It is often assumed that Ireland does not play a part in the global arms industry. The progressive stance of the Irish government at the international level regarding certain weapons serves to reinforce this view. Ireland was active in pushing for a treaty outlawing cluster munitions and in 2008 hosted the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Dublin. The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, said that Ireland’s engagement was motivated by our humanitarian principles and “a strong wish to see the worst effects of armed conflict, particularly on innocent civilians, prevented or mitigated”. When parts made by an Irish company were found in a Sudanese military drone last year, it challenged the assumptions regarding Ireland’s connections to the arms industry.
Channel 4 reported in April 2012 that an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the Sudanese army for reconnaissance, usually in advance of bombing raids directed at civilians, was found to contain parts ‘made in Ireland’ by a company called Tillotson. This US company has a factory in Tralee, Co. Kerry, where it manufactures engine carburetors, including one that can be used for “military spy drones”, according to its own website. The company did not sell the engine part directly to the Sudanese army, and its managing director, John Mason, said that the company had no control over potential onward sales by their clients. He also raised the possibility that the parts in the drone were fakes. There was no denying that the part could have been produced in Kerry and could have been used in a Sudanese army drone.
Serious human rights violations have been committed in Sudan over a number of years, most notoriously in Darfur, and the part played by the Sudanese government has been widely reported. There are currently war crimes and crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court for a number of Sudanese officials, including President Al-Bashir. When the Tillotson incident was reported, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore stated in the Dáil that he “would be concerned if equipment manufactured in Ireland was being used by the military in operations against the civilian population”. A departmental investigation has taken place into the licensing arrangements for the products in question.
Ireland has a large industry making so-called “dual use” products, products that may serve both a civilian and a military purpose. The Irish Times reported that exports from Ireland with a potential military use amounted to more €1.45 billion in 2010. Control over these exports is placed in the hands of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation under the Control of Exports Act 2008. Although not explicitly mentioned in the act, the Department states that human rights are considered in the decision to grant licences for export, including by way of consultations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A report of the investigation into Tillotson does not seem to have been made public, but the Irish Times reports that it found that no licences had been issued recently for exports to Sudan which is under EU sanctions. On the specific incident, it concluded that:
Without access to all parts of the item identified in the Channel 4 documentary it is not possible to ascertain whether or not the component was made by the Irish company mentioned in recent media reports . . . its products are standard engineered products designed for small motors. These products do not fall within the categories of mandatory controlled products that require an export license before being exported from Ireland or the EU.
The Department finds that a part that can be used in a military drone is not a controlled product, yet it “decided to impose additional reporting requirements in relation to exports of the above components to EU embargoed countries.”
The Tillotson incident shows the difficulties of ensuring that Irish-made products do not contribute to violations of human rights overseas and the hollowness of claiming that Ireland is not a part of the global arms industry. The Kerryman newspaper reported that several other Kerry-based firms are also doing quite well in the “lucrative market” of dual-use products. Given the globalised nature of trade and the often shadowy side of the arms industry, it may be inevitable that Irish-made dual-use products will end up in the hands of those that abuse human rights. A legal obligation to exercise due diligence and a rigorously enforced licence and sanctions system might reduce the risk of Irish companies becoming complicit in violations, but is unlikely to eliminate it.