Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland, Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D., to the 59th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Part IV
The proliferation of conventional weapons is causing enormous death and destruction. Concerted international action is required to effectively tackle their devastating impact on societies worldwide, particularly in developing countries. It is a sobering statistic that annual global spending on defence is estimated to be in the region of €950 billion. We need to progressively reallocate the world’s resources towards more peaceful and developmental purposes.
This year we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Ottawa Convention on Landmines. I look forward to the first Review Conference in Nairobi which will not only provide an opportunity to measure progress made but also to consider how to achieve universal respect for the principles and application of this important Treaty. Here at the United Nations, I welcome the progress made towards the negotiation of an instrument on tracing and marking small arms and light weapons, an instrument which I hope will be legally binding.
Weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear, give rise to a unique fear - a fear of widespread annihilation. This fear is itself a source of instability, and a clear threat to international peace and security. That such weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists is an appalling prospect.
During the period of this General Assembly, we will meet to review again the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Ireland and its partners in the New Agenda Coalition are determined to strengthen the Treaty, and to ensure respect for its provisions, and we call on all States to make this a key priority. The possession of nuclear weapons by States outside the Treaty, and non-compliance with its provisions by States Parties, is a grave concern.
Ireland is convinced that disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing and that both must be vigorously pursued. We need therefore to build on the outcome of the 2000 Review Conference, which, in thirteen practical steps, provided a realistic and coherent blueprint for achieving nuclear disarmament. A firm commitment to, and a clear prospect of, nuclear disarmament, combined with a rigorous control regime, would help to strip nuclear weapons of the attraction that they now possess for some States. Let us therefore rededicate ourselves to the task of consigning nuclear weapons, and all weapons of mass destruction, to the dustbin of history. It is an ideal, but one worth striving for.
The Irish and British Governments continue to work in close partnership to consolidate peace and political stability in Northern Ireland. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, considerable progress has been made in improving and normalising life in Northern Ireland. In our view, the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement remains definitively the best way forward.
The elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly last November gave leadership mandates to Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party in their respective nationalist and unionist communities. Since then, both Governments have engaged in intensive discussions with all of the parties to finally resolve the key issues of confidence that have thus far frustrated the full achievement of peace and political stability in Northern Ireland. These key issues include ending paramilitary activity in all its forms; completing the process of IRA arms decommissioning; the implementation by the British Government of the agreed programme of normalisation and demilitarisation; ensuring that the new policing service is supported by all sections of the community and resolving the related issue of the devolution of justice and policing powers; and obtaining commitments from all parties to fully participate in the institutions of the Agreement.
These were the issues that were addressed in three days of intensive talks which were convened by both Governments in Leeds Castle in England last week. Substantial progress was made in the talks regarding the issues of paramilitarism and arms decommissioning. As Prime Minister Blair said after the talks, the “contours of the paramilitary question” are now in sight of being resolved, to be accompanied by subsequent demilitarisation, as agreed in the Joint Declaration by the British and Irish Governments last October. In addition, significant progress was made in regard to the policing issue and the devolution of those powers to devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.
Regrettably, it was not possible to achieve agreement among the parties on the question of the operation of the political institutions of the Agreement. Talks are continuing in Belfast this week to see if the gaps between the parties on this issue can be resolved. The gaps are narrow and can and must be overcome at the earliest possible date. In this regard, it was noteworthy that the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Dr Ian Paisley, made the point immediately after the talks that ‘a golden opportunity has been available to realise a stable and entirely peaceful future.’ For our part, the Irish Government is open to considering changes which would improve the workings of the institutions, while maintaining compliance with the fundamentals of the Agreement, and we have brought forward proposals in this regard. But, I reiterate, as the Taoiseach emphasised last week-end, such changes must not disturb the fundamental balance of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular its key power-sharing provisions.
The resolution of these institutional questions would allow both Governments to bring forward a comprehensive package providing a template for political stability in Northern Ireland. It would be a tragedy if the failure to bridge the remaining gaps on this institutional matter frustrated the goal of definitively removing the issue of arms from politics in Northern Ireland. The people, rightly, would not understand why this long awaited prize was denied because of a reluctance to fully embrace the structures of partnership and power-sharing.
If, on the other hand, these institutional issues can be resolved and a comprehensive agreement then brought forward, we can finally liberate partnership politics in Northern Ireland and allow its committed and talented politicians - from all sides of the community - to collectively get on with the job of providing better governance, a prospering economy and a fair society for all of the people.
I will conclude where I began, on the need to rededicate ourselves to the reinvigoration of this great United Nations Organisation.
Next year will be a year in which important decisions on the future of the United Nations must be taken. We need to rededicate ourselves to the principles and purposes for which this Organisation was founded. We need to restore the sense of ambition and idealism that illuminated the United Nations at its inception. We need, above all, to build an Organisation which is results-oriented and which can demonstrate that politics is the most effective means of resolving conflict. Let us make 2005 the year in which the United Nations is re-born, strong, effective and respected, as the Founding Fathers intended it to be.