The purpose of this Bill is to enable the transposition into Irish law of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. While Ireland is not, and will never be, a nuclear weapons State, it is appropriate that we complete processes such as this to ensure consistency with well developed public policy.
The nuclear test ban treaty was opened for signature in 1999 but has yet to come into force. This is because 44 specifically named countries, those with nuclear capability, must ratify it to enable entry into force. However, to date 41 of these specified states have signed it and 35 have ratified it. Those who have not ratified the treaty include China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States of America.
The treaty requires a state party to the treaty to prohibit natural and legal persons anywhere on its territory or in any other place under its jurisdiction from carrying out, or participating in the carrying out of, a nuclear weapons test explosion or any other nuclear explosion. Since the first, and thankfully so far the only, use of nuclear weapons in 1945, the world has sought ways of preventing the proliferation of such weapons. For many years, Ireland's non-nuclear status has enabled it to be very much to the fore on the international stage in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. Ireland has continually called on all states to refrain from testing nuclear weapons and to embrace nuclear disarmament.
The historical context to this treaty was the growing concerns among states about the consequences of a large number of countries holding nuclear weapons and the increased likelihood of their use if this happened. These concerns led to the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, which was proposed by one of our own, the late Mr. Frank Aiken, in 1958. Another significant treaty, banning nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, was concluded in 1963.
Given the historical background and our own non-nuclear policy, Ireland is fully committed to the policy of promoting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. We believe that nuclear weapons states must speedily take steps towards achieving total nuclear disarmament, as they are obliged to do under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
It is our view that the current treaty structure, the non-proliferation treaty and the treaty banning nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, has had considerable success in limiting the number of nuclear weapons states. However, this structure left a clear gap by permitting the nuclear weapons states to continue testing new weapons underground. The solution to this problem was found in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which prohibits all nuclear weapons tests anywhere.
The nuclear test ban treaty was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 September 1996 and opened for signature on 24 September 1996. Ireland signed on the first day. To date it has been signed by 178 countries and ratified by 144. Ireland and all our EU partners have also ratified the treaty.
The treaty bans all nuclear test explosions, wherever they may be conducted. To verify compliance with the prohibition, the treaty provides for the establishment of an international monitoring system. This system comprises 337 stations around the globe which will conduct continuous seismological, hydro-acoustic and radio-nuclide monitoring. This network of stations will permit the detection of any nuclear explosion.
The treaty provides for the establishment of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation. known as "the treaty organisation", to be based in Vienna at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The purpose of the treaty organisation is to achieve the objectives of the treaty, to ensure implementation of its provisions, including those for international verification of compliance with it, and to provide a forum for consultation and co-operation among state parties.
The treaty organisation will be responsible for the running of the international monitoring system and will have the power to inspect any sites on which it is suspected that nuclear testing has taken place. It will also have the technical expertise to make reliable judgments on suspicions.
As in other international organisations and bodies, the treaty organisation's budget will be provided by contributions from state parties, based on the United Nations scale of assessment. Pending the entry into force of the treaty, a preparatory commission for the treaty organisation has been set up and it has begun to establish both the monitoring system and the organisation's administrative structure.
As I indicated earlier in this speech, the treaty will only enter into force when 44 specifically named countries have ratified it. As was also stated, the 44 countries in question are those which the International Atomic Energy Agency deems to have a nuclear capability, whether civilian or military. Ireland, naturally, is not among them. I stated to the House that so far, 41 of the specified 44 states have signed the treaty. Furthermore, only 35 of the 44 states have actually ratified it.
In these circumstances, I have to state it is a matter of regret that so far, the United States of America has yet to ratify the treaty. Ireland and its EU partners have expressed their deep regret that this is the case. The treaty cannot enter into force without the ratification of the USA. It would be an empty treaty without American adherence. However, the announcement that the US will abide by the moratorium on nuclear testing, in place since 1992, is welcome. On a more negative note, the House will be aware that India and Pakistan conducted tests of nuclear weapons in 1998 and North Korea did likewise in 2006.
Clearly there was concern that the situation described above would arise and accordingly provision was made that if the treaty had not entered into force within three years of opening for signature, namely, by 24 September 1999, a conference of states which had ratified it would be convened to consider ways of ensuring its rapid entry into force. A number of such conferences have taken place, the most recent being in September 2007 when the state parties agreed to spare no effort and use all available avenues to encourage signature and ratification of the treaty.
As I stated at the outset of my speech, the Nuclear Test Ban Bill will give legislative effect in Ireland to the nuclear test ban treaty. It transposes the treaty into national law. However remote it may be that Ireland will be exposed to such actions, the Bill will make it an offence for any person to carry out, or cause the carrying out of a nuclear explosion in the State. It will similarly be an offence for an Irish citizen to carry out, or cause to be carried out, such an explosion outside of Ireland. The Bill also designates the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland as the national authority for the implementation of the treaty. The institute will act as the national focal point for liaison with the treaty organisation and other contracting parties to the treaty and will facilitate any on-site inspection visits by the treaty organisation's technical secretariat.
The Bill also provides for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to appoint authorised officers who would have the power to, inter alia, enter a place where he or she has reasons to believe an offence under the Act has been committed and to remove any relevant documentation. These officers would also have the power to accompany the international inspection team on any site inspections. In the unlikely event that a major offence is committed under the Act, it would be an indictable offence and would be liable to penalties including imprisonment for life.
Other offences that may be committed under the Act relate to wrongful disclosure of information obtained under the Act, or the making of false or misleading statements to official authorities. Depending on the seriousness of the offence in these areas, there is provision for a fine of up to €50,000 or imprisonment for up to two years or both.
Given Ireland's rejection of nuclear as a source of energy, and the fact that nuclear medicine and industrial uses represent the main applications of nuclear materials in Ireland, it is reasonable to state that it is extremely unlikely that this Bill, when enacted, will ever come into play in Ireland. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is the regulator for all uses of radioactive materials in Ireland, and all such users must operate under a licence from the Institute.
The costs to Ireland associated with implementing the treaty are relatively low. None of the treaty organisation's monitoring stations will be in Ireland and, given the absence of a nuclear industry here, it is not expected that Ireland will receive any inspections.
The main cost to Ireland is approximately €350,000 per annum which is our share of the establishment and running costs of the treaty organisation. The amount is decided in accordance with the UN scale of assessment used for determining states' contributions to UN bodies.
Let me emphasise that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a central international instrument in preventing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The implementation of a ban on testing nuclear devices and establishment of an effective mechanism to monitor the ban, would add to the security of all.
The transposition of this treaty into Irish law is entirely appropriate. It is consistent with our current and historic position on nuclear weapons and non-proliferation. While Ireland's transposition will not trigger the entry into force of the treaty, it will ensure that Ireland is in a position to discharge its obligations under the treaty when and if it does enter into force.
This is straightforward and strictly non-contentious legislation dealing with a subject for which there is cross-party support in Ireland. Enactment of the Bill will be in line with Ireland's strong stance on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Hopefully, our transposition of the treaty will serve as encouragement for other states to sign up to and ratify it and accelerate its entry into force.
I commend the Bill to the House.