JAMIE SMYTH Irish Times Social Affairs Correspondent
IRISH-BASED firms exported €6.74 billion worth of components that can be used by the military and defence industries last year.
The trade in such items, referred to as dual use, was almost three times the value exported in 2008. New figures also show the value of military export licences issued to firms by the State increased to €32.5 million during 2009, up from €30.7 million a year earlier.
Amnesty International said yesterday the rise in such exports was “staggering”. It also criticised the Government for repeatedly failing to publish a promised annual report on military and dual use exports by Irish-based firms.
Dual-use goods are components, software or chemicals which can be used by military or defence forces as well as civilian commercial firms. Controls which prevent technologies falling into the hands of states accused of human rights abuses mean firms must apply for licences to export these goods.
Statistics on the value and destination of military and dual-use exports should be published every year by the Government under the terms of the Control of Exports Act 2008. But it has still not published an annual report on military and dual-use exports for 2008, the first year covered by the new export law.
“What kind of products are we issuing licences for? Where were they sent? Have we been exporting military technology to countries where they could be used in human rights abuses and attacks on civilians?” said Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland.
Amnesty says it has no problem with Irish companies manufacturing weapons or dual-use goods. But it says more transparency is needed to ensure any weapons containing Irish-made components do not end up in the hands of human rights abusers.
The NGO has identified several companies in the Republic, which it claims have exported either military or dual-use goods, such as Moog Limited, Timoney Technologies and Iona Technologies.
In 2007, Amnesty raised concerns about computer chips made by Data Device Corporation, a US firm which until recently had a manufacturing operation in Cork. The chips are used in Apache attack helicopters, which have been used by Israeli forces in incidents criticised by human rights campaigners
The NGO’s research was a factor that led the Government to tighten export controls in 2008.
Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs Michael D Higgins said the Government’s failure to publish the promised 2008 annual report means no one can be clear where dual-use goods end up. “It is an appalling lack of transparency that the annual reports outlined in the Control of Exports Act have not been published. They should be immediately laid before the Oireachtas.”
The Government said last night it would publish the annual report shortly and include information on the destination of exports and detail on any new legislative developments. It denied that Irish-based firms were involved in the global arms trade. “No armaments are manufactured in Ireland . . . Some small amounts of controlled military goods are exported under license and in compliance with national and EU law. This situation cannot be interpreted as the country having an involvement with the global arms industry,” said a statement noted.
The increase in value of dual-use goods was revealed in a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment refused to answer a question on whether any licences to export military or dual use goods have been refused. it also does not release information on the identity of firms exporting dual-use or military components.
Shane O’Neill, chief executive of Timoney Technologies, a Navan-based firm that licenses military technology for export, said the rise in value of Irish exports in 2009 may reflect an increase in US defence spending.
He said developing products for the military was good for business and supported jobs. It should not be seen as a negative or in some way supporting despots abroad.