Ireland to ratify cultural-protection convention 63 years after signing it

Legislation will encourage others to do likewise, says Simon Coveney

Sixty-three years after Ireland signed a Hague convention to protect cultural property during armed conflicts, new legislation will lead to its finally coming into force here.

The Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016, currently before the Oireachtas, will make it an offence, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, to attack, pillage, steal or vandalise cultural property in Ireland. It will also be an offence for an Irish citizen, Irish resident or member of the Irish Defence Forces to do so abroad. And it will be illegal to export or otherwise remove cultural property from an occupied territory.

Cultural properties that fall under the Bill's terms will be given an emblem of a blue shield to display, so they can be identified before an armed conflict begins. The new law will also legislate for protocols introduced under the convention in 1999.

When Ireland signs up to international agreements, such as Hague conventions or United Nations conventions, it indicates an intention to become a party to them, but that cannot happen until legislation has been produced and passed here. The process of ratification can take some time, although 63 years is perhaps the longest ever taken.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, earlier this week that it was important to recognise that the convention and protocols went back "some time". "I'm glad to say we are now changing and amending Irish law to recognise them," he said.

He highlighted the destruction of very significant cultural and historic monuments in Syria and in other conflicts. “Hopefully by Ireland ratifying and producing this legislation, we are encouraging others to do likewise.” The Minister thanked opposition parties for allowing the Bill to be moved “so swiftly”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that after the 1954 convention was signed it became clear that its effectiveness was limited and that it failed to protect cultural property in a number of subsequent conflicts. "Following the Balkan wars in the 1990s a conference was convened to negotiate a more effective instrument," it said. "In order to become a party to the 1999 protocol a state must first be a party to the 1954 convention, so it is proposed to become parties to both now."

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist