Fears that arms traders could conduct business from State

 

Ireland may unwittingly become a centre for the international arms trade, according to a new Government report.

UK-based arms brokers may decide to move here following a recent tightening of British legislation, potentially taking advantage of gaps in Irish export controls to set up arms deals between rogue states, according to the report, which was commissioned by the Tánaiste.

Because the brokers do not trade physical goods such as weapons, they do not fall within existing Irish legislation governing arms deals.

The report, Export Licensing for Military and Dual-Use Goods, also questions the Government's current policy statement on military exports which maintains that the Republic "is not a producer of arms in the normal sense".

This is "arguably an unnecessary and challengeable statement on a sensitive topic", according to the report. Irish exports of military goods may be small but they do exist, says the report, published yesterday by the Minister for Trade and Commerce, Mr Ahern.

Figures in the report show that the Republic exported more arms per capita than Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, Finland and Greece between 2000 and 2001. Irish firms exported €34.4 million worth of arms in 2002 and a further €4.6 billion of dual-use goods (components used for military or civilian uses).

Dual-use goods include software, telecoms equipment and chemicals, while Irish military exports include suspension systems for tanks and army vehicles.

The report, prepared by the economic consultants Fitzpatrick Associates, was commissioned to identify gaps in Irish export controls. Work began on the project shortly after concerns were expressed by pressure groups, such as Amnesty, that many Irish-based firms were providing components to the US military and its nuclear industry.