State urged to be upfront about arms trade

 

The Government's practice of playing down the Republic's role in the global arms trade should change if it follows advice in a new report published yesterday.

Export Licensing for Military and Dual Use Goods, which was commissioned by the Government earlier this year, argues the policy statement that "Ireland is not a producer of arms in the normal sense" is challengeable.

This isn't surprising, given that the report highlights that Irish firms export more military goods per capita than companies based in five of its EU partners.

Firms in the Republic, such as Moog, Timoney Technology and MineLab, notched up sales worth €120 million between 2000-2002. This isn't huge on a global scale, but neither is it insignificant.

New figures supplied by the Government yesterday show it has issued 40 military licences this year already for equipment that was exported to states such as Iraq, Croatia and Germany.

Up to the end of July 2003, the Government had issued 684 dual-use licences to firms, for components such as software and chemicals.

The value of dual-use exports was significant in 2002 at €4.6 billion, demonstrating the Republic's importance as a location for multinational firms. Companies such as Intel, Dell and Xilinx all produce equipment that can be used for military purposes as well as civilian.

In fact, Ireland is benefiting from the friendly country status assigned to it by the US government - giving it a competitive edge over much lower-cost states such as China.

The 100,000 workers involved in the technology industry are unlikely to voice ethical objections to their work. And even Amnesty has said it is not per se opposed to the arms industry.

However, the report by Fitzpatrick Associates identifies gaps in the Irish regulatory regime, which could be used by rogue companies to supply goods of Irish origin into the wrong hands.

It says Irish-based firms can still use licensed production agreements to circumvent export controls.

This would enable a firm to license its technology to a firm in a third country, which could supply it to a rogue state.

There is also little end-monitoring internationally of export agreements, says the report, which acknowledges that there are limits to what can be done to track components. But it highlights a lack of transparency with military and dual-use products.

And, perhaps most worryingly, the review suggests that arms brokers - people who organise arms deals between states internationally - may be attracted to the Republic because new laws in Britain will seek to control them.