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Irish depleted uranium ban bill gets warm reception at second reading

A draft bill that would ban the use of uranium in all non-nuclear weapons in Ireland has received a positive cross-party response from Senators during its Second Stage reading in the Irish Senate.
4 March 2010 - ICBUW

The draft bill, entitled: Prohibition of Depleted Uranium Weapons Bill 2009, was originally submitted last July by Chairman of the Irish Green Party, Senator Dan Boyle. If passed into law, the bill would deliver a general prohibition on the use, manufacture, sale, transport and testing of all non-nuclear uranium weapons on Irish territory.

ICBUW warmly welcomes both the tone and quality of the discussions, in particular we are delighted by the early signs of what appears to be a consensus for action and an acknowledgement of Ireland's potential international role, like Belgium, as an early adopter of arms control legislation.

While technically a parliamentary debate, the discussions on March 3rd showed that there was not only a wide understanding of the potential health problems associated with the use of uranium weapons, but there was also a broad cross party consensus in support of the bill.

The consensus was welcomed by Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (with special responsibility for European Affairs), Senator Dick Roche. who also spoke during the debate: "The Government has carefully followed the debate in recent years on the possible health and environmental hazards of using depleted uranium. We share the concerns raised in various international fora. As several Members said, it is an extraordinary reflection on the human condition that so much ingenuity and brain power can be used for such destructive purposes. As Senator Norris said, as if the world is not visited by enough natural disasters, manpower needs to spend so much time, ingenuity and money inflicting further disasters. As my personal concerns about the use of depleted uranium in armaments are a matter of record, I am very pleased to be present for this debate."

I believe the use of this particular material is cynical and would ask questions about some of the research that has been done. There is persuasive material about long-term health risks to the wider population. As I have indicated, the Government is strongly supportive of the view, proposed by the United Nations Secretary General, that there must be serious studies in this area. The Department of Foreign Affairs is following closely the valuable work of civil society on the issue of depleted uranium."

Senator Maurice Cummins, Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs for the opposition Fine Gael party said: "Critics of a ban, of which there are many in the military in the United States and the United Kingdom, claim there is no proof that using depleted uranium weaponry causes long-term damage, citing World Health Organization reports. The problem with their argument, and those reports, is that they are demanding something that is almost impossible to prove.

"In war, scientific controls to measure cause and effect are not possible. One cannot do laboratory conditions on a battlefield. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, however. There is clear evidence of the lingering effects of weapons used on the health both of combatants and of those who lived in the area of combat."

Senator Ann Ormonde, from Ireland's majority Fianna Fáil linked the bill to Ireland's leading role in banning cluster munitions: "Ireland, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department, took a global lead in outlawing another weapon which can maim or even kill people decades later. The ban on cluster munitions was a diplomatic triumph for this country. I recall taking a keen interest in this subject when it was debated in the House and I am delighted once again to be associated with a campaign to ban weapons that could impact on our health. At all times, I make it my business to stand up to make sure such weapons are banned. I encourage the Government to examine carefully the threat posed by weapons that use DU and that can generate DU dust.

"While we have never used such weapons, it is important that we should continue to play an active role in efforts to establish the level of threat. Ireland should also take the necessary steps to protect both military personnel and civilians who can be caught up or trapped in a war zone. While science may say there is no great risk currently, we must be sure of our facts. A threat can remain well into the future and affect people for decades to come."

Senator Dominic Hannigan of the Irish Labour Party also supported the draft bill and called on the Irish government to use it to increase pressure for an international uranium weapons treaty at a European level: "Successive Governments have played a positive role on the world stage in advancing the prohibition of weapons of this nature and it is reassuring that this approach remains a feature of Government policy. I commend the Senators’ approach in bringing the Bill before the House. It is short and concise and its enactment would send an important message about Ireland’s moral values, what we consider acceptable in times of war and the measures we deem necessary to establish a global and lasting peace."

It is disturbing that, despite repeated calls from the European Parliament for a total ban on the stockpiling and use of depleted uranium ammunitions, France and the United Kingdom have continued to refuse to accede to such a ban. I urge the Senators concerned and the Government as a whole to use the enactment of the Bill to exert pressure at European Union level to have a ban introduced and a binding international treaty put in place."

The draft bill will now progress to the Committee Stage next Tuesday, where it will be further scrutinised by Senators.




Full text of the Senate debate:


  • Prohibition of Depleted Uranium Weapons (Ireland) Bill

    35 Kb - Format pdf
    Senators Dan Boyle, Deirdre de Burca and Fiona O'Malley - Source:
    Irish Private Members Bill that would make it illegal to test, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, sell, deploy, retain or transfer, directly or indirectly, uranium ammunition, uranium armour-plate or other uranium weapons.