Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Nuclear Tests.

3.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made any protest to the US Government about the recent underground nuclear tests; and whether he will press the United Nations for a ban on all testing of nuclear weapons.

The US administration, as indeed the Governments of all the nuclear weapons states, are well aware of the Government's position on nuclear testing. When I addressed the third NPT Review Conference last August I outlined that position. On behalf of the Government I spoke of the need for a demonstration of genuine willingness on the part of the nuclear weapons states to give a fresh impetus to the negotiation of a comprehensive test ban treaty. As evidence of that commitment I urged those states to halt their nuclear tests at the earliest possible date. This exhortation was repeated in my address to the 40th Session of the UN General Assembly in September last.

As regards the specific incidents of testing by the US which the Deputy has raised, it is not our practice to convey our views regarding individual tests to the Governments concerned.

I have already alluded to the efforts of the Government to promote a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. This Government consider the negotiation of a comprehensive test ban treaty the first milestone in any serious programme of nuclear disarmament. Successive Irish Governments have advocated such a treaty, the conclusion of which would, we believe, constrain and eventually preclude the further development of nuclear weapons. To this end we have traditionally lent staunch support or cosponsorship to resolutions urging the negotiation of a CTBT at the United Nations General Assembly each year. It is the Government's intention to continue to strongly advocate the necessity of a comprehensive test ban treaty.

Will the Minister agree that the continued testing of nuclear weapons undermines belief in the good faith of countries concerned when they say they are committed to nuclear disarmament?

Yes, we would very much like to see a comprehensive ban on all future testing, not that that in itself will lead to elimination of nuclear weapons but we think that testing will lead to the development of more dangerous and sophisticated weapons in the future, so we would very much like to see a ban come into force.

Did the present Government vote consistently on all occasions at the UN for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons?

Unless there was some kind of propaganda wording in such a resolution. I do not want to give an categorical assurance on that. We would try to avoid motions or resolutions put down for clearly propagandistic purposes, but where there was a genuine resolution in favour of a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests we would have voted for it. As I say, I do not want to give a categorical "yes" to that because I have not got the list in front of me.

Having regard to what the Minister has said, will he tell the House why he has not made diplomatic representations in Dublin and Washington about the latest nuclear test in the Nevada Desert?

It has not been our or any Irish Government's position to make what could be interpreted as a one-sided approach to the matter in the sensitive issue of nuclear disarmament. We have never on individual tests protested to either side in this regard. I think that is a wise stand to take. We just stated at various international fora around the world the Government's position on all nuclear testing.

Will the Minister agree with me that recent developments of many different kinds have underlined and emphasised the fact that our world today, because of the development of nuclear weapons and the way in which civil nuclear power is handled, is a very dangerous world?

Absolutely.

Will he agree that there is very real cause for concern, probably as much now, unfortunately, over civilian nuclear power as over nuclear testing? Does any course of action occur to him as Minister for Foreign Affairs that this country can take, perhaps in co-operation with other countries, to do something about this appallingly ominous, threatening situation? Will he agree that our apprehensions about Sellafield have now been dramatically confirmed over what happened in Russia? A nuclear power station, which the Russians assured the world was the safest on earth and that nothing could possibly happen to it, has experienced a devastating accident. I feel sure that the Minister agrees with me that there is very real cause for concern about this whole area of nuclear weapons. Would he care to comment on any worthwhile action that the Government of this small country could undertake, perhaps in co-operation with other countries?

I understand the reason that prompts Deputy Haughey to say after Monday's appalling accident in Russia that civilian nuclear power is as dangerous as nuclear weapons. The truth is that civilian nuclear power has killed more people and done more damage in the last 40 years since the end of the war than nuclear weapons. But, it would be an exaggeration not to recognise that the potential for destruction by nuclear weapons is infinitely greater than by civilian power stations. The levels and speed at which the two super powers have built up nuclear armaments over the last 40 years is terrifying for all the peoples of the world, including their own peoples. The stand-off position that existed between the two super powers for a number of years was resolved last year, I am glad to say, but that does not mean an end to the build up of nuclear armaments nor does it mean the destruction of existing nuclear armaments. However, at least they are now talking and that is a small but significant step forward. I share the concern about the safety of nuclear plants all over the world.

We have no nuclear plants, and I think that the most constructive attitude that this Government can take is that we can ensure that in the Community of which we are a member there is an overseeing policing authority for all nuclear plants to see that they are continuously monitored as to safety into the future. Regarding nuclear weapons, we must try to get the consensus that is important politically among the 12 member states of the Community to ensure that we speak as one voice in the CSCE and the UN particularly to bring home to the two super powers the danger for the world for generations to come of this build up of nuclear arms. That is where our strength lies as a small Government. They do not need persuading. They think alike on this. We must encourage the two super powers to get together and devise a method whereby they can step by step reduce their huge stocks of nuclear weapons.

In view of the fact that the Soviet Union initiated a moratorium on their own part to end, for a period at any rate, the underground testing of nuclear weapons, will the Minister ask them now to extend that moratorium indefinitely and by ending their ban not to respond to the American continued testing?

I would very much like to see that test ban extended indefinitely but, as I said in reply to a question by Deputy Collins, I think it is not useful for us to be giving advice or instructions to one side or the other in the matter of disarmament. We should be saying that we want to see the elimination of all weapons. We should adopt that general stance. It is not helpful to choose one side today and another side tomorrow.

Will the Minister agree with me that one of the key things in this is to have the two super blocks come together and not just on nuclear disarmament but on general disarmament and on the preservation of world peace? Will he agree with me furthermore that an essential ingredient in that coming together of the super powers in these issues is the settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, preferably by the UN? To that extent, will he not agree that the action by the American Government in Libya was, unfortunately, if for no other reason very regrettable in that it damaged that process of the two super powers combining for peaceful purposes?

I agree. We would like to see disputes anywhere in the world settled by peaceful means. I said that in this House a fortnight ago and we said it jointly among the Twelve. We felt that these matters should be settled in a peaceful, negotiated way and not by violence. That applies to virtually any conflict in the world and we continually advocate the use of the United Nations in the Middle East, Iran and Iraq, in the dispute between Tripoli and the United States and also in Central America.