Tuesday 16 July 2019

Liam O'Dwyer: 'Ireland led the way in combating threat of nuclear Armageddon and can do so again'

Nuclear option: US and Russian presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Nuclear option: US and Russian presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Liam O'Dwyer

Nuclear weapons are the most devastating and destructive weapons ever invented. The Japanese Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) witnessed this first-hand in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as they tried to bring relief to the dying and injured.

To this day, Japanese Red Cross hospitals continue to treat victims of cancer and leukaemia attributable to radiation from the 1945 atomic blasts.

The UN Secretary General has warned that "the cold war is back … but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present."

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States possessing nuclear weapons are modernising their arsenals while at the same time their command and control systems have become more vulnerable to cyber attacks.


The ICRC and the rest of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is today launching a global campaign. The campaign aims to encourage people to urge their governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Ireland is a global leader on this issue; Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Simon Coveney signed the treaty on behalf of Ireland at the United Nations in New York in September 2017.

Since joining the UN more than 60 years ago, Ireland has punched above its weight in leading the charge for nuclear disarmament. In 1958, under the guidance of then minister Frank Aiken, Ireland introduced the first of what became known as the "Irish Resolutions" at the UN, which eventually led to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In recognition of its leadership, Ireland was the first country invited to sign the NPT in 1968.

Fast forward to 2017 and not only did Ireland become one of the first signatories to the TPNW (which complements the NPT) but we also played a leading role in the process that led to its adoption.

Ireland was a member of a core group of states together with Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa who brought forward the resolution, giving the UN conference which adopted the treaty its mandate.

Ireland now requires domestic legislation to give full effect to the treaty. This process has already started with the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Bill 2019.

We have an even clearer understanding in 2019 of the unspeakable suffering and devastation that a nuclear weapons detonation would cause.

No humanitarian organisation would be capable of adequately responding to the suffering and needs of immense proportions of the population that any use of nuclear weapons would cause. Who, then, will assist the victims of a nuclear weapons detonation, and how? It's clear the only viable response is to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

The evidence of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons casts significant doubt on whether the use of these weapons could ever be compatible with international humanitarian law.

On this basis, the entire International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has consistently called for nuclear weapons never to be used again.

The TPNW represents a beacon of hope and an essential building block for a world without nuclear weapons.

We acknowledge that the TPNW will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight. But by signing and ratifying the treaty, states send a clear signal that such weapons are unacceptable in humanitarian, moral and legal terms.

The Irish Government has done right by its people in the steps it has taken with the TPNW thus far, and 74 years after the atomic blasts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki we now look to those still to sign the treaty in the hope they will follow our lead to make the world a safer place for all.

Liam O'Dwyer is secretary general of the Irish Red Cross

Irish Independent

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