Defend Irish Neutrality – Speech by Carol Fox

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Russia is now waging a horrific war against Ukraine. I don’t think anyone is optimistic about how it will end. But it will end. Ukraine is now awash with weapons and destruction but there is going to have to be a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement.

But what message are we and the rest of Europe taking from this conflict?  Unfortunately, it is not that we must pull back from the abyss and the real threat of a nuclear confrontation, we must pull back from war-making and learn to cohabit this planet and concentrate on the Earth’s pressing problems of Climate Catastrophe, world hunger…..  No. The Message we are getting is “Neutrality Bad/ Nuclear Weapon Blocs Good”.  It is Orwellian.

A New Mind set is required: I never expected to be referring tonight to a shooting of school children in Texas. But look at the reaction of the Texas Governor Greg Abbot, Senator Ted Cruz, and the Texas Attorney General: they think controlling the guns is not the issue. What is required is more guns, arming the schools. Guns for Principals,  guns for security guards.

And aren’t we witnessing a Texas Reaction here? Sweden and Finland are rushing to join NATO. The Irish Government is rushing to join an EU defence grouping,  essentially the European arm of NATO.

But the Irish Government has a small problem. Or should I say a Big Problem. We the People. The latest public opinion polls, as you know, show that 2/3rds are wanting to retain our Neutrality. This is our best option to promote peace, as mediators, and UN peacekeepers—for which we have a long-standing celebrated reputation -- .  I’ve quoted The Economist  on this before, when they extolled Ireland’s ‘Soft Power’, stating that we had ‘a good claim to be the world’s most diplomatically powerful country”. (July 18, 2020, How Ireland Gets Its Way)  

We are a small country. But a very visible one. Speaking in front of Dail Eireann in March at a protest in support of a People Before Profit’s  Bill for a Referendum on Neutrality, now Senator Tom Clonan, retired Irish Army Captain and former UN peacekeeper, emphasised that if Ireland surrendered its Neutrality, if we merged into a EU defence force, we would become Invisible. Our diplomatic clout would be seriously diminished.  

But this sadly is the direction Ireland is going. A 50% increase in our defence budget is now being proposed by Simon Coveney. A Commission on Defence has recently submitted a report and its recommendations for increased military spending (some of which is justified) have been embraced by the Government.

However, the report states that the chances of Ireland being attacked by a ‘conventional military force’ are low but that we need to develop more and enhanced military capabilities – with our Defence Forces and equipment to NATO standards and with interoperability with NATO – not so much to defend Ireland but primarily for use ‘overseas on peace support and crisis management operations”. [A major omission in the Report, when assessing the dangers of Ireland ever being attacked, is the Prime Target of  Shannon Airport, a hub for US troops and military equipment on their way to warzones] .

There are many forces at play here. And the Generals pushing for military solutions are not confined to the armed forces. In Ukraine and the world over there are Generals at work of a different breed: General Dynamics, General Electric, and General Motors. ….

And as we all know, There’s no Business like War Business.  All but four of the world’s biggest sellers of weapons have seen their share prices soar since the invasion began  (and these are figures from two months ago, Open Democracy, March 17, 2022, ). And the War in Ukraine is providing a highly visible and effective showcase for all their deadly merchandise.

Ireland unfortunately is not immune to all this.   We have to be aware that the push to end our Neutrality is not just a question of wanting to play with the Big Boys, or of ‘Growing up’ as some have put it, of showing solidarity with our EU partners, of being ‘Good Europeans’….     There is Money at play here.

According to the Irish Times (Conor Gallagher, April 25, 2022) there are 550 firms in Ireland active in the Irish defence industry and in 2019 the Dual Use export market was 2.4 billion euro, larger than Ireland’s beef exports market.  Our military equipment exports more than doubled in one year, from 42.3m euro in 2019 to 108.5m euro in 2020. Our Government is actively encouraging the arms industry and actively embracing the defence components of the EU.   There is a Security and Defence Enterprise Group within the Government, promoting Innovation and Enterprise in defence and there is a new grouping outside Government, formed by a former Army Cavalry officer,  called the Irish Defence and Security Association, made up of small and medium enterprises and research institutes (including UCD)

Last November, Simon Coveney hosted a seminar entitled: “Support for Enterprise, Research, and Innovation in Defence”. It was supposed to be at the Aviva Stadium but reverted to a Zoom event, partly because of Covid fears, partly because of fear of protests. The blurb for the seminar extolled the networking possibilities provided by the event for the European Commission, the European Defence Agency, Enterprise Ireland and the European Defence Industry and an opportunity to explore avenues of funding from the EU’s  European Defence Fund.  And what a Fund that is! It has a budget of 8 billion euro for 2021 to 2027 for R and D across a range of military projects.

Over the Zoom, Minister Coveney emphasised the need to “develop and exploit emerging and disruptive technology developments to support defence capabilities, while also supporting wider access and market engagement for Irish research by academia and enterprise.”  

Ireland contributes millions to the EDF and several contributors on the Zoom meeting emphasised that Ireland needs to get a ‘return on that investment’.

So the Weapons Industry is an ally of the Government in the move to end neutrality in favour of the Greater European Good. Good Europeans are well armed Europeans.  

The direction in which all this is going was hinted at in a debate earlier this month at the Roger Casement Summer School in Dun Laoghaire. Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews, MEP, stated that Neutrality must be debated in terms of developments in Ukraine – echoing remarks from the Taoiseach and others – and then went on to say that our Triple Lock which prevents Irish troops being deployed abroad without a UN mandate should be ditched in favour of the European Council mandating where to send our troops and that he felt we should have a mutual defence policy within the EU. I believe he is echoing Government policy here and the direction they would like the Debate/ Citizen’s Assembly to head. It’s amazing how, on the one hand, those arguing in Ireland for closer EU defence, express a repugnance for nuclear weapons, yet they are willing to coordinate defence with a nuclear weapon State, France, and in partnership with the nuclear NATO alliance which is plugged into the EU.

What Europe and the World needs now is a challenge to military blocs armed to the teeth, not a glorification of them. In the 1990s, with the Cold War abating, there was talk of a Common European Home, of the strengthening of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which includes every country in Europe. What we need is more Neutral/Non-Aligned States, not fewer.  That is the direction our thinking should be going.

Ireland is now on the UN Security Council and has just taken over the Presidency of the Council of Europe. Could we not expect some kind of mediation/ceasefire/peace proposal efforts coming out of the Irish Government? We are now occupying powerful diplomatic positions internationally.  We should employ some of that Diplomatic Power we reputedly possess.  

But could we at least put our minds towards ending this war rather than concentrating on how to end our Neutrality?  Or have we already become Invisible?

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