official papers and documents.”
The situation could well arise where we would be glad to have access to those official papers and documents. The public particularly now that we belong to a much wider world organisation, have a right of access. Is this, in fact, protecting these people, from wherever they come,  from exposure to scrutiny by the authorities in Ireland, or is it not?
Mr. Donnellan: The purpose of the subsection is to give them a pass through customs with their official papers. The members of the organisation do not have the same diplomatic immunity as the director general. First of all, we are talking about the director general's diplomatic immunity. The staff of the organisation do not have diplomatic immunity, but do have inviolability in relation to the documents which they carry.
Mr. Lanigan: On this section perhaps I can raise the question of the cost to Ireland of buying back the equipment which is here. The Minister says that the cost of building and equipping the stations was £9 million but that because we bear a bigger brunt of trans-Atlantic traffic than the other countries we are going to be allowed to buy back these buildings for £2.5 million. The Minister said that the cost of rebuilding Mount Gabriel is going to be £2.5 million, so once this Bill is passed, the cost to us of buying back the equipment and the buildings will be £5 million, rather than £2.5 million. Irrespective of what Cork County Council or the Government pay on a malicious damages claim to Eurocontrol, if it is going to cost £2.5 million to replace it would appear that it is going to cost us £5 million to take over these buildings rather than the £2.5 million mentioned by the Minister.
Mr. Donnellan: It has not, in fact, been decided whether the second part of Mount Gabriel will be restored. That is the difference between the £5 million and the £2.5 million. One part of it is being restored but the second part would have cost approximately the same.
Mr. Lanigan: When there is a break up now into national Government control it is stated that all the buildings and equipment that are under Eurocontrol at present will revert back to the national Governments, but the national Governments are going to have to pay for these. The Minister is suggesting in his speech that the cost of buying this is £2.5 million, but that we will not have to pay the £2.5 million, that it will be paid for over a period of years by a reduction in charges. The £2.5 million is all right, but if we have to pay also for the repair of Mount Gabriel, that is another £2.5 million. It is £5 million rather than £2.5 million.
Mr. Donnellan: First of all, in relation to the claim for Mount Gabriel, I presume an action is being heard in court. Nobody can know what the decision of the court is going to be, so we will have to wait and see. In relation to the purchase of the stations we are talking about, the officials of the Department have made an agreement with Eurocontrol in relation to the purchase of these and we are getting them at what we consider a very good bargain and the cost will be spread over a number of years to be deducted from the amount of money due to us from Eurocontrol over a number of years.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Donnellan): I would like to thank Senators for their contributions. As I stated earlier, the primary effect of this Bill is to give legislative effect to procedures for the recognition and enforcement of judgments against a user — that is, an air line — of air navigation facilities who has defaulted in the payment of route charges. On the entry into force of the amending protocol, all Eurocontrol facilities in Ireland will become the property of the State. Both the amending protocol and the multilateral agreement on route charges are expected to be ratified by all states concerned during the Irish Presidency of the Permanent Commission in 1984. When the ratification process is completed, Portugal will become the eighth member of Eurocontrol.
The amending protocol will enable Eurocontrol to expand and strengthen its role in the development and operation of a co-ordinated European air traffic control system. While Ireland may be one of the smaller member states of the organisation, we have always been conscious that, because of our geographical location, we can contribute to the development of the organisation and will continue to play a significant role in all matters relating to the organisation's future aims.
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