Gilmore to seek joint plan on Beaufort Dyke munitions

 

THE Government is seeking an Anglo Irish management plan for the Beaufort Dyke munitions dump before work begins on the electricity interconnector between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The plan is to be raised with two British ministers in London today, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs heard yesterday.

The move comes as the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed it originally opposed seabed clearing of the route chosen for a British Gas pipeline due to the risk from munitions dumped by Britain in the Beaufort Dyke. Work on the pipeline has been suspended for risk assessment and approval for the electricity interconnector depends on the results of a recent public inquiry.

The British Ministry of Defence has denied any "direct link" between the pipeline project and recent explosions at sea and the beaching of phosphorous canisters off the Irish northeast and north west coasts.

However, the Minister of State for the Marine, Mr Eamon Gilmore, told yesterday's Oireachtas committee he was satisfied from information given by the Scottish Office that pipeline work had disturbed munitions in the dyke. The Scottish Office had also reported that some munitions appeared to have been dumped outside the official site.

A joint management plan, involving scientific monitoring, is to be proposed by Mr Gilmore at today's meeting with Earl Howe, from the British Ministry of Defence, and the Earl of Lyndsay, the Scottish Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment.

The discovery of 20 phosphorous devices on the Inishowen peninsula last November, "almost certainly" from the Beaufort Dyke, has reinforced the Government's view that Ireland and Britain must agree a coordinated approach to the problem of munitions dumped at sea said Mr Gilmore.

Apart from taking in the route of the gas pipeline and proposed interconnector, the Beaufort Dyke between Ireland and Scotland is an area of intense marine activity with three passenger ferries serving the North. The area is also used by a fishing fleet and is designated on British admiralty charts for submarine exercises.

There are no accurate figures available from the British defence ministry for its disposal operations but it estimates that over a million tons of conventional weapons were disposed of between 1946 and 1963 with Beaufort's Dyke being the main site, just 25 miles off the coast of Larne.

Sites off Donegal and the Cork/Kerry coast were also used after the second World War. The Republic has also dumped munitions at sea, with 600 tonnes disposed of by the Navy 300 miles off Cork in 6,500 feet of water.

An extensive stockpile of chemical weapons filled with mustard and phosgene gases was also scuttled by Britain within sealed hulks.

Late last year, the New Scientist linked the disturbance of phosphorous incendiaries "beyond any reasonable doubt" to the gas pipeline project.

Reports that up to 2,500 tonnes of nuclear waste may have been dumped by Britain in 1981 have also been raised by Ireland. Britain has denied such material was disposed of in the dyke.

Mr Gilmore said yesterday the Government's new Dumping at Sea Bill would extend Irish control up to 350 miles in some areas off the Irish coast and would ratify the OSPAR convention for marine environment protection.

Exemptions from controls for military purposes would no longer be valid and both Ireland and Britain would be responsible for preparation of a quality status report for the entire convention area by the year 2000.

He said ratification of the OSPAR convention would also provide an opportunity for arbitration on increased discharges from Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant since the start up of THORP.

The Minister's information indicated that the situation was far more serious than anyone had imagined, the committee chairman, Mr Alan Dukes (FG) said during questions.