In the past six weeks two proposals have been presented to Dail Eireann seeking to enshrine neutrality in the Irish Constitution. On both occasions the political parties that have between them formed all governments since the formation of the State voted against the proposals, thereby supporting the ongoing erosion of our neutrality as well as our continued participation in imperialist wars. This is despite the fact that a Red C poll carried out in September 2013 found that 78% of Irish people believed Ireland should have a policy of neutrality.
The first Bill was proposed by Sean Crowe of Sinn Fein on 6th March. In introducing it he said:
“This Bill seeks the insertion of a reference to neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Essentially, it seeks to amend the Constitution to ensure Ireland could not, and would not, aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for a war, save with the assent of the Dáil. The Bill also affirms that Ireland is a neutral state and that the State would have a policy of non-membership of military alliances. Ultimately, it would give power to the people in that it would trigger a referendum on whether Irish citizens wanted Ireland to be a neutral country. The overwhelming evidence is that they do.”
Fine Gael opposition wasn’t surprising, as they have been trying to move the country closer to NATO membership for decades while hiding behind the notion of “military neutrality”. And since Fianna Fail were the party that gave the use of Shannon Airport to the US military for the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequently went on to argue that Ireland’s neutrality arrangements would continue under the Lisbon Treaty (while knowing that was impossible), their unwillingness to reinstate Irish neutrality wasn’t surprising either. But considering that the Labour Party voted in favour of the same Bill in 2003, their U-turn was particularly disappointing.
These three parties claim Ireland is already neutral on the basis that we are not part of any military alliance or a permanent military formation. This so-called military neutrality predates World War II and reflects the country’s long struggle for independence. In 1949 Ireland was invited to join NATO but it didn’t accept the invitation because it didn’t wish to join an alliance that also included Great Britain. Indeed a “triple lock” mechanism was devised to give effect to Ireland’s military neutrality policy; this means Ireland cannot send more than 12 military personnel overseas without government and parliamentary approval as well as UN Security Council approval for the mission.
The second Neutrality Bill was proposed by Mick Wallace TD on 27th March. In his speech he emphasised that in reality Ireland does not have a policy of neutrality anymore. He spoke of the need for an active neutrality which, as he said,
“embodies a commitment to the legal definition of neutrality as described by Hague Convention V and to the following values and foreign policy goals – peace promotion, non-aggression, the primacy of the UN and the confinement of state military activity to UN peacekeeping, not being involved in wars, impartiality and maintaining Ireland’s independence, identity and independent foreign policy decision making. These differ from the concept of military neutrality that has allowed us to facilitate the movement of munitions and millions of armed troops who are engaged in invasion and occupation through Shannon Airport.”
Wallace pointed out that the Government says it promotes disarmament and international peace while at the same time allowing the US military to refuel at Shannon, bring arms through Irish territory, go on to a war situation, drop bombs on people and kill a million civilians in a 13-year period. He also pointed out the increasing significance of the very lucrative arms industry, and in particular, its role in the election of Barack Obama as US President.
The Wallace Bill sought to affirm Ireland’s neutrality through adherence to the provisions of the 1907 Hague Convention (V) Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land. In defeating it, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour showed their support for global militarization despite the devastating destruction and loss of life caused by it. They have given effect to this support by facilitating US military expansion and intervention, and by dragging Ireland into an increasingly aggressive NATO-EU alliance.
The US doesn’t need any help implementing its militarized foreign policy but our political elite still feel the need to provide some. With better resourced naval and air forces than any other country, the Americans possess the capacity to act militarily anywhere in the world as they pursue their interests and affirm what their military planners call Full Spectrum Dominance. Of course US politicians on all sides are wary of being sucked into another large occupation, in part because it would kill a lot of Americans, but also because they saw from Iraq that it didn’t work. But that doesn’t stop them from conducting airstrikes, as they are currently doing in Iraq and Syria, or providing aid and weapons to others including rebel forces (like they’ve also done in Syria) to help them engage in ongoing warfare on the ground.