Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

1:00 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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This side of the House supports this welcome Bill. Ireland has played a fine part internationally with regard to nuclear issues, particularly at the United Nations, in maintaining a constant vigilance and presence above and beyond its numbers in terms of the size of the country. We have been peace leaders in the world. The Government and parties on all sides of the House have been strong and clear in their views on nuclear safety and related issues.

The issue of Sellafield, which I addressed earlier, engages us at all times. The Government needs to internationalise the problem and bring it to the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations. In the context of nuclear issues relationships between countries like Britain and Ireland require more than government to government representation and meetings, we need an international policeman. The United Nations, through the IAEA, should use its powers effectively and efficiently and be a guarantor of our security and safety. It is not that we do not trust the British, but they cannot tell us what we need to know. I understand why they may not be able to tell another sovereign government, but there is no reason they cannot be responsible to a higher body, namely, the United Nations.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

Jim Glennon (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I welcome the Government's decision to bring this matter before the House. We thank the Minister for providing the history of the treaty and its operations. It is useful to have this information on the record.

This is a timely debate. Recent developments internationally on the development and testing of nuclear weapons by a number of countries have received much attention. Only last week we were informed of the successful nuclear test conducted by North Korea and this morning we hear that it is to carry out further testing. This test was a deeply distressing act that undermined security in Asia and was provocatively in clear defiance of the United Nations. Moreover, such developments also underline the precarious position of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of which Ireland was an author.

It is the Labour Party's belief that all countries intent on developing and testing nuclear weapons should be dealt with in the context of international law. This applies as much to Israel, India, and Pakistan as it does to North Korea and Iran, all of which have yet to officially declare their nuclear capability. It is striking how little we now hear of Israel's nuclear capability, in contrast to the frequent media reports and justifiably frenzied fears expressed about North Korea and Iran. In regard to the Iranian situation in particular, while the Bush Administration in the United States rhetorically tells the world it is seeking a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear threat, it is becoming increasingly evident that this may well be used as a cover for forcing regime change there.

To return to North Korea, in the short term, given the small number of nuclear weapons in its possession, it is to be hoped that diplomacy rather than direct intervention can deal with this threat. That being said, the international community through the United Nations must express its total outrage and abhorrence at the use of nuclear weapons. Aggressive acts such as nuclear tests undermine efforts towards stability in Asia and could precipitate conflict between North Korea and its immediate neighbour to the south. Regional security must therefore be the immediate priority, as well as ensuring the safety of the millions of people living in the area.

North Korea is currently isolated from the wider regional and international community. It is appalling that a country so desperately in need of food responds to its isolation by developing weapons for malign purposes. Serious concerns must be expressed about the motives of the government in carrying out these tests, the regime itself, and the welfare of the North Korean people.

The tests have rightly been condemned at the highest level. The United Nations must now be given the lead role in placating the North Koreans and ensuring security in the region and throughout Asia. The North Korean situation emphasises the need for countries such as Ireland to return to the nuclear non-proliferation discussion as a matter of urgency. While the nuclear powers have not fulfilled their decommissioning and disarmament commitments, as was their obligation under Article 6, the treaty has been of immense significance in stopping proliferation.

The nuclear suppliers group, founded in 1977, has 45 members, of which Ireland is one. The group operates by consensus and Ireland can thus block any attempt to dilute the conditions of the NPT. The treaty imposes disciplines to what are called the "Full Scope Safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency".

India, along with Pakistan and Israel, has not signed or ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, while North Korea has withdrawn from it. These countries are therefore not subject to the full scope safeguards. Earlier this year India offered to allow the IAEA to examine some of its nuclear installations. While this would have placed on India a requirement similar to that which the nuclear powers, USA, France, Russia, UK, and China, are subject, it would not have bound India under the non-proliferation treaty.

The international community cannot settle for fudges such as this. Ireland led the way in developing and enshrining the principles of nuclear non-proliferation and we must ensure that all countries in possession of nuclear weapons are governed by the full rigours of the treaty.

Turning to the legislation before us today, the Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 gives effect to our national obligations under the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. The Labour Party fully endorses this legislation which will ban nuclear explosions in all environments for military or civilian purposes. It is regrettable that given the large number of countries that are signatories to the treaty but are unlikely to follow Ireland's lead and enforce it nationally, it will not come into force for some time. This is all the more regrettable considering that arms controls advocates have been advocating the need for such a global treaty since the early 1950s. In this regard it would be most helpful if the United States, a signatory to the original treaty, moved to ratify it in Congress. This would help to establish an international norm and would, perhaps, encourage other countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea to do likewise.

I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to ask the Government to continually press the United States Government to ratify the treaty. Given the current international climate, this may be unlikely, but if we are ever to make a breakthrough in containing and arresting the spread of nuclear weapons, then major powers such as the United States must respect international obligations they have already signed up to at the United Nations.

Sadly, the failure of the United States to do this is typical of its attitude towards the UN and its treaties and agreements in this regard. Perhaps it will take a much needed change of government and the removal of the current administration before this can happen.

Undoubtedly, the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, specifically with regard to weapons of mass destruction, has gained increasing importance in recent years. The Labour Party continues to believe that multilateral engagement rather than confrontation is the best means of addressing the spread of nuclear weapons.

In considering this Bill I am struck by the fact that it is impossible to divorce nuclear weapons from the wider issue of the use of nuclear energy. Too often the development of nuclear power and trade in uranium specifically is used as a cover for the simultaneous manufacture of nuclear weapons. Ireland remains opposed to the nuclear option. Nuclear power carries with it a great threat to the environment and public health and safety. The day before yesterday this issue was highlighted once again, with the British Nuclear Fuel group receiving a significant fine from a local court for ongoing radiation leaks at the Sellafield reprocessing plant.

The Labour Party has led the way in calling for the closure of this nuclear junkyard. I take this opportunity to repeat that call. Sellafield continues to pose a major threat to this country, either by way of an accident at the plant, through waste being pumped into the Irish Sea, or through the threat of a terrorist attack on the plant. It remains official Government policy to seek the closure of the plant. I remind it of that commitment. It should use all available opportunities to raise this issue with the British Government and to seek the closure of Sellafield once and for all. I welcome this Bill before the House; it will have the support of the Labour Party.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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How much time is left?

Jim Glennon (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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There are 22 minutes remaining in the slot.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It will not be a problem to the Deputy to use it.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this welcome proposal by the Government to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. I concur with the view expressed by my colleague, Deputy Stagg, in regard to Ireland's international policy in this general area. In the very near future we will attend a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group which will discuss, among other issues, the implications of the US-India agreement of July 2005. The issue that arises is whether we will use our position on the Nuclear Suppliers Group to assert the principle of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

This treaty is perhaps best known internationally in the name of Ireland as we were one of its authors. Finland was among the first signatories. It is a most important treaty, and has been from its initiation in 1968. It was reviewed in 1995 and in the year 2000, 13 steps were agreed which were to move the treaty towards universal acceptance. The 2005 review was ineffectual and barely moved beyond the agenda. I do not wish to dwell on this matter as I want to move on to what is centrally before us, but there are issues to be decided in regard to that treaty.

At this stage, if one takes the discussion that has taken place on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is at the heart of the matter, the question is whether we take a stand and describe this as the bedrock of the Irish approach or accept other formulations such as that of Mr.Baradei. He wrote recently in a newspaper in the United States about the need to think outside the box and accommodate, as it were, the US-India agreement. It is not possible to do both. The question is whether we will stick with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and seek universality. We have attended meetings organised by Sweden and New Zealand in seeking to bring that agenda forward but there should be a public announcement on our attitude towards the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

It is important to bear in mind the background to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Since the first nuclear test was conducted in July 1945, more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions were conducted, most recently in North Korea. Tests were initially conducted in the atmosphere, underwater and later underground, and mostly by the major powers, then the United States and the Soviet Union, but also France, China and the United Kingdom. The nuclear weapons states have not conducted any nuclear tests since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was opened for signature in September 1996. The most recent tests prior to that of North Korea were conducted by France and China in 1996 and India and Pakistan in 1998.

There is no doubt we are at a dangerous time in terms of freeing the world from the threat of nuclear contamination and destruction. Ireland is late in ratifying this treaty. It was opened for signature in 1996 and was signed by 71 states, including the five nuclear weapons states. As of April 2006, the number of signatories, without obligation of ratification, had grown to 176. A total of 132 ratifications have been made. The difficulty is that the treaty will only enter into force 180 days after it has been ratified by 44 designated states. The conclusion that arises is that the entire planet is held to ransom by those countries that possess nuclear capacity and refused to ratify. That is a blunt fact.

The question arises as to what one can do regarding international policy. In terms of domestic policy, I welcome the Government's ratification, but significant steps should be taken in regard to the implications of international policy. Ireland should reaffirm its commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as the bedrock of its approach and it should state explicitly that it will be guided by that principle in the resumed talks of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It should state also that it is in favour of a new international convention on fissile material. In addition, it should return to the principle of universality.

Models exist in regard to verification. Like my colleague, Deputy Woods, I had the opportunity to meet spokespersons for the recent Indian proposals. Inspection of eight of the 22 nuclear installations is not on offer as they are military — the other 14 installations are civilian. Neither is the close scrutiny on offer in respect to members which have signed the protocols to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. All this is very important. The Chemical Weapons Convention provides a model as it has a verification regime and a set of obligations that could be used. That model exists and we should canvass support for it.

Confusion also exists in regard to international politics in respect of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and testing. It is hard to reconcile the position currently adopted by the United States, for example, on North Korea, where it appears to advocate a regional dialogue, and in regard to Iran. We have yet to see clear evidence of the breaches of principles of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by Iran. A further issue relates to those non-signatory countries, not just to India but to Pakistan and Israel.

It is time the lamp shone on all the countries with nuclear weapons and required of them a common obligation. I have great difficulty with Mr. Baradei's inconsistent views in regard to India, on the one hand, and Iran on the other. I note a considerable difference between his position and that of Hans Blix in the most recent report on the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. Both share agreement on something to which I do not subscribe, the use of nuclear as a source of energy, but the difference relates to whether Mr. Baradei favours the evolution of mechanisms that are not just parallel to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty but may constitute alternatives to it. In that sense, he is weakening the forward movement of restoring the authority of that treaty.

Welcome developments are apparent. I wish to speak positively. It is interesting that one government after another in Latin America has decided not to go down the road of nuclear energy which gives rise to the reality of a continent that is nuclear-free. It would be a most worthwhile objective to pursue this notion, let us say in the case of the Middle East, which is a region where the conflicts are a threat to international stability in the most general sense. For that region to become nuclear free, it would require people to have the courage to speak about Israel's capacity. I do not make the case for Iranian capacity, I simply say that if one is to address the issues of the region, one must look at the nuclear capacity in the region that is currently admitted. We must remember that Iran is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The accusation has been made about non-disclosure. One can well ask, if it had not been for Mordechai Vanunu, whether we would know about Israel's capacity. What is the attitude of the international community in the sense of balance in regard to this issue?

I favour the idea of regional nuclear free zones. It is an appalling colonial legacy that the 2,000 tests since 1945 took place in the context of the abuse of the ecosystems of some of the poorest regions of the world. France carried out tests in areas where the capacity to object was weak and only with courageous and innovative opposition was attention directed to them.

Ireland's ratification of this Bill is significant in that it is an acknowledgement of the importance of the rule of law internationally. The difficulty lies in that Dr. El Baradei is speaking about bilateral alternatives to the rule of law when it is equally clear that the independent commission on weapons of mass destruction chaired by Dr. Hans Blix is stressing that our proposals and futures are best protected within the framework of international law. We must be unequivocal in our statements in this regard, for which reason I stress the importance of achieving clarity before going to the nuclear suppliers group's meeting. It is interesting that the group takes its decisions by consensus. A single opposing member country is capable of returning the US-India agreement to the blocks.

The Government was comfortable in its assumption that the American Bill would not get through the committees of the Senate or the House of Representatives. It believed it could get away with not having a position, but the Bill has cleared both committees. While it requires an amendment of the 1954 American legislation, the time has come to declare our hand, as uncomfortable as that may be.

This is a cross-party matter and, with all respect for the Government, it should have no difficulty in declaring the Irish position, taking its departure point from the bedrock of the NPT, stressing the importance of the framework of international law, announcing that it has transposed into law the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and attempting to achieve universality in respect of the treaty.

My colleague, Deputy Stagg, made an important comment. If international policy is in difficulty and the discourse, to use an unfortunate word, has been contaminated, it is due to the bad faith of nuclear countries. The NPT concerned the non-proliferation and eradication of nuclear weapons rather than their acceptance. There has been an absence of good faith on the part of the nuclear powers under the Article VI provision.

Many instruments and United Nations General Assembly resolutions underline the need for a comprehensive test ban. For example, the preamble of the Partial Test Ban Treaty refers to the goal of "seeking to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time, determined to continue negotiations to this end". A key component of the deal that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 was a call for the completion of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty in 1996. While the treaty was adopted by the General Assembly and opened for signature in September 1996, it has not entered into force.

Deputy Stagg stressed the importance of both urging the United States of America to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and of countries restoring the dialogue necessary to accept a general verification scheme that is impartial in its implications or obligations. While bilateralism in international policy can resolve seemingly intractable problems, it brings dangers because the matter may descend into a dialogue between the powerful and the less powerful.

The threat of force and sanctions in the Iranian case before the diplomatic possibilities were exhausted is an unwelcome development. Ireland has not been well served by those who have spoken for the European Union in the negotiations. We have ceded the discourse to them on the basis they might be counted upon to have the technical capacity to verify and assess threats.

More significant issues must be discussed, that is, the future of the region, the EU's relationship with the region and global peace. All of the options open to Mr. Ali Larijani and the representative of the Union in this respect should be evaluated carefully, such as the supply of materials, the Iranian enrichment facilities that are under international scrutiny, the time periods in which there would be full international verification and so on. Models exist and one should not fall easily to the suggestion that one is dealing with an eternally hopeless case. Who are the hopeless cases? They are the ones who have not fulfilled a jot of their NPT Article VI obligations.

If we are to start building block on block, the actions of the Government and Oireachtas are important in a practical sense domestically and a moral sense. In Dr. Blix's recent report, he quoted former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who stated in 1956: "If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man's intelligence and his comprehension...would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution". It is unwelcome that countries are not only ignoring forward movement in treaties such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the development of the 13 steps in the 2000 review of the NPT, but they are also renewing their nuclear weapons, including our nearest neighbour. There is the possibility of putting this poisonous development into space, which is a new horizon in terms of threat and potential destruction.

Recently, we participated in a conference with Sweden and New Zealand to give new energy to the attempt to universalise the NPT. We should have more such meetings, as they would be welcomed internationally. Initiatives external to this debate can be taken. For example, the creation of greater security in the Middle East is more than an aspiration. The desperate need to solve the Palestinian issue would be a contribution to security. Removing the need for security would remove arguments for developing nuclear capacity and putting a verification system in place would remove another. Committing to a timescale that does not include threats can open a dialogue, which is the way to proceed.

Even if one believes in none of this and seeks to achieve consistency, there cannot be a different approach to North Korea as there is to the Middle East. It is equally important in this regard that sovereign governments which sign and ratify the treaty also accept the discipline of other existing international instruments on the control and flow of materials and the input of scientists who are involved at different stages. I am speaking plainly about Pakistan, for example. This is a discussion that we need to have.

I do not want to single out what I have stated about the US-India agreement. The United States has also sponsored a separate set of signings in the form of the PSI, the proliferation security initiative, which is in effect an alternative to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In diplomacy, the Minister and his colleagues in Cabinet should avoid the language, which is frequently used about some countries which are non-signatories to the discipline of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, on the suggestion that in so far as they have not signed anything, they cannot be accused of being in breach of anything. The principles are too important for sophistry and diplomacy and international relations are tested by this issue.

I welcome the all-party agreement on issues and legislation such as this. Moderate language is most valuable and none of us is assisted by statements such as that of President Chirac, who suggested that France would not confine itself to conventional responses to threats, thereby automatically brandishing the nuclear capacity as a weapon or threat of intimidation and as a substitute for diplomacy, for which France once had a great record.

Let us be positive. We have made some progress in the elimination of the threat of war, but what we seek to achieve is a nuclear weapon-free world, with an end to testing as an important step in that direction. We are far from that target at present. The Government and the parties in the Opposition who are agreeing to the Bill are taking a small step. While there are 27,000 nuclear warheads, thousands of which are on hair-trigger alert, in the world, while those with nuclear capacity are replacing their weapons, and while the intelligence of scientists is being deflected into this appalling business at the same time as world hunger, world poverty and communicable diseases could be eradicated, it is a great stain on the world. This small step is to be welcomed and has my support.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Connolly.

I, like my colleagues on the Opposition side, am happy to address this issue and this timely debate, given developments in Korea, Iran and elsewhere on the issue of testing and the related issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is also appropriate that this Parliament shows a lead in this area. We have a proud history on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, in particular, in that our Government, in the person of Frank Aiken, was the first signatory in recognition of the good work we had done in promoting the issue.

The Green Party would wish to support the Government in this proposed legislation but also urge it to go further and engage in real diplomatic effort with countries well disposed towards us — our near neighbours Britain and France and our neighbour the United States on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — who need to hear a message of sanity that there is an alternative approach. We should not spare resources or effort in that regard because we are faced with an issue of considerable import, concern and security.

Having listened to Deputy Michael D. Higgins, I am drawn to recent comments by the Kerryman, John Moriarty, whom I suppose I would call a philosopher. On some issues like this, he questions whether we are actually homo sapiens, whether we are able to step back and, using reason and understanding, come by agreement to an approach which saves ourselves from stepping over a brink, in this case into nuclear conflagration. That is a matter which is at issue and of concern at present, perhaps more so now than for the past 20, 25 or 30 years. A recent UN report states that we are on the point of the erosion of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which could become irreversible and result in a cascade in the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons. I read that with real concern.

It seems clear the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was a well struck agreement between the then nuclear powers and those countries which did not have access to nuclear weapons. In return for the nuclear weapon-holding countries withdrawing, under Article 6, from the proliferation of those weapons and engaging in a process of dismantling the weapons, access to nuclear power would be allowed to other countries, which did not then have nuclear weapons but which, under Article 4, were given the right to use nuclear fuel for domestic power generation rather than weapons multiplication purposes. It is clear that that deal is on the point of being broken down.

First, the reaction of our friends in the United States to the reviews of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon, particularly the 13 conditions set out in the 2000 review, can only be seen as one of a state which is not in compliance, support and accord with the will existing across the board in this House on the nuclear proliferation issue. The 2002 US nuclear posture review, which looked at their development of new additional nuclear weapons including smaller bunker bombs, clearly goes against the intent and spirit of that proliferation theory in terms of halting the development of new weapons and reducing, rather than increasing, the number of weapons.

The US position in support of bringing India into the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, despite the fact that India has avowedly developed the weapons, can only be seen as putting commercial or other strategic interests ahead of the central interests in terms of whether we allow the proliferation. That breach of faith, with the contract which is involved in that proposed deal with India, is a fundamental breach with the intent and purposes of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In its characterisation of the entire debate on those countries it calls "rogue" states, such as Iran and North Korea, the US has in a sense boxed itself into a corner, where the only position available is to disarm or dismantle the nuclear faclities or opt for military strikes. It is almost impossible, as we have seen, to police effectively what is happening in a country developing nuclear power and discern whether it is going further. Indeed, one could state that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons allows countries like North Korea to develop nuclear power to a certain extent, opt out of the treaty and then, within a short space of time as we have seen in recent weeks, announce the development of a nuclear weapons capability and engage in testing material. The ability of Iran to abide to the letter of the law by the conditions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will not stop it developing the enrichment of materials, which would allow it also develop a nuclear facility. The US Government's reaction to and position on that does not hold sway because the US itself is in breach of the 13 conditions set out by international agreement to look after its side of the bargain.

What is needed here is the sort of independent force that a country like Ireland can provide in recognising the insanity and, in many instances, the injustice of what is happening. Injustice may be the wrong word but it would be that used by an Iranian citizen, who is looking on at a world order in which our neighbour, Britain, wants to develop its nuclear capability for both commercial energy and weapons production. It wants to develop Trident and other nuclear weapons as well as nuclear power plants while, at the same time, its representatives are telling the Iranians they cannot develop a nuclear programme for fear they will produce nuclear weapons. An Iranian would ask who are the British to say, on the one hand, Iran shall not develop weapons, while they spend billions doing just that. Who are the British to say Iran cannot develop a nuclear industry on that basis of a fear it will produce weapons when they are developing nuclear facilities? Calder Hall, the first British nuclear power plant, was built specifically to develop nuclear weapons and commercial energy production at that plant was a secondary thought.

It is easy to envisage a world order developing where a state such as Iran will say that if it cannot have access to the West's nuclear energy capability, western countries will not have access to its oil supply. We know what that would do to the price of oil and the world economy. The current boxing off of positions, where the debate is narrowed to a battle between the axis of evil and the axis of good, is insane. It is as clear as day to an independent neutral state such as Ireland that there is insanity and madness on both sides. There is no justification, cause or rational explanation for Britain, which should meet its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dismantle its weapons, to head in the opposite direction to protect a strategic role globally by deploying the latest, stronger, more destructive weapons. That way lies madness. The British are not being sapient in developing our future.

Increasingly, a global collective approach to energy production is the only way to go for two main reasons. Two scares have occurred in my lifetime. I grew up in the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis when there was a rational fear in our society regarding a nuclear holocaust. Climate change is a similar new fear. It is almost November and the temperature is 20°C. While the current temperatures cannot be extrapolated out, I am afraid of the global heating that is taking place and of the future for my children. The only response to that can be a global, collective, controlled, rationing system, which reduces our use of carbon to bring us to a point where we do not go below a trigger point for global temperatures, which would result in catastrophic climate change. This is the only threat to mankind on a par with the nuclear threat. Global multilateral co-operation is needed on climate change which, by definition, implies global co-operation on energy production because energy emissions are causing climate change. For that reason, we need to work with countries such as Iran, and even North Korea, because it is in all our interests to formulate a global response to such change. That cannot be done if countries are fighting with each other about whether they have nuclear power or nuclear weapons.

Nuclear power is a solution to the energy crisis. It has been estimated by David Goodstein, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, who is an eminent physicist in this area, that if the use of fossil fuels were to be replaced by nuclear power, 10,000 of the largest nuclear power stations in existence would be required. That cannot be done on the basis that they are only built in wealthy countries and that countries in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia cannot build them because this is an energy future for rich people. Global agreement on energy production will not be reached through such a policy. If 10,000 nuclear power stations were built, the risk of a plant producing plutonium for weapons or the risk of an accident would be too high. In addition, the proliferation of nuclear fission material would present a danger. Such a system needs to be dismantled and an alternative system developed. The urgency attaching to the Manhattan project to create a nuclear weapon for the purpose of the time should attach to the creation of an alternative, renewable, energy efficient, sustainable energy approach. That cannot happen if we are globally divided and fighting over the issue of whether different states have nuclear weapons.

The peak in global oil production will occur in the next decade. That will have major consequences and, therefore, the issue must be addressed now. The geopolitical reality, however, is two thirds of the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East but Europe and America are engaged in a dispute with Iran over whether it is developing nuclear weapons. They cannot get into a battle with such states on the nuclear issue given co-operation will be needed on oil supply. One of the ways to resolve this difficult conundrum, given that nobody wants countries such as Iran to create nuclear weapons, is to agree proper test ban treaties, which will ensure no state develops these technologies. That is why I welcome the Government's nuclear test ban. Why will the American Government not do so? The Americans are seeking to develop new test systems. That way lies madness. How can they push for the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear system or action to be taken against the North Koreans for nuclear testing when they are breaching the nuclear proliferation treaty by undertaking their own tests? It is all very well and good to take on North Korea and Iran but the Americans, British and French need to put their house in order. That means following the example of this House in signing a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

If Ireland is taking an independent, appropriate stance in the tradition of Frank Aiken on foreign policy, it behoves us to apply it to other aspects of our domestic policy and that includes appropriate monitoring of what is happening in our airports, where we can have control over the use or development of weapons. If states say they must use Shannon Airport for certain purposes, that is fine but there is no reason we should fail to check such flights to establish the cargo and the military purpose. Ireland needs to be strong on that and on an international scheme. We should ask other states to stop this madness before it goes too far. There is no reason, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins stated, for having 20,000 nuclear weapons operable and ready to go on the planet and there is every reason to reverse the proliferation of such weapons, which would result in resources being deployed in areas they are needed.

The UK is investing in a new Trident nuclear weapons system using its military budget, which is approximately Stg£48 billion. It is running out of oil and gas but it has been spending money on the military like kings. Such funding will not be available in another 20 years. Where will it obtain the money for its defence budget? British officials would be wiser spending the money they have set aside for nuclear weapons on organising its housing stock for the new energy future and on international negotiations to persuade the Americans, French and others that their supposed security system and Security Council are not secure because they do not work. It leaves us all exposed to the possibility of a rogue state or a rogue terrorist in this climate of distrust, double standards and saying one thing while doing another using a nuclear weapon. We will then be in a difficult position. It is not too late to reverse this and begin a sensible strategy. The Bill is one small step in the right direction.

2:00 pm

Paudge Connolly (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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I welcome the Bill, which has been a considerable period in gestation, and its transposition into law. It is timely in view of the events of the past couple of weeks.

Multilateral treaties cannot in themselves ensure security but they offer a framework to meet today's extremely serious challenges. These range from the risks of accidental nuclear war and terrorist use of a nuclear device to global warming and the massacre of citizens. Multilateral treaties and the regimes they establish contribute to national and global security by articulating norms, creating monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and providing benchmarks for progress.

Opponents of international treaties caution against binding agreements which other states may not obey, but legal systems must not be abandoned because some parties do not comply. Instead, violations must be addressed with enforcement mechanisms, including verification procedures that work to detect and deter violations and a range of sanctions.

The principal question raised by recent events has been what the United Nations can do to ensure compliance by North Korea. On the part of the United States, the events of 11 September 2001 spawned a revised foreign policy from that of the previous Clinton Administration. President Bush singled out states suspected of backing terrorists and developing and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. He referred to North Korea, Iran and Iraq as states which, with their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, aiming to threaten the peace of the world. Following 9/11, North Korea was reportedly included, with Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya, as a target for the use of nuclear weapons.

Despite being a party to nuclear non-proliferation treaties, North Korea admitted it had been acquiring the capacity to build a plant for producing highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. It was unclear whether North Korea had actually built such a plant and, if so, whether it produced any highly enriched uranium as the IAEA monitors were ordered to dismantle their inspection equipment and leave the country. Having unsealed its irradiated fuel storage and ejected the IAEA inspectors, North Korea put itself in a position to resume a nuclear weapons program without international safeguards.

At that time North Korea stressed it had no intention to produce nuclear weapons and that its nuclear activities would be confined only to peaceful purposes such as the production of electricity. The House should note the production of electricity is often used as a cover when parties have ulterior motives. North Korea's actions violated the provision of the agreed framework under which it agreed to work consistently for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. However, it may have been lost sight of that all nuclear weapon states made a commitment to eventual disarmament and agreed to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control. The states committed to a statement of principles and objectives that included systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons. In 1996 the International Court of Justice ruled that the use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal and that all nuclear weapons states were required to pursue and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.

The true motives behind North Korea's recent activities are a matter of conjecture and the rest of the world must decide upon a policy in that context. However, one must also take into account the open intent of the United States to continue to wield nuclear weapons and threaten their use. The US insistence that others must fully adhere to their treaty commitments is therefore not very persuasive and undermines the credibility of US demands for compliance. Only in symmetry of compliance is there any hope for maintaining the strength of the non-proliferation treaty, which is considered crucial in preventing more states from choosing the nuclear option and further jeopardising global security. In this regard, the United States should commit to irreversible reductions of nuclear weapon stockpiles and affirm its commitment to a test ban.

The profile of some of the individuals who have their fingers on the buttons is frightening. North Korea, for example, is headed by a somewhat eccentric man, Kim Jong-Il, a diminutive playboy at odds with his brutal regime, and a vain, paranoid hypochondriac who wears platform shoes to enhance his height of 5' 3". It is unclear whether he is a master manipulator or an irrational madman — I suggest the latter. He is said to have a library of 20,000 Hollywood films and to have engineered the kidnapping in 1978 of a South Korean film director and his girlfriend. His views of the world are probably shaped by many of the films he watches. He has been linked by defectors to the 1986 bombing of a Korean Airlines jet in which 115 people were killed. He is also seen as a clever manipulator, willing to take great risks to underpin his regime, such as his recent decision to test a nuclear device. Regrettably, Kim Jong-Il is not alone in the world, as is demonstrated by the actions of the Iranian President Ahmadinejad and others who have fingers poised over nuclear buttons.

The nuclear processing plant at Sellafield, on our doorstep, would be an obvious target for terrorists. The consequences this plant could have for most of Ireland if a nuclear accident were to occur or if it were to be attacked by terrorists have been highlighted. An explosion and fire would be just the beginning as the cooling system and tanks would heat up and spew out more radioactivity within hours. As much as half of the caesium-137 in the tanks could escape into the air, and would amount to 44 times more caesium-137 than was released by the Chernobyl disaster. We are all familiar with the consequences of that disaster and its legacy for many children. The resulting 4 million terabecquerels of radioactivity would contaminate most of Britain and, depending on which way the wind was blowing, Ireland, continental Europe and beyond. Large parts of Britain and Ireland would become uninhabitable and, as they are more densely populated than the Ukraine, widespread chaos would ensue. In the following 50 years it is estimated 2 million cancers would be caused, assuming the pattern of public exposure was similar to that at Chernobyl.

I pay tribute to voluntary groups in Monaghan who take groups of children from Chernobyl to Ireland for holidays, which is a nice gesture and one that should be noted.

A comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty would provide a unique opportunity to contain the growing threat of nuclear proliferation. Since 1996 over 158 nations, including the US, have signed the nuclear test ban treaty, yet the world has witnessed nuclear and missile tests in India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. Global enactment of the nuclear test ban treaty banning all nuclear test explosions can provide a last line of defence against new advances in weapons development. Nations can build unsophisticated nuclear weapons without testing but they would be much less likely to do so knowing they could not test. Without a ban on testing, other weapons states will at some point begin testing again.

At the end of the Cold War, the ability of two aging superpowers to control their neighbours' nuclear destinies had weakened. Given that there are 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world, one wonders how stable are the minds of those with their fingers on the nuclear buttons. If we knew the full facts we might not sleep at night, but that is how the world has become.

The case for a nuclear test ban is overwhelming. It would make the single most important contribution to world peace. I support the Bill.

Photo of Michael WoodsMichael Woods (Dublin North East, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the Bill. It is substantial and I congratulate the Minister, his officials and the Parliamentary Counsel on the work done in this regard. It is important legislation.

The Bill is fully in keeping with the country's proud tradition of opposition to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and of support for nuclear disarmament going back to the original proposal in 1958 at the United Nations by Mr. Frank Aiken when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs. That led to the coming into existence a number of years later of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT. Ireland had the distinction of being the first signatory of the treaty in recognition of our initiative at that time. We were invited to be among the first signatories because the idea for it had come from Ireland.

Throughout the decades of the Cold War and the period since, the NPT, while not without its weaknesses, has stood as a beacon of hope for the international community in a world where the nuclear weapons threat has been a major danger to world peace. The NPT, however, accepts the possession of nuclear weapons by the five major powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is also generally accepted that there are a number of countries outside the NPT which have developed nuclear weapons. Besides these, the IAEA has stated that outside the NPT, India and Pakistan hold nuclear weapons and Israel is believed to be nuclear weapons capable. The DPRK in North Korea has just carried out an underground weapons test.

It is against this background that the issue of nuclear weapons testing comes into focus and that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was negotiated and agreed in September 1996. The treaty resulted from recognition of the need for continued efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally with the ultimate aim of eliminating them and bringing about clear disarmament under strict and effective international control. As a key step in this direction, it is foreseen that the cessation of all nuclear weapons tests by constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of new types of nuclear weapons would constitute an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and proliferation, in other words, a complete and comprehensive test ban.

It was considered that the most effective way to achieve an end to nuclear testing was through the conclusion of a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which has long been one of the highest priority objectives of the international community in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation. The purpose of the Bill before the House is to give effect, as far as Ireland is concerned, to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The main thrust of the basic obligations imposed upon the parties to the treaty is that they undertake not to carry out any nuclear weapons test, to prohibit any such test being carried out at any place under their jurisdiction and to refrain from causing, encouraging or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapons test. The Bill creates as offences any actions contrary to the State's obligations under the treaty and puts in place a system of inspections designed to bring to light any such actions or suspected actions. The rights and responsibilities of members of inspection teams, observers and authorised officers are set out in detail in the Bill. In this regard, there appears to be some lack of clarity as to the distinction between persons referred to as international inspectors and those referred to as authorised officers. Perhaps the Minister will consider amending the Bill to make this distinction clearer.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is designated in the Bill as the national authority for the purpose of the Act and the treaty. This is entirely appropriate. I take this opportunity to commend the institute on the excellent work it has done since its establishment in 1992 in activities as diverse as advising the Government on hazards for Ireland from the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant and other nuclear establishments abroad, regulating effectively the ever more sophisticated applications of ionising radiation in medicine and industry, and assessing and bringing to public attention the hazards to public health arising from elevated levels of radon gas in buildings.

The institute has developed a high level of sophistication and professionalism and is one on which we all rely. It is important that this excellent work is sustained into the future to ensure the continued protection of the Irish people against the hazards of ionising radiation in the many forms in which it arises. This need is intensified by the likelihood that the UK is about to embark on a major programme of construction of new nuclear power plants.

The nuclear issue has been a major cause of contention in relations between the UK and Ireland for many years, centring principally on discharges of radioactive waste from Sellafield into the Irish Sea. This has been a matter of great concern to all of us on the east coast, particularly those who live close to the sea. We are not happy about the situation, notwithstanding the fact that there is constant regulation, management, control and testing by the RPII. The levels are regarded as being of very low incidence and they are checked regularly. Notwithstanding that, it is an uneasy situation.

We are concerned about the health of our children in particular and of our people generally and the risk of serious consequences for this country from a major accident or terrorist attack at the Sellafield plant. There are two issues in this regard, one is the major one of such an attack and the other is the continuous discharges of radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, even though they are at a low level. What will happen when the number of nuclear plants in the United Kingdom is increased, especially if reprocessing is to be done at Sellafield or in that area?

In 2001 the Government, having taken detailed legal advice, instituted legal proceedings against the UK in regard to a number of issues surrounding Sellafield. While these proceedings have not yet reached their final conclusion, interim judgments have required the UK to make information about its nuclear activities available to the Irish Government to a degree far beyond anything that had occurred previously. While we would like to achieve much more from these legal proceedings, this has been a beneficial outcome of them. I understand it has enabled Irish officials and RPII experts to make very informed representations to the UK authorities on issues of nuclear technology and preparedness for emergencies. This has also been accompanied by an improved spirit of co-operation on the UK side.

Another key issue relating to Sellafield arises from the proposed new expansion of nuclear power in the UK. There is a danger that the expansion programme would give a new lease of life to nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield and so delay perhaps by several decades the day when Sellafield would finally begin to be phased out and decommissioned. This would be a most undesirable turn of events from an Irish point of view and would almost certainly result in the discharge of more contaminated effluent into the Irish Sea.

The Minister has rightly made strong representations to the British Government that it should not proceed with plans to build new nuclear power plants. We must, however, recognise that the United Kingdom may still decide to do so. If it does, it will have to decide how to deal with the spent nuclear fuel from the new plants. The fuel can be sent for reprocessing at Sellafield or kept in so-called "dry storage", pending ultimate disposal. This, I understand, is quite a finely balanced choice from the users' point of view. From an Irish point of view, however, it makes an immense difference. Therefore, I strongly urge the Minister to expand his representations to the United Kingdom to the effect that should it decide to go ahead with the construction of new nuclear power plants, it should opt for the dry storage approach rather than the reprocessing route for the management of the spent fuel from such plants. That, ultimately, is the crucial issue for those of us living close to the Irish Sea. Such a representation would have a real chance of success and could mark a substantial step towards the eventual closure of Sellafield.

Sellafield and the nuclear industry apart, it is important to maintain the protection of the public against other hazards associated with ionising radiation. Such radiation plays a vital role in medical and some industrial settings. In certain cases, it is at such intensities that error or mishap could result in serious danger to patients, staff or members of the public. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is the regulatory body with responsibility for ensuring that the highest safety standards are observed during all usage of radiation. It can take credit for the fact that Ireland's safety record in this area is extremely good. However, there can never be room for complacency in matters of safety and the RPII must always have sufficient resources to ensure that this safety record is maintained.

Another hazard is the risk of lung cancer resulting from exposure to elevated levels of radon gas in buildings. This gas emanates from the natural radioactive decay of trace quantities of uranium in the underlying rock strata and in some cases can reach dangerous concentrations in individual buildings. This was tragically illustrated a number of years ago by a case in Kerry of a couple in their forties, non-smokers, who both died of lung cancer. Their house was found to have a concentration of radon almost 250 times the recommended maximum level. It is estimated that up to 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to radon.

Much has been done to address the radon hazard. The RPII conducted a nationwide survey which quantified the problem and highlighted the areas of the country at highest risk. Since 1997, the Government has had all primary and secondary schools tested for radon, with remedial measures carried out where necessary. Building regulations introduced in 1998 require that all new houses built since then have radon preventive measures incorporated during construction. Awareness of the problem is growing but must increase further so that householders have their houses tested for radon and, where necessary, implement remedial measures. The RPII has estimated that approximately 90,000 dwellings in the country have high radon levels. It is very important that such dwellings are identified and made safe. It is also important that householders open windows regularly to let the air circulate. It is crucial that the radon tests are extended to all houses that are at risk.

In the context of our discussions on these issues, I draw Members' attention to the fact that yesterday I, with other members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, including Deputies Michael D. Higgins, Carey, Mulcahy and Allen, met Mr. Shyam Saran, the Special Envoy of the Indian Prime Minister on nuclear issues. Mr. Saran was in Ireland to brief the Government on India's policies in the nuclear area. Members of the joint committee had a most informative meeting with him, in which he outlined to us India's position on a range of nuclear related issues. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will meet the joint committee next week. This is an issue which the committee takes very seriously.

In particular, Mr. Saran set out the background to, and a detailed account of, the proposed strategic partnership between India and the United States of America in the area of civil nuclear co-operation, which was agreed during President Bush's visit to India in July 2005. Mr. Saran told us that the Indian Government sees this partnership largely in the context of its growing energy needs, as the country's economy expands rapidly. If the proposed partnership goes ahead — it has not yet been approved by the US Senate — India would allow 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors to be opened for inspection under safeguard agreements with the IAEA. However, this would leave eight of India's nuclear installations outside the purview of the IAEA.

Although India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has always taken a responsible attitude to its nuclear capabilities. Ireland, on the other hand, is a strong defender of the NPT and the safeguard regimes of the IAEA and, therefore, has a different perspective from that of India in this area. I and other members of the committee were able to outline Ireland's views and concerns in this regard to Mr. Saran. The meeting was very useful as we were given a comprehensive and informative statement of India's position.

I congratulate the Minister on this major and highly valuable legislation, which I am sure will have the full support of the House.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this legislation, which will belatedly bring us to the point where we are signatories to the treaty. This is our way of contributing. I know that we are not a nuclear power, nor should we ever be one. Some have argued that we should have a debate on nuclear energy but as a spokesperson in the energy and communications area, I believe that since we are not going to become a nuclear-based power, we should not waste our energy on such a debate. There are only so many ways to say "No". What part of "No" can people not understand? Our energy requirements should never be dependent on nuclear energy for a number of reasons. First, there was a serious accident in Chernobyl. Many people have concerns about those nuclear installations which are close to this country and potential damage from them. The Chernobyl accident was far away and its effects took two weeks to get here but they arrived with no difficulty at all. There is a lesson to be learned, which is that we do not require that source of energy.

We must develop other sources. We have the time and impetus to do so, and now is the time to act. We have a responsibility to replace imported fuel and energy with a source that is indigenous. That will occupy our minds for some time, but it will be well worthwhile. It is happening slowly. In the end it will be positive, constructive and important.

Before I move on to the Bill proper, I note much has been said on the energy requirements throughout Europe and the European energy grid. Very little has been said on the degree to which this relies on nuclear energy. There is significant reliance in France and the Scandinavian countries, and the UK will become more reliant on it. Some countries are advantageously positioned as their terrain may have large valleys, and they can generate a great deal of electricity from hydroelectric power without displacing large populations.

There are two aspects in speaking about nuclear power and energy, the development of nuclear technology for military use and war purposes, and the development purely for energy purposes. The debate has centred around the countries which are or are not signatories to the test-ban treaty. Those which are not controlled or within that loop clearly create a greater degree of volatility with regard to how nuclear energy is handled worldwide. If these countries are not party to an agreement or within a particular group of people with a convergence of thought on how energy should be developed, they are clearly open to persuasion by others. They are open to whoever is the highest bidder. We should be aware that science is advancing rapidly. Nuclear weapons and energy is generally coming within the grasp of people with plenty of money.

My colleague, Deputy Carey, was waving and I thought he was either swatting flies or waving at me. Clearly he was doing neither, despite Kerrymen having been known to do peculiar things from time to time.

The major powers have had access to nuclear energy for a long time, not that we have always agreed with it. We recognise that in many cases these countries have put nuclear energy to good use, such as for domestic purposes and so on. When we move away from these countries, there are other nations and people who can gain access to nuclear technology. Many of these nations have no reason for control, and they may have reasons for doing the exact opposite. They often have a grudge. Nevertheless, these countries have access to science and financial resources. They have many reasons, all justifiable on one side or the other, as to why they should have access to nuclear weapons and why they should be allowed to develop them.

Much was said earlier on the comparisons being made between the US reaction to North Korea and its reaction to Iran. I cannot personally understand how sanctions are going to stop the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea. It may slow down the economic development of some of the people further down the social strata but it will not in any way inhibit the development of nuclear weapons if that is the road the North Koreans will go.

This debate has taken place in this House and other houses over the years. We can go back as far as the sanctions which were implemented against South Africa and Rhodesia. I still do not know how those sanctions impacted negatively on the people against whom they were targeted. For example, to this day in South Africa it remains to be seen if such sanctions were effective at all. I do not believe they were, rather that they severely impacted on people within that country who were already poor, deprived and impoverished. What will happen in North Korea will remain to be seen. The difference between that case and Iran is that the latter is a very powerful country in terms of population. It has a huge population of perhaps 60 million or 80 million people and has many natural resources, including massive oil reserves. It is potentially very wealthy. There is a difference between the North Korean case and Iran. I do not know whether sanctions or negotiation are likely to come about there.

I am not proposing for a moment that military strikes will solve the problem. Negotiation of some type is required at this stage, and that is the feeling of most people watching these developments over the past number of years. If military strikes come about there will be retaliation of some nature somewhere. Sanctions, on the other hand, have been implemented against Cuba by the US and that has done nothing to achieve a meeting of minds between the two countries. It has made people who are already poor much poorer, but that is as far as it has gone. The point we must examine now and in future, with regard to the two countries concerned, is whether the procedures now proposed to be followed are likely to have anything other than a negative effect. In those circumstances we may be far better off to enter negotiations. It can do no harm to do so right until the last possible moment.

Other speakers have referred to the numbers which already have access to nuclear energy and, ultimately, nuclear weapons through enrichment procedures. There may be some countries involved in this that we do not know about. It is now possible, with modern developments in the science area, to develop miniature nuclear bombs, for example. That is possible, and they may be in the marketplace already. We do not know.

Knowledge of what is happening is very important. We did not know the facts about the Chernobyl accident for perhaps two weeks after the event. If the authorities at Chernobyl had announced to the world what was happening in time, it may have been possible to avert the accident. There are some in this country, and even this House, who may promote the idea of nuclear energy for domestic purposes. I have read some accounts recently that the Chernobyl accident should not have happened. We know it should not have happened, but it did. In promotion of their theory, these people argue that science has moved on and that it is now possible to have safe nuclear energy. It is possible to have nuclear energy that is safer than it was, but this is not necessarily safe. The two ideas are very clearly different.

Without a doubt nuclear power is a simple method of getting access to huge amounts of continuous energy for the reasonably mid-term future. Having said that, we must question whether our knowledge and ability to control situations are satisfactory and that, at the moment, is not remotely the case. Somebody will say we already have access to nuclear-generated electricity through interconnectors but I know that. That will remain the case into the future but we will hopefully have access to outgoing interconnectors so that we can export some of our energy, which is not nuclear-generated, and make a contribution to the international grid based on renewables, which will be better.

Ireland's access to nuclear energy through the backdoor is the original Irish solution to an Irish problem. It could only happen here. One Minister, not very long ago, discussed the possibility of divining nuclear energy from other electricity generation. How he proposed to do that I do not know. Ministers and future Ministers have colossal potential but it has not yet become clear how the Minister in question intended to select nuclear-generated electricity and despatch it elsewhere while drawing only on the organically generated electricity for which he obviously had a preference. It is a nice thought but doubtful in practical terms.

On the subject of maintenance, I am not keen for a nuclear reactor to be constructed in this country at this time. After all, if we cannot build a tunnel that can keep water out or a swimming pool that can keep water in, I find it difficult to understand how we could build a nuclear reactor safe from the threat of explosions, leakage and contamination.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, Hear.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Given our history with tunnels and the costs of various projects, I suggest the Minister stays well away from that proposal for some time.

Sellafield has also been mentioned. As it is located so close to our shores we need to comment on it. The highest possible standards must apply to all nuclear facilities. In a typically Irish fashion we export our nuclear waste to Sellafield to be reprocessed. One accident is all that is needed and there have already been a number, not only at Sellafield but at various nuclear plants throughout the world; we have already referred to one of especial significance.

Murphy's law states that if something can happen, it will. Human nature being what it is, the smallest incident can trigger a big accident. It behoves us to bear in mind that that possibility remains, even though we do not have nuclear power on our own shore. As a result of our proximity to the UK, Sellafield has been a bone of contention for a long time and will remain so. Our colleagues across the water understand our concerns about it.

I will finish by referring to an area covered by my portfolio, namely energy requirements and the debate for which some have called. I have no objection to a debate taking place but I read in a newspaper not long ago that nuclear energy was quite safe and that Chernobyl, in scale, was not too important. It asserted that people did not die in great numbers. I was amazed that pen could be put to paper to produce what was nothing more than propaganda. It was a serious accident and will have serious implications for a long time for the people who lived there and will not be able to do so again. It is not true to say nobody lost his or her life or that people's quality of life was not affected. That the accident happened and was serious are facts. Neither is it true to say no resources were available to control it because substantial resources were put into attempting to control the reactor when the accident happened. However, they were not sufficient, despite people's best efforts. Some in this House and outside will say that if the authorities had been better organised nothing would have happened but we do not know that. The authorities were at the scene at the time and did their best, but it was not good enough.

I do not know how important the treaty will be. That will depend on the degree to and the spirit in which it is observed, not only by the signatories but by those are are not. If there are some who have no intention of restricting their development of nuclear energy for military purposes, or who have no intention of subscribing to any international convention to curb that activity, then we must ask who will police them and how effectively they can do it. I say this with a simple knowledge of nuclear power and weapons and the nuclear industry in general, and against a background in which substantial sections of Europe rely for their energy requirements on nuclear energy. Much of that is well policed, or at least so it is claimed, but I was forced to smile a few years ago when an EU member state objected to an incoming country on the grounds that its nuclear technology was not up to scratch. As Deputy Carey will recall, the incoming country responded that it used the same technology, of the same vintage, as the member state. We all tend to look over the garden wall and criticise those on the other side when it might serve us better to take note of what actually happens.

The treaty will hopefully be of some benefit. That will be the case if its signatories observe it and if those who are not signatories recognise that, with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the whole area becomes less and less controllable. The less control there is the greater the potential for accidents or attacks, unprovoked or otherwise. In such circumstances we must ask ourselves the simple question: "Will it work?"

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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This is a very important opportunity to reflect on the debate about nuclear energy and power, and the differentiation, to which Deputy Durkan referred, between the use of nuclear energy for civil and commercial purposes and for military purposes. It is difficult to separate the two.

A global halt to nuclear weapons, as well as test explosions, has been a key security objective of the international community since the early 1950s. In the 1990s, spurred by a new round of Cold War nuclear testing moratoria and civil society support, multilateral negotiations on a test ban treaty were finally officially opened.

Ten years ago last month, UN member states overwhelmingly endorsed and later opened for signature the longest sought, hardest fought nuclear arms control treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, CNTBT. Today, despite widespread support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and a de facto global nuclear test moratorium, the treaty has not entered into force. We cannot let the opportunity pass to comment on the broad geopolitical situation. Independent monitors have established that a nuclear bomb was detonated underground in North Korea because there are traces of radiation suspended in the atmosphere.

We must also consider the reaction to that unfortunate event. North Korea is a partner in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, NPT, process but that did not stop it from detonating this explosion. It is interesting that China, rightly, condemned this exercise and influenced North Korea to moderate its actions. China also supported the UN motion to introduce sanctions against North Korea and Russia became involved. I share Deputy Durkan's reservations about the trade sanctions. The country which will hold the most influence, oddly, is Japan because it has a significant trade in luxury goods with North Korea. The roles of Seoul and Beijing are critical too.

We should not dismiss the latest UN Chapter 7 motion which is important for the international community. I would not, however, hold my breath waiting to see its effectiveness but it teaches us a lesson about the emerging balance of power in that region where China is taking a responsible role in foreign policy. We can look forward to further initiatives from that quarter.

As Deputy Woods said, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs met a representative of the Indian Prime Minister specialising in the nuclear industry. He explained India's position on its partnership with the United States. I would be much more worried about this partnership than about North Korea. The US Senate has yet to ratify the strategic partnership with India and that is unlikely to happen before the mid-term elections. Whether it will happen in 2007 remains to be seen.

It might appear that there is nothing to be afraid of in that one of two neighbouring nuclear states, India and Pakistan, is in partnership with the United States for ostensibly sound commercial and economic reasons. There is, however, a danger if we depart from the accepted norms in respect of working outside the NPT, that Egypt, Saudi Arabia or other countries in that region might do the same. At the recent meeting of the nuclear suppliers group, Ireland took a strong stand against the ratification of this partnership.

The United States and the European Union are rightly exerting pressure on the parties in Iran to suspend further development of the nuclear industry there. We cannot ignore the fact that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would not be ad idem on how the role of Iran might develop in the next few years, bearing in mind the influential actors surrounding them, Afghanistan is significantly under the US control, Israel has a significant nuclear arsenal, Iraq is in serious danger of fracturing and within Iran and Iraq the Kurdish community is likely to push for greater independence. Political or economic discussions may ensure greater progress in Iran than the remote threat of the exercise of the military option against the leadership in Iran. I concur with other speakers that only as an absolutely last resort should we countenance anything remotely resembling what happened to Iraq happening to Iran.

Other speakers mentioned Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale, as Sellafield was formerly known. No matter what gloss is put on them, nuclear reactors are dangerous. They constitute serious risks to global security. Anybody who has met the children who come here on holiday from Chernobyl needs little convincing to agree with those who are emphatically against the proliferation of nuclear power. It is difficult to counter the argument that we will be using nuclear power here regardless of whether we like it. It will not be possible to run nuclear generated electricity down one type of cable and hydroelectricity down another, much as we like to think it will be possible. Nonetheless it is important to debate the issue. Earlier in this parliamentary session Dieter Helm, energy adviser to the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, told us that as far as he could establish the nuclear energy debate in Ireland is dead and buried because we do not have the capacity to allow for a modest sized nuclear reactor.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We like talking about it.

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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From that point of view we can have the luxury of condemning those who promote nuclear power and avoid taking the hard decisions.

It took 50 years to agree the nuclear test ban treaty which is a simple treaty with profound value for the struggle against proliferation. By prohibiting any nuclear weapons test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, the treaty would simultaneously help constrain the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, curb proliferation, advance disarmament and delegitimise nuclear weapons. The comprehensive test ban treaty has been signed by 176 states and 135 states have ratified it. The Bill before the House will give effect to the treaty under Irish law, completing our ratification. While the international community easily ratifies treaties, it often then does nothing to enforce them. No country has a monopoly on morality regarding any of those treaties.

Of the 44 states identified in the treaty's annex II, whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force, 34 have done so. Nevertheless, ten years after its opening for signature, the treaty is still in a vulnerable position. Ten key states, including India, Pakistan and the United States, must sign and ratify it to enable the accord to take full legal effect. As each year passes without the treaty entering into force, the odds increase that one state or another will resume ongoing nuclear testing. This debate is an important opportunity to reaffirm our support for the full implementation of the treaty and address the challenges facing it.

It is important to consider the purpose of the comprehensive test ban treaty, the challenges to its entry into force and the consequences for national and international security if nuclear testing were to be resumed. A nuclear test ban contributes to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, as well as supporting disarmament. It prevents further damage to the environment from the intense heat and radiation of successive nuclear blasts. I recently read that there were still adverse radiation effects on the environment after some underground tests carried out by the United States. The comprehensive test ban treaty's contribution to curbing the development of new types of nuclear warheads also helps to reduce dangerous nuclear arms competition between the existing nuclear capable states.

While treaty signature and ratification by the 44 key states may not close off their nuclear capabilities, it would rule out further development and operational deployment of new weapons that would help dampen destabilising arms races in many regions. One concern over Israel having an arsenal of nuclear weapons is that if there were ever a temptation to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East, it would be difficult for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria not to be tempted to follow the same route. The international community, therefore, must be resolute in enforcing the test ban treaty.

The comprehensive test ban treaty's far-reaching nuclear test monitoring provisions, including an international monitoring network and short notice on-site inspections, would ensure other countries are not conducting nuclear test explosions. The full-scale implementation of this system depends on entry into force of the treaty. It is possible that financial support for the establishment of the treaty's monitoring and verification system will wane if entry into force is indefinitely delayed. In return for economic support, some countries, such as India and Iran, may be more transparent in allowing inspections. Mr. Mohamed El Baradei and Mr. Hans Blix have pointed out the fine line between willingness and resistance to co-operate with nuclear inspections. Politics being the art of the possible, I suggest more diplomacy be deployed.

Entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty would also prevent additional environmental and health damage from nuclear test explosions and reduce the risk of nuclear war. Between 1945 and 2000, seven countries conducted 2,046 nuclear test explosions, an average of one test every ten days. That is a chilling reminder. To borrow a phrase, "they haven't gone away, you know". By 2000, the 528 atmospheric tests delivered radioactive materials that will have produced approximately 430,000 additional cancer fatalities, according to a 1990 report by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The US National Cancer Institute has estimated that the 90 dirtiest US nuclear tests will cause 10,000 to 75,000 additional thyroid cancers.

While underground nuclear blasts pose a much smaller radioactive hazard than atmospheric tests, there has been widespread venting from underground explosions. The US has acknowledged that 114 of its 723 underground tests have released radioactive material into the atmosphere.

The atomic bombings of 6 and 9 August 1945 illustrate the magnitude of harm caused by nuclear explosions. Of Hiroshima's population of 340,000 people, 130,000 were dead by November 1945 and by 1950 an additional 70,000 had perished, mainly from radiation-related illnesses. In Nagasaki, 70,000 people were killed outright or died within the first four months and another 70,000 died by 1950.

The test ban treaty does not stand or fall by itself. Rather, it is a vital part of a network of treaties, agreements and norms that underpin international efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and codify multilateral arms control and disarmament. Repudiating or weakening one or more elements erodes the overall framework.

The comprehensive test ban treaty is an essential step toward restoring confidence in the beleaguered nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime, the cornerstone for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. The preamble of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty refers to the determination to seek to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time. The nuclear-weapon states' commitment to achieve the comprehensive test ban treaty was a crucial part of the bargain that won the indefinite extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1995. Ireland continues to regard these as the benchmarks for nuclear disarmament. It is important to recall the influential role played by Ireland in the early days of the debate on nuclear non-proliferation. The then Minister for External Affairs, the late Mr. Frank Aiken, played a critical role in formulating the non-proliferation treaty.

While widespread repudiation of the NPT is not likely in the immediate future, the regime is vulnerable. Rejection of the comprehensive test ban treaty by some states may provide an excuse for a government that wished to renounce or thwart its NPT obligations. For example, inaction on the comprehensive test ban treaty by the United States has already complicated efforts to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards on civilian nuclear programmes.

There are two alternative consequences of the comprehensive test ban treaty not entering into force. First, there could be no test ban treaty but a continued commitment to moratoria. Alternatively, there could be a resumption of nuclear testing by one or more countries. The former may look convenient, but there could be problems over compliance which would be difficult to resolve in the absence of an enforceable regime. The longer the non-enforcement of the treaty continues, the more likely states, legitimate or rogue, will look for ways around the regime. The fear is that over time, a commitment to the non-testing norm would be likely to erode and accusations of non-compliance could increase international tensions.

While it may be possible to sustain the unilateral moratoria undertaken by the nuclear testing states for several years, uncertainties and the risk of a resumption of testing will only grow over time. For example, the condemnation of nuclear testing remained firm despite the south Asian nuclear tests of 1998. This month's actions by North Korea, however, will not be met with the same response. A resumption of nuclear testing by this one state could well lead to a cascade of nuclear capable states acquiring more nuclear weapons, conducting their own nuclear tests or additional states acquiring nuclear capability.

We must not lose heart. Progress on difficult nuclear issues is possible. We must continue to work with determination for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

3:00 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Legislation is welcome on this important national and international issue. It is important that we have an informed debate on nuclear weapons and tests and I have listened closely to the contributions of my colleagues. This is a topical issue given ongoing events in regard to North Korea and Iran. Countries such as Israel, the United States, Britain, India and Pakistan must be brought into the wider debate.

It is essential that we are not selective in our opposition to certain countries and nuclear powers. Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction are entirely wrong. They are criminal and immoral and no state should be allowed to develop them. All Members should unite in this view.

On the broader issue of nuclear power, we must face up to the debate that is required and conduct it in an informed manner. Recent claims that nuclear power is the answer to climate change do not reflect reality. Nuclear power is not carbon emission free. The entire nuclear cycle from uranium mining onwards produces more greenhouse gases than most renewable energy sources, with up to 50% more emissions than wind power. Doubling nuclear power in the United Kingdom, for example, would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% because the electricity sector accounts for one quarter to one third of all carbon emissions and the transport industry accounts for most of the rest.

A new nuclear power station takes ten years or longer to generate electricity. Wind farms, on the other hand, can be up and running in less than a year. We have seen this for ourselves in the developments in wind energy in recent years. Nuclear power is also expensive. The nuclear industry in the United Kingdom, for instance, is massively subsidised by the British public. The installation alone ofSizewell B, Britain's newest power station, cost taxpayers some £3.7 billion. Furthermore, it will cost an estimated £56 billion to decommission Britain's existing ageing power stations. The magnitude of these resources must cause everybody to pause and reflect on the worthwhile projects to which they could be applied, particularly in regard to world poverty and disadvantaged communities. It is important to reflect on economic issues such as these as part of this debate.

Nuclear energy is not sustainable because the reserves of uranium ores used to generate nuclear power will run out. Only 50 years worth of high-grade uranium ores remain in the world. There may be only 200 years left of all uranium ores, including poor uranium ores which take more energy to mine and process and thus release more carbon emissions. We must discard the image that nuclear power is clean. It is dirty and dangerous, posing a threat to the environment and human health. It produces significant amounts of toxic radioactive waste, some of which remains hazardous for thousands for years. No safe solution has yet been devised to store it. Uranium mining, which is the first step in the nuclear power cycle, has been responsible for the deaths of miners throughout the world and causes environmental contamination, cancers and nuclear waste. Have we no concern for the health of these miners and the conditions under which they must work?

We must always remember the terrible nuclear accidents that have taken place, including those at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Windscale, now called Sellafield. Such accidents will plague a new generation of power stations as it did the first. Moreover, nuclear power brings with it the risk of nuclear terrorism. In this age of uncertainty, dirty bombs and attacks on power stations are a terrifying prospect. We must wake up to this reality. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is inextricably linked to nuclear power by the sheer need for enriched uranium and through the generation of plutonium as a by-product of spent nuclear fuel. The two industries have been linked since the beginning and a world free of nuclear weapons requires a non-nuclear energy policy.

I welcome the positive contributions from Members on all sides of the House to this debate. What is needed, however, is action to protect the planet. We must develop a safe, sustainable, global and green solution to our energy needs. This will involve a combination of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures based on safe, effective and proven technoclogies that are already available. The Government must live up to its commitments under the Kyoto Agreement by investing in sustainable, clean solutions to climate change. I raise these points because they are linked to the debate on this Bill. I appeal to everybody to stop this lunacy and take corrective action.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is an attempt to make progress on nuclear disarmament. I strongly support the broad coalition of individuals and organisations campaigning to secure full replacement of Britain's nuclear weapons system. Nuclear power is not worth the risk. Nevertheless, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, has announced that nuclear power is back on the agenda with a vengeance, ignoring the advice of many independent experts that nuclear power represents a dangerous future for Britain. As an independent country, we must assert our authority on this issue.

I strongly oppose any plans to attack Iran and I am concerned by suggestions in the media that the United States may be planning nuclear weapons tasking against Iranian facilities. There is no evidence to support allegations by the United States that Iran's uranium enrichment programme is for the purpose of developing weapons of mass destruction. I urge Ireland, the EU and governments throughout the world to support the campaign for nuclear disarmament, CND. Members must work together with community groups to challenge opinion on these issues.

A British nuclear powered Trident submarine carries 48 independent warheads, each of which has seven times the explosive force of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The cost of this weapon to the British public is £1.5 billion per year. One might assume we would have learned the lesson of the tragedy in Hiroshima, where 140,000 innocent men, women and children were slaughtered. I also strongly support CND in its campaign against the United States missile defence system. Far from being a defensive system, it is rather a system of offence which threatens to provoke nuclear war. I also oppose any development of space nuclear weapons which are being promoted as so-called "weapons for peace".

We must work to end the plutonium trade. EU countries, particularly those that are members of NATO, must become part of a campaign for a nuclear-free, less militarised Europe and an end to the expansion of the nuclear powers within NATO. Ireland could play an important role in terms of influencing NATO. We must put across the message that nuclear weapons are not an option. As part of this debate, we must agree to urge these states to get their act together. Billions of euro and dollars around the world are being spent on nuclear weapons while people are starving. In recent weeks many people have been at risk in Darfur, and we must assist them. Many other poor countries also require investment in health, education and employment. I want to stop the lunacy of investing money in nuclear weapons with which the vast majority of people on this earth want nothing to do.

Ireland could punch above its weight on the international stage and assert its authority. We are a small independent country widely respected around the world, and we must assert our authority, particularly in the debate on nuclear energy. Atomic power is not the answer to climate change and it is not worth the risk. It is all very well to say that it is a reality that Britain needs nuclear power in the modern age, but I have put forward other sensible options.

I stress that a safe energy mix of renewable energy sources, cleaned up fossil fuels and energy efficiency measures, all of which are safe, effective and proven technologies, is available now; it is not an impractical fantasy. Germany, a massive industrial power, is closing its nuclear power stations and moving towards reliance on a non-nuclear mix, an extremely important development that I welcome. I applaud attempts by any country to review its energy needs and challenge those directly involved in the nuclear industry.

In recent days we discussed North Korea, but there is also the scandal of countries that have nuclear weapons and do not say much about it. Over the summer more than 1,100 innocent men, women and children were killed in Lebanon in the conflict on the border with Israel. Another hidden reality is that Israel has nuclear weapons. The official Israeli policy is neither to confirm nor deny the existence of a nuclear weapons programme, although we all know that it has one. One good man, Mordechai Vanunu, spent 18 years in prison for revealing its existence and is still prevented from leaving Israel. That Israeli citizen wished to expose what was going on in his country.

While I also challenge countries such as Pakistan, imagine what would happen if nuclear weapons were used in the Middle East conflict. We must be extremely careful and strong. There is a major crisis in the Middle East that we are trying to resolve. I welcome our sending 150 soldiers to Lebanon to contribute to peacekeeping efforts there and I commend those involved in that magnificent work. Imagine what would happen if a nuclear power entered the race and flexed its muscles on such issues. I believe that the main reason that Israel did not deploy its nuclear arsenal in 1973 was that neither the USSR nor the USA was willing to risk such an escalation, both intervening forcefully with their clients.

However, such countries must also examine their own consciences when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons. Russia and the USA must face the reality that both their citizens and ours want nothing to do with such nuclear weapons. I seek a change in policy and mindset and a negotiated peace with justice in the various conflicts around the world.

The Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 is entitled "an Act to give effect to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 September 1996". It is important that we support the United Nations in its attempts. However, there is no point in treaties or deals if one does not implement the recommendations. We should know from Irish history that when one has deals and treaties, one must implement them, particularly when they promise sensible solutions. The Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 is a major step in the right direction and I urge people to implement its positive recommendations.

I welcome the international agreements and other positive measures of recent years in the field of nuclear disarmament, including reductions in the arsenals of nuclear weapons as well as in the prevention of nuclear proliferation in all its aspects. It is important that we row in behind such international agreements. The verification section of the treaty reads as follows:

In order to verify compliance with this Treaty, a verification regime shall be established consisting of the following elements:

(a) An International Monitoring System;

(b) Consultation and clarification;

(c) On-site inspections; and

(d) Confidence-building measures.

Those four elements are particularly important. We require an international section with a strong presence monitoring the situation. We also need consultation and clarification and when I speak of "consultation" I do not mean lecturing. The on-site inspections are also essential since the countries and inspectors must have the authority to assess the situation. However, we must also build up the confidence-building measures under paragraph (d).

There is currently great mistrust in the Middle East towards many western countries and we must face up to that reality. It has led to hostility between two cultures and civilisations, and it saddens me to see that happen, especially when I see the many good and noble people of vision on both sides who are trying to break down barriers. All legislators, Deputies, Senators and Ministers, have a responsibility. If one has the honour of being elected to the Oireachtas, which is extremely difficult, it is very important that one is directly involved in confidence-building measures. We have seen this in our conflict in recent days in the shape of the St. Andrews agreement. We must be active in assisting those from opposing sides, creating space for them so that they can reach a resolution. There is an onus on us to do so.

Regarding the on-site inspections under paragraph (c), section 34 reads as follows:

Each State Party has the right to request an on-site inspection in accordance with the provisions of this Article and Part II of the Protocol in the territory or in any other place under the jurisdiction or control of any State Party, or in any area beyond the jurisdiction or control of any State.

I wish to comment once more on inspection. If we had allowed Hans Blix and his team to deal with the Iraqi situation, we would not now be witnessing such a horrific nightmare in that country. I challenged those countries that undermined the work of inspectors who went to Iraq to try to resolve the crisis in their relations with the country. They were blown out of the water and their integrity destroyed, although they were ultimately proven right. There were no weapons of mass destruction there, yet they led to a huge international conflict based on lies and spin. People should hang their heads in shame at the great numbers being killed daily in Iraq, particularly those who, having supported that war, remain silent on it. I commend such people as Hans Blix for doing something to prevent war and disputes around the world.

Article VI, which deals with the settlement of disputes, reads as follows:

Disputes that may arise concerning the application or the interpretation of this Treaty shall be settled in accordance with the relevant provisions of this Treaty and in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

We are all mature enough to settle disputes and accommodate difference on the broader international stage.

I urge rejection of all nuclear weapons and nuclear powers, and of the weapons of mass destruction dominant in the world. Any State that uses, possesses or tests them must be challenged and exposed. There is never an excuse for manufacturing or possessing nuclear weapons, particularly in a world that needs money to invest in health care, anti-poverty measures, education, child care and employment. That is where we should spend taxpayers' money and resources. We should not be afraid to tell the British, American and Israeli public where Ireland stands and let them know that we are opposed to weapons of mass destruction. This is not a high moral ground approach, but a sensible outlook on life and a sensible vision for the future. It is also a mark of respect to the 140,000 men, women and children slaughtered in Hiroshima.

I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this important debate. I hope the treaty will go a long way towards creating international and world peace.

John Dennehy (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on the Bill. Much of the content of the Bill and of what is involved in its implementation is highly technical, but that should not stop us from commenting on the general principles involved. There will be little public interest in the content of the Bill, despite the fact the topic is important to the world at large. I agree with the Minister's statement that it is extremely unlikely that the Act will ever be called into play in Ireland.

A year after the 20-year commemoration of the world's worst ever nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, after various other disasters mentioned by Members and in the current climate of the North Korean nuclear test, the issue of nuclear weapons is clearly an ever-present and more complicated issue. The Three Mile Island accident and incidents at Sellafield which have been mentioned illustrate the danger involved with nuclear power. We must accept that a serious accident at a nuclear station has the power to do catastrophic harm to people and the environment. Human and-or mechanical error could result in an accident killing several thousand people, harming hundreds of thousands in the long term, contaminating large areas of land and costing billions of euro. It will be too late to discuss the issue after such an event.

All Members of the Oireachtas will agree that we should have total nuclear disarmament and a ban on nuclear testing. The least we can do is give a clear indication of our wishes by going ahead with the implementation of our legislation to put the ban into effect. The ban will enshrine in legislation the nuclear test ban treaty adopted by the UN in 1996. The treaty was open for signature in 1999, but it has yet to come into force. As already mentioned, some 176 countries have signed the treaty and 135 have ratified it.

It should be a matter of concern to us that the international approach to the issue has taken ten years to reach this point. There were various attempts in 1963 and since 1968 to get some control over additional nuclear weapons. This treaty, which tries to ban nuclear tests entirely, is part of the same process. Those of us looking in from the outside are entitled to question the commitment of some of the countries in the process, particularly those that have not signed up to it. The USA has been mentioned in this regard. Nevertheless, we should pay due recognition to the efforts of the US and the Soviet states for the programme they carried out of dismantling or decommissioning a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons. We should remember this.

We are also entitled to question how seriously we in Ireland take the issue. During discussions last week in the Chamber, at least one Member thought it was an item to joke about. We often only see the serious side of the issue when things go wrong. That is when we seriously appreciate the potential danger of nuclear power. Things are going wrong in a number of countries. It is important that if any our Ministers or other representatives try to use their position to dissuade a country such as North Korea from carrying out tests and are asked whether we fully support the ban, they can give a positive answer. If we want to be effective, we would be cheeky and foolish to be in the reverse situation. It is right and proper to put the legislation through the House now. In doing so we are not conducting a time-wasting exercise as was suggested last week.

The major part of the discussion on the nuclear ban issue relates to who is seen as the aggressor. Deciding who are the aggressors is a matter of perspective. The bottom line is that in the event of a nuclear battle, it will make little difference whether one supports the United States, Israel, India, Pakistan or North Korea. The effect will be equally devastating for everyone.

It is imperative that the US is persuaded to ratify the treaty. It is little use for the US to call on North Korea to refrain from tests if the US itself does not sign up to it. In that context, while Ireland may be viewed as a small player on the world stage, we have a relatively powerful voice for change. As a nation we must continue to stress the need for co-operative efforts to ensure the continuing march towards nuclear disarmament and should be loud in our condemnation of all nuclear nesting, whether in the East or West. In order to use our voice to greatest effect, we should have our house in order. Instead of having a laugh about dealing with the issue now, we should be embarrassed for not having dealt with it long before now.

A section in the Bill states an Irish citizen carrying out such an explosion outside the State will also be guilty of an offence. How can this be implemented? If, for example, an Irish person gets a job in North Korea and is involved in nuclear testing, how can we prevent this or enforce the legislation? I appreciate Britain has its own rules, but the legislation is ideal for an all-island approach as is appropriate to all issues of this nature. I support the Bill and hope it will go through the House speedily.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all the Deputies who contributed for their constructive input. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Given recent events in North Korea, it is more urgent than ever that the international community does all it can to encourage further signature and ratification of the treaty.

The treaty will enter into force when the 44 countries it names have ratified it. It is important, given Ireland's long-standing position on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation that we have the necessary legislation in place to transpose the treaty. The comprehensive test ban treaty will make an important contribution towards preventing the proliferation of materials, technologies and knowledge that can be used for nuclear weapons — one of the most important challenges facing the world. The treaty verification system will also bring scientific and civil benefits, including tsunami warning systems and possibly other disaster alert systems through civil and scientific applications of wave form and radium technologies and use of data.

Many of the Deputies who have contributed would like me to respond, but we will hold over the responses to their questions for Committee Stage. I thank them for their constructive input to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.