Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: Statements

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, a treaty closely associated with Ireland and the cornerstone of the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Ireland also ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW, this year. It will enter into force on 22 January 2021. These treaties demonstrate our long-standing leadership in this area. It is fitting that Dáil Éireann acknowledges both milestones, and I thank Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Duncan Smith for their initiative in proposing this debate.

The very first resolution of the UN, adopted in January 1946, called for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. As we mark 65 years since Ireland joined the UN, I recall Ireland's proud legacy of the Irish resolutions in the late 1950s and 1960s from which the NPT originated. Ireland's then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, highlighted the widespread fear about the threat posed by nuclear weapons amidst extreme global tensions, describing the NPT as a practical and vital step away from war and towards a peaceful, co-operative world. We ought to have marked the NPT's anniversary at its tenth review conference in the spring of this year, but the pandemic has seen it postponed until August next year. This does not diminish the urgency of working towards full implementation across the treaty's three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses.

A key priority for Ireland for the review conference is tangible progress across these pillars, particularly disarmament and the implementation of past commitments. Ireland also wants further consideration of the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear weapons explosion, whether deliberately, by accident or miscalculation. Together with cross-regional partners - Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa - in the New Agenda Coalition, Ireland will focus on making progress on nuclear disarmament obligations under Article 6 of the NPT. Ireland continues to support progress on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. This is integral to the measures on the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. Ireland was centrally involved in securing the 2010 agreement on the way forward. I was encouraged by the adoption of a political declaration at the New York conference in November 2019 expressing the intent and commitment to pursue this issue. Ireland will also continue to play a central role in promoting gender equality in key areas such as the gendered impacts of nuclear weapons and equal and meaningful participation of women.

The lack of progress on disarmament under the NPT was one consideration behind the TPNW. Having championed the NPT from its inception, it was fitting that Ireland played a leadership role once again in drafting, with other core group members, the UN resolutions which led to the negotiation of the TPNW.

I am proud that on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Ireland ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW. Having reached 50 ratifications it will now come into force on 22 January. The TPNW is the product of tireless work from the concerned states, civil society and survivors of the use and testing of nuclear weapons. From the outset of Ireland's engagement in nuclear disarmament, the overriding concern has been the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. We are proud of our legacy with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, and the TPNW and see both as illustrations of the contribution a small country like Ireland can make to international peace and security.

I too would like to thank Deputy Duncan Smith for his initiative in suggesting this debate and I thank the House for accepting it. I also thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, for his contribution. This year, 2020, is a landmark year for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and all the efforts that have gone into that noble quest for so long. It has been 75 years since the use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the Minister noted, it has been 50 years since the NPT came into force. This year, 2020, was meant to see the tenth review conference for that treaty, but it was postponed until next year because of Covid-19. Thankfully, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will be able to enter into force next year. We have reached the number of ratifications required for that treaty to enter into force in January of next year. This is a landmark year and it is important to take the time to mark these things in our national Parliament.

It is also important to do so in the context of what will happen next year when Ireland takes its seat at the United Nations Security Council. This is an incredible opportunity for the country, one for which people have been preparing for quite some time. I congratulate everyone who was involved in the campaign to win that seat. I will admit that as a Minister in the Government at the time I was sceptical, but I am very happy to have been proven wrong on this occasion. I wish everyone involved the very best of luck in the next two years.

There is no doubt that our time on the Security Council will be dominated by the events of the day, conflicts and human security issues that are ongoing and new threats that may arise. Notwithstanding the contribution we will make to those challenges, it is also important that we have a fundamental objective to pursue while we are on the Security Council. Our effort around nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation should be one of those objectives. I think this because of our history, as outlined by the Minister, but also because of our future.

Our commendable efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament are not well known in this country. When people think of Ireland and the United Nations they think of the blue helmets, and rightly so. However, it was only three years after we had joined the UN in the 1950s that we tabled the first resolution against what was then termed the dissemination of nuclear weapons. The motion known as the "Irish resolution" led directly to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The NPT was not the first arms control treaty, but because of its importance it became the framework for international arms control since then. It was not a perfect treaty or a complete treaty. Article VI conferred an obligation on the nuclear weapon powers to pursue disarmament. It pointed towards a framework, but that framework still had to be built. That framework has followed almost 50 years later in the form of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We have remained at the vanguard of non-proliferation efforts through the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, the establishment of the New Agenda Coalition in the 1990s, the 13 steps which were identified in 2000, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and our funding of the very important work of NGOs, agencies and civil society bodies in this area.

The further we get from the terrible events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the more the threat diminishes in our minds. Counter-intuitively, the threat is actually increasing. In 1945, some scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project, which built the first nuclear weapon, established the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This was a way for scientists involved in this area to share knowledge and to highlight the threat posed by the atomic age. Two years later they came up with the Doomsday Clock, which indicates the level of threat we face from nuclear weapons. The clock's proximity to midnight indicates how serious the threat is. In 2007, when I was still working at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna, the clock was at five minutes to midnight. That is how serious the threat was. Today, it is at only 100 seconds to midnight. Midnight is closer now than it has ever been. It is important to reflect on that for a moment. The threat posed by nuclear weapons to our entire civilisation is closer than it was at the height of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the zenith of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network, or throughout developments after 9/11 and those still unresolved regional conflicts that have nuclear dimensions.

Because of that fact, because of that level of threat, with 100 seconds until midnight, we have to ask ourselves what is going wrong that we are at this point. The laureates and scientists involved with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have laid out a number of measures to deal with this threat that they see being so close to us today. In the limited time left to me I will not go into them.

I will, however, make one final point. We have a great opportunity with the Security Council for the next two years. We should use it to make a real success of the review conference scheduled for August of next year. We should put the ratification and the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, CTBT, at the centre of our efforts. We should try to get the major powers back to the table on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START. We are not paying enough attention to the weaponisation of space. Education here at home to get another level, another generation of politicians, civil society and diplomats, closely involved in these efforts is crucial. I would love to see the Department leading on something like that in order that when we think of the UN, we think not only of the blue helmets but also of the diplomats doing such important work.

While this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, it also marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in August of this year marked the day Ireland ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Those two events, 75 years apart, stand in stark contrast to each other, one an abiding and horrific testimony to the destructive capacity inherent in nuclear weapons, so much more powerful than the atomic weapons that preceded them, the other a reminder of the capacity of the international community to come together in a spirit of co-operation to address, along with the challenge of climate change, a threat to our continued existence as a species. Japanese casualty estimates for the atomic blast in 1945 suggest that just under 250,000 people died following the bombing, many from the explosion itself and many more from the effects of burns, radiation sickness and cancers arising from the bombing. While it is argued that the attack on Hiroshima, coupled with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, brought about the Japanese surrender that ended the Second World War, the events have left an indelible mark on our collective global conscience. All sane people are certain of the need to ensure that the world is never again exposed to the horror witnessed in Japan.

Today all legislators and lawmakers of every hue and creed carry this warning from history with them, and since that fateful day in 1945 nuclear and atomic weapons have been detonated on more than 2,000 occasions for testing and demonstrative purposes, and the damage caused to the environment has been devastating. In 2017 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute stated that there were approximately 14,456 nuclear weapons in the world. This shows just how much work remains to be done on the issue of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. No other arms limitation treaty has achieved the level of support of the non-proliferation treaty. There are only five nations that have refused to sign up to the agreement. Four are known to possess nuclear weapons: North Korea, Israel, India and Pakistan, nations and regions which represent some of the most violent areas on our planet.

Our country, small as it is, has had a proud history on the international stage of offering opposition to nuclear proliferation. In 1958 Ireland introduced at the UN the first of what became known as the Irish resolutions. This initiative culminated in the adoption of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, NPT, and Ireland was the first country to sign the NPT in 1968. Our nation's endorsement of a humanitarian pledge to work with others to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons played a role in building momentum towards the holding of the negotiations that led to the treaty.

We must continue to support efforts to curb the emergence of new nuclear states and to regulate and police the four countries that have developed nuclear weaponry since 1967. As Ireland prepares to take its place on the UN Security Council, it is an appropriate moment for the Government to commit to using that membership to continue the work to bring an end to the weapons of devastation.

I wish to put on record my sincere thanks to the Government for allocating time for these statements at my request and that of Deputy Eoghan Murphy. It is vitally important that the House discuss this matter. There are varying estimates of how many nuclear weapons there are on planet Earth. There are between 13,500 and 14,500 of them, going on any solid academic basis, of which 9,500 are considered worthy of being immediately active or capable of being activated in a short period. In the 1980s, there was a peak of 70,000 nuclear warheads on planet Earth. To think that because they are produced in such a number we are somehow safer and that this is somehow a good news story would be to totally miss the point. Nuclear weapons have become more sophisticated and more powerful. They are capable of as much death and destruction as they ever have been, such as on those two August days in 1945 in Japan.

We have a proud history in this country of our work on disarmament. That was most clearly crystallised in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, that opened for signature in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. As previously set out by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and Deputy Eoghan Murphy, we have continued that approach right through the years, including through the New Agenda Coalition in the 1990s and our work on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. These weapons are a threat. They have never been a deterrent; they have always been an existential threat to our very existence. I am proud of Ireland's role on this issue. We sit or stand in the Chamber and hold the Government to account from the benches on this side of the House with regard to issues in respect of which we perceive it has not done enough or has not done it correctly, but this is not one of those cases. Through successive Governments and successive generations of a committed diplomatic corps, we have a very proud history on the issues of non-proliferation and disarmament. That is known worldwide and needs to be known to a greater degree in this country.

The NPT is not a perfect treaty. What I perceive to be some of its successes are in the area of non-proliferation. In the 1960s, there were dozens of countries with nuclear power that did not then make the leap to nuclear weapons although they could have done so. Countries such as South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Taiwan ended nascent nuclear weapons programmes and some of the former Soviet bloc countries gave up nuclear weapons. The NPT and the norm it created was a key part of those decisions and that is something of which we can be very proud.

However, Article 6, dealing with the area of disarmament, is a weakness. It has been a weakness for 50 years. That is why we need the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Three states, namely, India, Pakistan and Israel, have been outside the treaty and have developed and held nuclear weapons for a long period. They have been joined by North Korea in the past four years. There are immediate proliferation concerns regarding countries such as Iran and Syria. These are real concerns. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, is pursuing investigations with which these countries are not complying. I know certain persons like to flirt with these regimes in some kind of misguided recognition of anti-imperialism, but their holding or developing of nuclear weapons is as unethical as those of the United States and Russia.

This is a zero-sum situation. Nuclear weapons are wrong. They cut to the very heart of insecurity on this planet. No other weapon has the capacity to devastate, kill and destroy not just human life, but flora, fauna and the entire environment in which we live. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force on 22 January 2021. On the first page of the treaty, it acknowledges "the ethical imperatives for nuclear disarmament and the urgency of achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world". That sums it up. This is an ethical imperative.

It is the right thing to do. No country should hold nuclear weapons. We must push for a nuclear weapons-free world. Ireland has led in that regard. This small country has a proud and strong tradition of leading on this and it should continue to do so. It is urgent and an ethical imperative.

I will conclude with one point. There has been much talk about the negative aspects of social media in the past couple of weeks in this country. I advise people to follow the disarmament Twitter handle in the Department of Foreign Affairs if they want to see the real work that goes into reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world, as well as all the other conventional and non-conventional weapons. People should follow that account and see what our country does daily and weekly. They will be proud of the work that is done. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for this debate.

I thank Deputies Duncan Smith and Eoghan Murphy for bringing forward the proposal to have this matter debated today and to mark this anniversary. It is important and worth doing. We should be very proud of Ireland's role and the principled stand it has taken over generations against nuclear weapons. Mr. Frank Aiken, Ireland's delegate to the UN in the 1950s, played a crucial role in the formation of the original Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its subsequent signing and ratification. More recently, as other Deputies have noted, Ireland has been part of a core group of states that has played a leading role in bringing forward negotiations for the 2017 treaty and ensuring their ultimate success.

There are still approximately 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world. These weapons have the potential to destroy the planet and its population many times over. The retention of nuclear weapons and the threat of an arms race are drivers of insecurity and risk. They do not make us more secure, but drive arms races and insecurity. The UK intends to spend £703 billion in the next 20 years on nuclear weapons. At the same time, it recently announced it will cut its commitments in overseas development assistance. We also see how these funds could be spent much better in the UK through investment in the people there, for example, investing in eradicating child poverty, removing the need for food banks and so forth.

Money invested in nuclear weapons is a waste. Money invested in militarisation in general is not the way to go and while we should be proud of Ireland's role in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and a nuclear-free world, that is not enough. We should be opposed to increased militarisation in all its forms and, indeed, we should oppose Ireland's role in facilitating increased militarisation around the world. Since 2003, there have been approximately 3.5 million troop movements through Shannon Airport, in particular, including torture-related flights. These have occurred as part of the unending so-called war on terror. Long after these troops land in their destinations, the wars break out and the media lose interest, we see the pain, suffering, death and destruction that continue. We saw that in Iraq, in particular. For many years after the US troops went through Shannon and the US declared the war over, there was increased militarisation and increased destruction, death and devastation. Ireland played a role in that by facilitating those troops through its airports. In addition to this human suffering, there is also untold environmental damage and damage to the climate through wars and militarisation.

I support this country's proud history in respect of nuclear non-proliferation. We should be very proud of that, but we should go much further and take a lead in standing against militarisation and against the facilitation of militarisation through our airports and airspace.

I commend Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Duncan Smith on seeking this debate. The 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is an important occasion to remind ourselves of the utter obscenity and horror of nuclear weapons.

If the Nazi Holocaust was probably the greatest crime that was ever committed against humanity, a very close second is the decision of one of the most wealthy, powerful countries in the world, the United States - a country that claims to be civilised - to drop two nuclear weapons in the course of three days on top of two Japanese cities. A conscious decision was made to incinerate between 180,000 and 230,000 mostly completely innocent civilians. The barbarism of it is beyond obscene. The other Allied powers signed off on it and agreed in advance that those weapons would be used against Japan. The horror of it is hard to fully get one's head around. In the initial blast in Hiroshima, 70,000 to 80,000 people were killed in the first few minutes as a result of the blast and the firestorm that engulfed the city. Tens of thousands more people died in the following weeks. The consequences in terms of cancer rates continued long after.

The Irish resolution, the role of Frank Aiken and the development of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was a welcome attempt to try to rein in the obscenity and madness that was being pursued by the most powerful nations in the world. Even under this treaty, they are still legally allowed to hold these weapons and to dominate the UN Security Council to this day, and they can effectively veto efforts by any other country in the world to rein in their activities. It is also worth saying that while the commendable desire to prevent proliferation is in the treaty, we have seen very little sign of willingness on the part of those who, supposedly, legally hold nuclear arsenals to make a serious move towards the decommissioning of those nuclear arsenals. Many of those states continue to be part of the NATO military alliance, which has a first-strike policy on the use of nuclear weapons. The fact that any alliance would contemplate and continue with an official policy of reserving the right to have a first-strike policy on the use of nuclear weapons after what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is beyond comprehension and exposes the lie that the states which dominate NATO are in any way guardians of civilisation, peace or democracy. They are people who reserve the right to use mass murder and terror against civilians in the context of war.

In that context, it is also lamentable that we continue to facilitate the use of Shannon Airport by the US military machine when it continues to use depleted uranium. As well as being a possessor of a large nuclear arsenal, which it retains the right to use, it uses depleted uranium weapons to devastating effect in conflicts like the criminal war on Iraq that claimed the lives of up to 1 million people and where the consequences of the use of depleted uranium continue to give rise to high cancer rates and to birth defects in Iraqi children. It is quite shocking. There is the continued willingness to treat as normal states countries like Israel, which illegally possess hundreds of nuclear weapons and by doing so are further encouraging and inciting regimes like Iran potentially to want those weapons as well.

It is right to ponder the horror of nuclear weapons and the efforts globally to deal with them but we should be under no illusion that the threat of nuclear destruction is, like the states that reserve the power to use such weapons, sadly very much still with us.

I am very happy to be part of a discussion marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I thank Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Duncan Smith for their initiative in seeking this debate.

The treaty was a watershed moment in human history. It limited the spread of nuclear weapons to nine nation states, which is an achievement in itself. There were five erstwhile nuclear states that relinquished their nuclear weapons as a result of this treaty and, most important, a large number of states could have surpassed the technological threshold in order to acquire nuclear weapons but they were discouraged from doing so as a result of this treaty. Instead, they indicated they would express national prestige in far more productive ways.

The treaty has worked excellently, although it has not been perfect because only 190 countries have signed up to it. There are four outliers, which are Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan. Three of those four countries acquired nuclear weapons since the signing of this treaty in 1970. The key message is there is still some work to do. It is an opportune time for that work as there will soon be a new US President and Ireland has one of the non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. We can use this as a platform to advocate very strongly Ireland's position on nuclear weapons.

There are three elements on which we should focus. We must prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic of Iran is in the cross hairs in this regard and there is an expectation in that country to at least acquire nuclear technology. We also know the Iranian framework agreement must be revitalised. A new president in the White House will make a big difference there. We can use a carrot and stick but if we reassure the Iranian authorities that their security is assured with or without the use of nuclear weapons, it will make a big difference. We must re-engage from this perspective.

We must prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors such as terrorist organisations and organised crime. It is a big issue if we consider what a dirty bomb could do if it went off in the city. It does not bear thinking about. From a city, country and regional perspective, we must prevent weapons of mass destruction getting into the wrong hands as that would have catastrophic results.

Ireland must play a part by investing in intelligence services, which are really important. We must intervene "left of boom" or before an event happens. We need to disrupt logistics, training and finances to ensure an event related to nuclear weapons can never occur.

I am happy to hear the Minister mention disarmament. There are two countries, namely the Russian Federation and the United States, to focus on in this area as they would lead by example. Despite the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START, reductions, there are still over 13,000 nuclear warheads on the planet, or enough firepower to destroy the planet 100 times over.

If there was ever an example of the futile use of military spending, it is on nuclear weapons and even the vast majority of military professionals are completely against it. It is a complete waste of time. It is said they are a deterrent to war but they did not stop either of the Gulf wars, the Falklands or Afghanistan conflicts or the terrorist events of 11 September 2001. Nuclear weapons only deter a proper investment in appropriate sectors of society, such as education, health, alleviation of poverty and conventional military spending for ships to keep out drugs, helicopters that might pluck people from the sea in search and rescue operations and conventional troops that could be deployed overseas for peacekeeping, humanitarian or stability purposes.

We have a golden opportunity now as there will soon be a new US President and we will have a seat on the UN Security Council. We should be able to leverage those two advances to the best of our ability. We must not focus just on nuclear weapons but on all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons and dirty bombs containing fissile material. None of these weapons has a place in a modern and civilised society.

I compliment Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Duncan Smith for facilitating this important date. It is 75 years since the United States committed the unspeakable crime of using nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 and a historic milestone has finally been achieved, with nuclear weapons declared illegal under a new United Nations treaty.

I regularly use the adage, "tosach maith, leath na hoibre", and it certainly was a tosach maith by Mr. Frank Aiken, who was a visionary in his time.

I wonder about this because although we are hailing it, there are still 13,000 nuclear warheads available for action, which is horrific. Are we really window dressing here? Is it a case of around the parlour and mind the dresser, of moving the deck chairs on that famous ship, Titanic? Are we really serious? While I welcome the fact that we have won a seat on the UN Security Council, that organisation lost its way a long time ago. We have seen the horror of what went on in the Middle East and what is still going on but we never have a debate about that here.

I welcome this debate today. Anything connected with nuclear weapons is horrific, given the damage they can do. We are focusing on this and rightly so, but why are we not also focusing on the persecution of Christians and minority Muslim sects in the Middle East? It is going on unabated and we are turning a blind eye. It is very seldom debated or even raised in this House. When some Independent Members of the House wanted to raise it a number of years ago, the Ceann Comhairle thankfully selected it for a Topical Issue debate on one Holy Thursday evening, which was very appropriate. However, there has not been a mention of the issue since that debate which took place three or four years ago. We are turning a blind eye.

We are also turning a blind eye vis-à-vis the use of Shannon Airport by US troops, and I support the Deputies who spoke about this earlier. We cannot be half in, half out or half neutral. We are either neutral or we are not, but we certainly must have a better knowledge and awareness of what is going on, particularly with regard to the persecution that is going on all over the Middle East as well as what went on in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US went into countries that are part of the United Nations, bombed the hell out of them and made the situation twice as bad. Before that, people of all religions and none could practise but now one particular religion and Muslim minorities are being persecuted, which is totally wrong.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this very important topic and I thank the two Deputies involved for giving us the opportunity to debate it. It is very important that we all recognise the fact that an atom bomb or nuclear weapon could end all of the talk and all of the work in seconds if it was deployed near us or even far from us. Pope Francis expressed his horror at the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He said that, "We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons." He went on to say that, "The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral." I worry about the countries that did not sign the TPNW. The USA, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel boycotted the negotiations. That is very serious and we should never let them forget it. Our Government should keep reminding them and working to the principle that we must not use nuclear or atomic weapons in any struggle or strife.

We must remember what happened in Chernobyl and in Nagasaki - the massive destruction, the damage done to man, woman and child and all forms of life, including animals and fauna. Everything was wiped out. It is really serious. We saw the little children who came to this country from Chernobyl who were missing hands, feet, legs and limbs. What these weapons can do is so devastating. We must work together in this Parliament to ensure that we get the message across that there is no place for nuclear weapons because they could lead to the destruction of the entire world.

I thank Deputies Duncan Smith and Eoghan Murphy for putting this issue forward for debate today. It is very worthwhile. It is the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in January 2021 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will come into force. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was opened for signatures in 1968 and came into force in 1970. The UN’s website states that:

The Treaty is regarded as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. It was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to further the goals of nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament, and to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy

The treaty has been joined by 191 states, including the five nuclear-weapon states. The five so-called nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These are the states that are officially recognised as having nuclear weapons. The important word here is “officially”. What about Israel, India, Iran, Pakistan and all of the others? Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons as we speak. How many actual nuclear-weapon states are there?

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated in 2017. It needed just 55 ratifications but 122 states voted for its inclusion in UN negotiations. It is said that:

The goal of the treaty was to create moral pressure on the states possessing nuclear weapons in order for them to make further steps towards nuclear disarmament. Since its inception, the treaty was opposed by the states possessing nuclear weapons, as well as their allies.

It is said to have been pursued because of the slow pace of nuclear disarmament and the difficulties relating to verification of disarmament.

Why are we even talking about this? Some 50 years ago, there was overwhelming agreement around the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Through Frank Aiken and the response of our Government, we have played a very honourable role in non-proliferation and the banning of nuclear weapons. Not enough progress has been made on disarmament, however, so now we need another treaty. What difference will this make? If the five nuclear power states, and any others that are involved in nuclear weaponry, have not disarmed and abandoned this type of weaponry within 50 years, why do we think anything will be different now? Pakistan is reported to have had nuclear weapons since 1998 but is not a signatory to any of the treaties.

How many times over the past number of years have we heard about the possibility of an American President launching nuclear weapons? Has anyone ever pictured Homer Simpson in the nuclear plant in Springfield and thought that perhaps they would prefer even this fictional character to have access to launch codes? One also thinks of Father Dougal looking at the big red button labelled "DO NOT PRESS". In a world of skewed priorities, it is terrible to think of any individual or any country holding that much destructive power.

According to the website,, in 2020, the estimated global nuclear warhead inventory showed that there were approximately 13,500 nuclear warheads in existence, 90% of which are owned by Russia and America. The website reports that approximately 9,500 of these are in military service, while the remainder are to be disarmed. China has a total of approximately 320 warheads while France has approximately 290. The website reports that, according to a declaration under the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms treaty, known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or New START, there were “1,326 strategic warheads deployed on 485 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers” in Russia, in March 2020. In the UK, there are around 215 strategic warheads, of which 95 are in storage and approximately 120 are deployed. This website also states that "The United Kingdom possesses a total of four Vanguard class Trident nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which together form its exclusively sea-based nuclear deterrent.”

The website also points out that, according to its New START declaration of March 2020, the United States had “1,373 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 655 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers" in addition to "an estimated 150 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs that are forward-deployed at six NATO bases in five European countries". These countries are Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In May 2020, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons published a report entitled Enough is Enough: 2019 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending. The new report showed that the nuclear-armed nations around the world spent $73 billion on their weapons in 2019. This was a record high, with the spending by the US being almost equivalent to that of the eight other states combined.

The report showed that 2019 had the highest expenditure on nuclear arms since the height of the Cold War. The conclusion of the ICAN report states:

The nuclear-armed states spent nearly three-quarters of one hundred billion dollars in 2019 on building and maintaining nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The incalculable human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons only add to this shocking figure.

I will conclude with these words. The UN Chronicle essay, “Losing 25,000 to Hunger Every Day”, states that food prices have been rising steadily since 2004. The article states:

Each day, 25,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, die from hunger and related causes. Some 854 million people worldwide are estimated to be undernourished, and high food prices may drive another 100 million into poverty and hunger.

Global spending is about priorities. Why do we pander to states that prioritise boys playing with their war toys over addressing poverty, exclusion, health, climate change and the well-being of citizens?

I thank everybody, in particular the two Deputies responsible for this debate happening, Deputies Duncan Smith and Eoghan Murphy. This has been a good opportunity for people who are genuinely interested in this topic to recognise Ireland's role in disarmament over many decades.

In recent years we have seen the unravelling of many international disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control agreements. The prospect of a new arms race is very real, with nuclear modernisation programmes absorbing vast resources and rising geopolitical tensions. In this context it is vital to preserve and strengthen the international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture. The NPT is central to this and Ireland will continue to work for its full universalisation and implementation.

I acknowledge that the current context is deeply concerning. There is ongoing uncertainty on the future of the START agreement between the US and Russia, which is due to expire on 5 February. These states have special responsibility as the largest possessors of nuclear weapons. I welcome their bilateral talks. Extending START would demonstrate new commitment to fulfilling NPT disarmament obligations. It is also the most effective way to create space for a future agreement, including possibly a more expansive one covering more states and more types of weapons of mass destruction.

Ongoing developments with the Iran nuclear deal will also be crucial in the coming months. Ireland remains committed to preserving the agreement as it offers the best mechanism for dialogue with Iran and to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. I remain deeply concerned about Iran's continued non-compliance with the terms of the agreement. I have consistently called on Iran to return to fulfil compliance and to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. I regret the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, and subsequent steps taken that run contrary to the agreement. I share concerns over Iran's activities in the region, but I believe the JCPOA is the most effective way to address the concerns involved. During our membership of the UN Security Council, my Department will engage constructively on efforts to combat nuclear proliferation with a focus on situations on the Security Council's agenda, namely, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

This will be the first NPT review conference since the adoption of the TPNW. The TPNW represents an important step towards implementing the disarmament provisions of the NPT. We are fully aware of the divergent views on the TPNW, including by some EU NATO countries. However, we continue to engage constructively and inclusively with all partners to explain our position and to advocate for urgent progress on nuclear disarmament. As we reflect on Ireland's legacy on nuclear disarmament, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the strong cross-party support received during the ratification of the TPNW in both Houses. The elimination of nuclear weapons is not just a priority of this Government, but one shared by all parties and strongly supported by the Irish people.

The pandemic has shown us that risks, however unlikely, can materialise with devastating global impact. It has also put into stark light the fact that nuclear weapons afford us no security or safety.

The growing public body of scientific and medical evidence clearly shows that we will never be remotely equipped to deal with the consequences of a nuclear weapon's detonation. The only guarantee of safety is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, as foreseen in the NPT. The TPNW represents an important step towards this and gives our work a renewed purpose as we face the challenges ahead. I thank the Deputies for their contributions.