People Before Profit introduced a bill to the Dáil today for a referendum to enshrine Irish neutrality in the Constitution. The Irish government will vote against it, despite the of calls Fine Gael in particular for “mature debate” on the issue. Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin takes a look at why this is.
“Quite the selection of results, far from conclusive but show a genuine, mature discussion on Ireland’s security needs & responsibilities must be had.”
So said Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond in response to the latest polling in the Business Post on Irish Neutrality, EU militarisation and NATO. The poll in question found that 48% voted yes to Ireland joining NATO “to boost its security”, while 38% voted against. 46% would support a referendum allowing Irish troops to serve in a European army, while 39% opposed this. Yet 57% of people wanted to uphold Irish military neutrality, compared to 30% who would drop it.
Richmond, Fine Gael, and pretty much the entire political establishment, claim this is grounds for “a mature, honest debate on Ireland’s security needs and responsibilities”. The polling comes after a slew of media discussions and think pieces explaining why the self-deluded Irish need to grow up and abandon their morally degenerate, fictitious flag of neutrality.
After several weeks of infantilising the Irish public and chiding us all for not yet being in favour of joining military alliances, spending billions on defence and willingly sending our young people to fight in imperialist wars, you might find it refreshing to hear that Richmond and Co finally want this “mature conversation”.
But not so fast – when it comes to actually having it, they plan on refusing point blank to engage. Today, People Before Profit brought a bill to the Dáil seeking to hold a referendum in order to enshrine Irish neutrality in the constitution. Fine Gael and the rest of the government will vote against it – a spokesperson said it is “unnecessary”. Richmond said it was “epic gas lighting”.
No referendum – there’s no need. No proper national debate – instead, a “mature conversation”.
What exactly do they mean by this? And why would a referendum not be necessary at this point?
People have watched US war planes fly through Shannon Airport to wreak havoc on Afghanistan and Iraq for the guts of two decades. Inspections were never allowed on these flights, but we know that specific aircraft identified as stopping over in Shannon were “routinely used by the CIA in renditions”.
There was no “mature conversation” about whether or not the Irish public were happy for people to be taken prisoner without trial, transported through Shannon Airport and on to black sites in third countries to be tortured. It just happened – Fianna Fáil made it so. Fine Gael and Labour made no change to the policy.
When it came to the PESCO deal, a binding pact agreeing to “enhanced coordination, increased investment in defence and cooperation in developing defence capabilities”, this was rejected initially along with the Lisbon Treaty. Of course, the feckless Irish public got the answer wrong, so the Treaty had to be voted on again to get the right answer.
PESCO wasn’t enacted straight away, however. It was left dormant until 2017 – the “sleeping beauty of the Lisbon Treaty”, as then EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described it. When it finally came to bringing PESCO into law, the Fine Gael-led government collaborated with Fianna Fáil to attempt to sneak it through without major debate, announcing the vote on the week it was happening despite having decided at Cabinet to sign off on it several weeks previously.
And now, the Irish government, but Fine Gael in particular, are cynically trying to use Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine to put the final nail in the coffin of Irish neutrality. But they don’t want a referendum.
A referendum would mean a real discussion: A discussion on the brutal, imperialist wars waged by the United States and its NATO allies on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria,, and Ireland’s role in assisting this. It would mean examining the role of France as it asserts itself militarily over its old colonies in Africa, and questions over whether Ireland should be a part of this. It would mean discussing German militarisation and whether we should row in behind this or try to put the brakes on it. It would mean questions about why we should be part of an EU military project that backs the US, and is also increasingly seeking to assert itself independently on the world stage. The black and brown refugees freezing at the militarised Polish border, the Greek coastguard shooting at migrant boats, the mass grave in the Mediterranean – all of these horrors would be up for discussion.
A real discussion would also mean a recognition of where Irish military neutrality arose from – out of a revolt against the British Empire and the First World War, and a belief that Ireland should stand against all empires and war mongers. As James Connolly put it:
“Should the working class of Europe rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world.”
Or as Richard Boyd Barrett put it in the Dáil today, having quoted Connolly:
“Ireland’s neutrality and the struggle for an Irish independent republic are one and the same. And to move away from neutrality is not some sort of interesting tactical or strategic choice. It is, in fact, a betrayal of the essential struggle to establish an independent republic.”
Fine Gael, whose precursors took arms from the British State in order to enact a brutal counter revolution and establish a conservative, right wing Catholic state, stand for the opposite tradition. Their push to do away with neutrality is part of the same political agenda that makes Ireland a playground for multinational corporations, vulture funds and oligarchs at the expense of poor and working people who live here – a small but important part of the US-EU imperialist project.
So this kind of real, national debate is the last thing Fine Gael want. Latest polling shows them at 19%, Fianna Fáil at 16% and the Green Party at 5% – hardly popular enough to carry this argument. After weeks of a media assault on neutrality, the majority still support it, even if some of the answers to the various polls are contradictory. A referendum and a debate would clear all of this up.
In the Dáil today, Simon Coveney made the farcical point that a referendum would “close off the conversation before it’s even properly begun”. For Fine Gael, the kind of conversation that would be had by the public as a whole, where they have a direct say in it at the end of it all, is dangerous. Instead, they will call for “mature conversations” – the kind where “experts” like Neale Richmond talk down to us, hold the spectre of Putin, cyber attacks, drug cartels and ISIS over our heads, and tell us all it’s imperative that we spend a few billion euro we didn’t know we had on weapons.
This, apparently, is the grown-up thing to do.