Monday, 6 August 2018

Why we must keep talking
about Hiroshima 73 years later

Speaking at Irish CND’s Hiroshima Day commemoration in Merrion Square, Dublin, this afternoon

Patrick Comerford

I was interviewed this afternoon by Sarah McInerney on Drivetime on RTÉ 1 and Aisling Roche of 3 News on TV3 as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament following this afternoon’s Hiroshima Day commemorations organised by Irish CND in Merrion Square, Dublin.

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The hibakusha or survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are few in number today, but the world must not become deaf to their pleas.

At present, the US is preparing to spend more than $1 trillion on new missiles, bombers, and submarines over the next three decades. There are no negotiations underway to reduce US and Russian nuclear stockpiles, Britain and France still have their own nuclear arsenals, and China, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea are increasing theirs.

But, despite all expectations, the taboo against using nuclear weapons in warfare has held since 1945. There is still widespread fear and dread that if nuclear weapons were used in a surprise military attack or with the aim of being a ‘war winning,’ it would, in fact, become a civilisation-ending weapon.

The bomb was never used to end the Korean War, during the Cuban missile crisis or at the height of the Cold War, and diplomatic efforts eventually achieved deep nuclear arms reductions, through the 2011 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). US and Russian stockpiles are now down around 85 per cent from Cold War highs.

During the Cold War, there was, on average, about one test per week somewhere in the world at test sites. Each test was a warning of the bomb’s power and utility. Every test demonstrated commitment to battlefield use in the event of a breakdown of what was known, ironically, as mutual-assured deterrence or MAD.

But Russia has not carried out a nuclear test since 1990, the US since 1992, China and France since 1996, India and Pakistan since 1998, and North Korea recently declared it had closed its test site.

The absence of nuclear testing conveys a very different message: that nuclear weapons are not like other instruments of war. They are different, a class apart.

But there are few survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alive today, and memories of the Cold War are becoming dim too. A survey last year [2017] shows 60 per cent of Americans would support a nuclear attack on Iran that would kill 20 million civilians, to prevent an invasion that might kill 20,000 American soldiers.

A generation of low-yield nuclear weapons would lower the nuclear threshold. The Trump administration is working on two new options, which include B-61 ‘dial-a-yield’ bombs that could be less than one kiloton – the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 15 to 20 kilotons.

It is questionable whether escalation could be controlled once the nuclear threshold has been crossed.

The George W. Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, which had facilitated deep cuts in offensive arms. Moscow then withdrew from a treaty banning the placement of multiple warheads on land-based missiles in 2002 and is building new, heavy missiles that can carry 10 or more warheads.

Moscow has also violated a treaty prohibiting intermediate-range missiles, a move that increases the possibility of a threat to Europe. The US is also taking steps to violate this treaty.

The 2011 START treaty, which caps the longest-range instruments of nuclear war fighting – inter-continental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers – is due to expire in 2021.

Is the era of superpower arms control that helped keep the Cold War from becoming an inferno coming to a close?

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 came at the end of World War in which 50 million to 80 million people were killed. If nuclear weapons are used again in warfare, the costs could be so much higher, and no-one knows how such a conflict would end. We must keep talking about Hiroshima until all nuclear weapons become illegal and are eliminated.

Can we turn the Doomsday Clock
back from two minutes to midnight?


Patrick Comerford

President, Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND).

Hiroshima Day commemoration,

6 August 2018,

Irish CND’s Hiroshima Memorial Cherry Tree,

Merrion Square, Dublin


Deputy Lord Mayor, Guests, Friends,

We are living in fear-filled and awesome times. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists earlier this year, the Doomsday Clock now stands at two minutes to midnight.

According to Dr Rachel Bronson, President and CEO, these are ‘perilous and chaotic’ times, and 2017 was ‘a year in which many of the risks foreshadowed in our last Clock statement came into full relief.’

In setting the clock at two minutes to midnight, she says ‘reckless language in the nuclear realm heats up already dangerous situations.’

We all know who she is talking about when she says, ‘minimising evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies.’

She says ‘major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.’

And the Bulletin warns that the momentum toward this new reality is increasing.

But her annual address was not without both hope and challenge. She says, ‘It is urgent that, collectively, we put in the work necessary to produce a 2019 Clock statement that rewinds the Doomsday Clock. Get engaged, get involved, and help create that future. The time is now.’

What can we do?

Where are the signs of hope?

The other landmark we passed since we were here last year that we ought to should marked with some pride in Ireland was at the beginning of last month: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in Moscow, London and Washington 50 years ago, on 1 July 1968.

The NPT process was launched 60 years ago in 1958 by Frank Aiken, then the Irish Minister for External Affairs, and it remains one of the singular achievements of Irish diplomacy, of Irish foreign policy, of Irish engagement internationally – not just saying something, but doing something about the cloud of fear we all live under, that threatening nuclear or mushroom cloud that hangs over the whole world.

The hope 50 years ago was that this treaty would stop the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, eventually achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

The treaty came into force in 1970, and it was extended permanently in 1995. Over time, more countries have adhered to the NPT than any other arms treaty, a testament to the treaty’s significance.

When the NPT was first proposed, the fear was we would have 25 to 30 nuclear weapon states within 20 years. Instead, 50 years later, only nine states are believed to have nuclear weapons today.

Of course, we know the NPT cannot stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has, to a degree, stopped horizontal proliferation, but the five big nuclear states still have 22,000 warheads in their stockpiles, they show no signs of wanting to get rid of their nuclear armouries, and progress on nuclear disarmament has been limited.

And five UN member states remain outside the ambit of the NPT: India, Israel, and Pakistan have their own nuclear weapons, South Sudan still has to sign up, and North Korea has withdrawn.

But this treaty remains the most successful arms control treaty today, and it is one of the greatest achievements of Irish diplomacy. At the height of Cold War fears, Frank Aiken braved critics and went to Moscow, at the invitation of the Soviet government, to sign the treaty.

It was a small step, but it was a brave step, and it shows what one small country can do. The Doomsday Clock then stood at Seven Minutes to Midnight – we all had five more minutes of breathing space than we have today

Today, Ireland, once again is to the forefront, promoting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. This is the first legally-binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, and its goal is their total elimination.

It was passed on 7 July 2017. In order to come into effect, it now needs the signature and ratification of at least 50 countries.

For the nations that are party to it, this treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to these activities. For a nuclear-armed state joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to the verified and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons programme.

The treaty was signed by Ireland on 20 September 2017, and legislation to ratify the treaty and give effect to its provisions under Irish law is being prepared by the Disarmament Section in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Despite opposition from NATO member states to the treaty, Ireland was one of the strongest proponents of the new treaty during last year’s negotiations.

The government is committed to early ratification, and, despite Brexit consuming so much of the Department’s time and resources, I hope this treaty can be ratified by Ireland before the end of the year.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons shifts the goalposts. Once this treaty enters into force, there will be a clear international prohibition on acquiring, stockpiling and sharing nuclear weapons, which was a major short-falling in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And hopefully, as has been the case with other Weapons of Mass Destruction, this treaty is going to establish a stigmatisation effect in relation to nuclear weapons even among states that are not party to the treaty.

There are signs of this already in some NATO states, and we have already seen the impact of the Ottawa Convention on landmines.

Already, 14 states have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and this is quite good going in less than a year.

We may be living just two minutes from midnight. But there is still time to push the clock back.

As Dr Rachel Bronson says, ‘It is urgent that, collectively, we put in the work necessary to produce a 2019 Clock statement that rewinds the Doomsday Clock. Get engaged, get involved, and help create that future. The time is now.’

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND)

Saint Mary’s Church continues
the Franciscan tradition in Ennis

Saint Mary’s, the Friary Church in Ennis, Co Clare, was designed by William Reginald Carroll and incorporates an earlier church by Patrick Sexton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The old Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare, is now an archaeological site managed by the Office of Public Works. But the Franciscans maintain a living presence in the town in their friary just around the corner, on Francis Street.

Following a decree under the Penal Laws requiring priests who were members of religious orders to leave Ireland, at least four Franciscan friars in the Ennis area decided to register as parish clergy after 1697, and the friars continued to live among they people in Co Clare.

After living a hidden life outside the town for a time in the 17th and 18th century, the Franciscans began to return to Ennis, and they were living again as a community in Lysaght’s Lane by 1800.

The friars then moved to Bow Lane, where they opened a new chapel and friary on 12 December 1830.

A plaque in the church remembering past members of the Franciscan community in Ennis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In 1853, the Franciscan Provincial threatened to close the friary in Ennis unless conditions were improved. The Franciscan community in Ennis responded by buying the present site at Willow Bank House on Francis Street and in 1854 Patrick Sexton designed a new chapel.

The architect Patrick Sexton was active in Ennis from the 1850s until at least 1880. His new cruciform chapel was built by the Ennis builder William Carroll between June 1854 and December 1855.

The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on 1 January 1856, and the church was dedicated as the Church of the Immaculate Conception on 10 September 1856.

Inside the church designed by William Reginald Carroll in the 14th-century Gothic style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the end of the 19th century, a new friary church, designed by William Reginald Carroll (1850-1910) and incorporating Sexton’s earlier church, was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1892.

The Ennis-born architect and civil engineer William Reginald Carroll was born in 1850, a younger son of William Carroll, who had built the earlier church in the 1850s.

Carroll designed the new friary church in Ennis in the 14th-century Gothic style, with a nave, apse, two side chapels and a tower. The altar was designed by the Dublin-based monumental sculptor, James Pearse (1839-1900), the father of the 1916 leader, Padraic Pearse (1879-1916).

Pearse, who also designed the reredos in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, was born in London in 1839. He was brought to Dublin from Birmingham by Charles William Harrison around 1860 as the foreman of his monumental sculpture workshop at 178 Great Brunswick Street. Pearse, who was a Unitarian, died suddenly in 1900 in Birmingham while he was visiting his brother.

The altar was designed by the Dublin-based monumental sculptor, James Pearse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church was built by a local builder, Dan Shanks, at a cost of £11,000, and was dedicated on 11 June 1892.

The church is a T-plan, gable-fronted church, with a polygonal apse, a tower to the west, and a connecting block that leads to the neighbouring friary.

A statue of the Virgin Mary stands in a niche on the façade and is flanked by lancet windows with stone tracery, and with a quatrefoil and hood moulding above. Paired lancet windows are set between the buttresses.

Inside, the church has an open timber roof, with tongue and groove sheeting. There are four polished granite columns with carved stylised ivy capitals that divide the nave from the transepts. The stained-glass windows are by Earley.

The foundation stone of the earlier church on the site is set in the grotto beside the church.

The architect William Reginal Carroll moved from Ennis to Ewell in Surrey around 1899 and soon after to Belgium, living first in Bruges and then in Brussels. He died at his home in Brussels on 8 April 1910.

Meanwhile, a new friary was completed in 1877, and the Franciscan house in Ennis remained the official novitiate of the Irish province until 1902.

The friary site includes the site of the birthplace of William Mulready (1786-1863), the Ennis-born artist who studied at the Royal Academy and designed the first penny postage envelope, introduced by the Royal Mail at the same time as the ‘Penny Black’ stamp in May 1840.

A rose window in a side transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)