Monday, 6 August 2012

Sunshine by shores behind the sale in Portrane

Lambay Island was basking in the afternoon sunshine today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

After last night’s heavy rain, the rain held off this morning, and eventually it was a bright sunny afternoon in Portrane for the third and final day of the August bank holiday sale in aid of Heart-to-Hand and the projects it works with in Romania and Albania.

I had arrived late because of Irish CND’s Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square at lunch time. It was sleeves up and down to work immediately at the bookstall in the big red-and-white marquee at The Quay.

During the afternoon, the sunshine was so warm it was impossible to resist the temptation to take a walk on the two beaches divided by jutting tiny headland at The Quay.

A few children were playing in the sand, making sandcastles and Lambay Island seemed to be basking in the rays of sunlight as a lone yacht made its way between the rocky shoreline and the island.

Evening lights on the Burrow Beach in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Around the jutting headland, the tide was receding from the Burrow Beach, and a child was delighting in the pleasure of skipping and hopping through ripples and pools left behind by the water, bathing in the last rays of sunshine of the day.

By the end of the day, we heard we had made €280 on the bookstall this afternoon, and the total take today passed €8,000 again. The figure for the three days this weekend is almost €25,000 – and it could be even be more if some extra donations come in over the next few days.

At the Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square this morning with (from left): Dr David Hutchinson-Edgar, chair, Irish CND, Councillor Clare Byrne, Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, and Mr Kojiro Uchiyama, Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, the Embassy of Japan.

A moral outrage in a world racked by poverty

The Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Patrick Comerford,

President, Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND)

Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2012.

Merrion Square, Dublin


We are here today to remember that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, hundreds of thousands of people were vaporised in an instant and two entire cities were laid waste in a few seconds.

The notion that any state could claim to be interested in democracy, peace, stability and progress while promoting, developing or threatening to use nuclear weapons is not just beyond credibility – it is morally abhorrent. There is no morality in a political system that depends for its survival on the threat to destroy the survival of all.

In the current economic crisis, where millions and millions of people around the world are living in poverty, without access to the bare necessities of life, more than $1 trillion a year is spent on weapons, and €100 billion of that is spent on nuclear weapons. In a world racked by poverty, this is a moral outrage.

Think of the wonderful world we would be living in if that money was spent instead on addressing economic and social needs, including education, health, housing, jobs, water, food, fair policies on the environment and poverty reduction – a more secure world, a more peaceful world, and a world of greater justice.

The present economic climate alone makes doing everything we can to achieve a world that is free of nuclear weapons the most compelling moral imperative. We need to see a move from armaments to nourishment. There is no moral or political argument for any country to have nuclear weapons.

It has been reassuring that in recent weeks [21 June 2012] the T├ínaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Eamon Gilmore, has reiterated a policy of complete opposition to nuclear weapons and has expressed the Government’s appreciation of strong cross-party political support for this policy.

This cross-party support has been important in enabling successive Irish Ministers and officials to speak out strongly on this burning issue internationally.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is entering the treaty’s 2015 review cycle. The treaty is, in many ways “Ireland’s baby”. But, as Mr Gilmore pointed out in the Dail, curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is not the same as achieving the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Of course, the treaty remains at the heart of international efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. It contains the only international legal obligation to disarm nuclear weapons and it is a cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Part of the bargain built into the NPT is the undertakings given by the nuclear powers to disarm their own nuclear stockpiles. The nuclear weapons states are legally obliged under Article VI of the treaty to get rid of their nuclear arsenals. But those undertakings have been ignored, violated, and transgressed and Ireland – as the parent of the NPT – and the world, have been betrayed. Even the 13 agreed practical steps towards accelerating nuclear disarmament, which were reaffirmed at the 2010 NPT review conference, remain unimplemented today.

If there were ever factors justifying the retention of large nuclear deterrents during the Cold War — and there were not — these surely ceased to have any credibility when the Cold War came to an end. There are more than 23,000 nuclear weapons in place today, despite the fact that the Cold War is long over and almost forgotten. For as long as these weapons continue to exist, the threat they pose to humanity remains.

The vast bulk are held by the US and Russia. The US has about 2,200 deployed nuclear weapons, Russia has 1,800 deployed warheads; Russia has 10,000 nuclear weapons, while the US has 8,000. Britain is upgrading its nuclear weapons and its Trident submarines so that Britain retains an operational nuclear weapons capability until 2050 and beyond. How can we expect Britain to ever give up its nuclear weapons, as it is committed to doing under Article VI of the NPT?

Meanwhile, three countries remain outside the NPT regime and need to be brought within the framework on the NPT treaty: India, Pakistan and Israel, each with its own nuclear capacity and its own nuclear stockpile. These are real threats to our survival, more so than the imaginary threats posed at the moment by Iran, Syria and North Korea.

It is hypocrisy that the US, which pretends it wants to see the Middle East free from nuclear weapons, is applying economic sanctions and threatening military action against Iran which has not got a single nuclear weapon, while the US opposes any sanctions against Israel, which has as many as 400 nuclear warheads and the ability to wipe any Middle East capital off the map.

Far from sanctioning Israel, the US gives it over $3 billion a year in military aid and that amount has increased every year under the Obama Administration, so that more US tax dollars go to Israel than to any other state.

Meanwhile, the Conference on Disarmament, which Ireland joined in 1999, has been paralysed by its own rules of procedure. The world needs a nuclear weapons convention, yet as many as 50 states are either sceptical or lukewarm towards a convention and four of the five nuclear powers oppose a convention.

Yes, there is a long way to go to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, which President Obama promised in a speech in Prague in April 2009.

It is imperative that Ireland seeks an ambitious outcome to the 2015 NPT review conference, and Irish CND supports every step that the government takes towards this. Yet, we must also remind the government of the truth that while Irish foreign policy has always strongly endorsed nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, these commitments are not matched by Irish financial policies.

The National Pension Reserve Fund, according to its 2011 report, has investments of at least €23 million in international arms companies that produce single-use components for the nuclear weapons industry.

AIB, which is in majority state ownership, lent $28 million to a US company involved in the nuclear weapons industry in 2010.

People are being refused mortgages; small businesses are being bled to death because their overdraft facilities are being called in. But Irish money is available to make nuclear weapons. This is outrageous.

Other countries that play a leading role in support of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament – such as Norway and New Zealand – prohibit the investment of state funds in companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry.

There is a similar ban in Ireland on investments in companies engaged in the landmine and cluster munitions industries. Why is the government not ensuring a similar ban when it comes to the nuclear weapons industry?

Irish CND has six recommendations:

1, Ireland must continue to play a leading role in support of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

2, Ireland must take a lead in working for a nuclear weapons convention, together with other like-minded states.

3, Ireland must continue to support the processes and frameworks of the NPT but must be prepared to go beyond the NPT to address its weaknesses.

4, Ireland must engage with NGOs such as the International Red Cross-Red Crescent and like-minded states to apply international humanitarian law to achieve a ban on nuclear weapons. The International Red Cross-Red Crescent recently adopted a resolution on the irreconcilability of nuclear weapons and humanitarian law.

5, Ireland must support a multilateral approach to easing the nuclear tensions in the Middle East.

6, Ireland must ban investments in companies involved in the nuclear arms industry by State funds and financial institutions based in the State.

President Michael D. Higgins, speaking in 2010 as a Labour Party TD, said: “The aspiration for a nuclear weapons-free world contained in the NPT needs to be translated into reality with the emergence of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, saving the world from nuclear annihilation.”

And on this Hiroshima Day, 67 years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, we can all say Amen to that.

The Revd Canon Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). This address was delivered at Irish CND’s annual Hiroshima Day commemoration at the Hiroshima Cherry Tree in Merrion Square, Dublin, on Monday 6 August 2012.