The Mansion House, Dublin … the venue for today’s annual general meeting of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) Photograph: Patrick Comerford
Last Sunday, in a moment of total exhaustion, I found myself watching Reeling in the Years on RTÉ.
And five items seemed to dominate the news in 1983:
● The nuclear arms talks were deadlocked.
● Ronald Reagan unveiled his ‘Star Wars’ plan for a defensive ‘missile shield’ in the sky.
● The Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) staged a major demonstration in Dublin against the ‘Star Wars’ proposals.
● Irish CND organised the ‘Arms are for Linking’ demonstration in which thousands of ordinary people came to link arms between the US and Soviet embassies in a single-file line from Orwell Road in Rathgar to Pembroke Road in Ballsbridge.
● Brave women – many of them from Ireland – occupied Greenham Common in Berkshire in an effort to block the deployment of Cruise missiles.
And there, in front of the cameras, were the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a future Government Minister, and the future President of Ireland, identifying with CND and decrying the nuclear arms race.
But, despite the television images, these were not the heydays of CND.
These were days of great terror and fear, and we should not forget that.
The commentator said the women had failed to stop the deployment of cruise missiles at Greenham Common.
But they did not fail.
Their costly action was a success.
The missiles are no longer deployed in Greenham Common, and the land has been returned to public use.
But the nuclear arms race has not stopped.
Just because it is now safe for Irish football fans to visit Poland and Ukraine for football matches does not mean the nuclear missiles have been dismantle or the nuclear arms has come to a stop.
And we still need to mobilise, still need to organise, and still need to win over the hearts and minds of politicians and presidents, and the people.
Earlier this year, we saw the launch of the international appeal, ‘Arms for the Rio Appeal: Disarmament for Sustainable Development.’
This appeal recalls how 20 years ago, during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the international community connected environmental and development challenges. This connection, now known as sustainable development, was accepted as the challenge of the decade.
But peace and disarmament issues were excluded at the time.
With the Rio+20 Summit due to take place this month, the organisers of this appeal point out that it is now time to include both issues into the discussion.
This is an initiative of the International Peace Bureau (IPB), to which Irish CND is affiliated, and other worldwide networks for peace. It has the support of numerous Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, and Adolfo Peres Esquivel.
Global military spending last year amounted to $1740 billion – despite the fact that one billion people are suffering from hunger, even more do not have access to safe water or adequate health care and education, and in the developed world, as we know too well, millions are without work.
It is blindingly obvious that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be realised while the world squanders its wealth on militarism.
Today’s climatic and environmental conditions exacerbate this imbalance. In addition, the current economic crisis has made the world’s governments reduce spending on critical human needs and is once again hitting the weakest the hardest.
However, seemingly unlimited financial resources are available for military jets, tanks, ships, bombs, missiles, landmines and nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the technological developments in the arms field have become more and more sophisticated and murderous.
The signatories of the new Rio appeal are demanding that governments seriously address the neglected issue of peace and disarmament, and agree on a global plan for disarmament for sustainable development at the Rio Summit, later this month (20 to 22 June 2012).
The funds that are freed-up could be used for social, economic and ecological programmes in all countries.
They propose that, starting next year (2013), military spending should be cut back substantially, that is, by a minimum of 10 per cent per annum.
Their aim is to launch a dynamic towards sustainable development, which could start by establishing an internationally-managed Fund with a capital of more than $150 billion.
And they want to see this plan for “Disarmament for Sustainable Development” included in the final document of the Rio Summit.
They are right when they say that without disarmament, there can be no adequate development.
And without development, there will be no justice, equality and peace.
We are not people who dream of the past.
We are people who simply live for today.
We are people who have dreams for the future.
The Revd Canon Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This presidential address was given at the annual general meeting of Irish CND in the Mansion House, Dublin, on Saturday, 9 June 2012.