20 October 2001
Ó Caoláin addresses London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The following is the complete text of a speech to given by Sinn Fein TD for Cavan/Monaghan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
I thank the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for the invitation to Sinn Fein and to myself to speak at this very important conference. I am honoured to share the platform with such distinguished speakers and I am grateful for the opportunity to address the subject of your conference from an Irish point of view.
The party which I represent, Sinn Fein, is of course the party most closely identified with the struggle for Irish unity and independence throughout the past century since its foundation in 1905. But our republican tradition goes back much further to Theobald Wolfe Tone, the leader of the United Irishmen who sided with Revolutionary France against Britain in the last decade of the 18th century. From the beginning Irish republicans have always identified independent foreign policy as one of the essential characteristics of the independent Irish state to which they aspired.
At key moments in our history attempts by the British government to coerce the Irish nation into support for imperial wars were resisted by Irish republicans. Millions of Irish people were forced by poverty to join the British Army and provide cannon fodder in every imperial conflagration from the Napoleonic wars to the First World War. We as a nation were involved in these conflicts against our will and the desire to decide our own destiny in the community of nations was one of the prime motivating factors in our long struggle for independence.
At the outbreak of the First World War the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster, John Redmond, unilaterally committed the Irish Volunteer movement to the cause of the British Empire. Tens of thousands of young Irish nationalists joined the British Army - many to escape poverty, many in the belief that in return, as Redmond promised, the British government would grant Home Rule to Ireland. In the trenches of Flanders and on the beaches of the Dardanelles their blood was shed in vain. Britain shelved Home Rule, bowed to the threats of the Ulster Unionists and devised the Partition of Ireland. When the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising surrendered they were not treated as prisoners of war but executed as traitors to the Crown. Thereafter recruiting to the British Army dropped dramatically and the vast majority of the Irish electorate turned to the republicans.
Now do not be alarmed - I am not going to give a long historical lecture. I will cut short my brief lesson here. I have begun in this way simply to show the deep historical roots of Irish foreign policy and Irish neutrality. As people who have been the victims of imperialism our experience and outlook is different from most other states in what is called 'the West'. No Irish government since 1922 could afford politically to follow the path of John Redmond and give their full support to Britain in her wars.
Every Irish government since Partition has followed a policy of military neutrality, albeit in the context of a foreign policy which has been predominantly pro-NATO. But in the past decade the political establishment in Ireland has been attempting gradually to dispense with military neutrality, and, in the context of the integration of the European Union, to abandon independent foreign policy.
Before the 1997 general election Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, promised that in government he would not join NATO's so-called Partnership for Peace without a referendum. He broke his promise when elected and now Irish military officers are operating under the PfP at NATO headquarters in what is openly acknowledged by NATO itself to be a preparatory process to full membership of that nuclear-armed military alliance. Irish forces have also been signed up for the EU's new Rapid Reaction Force and this has involved a significant increase in military spending with more to come.
These developments took place before the appalling atrocities of 11th September. The attacks in the United States were crimes against humanity and have been condemned by all those committed to global peace and justice and to the liberation of the oppressed peoples of this planet. Our sympathy and solidarity goes to the people of America and especially to the survivors and the bereaved. As well as killing thousands of innocent people the 11th September attacks represented a huge setback for all genuine movements for freedom and that is a tragedy which must not be overlooked. At our recent annual party conference in Dublin this very point was made by representatives of both the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. They were right when they pointed out that we must not allow either the atrocities of 11th September or the US military response to blind us to the need for global justice as the basis for global peace.
In the wake of the atrocities we were offered a false choice by President Bush when he said that you are either with us or with the terrorists. We are not with the terrorists of 11th September. We deplore them. But we deplore also the rush to war and the bombardment of the impoverished nation of Afghanistan, a bombardment which has already killed hundreds of civilians and which is precipitating a massive humanitarian disaster as millions face starvation with the onset of winter.
The United States government and the British government should listen to the aid agencies and end the bombardment now so that humanitarian relief can be brought to the millions of Afghan civilians who otherwise are doomed to perish in the weeks ahead.
We must ask also what are the war aims of the US and Britain and their allies in Afghanistan? Is it to capture or kill Osama Bin Ladan? Is it to instal the Northern Alliance? Is it to occupy the country as the British Empire, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union tried and failed to do in the past? Already we see that this war has inflamed the deep and complex problems in Central Asia and the Middle East. The fundamentalism and terror which it is supposed to combat are being boosted.
I share the repulsion of many people in this country at the double standards and hypocrisy of Tony Blair. He continues to support the bombing of Iraq and the sanctions which have killed at least one million people there, half of them children. The pretext for the embargo is Iraq's development of weapons yet Mr. Blair sells weapons to Israel. Mr. Blair is a NATO ally of Turkey where oppression of the Kurds is at least as bad as anything Saddam Hussein has done to them. Over 30 political prisoners have died on hunger strike this year in the jails of Mr. Blair's Turkish ally. And of course Mr. Blair himself deploys nuclear weapons and supports the armaments industry whose production and sales exceed by over 60 times the World Health Organisation's annual expenditure on the world's four main preventable diseases.
Is it any wonder then that we Irish republicans have viewed with some cynicism the efforts of Mr. Blair and his colleagues to blame the impasse in the Irish peace process on the silent guns of the IRA? The original theme of this conference is the US government's proposed National Missile Defence and its withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty. Naturally the 11th September events have overshadowed that issue but it is still vital that it be addressed. The Bush government's action on National Missile Defence and the ABM Treaty is one of the most regressive steps in international affairs in recent years. It threatens to set off a new arms race. How exactly the events of 11th September will impact on this is difficult to assess but one thing is clear. It will make opposition to nuclear proliferation and militarism more difficult. But it must be opposed. I commend the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for your stand on this issue.
We in Sinn Fein fully support your demand for a world free of nuclear weapons. There is a moral obligation on each and every state which holds nuclear weapons to dispense with them. We also need to see a complete reform of the United Nations to end the domination of the Security Council by the five permanent members - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, all of whom are nuclear-armed states. In their place should be a democratic executive with representatives from each of the five continents.
But far from ending the domination of the world by superpowers there are those here in Europe who want to create a new superpower. On February 13th this year the President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi asked the European Parliament: "Are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power?"
He stated this in the context of the ratification of the Nice Treaty which provides for the deeper integration of the European Union as it moves towards Euro-federalism and the creation of a superstate with its own currency, its own army and its own central government. This is the real Nice agenda. It is not about the entry of new member states since the Nice Treaty is not legally necessary for the process of enlargement to proceed.
Nice marks a decisive shift away from the EU as a partnership of states with an equal voice regardless of population size, to a two-tier EU where the larger states dictate the pace and the smaller states are given Hobson's choice. This has been demonstrated perfectly by the reaction from the other states to the decision of the Irish electorate, the only EU population which has had a referendum on the Nice Treaty. The EU Commission, the other EU governments and, disgracefully, the Irish government, have said that the process of implementing Nice will continue regardless of the Irish referendum decision. And regardless of the fact that EU treaties must have the approval of all member states and the Irish state - in the most definitive way - has rejected it. This is a travesty of democracy.
No-one seriously believes that the same attitude would prevail if one of the bigger states like Germany, Britain or France had rejected the Nice Treaty. It would be declared dead and they would go back to the drawing board.
The Nice Treaty was defeated in Ireland because the electorate were concerned at the erosion of Irish sovereignty, Irish democracy and Irish neutrality. The three largest political parties in the 26 Counties - Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour - all backed the Nice Treaty as did the trade union movement leadership, the farming leaders, the employers and most of the media. On the opposing side were the smaller political parties - Sinn Fein, the Greens, the Socialist Party - and peace and justice groups, NGOs and human rights bodies under the umbrella of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. While the turnout at the referendum was low the result was decisive - 54% against Nice and 46% for.
I must point out that in all of this our fellow citizens in the Six Counties have no voice. They remain under the jurisdiction of the Westminster parliament and thus have been dragged along through all these EU developments without any consultation. That is another argument for Irish unity and the ending of British jurisdiction in any part of Ireland.
The battle of Nice is not over. The Irish government next year is going to return to the electorate in a further referendum in an attempt to "get it right" the second time. Any such attempt will be vigorously opposed and I believe that the Irish electorate, faced with such flagrant disregard for their democratic decision, will reject Nice even more decisively next time.
In the meantime the breaches of Irish neutrality by the Irish government continue. In the Gulf War in 1990 the Irish government allowed Allied planes to refuel at Irish airports after a vote in the Dail, the Irish parliament. In the current war against Afghanistan the Irish government is allowing US military planes to use Irish airports and it has given this facility to the US government unconditionally and without any vote in the Dáil.
I want to address what is a most serious and immediate danger to all the people of Ireland and Britain. That is the potential Chernobyl in our midst - the Sellafield nuclear plant. When he approved the decision to open a MOX (mixed oxide fuel) plant at Sellafield earlier this month Prime Minister Tony Blair was guilty of an act of bad faith and disregard for the Irish people on a par with anything done by his predecessors in the long and sorry history of Anglo-Irish relations.
I have been critical of Irish government policy in this speech but I fully agree with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he said he was appalled at the decision and at the manner in which it had been announced. The Irish government was not informed even though they had been in ongoing discussions with the British government on Sellafield. And in classic spin doctor fashion the announcement was made under the cover of the current international crisis in the hope that opposition would be dampened.
In fact the opposite has happened. The demand for the complete closure of Sellafield is now growing as people realise the threat posed to all of us by an attack on the plant similar to September 11th. That is a real danger. But if September 11th had never happened Sellafield should still be closed down. It has turned the Irish Sea into the most nuclear-polluted stretch of water in the world. British Nuclear Fuels Limited has repeatedly lied and deceived about the safety of the plant. In July 1999 they sent a cargo of MOX fuel to Japan and falsified quality control standards, resulting in the rejection of the cargo by the Japanese government. That cargo is to return to these islands within months, destined for Sellafield.
I take this opportunity to call for a united effort by people on both sides of the Irish Sea to have Sellafield shut down. This plant endangers the lives of people in Britain as much as in Ireland. We must deploy people power to get rid of Sellafield. Our message to Tony Blair must be loud and clear: "Decommission your dirty and deadly nuclear industry now!"
In this city 81 years ago next week, on 25 October 1920, the Mayor of the Irish city of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, died on hunger strike. His protest drew sympathy and support from people in Britain and across the world. He inspired many who went on to break the shackles of the British Empire. I want to conclude with his words and to emphasise the solidarity which has always existed between progressive people in Ireland and Britain and our common interest in achieving justice and peace between these islands and in the wider world.
Terence MacSwiney urged that we reflect on "the common origin of the human race, on the beauty of the world which is the heritage of all, our common hopes and fears, and in the greatest sense the mutual interests of the peoples of the earth."
Those words are more relevant than ever today.
I again thank London CND for this opportunity to address you and wish you well in all your endeavours.
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