Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 October 2019
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2019: Committee Stage
As I did not get the opportunity to speak to the Bill on Second Stage, I will take a few minutes to do so now.
I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. Its research and background information on the Bill were very helpful. Its work complements ours, particular of those of us in opposition. It is of huge benefit to Members.
Sinn Féin supports and welcomes the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Bill. As the Minister of State said, it received unanimous support on Second Stage. I imagine that support will continue as the Bill progresses through all remaining Stages. The Bill will enable Ireland to become a state party to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and give effect to its provisions in Irish law. The treaty prohibits participation in a range of activities related to the transfer, development and use of nuclear weapons. This is both very welcome and something to which every country should agree. Nuclear weapons threaten the very existence of the human race and life on this planet. They should not be developed, stored or used by anyone.
It is worrying that many Cold War disarmament treaties are breaking down. That should be noted in this discussion. Presidents Trump and Putin are moving towards a new arms race. We need to create a world free from nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Ireland must be a global leader on the issues of demilitarisation and disarmament.
We should remember all victims and survivors of nuclear weapons. Two nuclear weapons have been used in war - the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US military in 1945. These two bombs killed 120,000 civilians and flattened both cities. They were deployed to kill as many civilians as possible. It was a war crime, although it is never spoken about in these terms, and the effects are still being felt today.
We have seen pictures of babies born today who are suffering the effects of that war which should never have happened. The development and use of nuclear weapons should have ended with it, but, regrettably, the opposite happened. We know that more and more of these weapons were produced. I always try to attend the annual event organised by the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on Merrion Square to remember all those who died in these two war crime events. It is a small ceremony, but it is important that Irish people be given the opportunity to express their horror at what happened. During the Cold War we saw massive proliferation of nuclear weapons which still pose a threat to humanity. Nuclear weapons have been detonated on 2,000 occasions for testing purposes and demonstrations which have caused enormous environmental damage. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that in 2017 there were 14,465 nuclear weapons in the world. They must all be destroyed and put beyond use.
I reiterate my support for the treaty, Ireland being a signatory to it and the Bill, the effect of which will be to enshrine the provisions of the treaty in Irish law. I am not sure about the amendment that has been tabled and hope someone will speak to it. I am open to supporting it, but I am interested in hearing the Minister of State's views on it. The treaty is not binding on states that are not a party to it and we have a long race to run before we reach full global nuclear disarmament. Nonetheless, the treaty remains an important step in achieving nuclear disarmament. In parallel to its support for the treaty, the Government should try to stop the erosion of Irish neutrality and oppose further militarisation of the European Union. I know that there are differences of opinion, but it is not good enough to oppose nuclear weapons while remaining part of NATO's so-called Partnership for Peace. We cannot chastise countries that have stockpiled and developed nuclear weapons in Europe and then join EU battle groups with them and silently move towards the formation of an EU army. It is welcome that we have signed the treaty, but we must encourage more countries to do likewise. We must also encourage those that have nuclear weapons to set out on the long road towards disarmament and the decommissioning of all nuclear weapons.