Michaél Martin (photo left), Ireland's new Minister for Foreign Affairs, gave the opening address at Croke Park this morning and welcomed delegates from 110 countries. He said that he hopes for an ambitious outcome to the two-week conference that would be widely supported and set the international standard.
The international efforts from governments, organisations and individuals to ban the use, manufacture and trade of cluster bombs and ammunitions have gained momentum over the past year. It follows widespread revulsion about the impact of these weapons that open in mid air and randomly scatter dozens of individual bomblets over a large area. They can remain hidden on the ground and kill people even years after a conflict ends.
During the (unprovoked and illegal) month-long Israeli attack on Lebanon in July and August 2006 more than a million of the bomblets were dropped on Lebanese soil by Israeli aircraft, most of them in highly populated areas of the capital Beirut.
They have caused the death of many Lebanese, injured a great many more, and no one knows how many of them remain still undetected on the ground, as permanent peril for innocent people.
Some countries will lobby to exempt certain weapons, or for a long transition period. But it is most significant that the four countries that are the main users and producers of cluster bombs - the USA, China, Russia and Israel - have decided not to send any delegation to the conference at all.
Well, this boycott of a ground-breaking conference might backfire on them politically in the future. Even though the four abstaining countries are quite powerful, they will not be able to stand against a clear and united action from the rest of the world.
Grethe Ostern, joint head of the international Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) umbrella group, said this morning: "Governments have been talking about the dangers of cluster bombs for years. More delays mean more injuries and death for ordinary people. We have a unique opportunity to ban cluster bombs in Dublin. It is now or never."
The conference, which is scheduled to continue for two weeks, is the largest international event of its kind ever hosted by Ireland.
The Emerald Islander