Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2019
First Stage: 4 Dec 2019
Oireachtas Link: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad/2019-12-04/13/#spk_199
Second and Subsequent Stages: 04/12/2019
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome this Bill with enthusiasm. As Senator Higgins said, it deserves our enthusiastic support on all sides of the House and I know it passed through the Dáil unanimously. On behalf of the Labour Party Senators, I am delighted to support it, in keeping with our party's strong and long-standing commitment to the prohibition of nuclear weapons and to the State's neutrality. As the Minister of State said, Ireland led on these treaty negotiations. In October 2016, we led the historic vote at the UN, resulting in the convening of this groundbreaking instrument for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. The Minister of State said that the conference at which the treaty was agreed represented the first multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in more than 20 years. It is a real achievement and it builds on previous negotiations, which Ireland supported, to move towards the prohibition of nuclear weapons.
The Bill is designed to ensure implementation of the treaty and we welcome that. The debate is timely, given the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, summit taking place in London today with US President Trump visiting, although he might not be the most welcome of visitors to Britain in the run-up to its general election. It reminds us of the importance of asserting our neutrality on a world stage when we see the NATO states asserting the pre-eminence of an arms alliance and it reminds us of the important voice Ireland and other neutral states can provide at international fora and discussions against nuclear weapons, for neutrality and against armed conflict. That is an important and timely reminder.
I wondered why the legislation took so long to come to us. Second Stage in the Dáil took place on 19 September and the remaining Stages were taken on different dates. I am happy to facilitate the passage of the Bill in one go today but it could have come before us before now. There are a number of important points in the Bill the Minister of State has referred to. I am glad the extraterritorial effect is provided for in section 3. That is provided for in a number of important criminal statutes, including the Bill I initiated in this House that eventually became law, namely the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012, where again we have extraterritorial effect and we also see that in other criminal legislation on child pornography, sex trafficking and so on. It is good to see that provision included here. I am also glad to see the highlighting of gender mainstreaming in the disarmament negotiations. Ireland played a strong role in that and in the fact the treaty promotes equal participation in the treaty's work by women and men, including a provision on disarmament education and recognition of the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on the health of women and girls because of ionising radiation from nuclear weapon use. It is also important to see that.
This is an historic treaty. Ireland's role in this has been hugely progressive. Others have referred to Ireland's history post the Second World War and during the Cold War when it was a strong and progressive voice for disarmament in the international sphere. From Frank Aiken's resolutions that have been referred to and the new agenda coalition in 1998 up until now where Irish delegations play important roles on an international stage in the negotiation of treaties such as this, we see proof that small independent neutral states can play a big role in the international sphere. As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to this Bill and to recognise the work of our diplomats abroad who have been so involved in negotiation at the UN table. I commend them on that.
It is unfortunate to say the least that this treaty is not universally supported. While we are united in this House and in the other House in our support for this Bill and this treaty, that commitment is not shared across the international stage. NATO members meeting in London strongly oppose this. Nuclear states oppose the treaty on the international stage and will not sign up to it. That reminds us of the need to ensure we should never be put in a position where we will be pressurised by way of membership of any intergovernmental military alliance to change our position. We have to maintain a strong voice in opposition to nuclear proliferation and we must also remain a strong advocate for rigorous inspection programmes of states that are pursuing nuclear power. If a state has a peaceful nuclear programme, it needs to allow full-scale International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and there should be no exceptions to that. I call on the Minister of State and on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to continue to be strong advocates for nuclear non-proliferation and to continue to affirm Ireland's neutrality on the world stage.