An old Irish neuralgia is back

Now here’s one where the Republic really is different from the European mainstream, never mind the UK – neutrality. I can recite the arguments, I know the history but I still can’t fathom its grip on modern Ireland’s consciousness. Pressure from a revived Lisbon Treaty campaign may cause Dublin to opt out of EU security arrangements in Bosnia and the EU sponsored mission to Chad. All because paranoid – or cynical- Lisbon treaty opponents have put the frighteners on mammies that their sons are going to be press ganged into military service. Completely bonkers of course. But anything to get the Lisbon No verdict reversed. I admit mission labelling can be confusing. The same armies, above all the British (unmentioned in the Irish Times article, strange that) deploy in EU, Nato and even UN commitments often in the same theatre but at different phases, but wearing different hats and shooting less for the UN. “Neutrality,” whatever that means today in C21 is an anachronism and the ideal way round it was via the EU. Even so, the whole Dublin establishment still seem prepared to allow themselves to be stampeded by the exploiters of an old neuralgia, a residual memory of post-independence, anti-imperial fears of being rolled over by the Brits. So it may be no more To Katanga and Back – even though there was never any question of marching through Georgia.

The subject of neutrality brings to mind Malcolm Redfellow’s wonderful contribution in an excellent thread last Friday. Worth reading if you didn’t see it and worth reading again even if you did.

  • El Paso

    A neuralgia is a sever pain. Who, Brian, do you imagine is pained by Ireland’s neutrality? Hardly the Irish, it’s never been more popular. And why is neutrality a problem for you?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Peace keeping troops on a case-by-case basis seems a sensible policy to me – you only have to look at the Nato disaster that is Afghanistan to see the perils of group-think.

  • Wilde Rover

    Brian Walker,

    If by neuralgia you mean “Steadiness and firmness of mind; self-command in personal danger, or under suffering; unshaken courage and endurance; coolness; pluck; resolution” then you may be correct.

    My understanding of neutrality was not engaging in military alliances that force you to send your troops at the drop of a hat to kill the enemies of your allies.

    ““Neutrality,” whatever that means today in C21 is an anachronism and the ideal way round it was via the EU.”

    So running around the world killing women and children is now seen as progressive and not doing so is seen as strange? I’d rather be called a crazy kook than a kiddie killer in that sort of twisted world.

  • What a load of alarmist crap. We were part of UN peacekeeping missions for half a century without an EU command structure, so we can just join those. It’s not like there’s a shortage of problems in the world.

  • RepublicanStones

    Neutrality is nothing something to be tossed aside lightly. Advocates who suggest this are ignorant of the currency which Irelands neutrality has when dealing with people of nations where peacekeeping/enforcement is required. It is Irelands neutrality coupled with its non-colonial (being colonized as opposed to colonizer) past which stands it in great stead among other nations where its troops are or may be deployed. Ireland brings no baggage to the table of international affairs. Remember the foopah of Belgian peacekeepers heading back to Rwanda?
    Whilst not being part of NATO, Ireland has played a role in certain NATO deployments. The Non-Article 5 mission in Kosovo for example. Whilst the NATO rules of engagement card may be a bit more lax than the UN’s, I don’t think we’re in any danger of losing the valuable currencies I mentioned earlier, nor should we seek to be doing so.

  • RepublicanStones

    Neutrality is not*


    I suspect the origins of Irish neutrality lie in the Great War, 1916, the Conscription Crisis and all that. This would have been copperfastened during the War of Independence, even if many had lingering sympathies for Home Rule at the outset.

    There must have been an extraordinary sense of betrayal and disillusionment when the moderate mainstream volunteered to shed blood in the defence of small nations, only to find their former comrades winning hearts and minds by burning down central Cork, for instance.

    Any wavering would have been eliminated by WWII. Despite everyone’s desire in hindsight to have a pop at fascism, DeValera had only one option – in the absence of any ability to project power, the only moral thing he could do was to protect the civillian population as best he could through benign neutrality. (He could have done a lot more for Jewish refugees pre and post Kristallnacht, but that’s a different story, and in any event few would have anticipated the Final Solution at the time.)

    Frankly Ireland shelters under NATO’s skirts; one of the few instances in the last 800 years when being parked to the left of Great Britain was an unambiguous advantage. I struggle to think why this should be viewed as an anachronism as opposed to a perk. It also allows us to spend as much or more on foreign aid as we do on defence, although the Irish Army is starting to equip itself with some seriously cool (and expensive) toys. It does have a habit of losing them in Chad, mind.

    Of course, some have floated the idea that Ireland should join NATO in return for unity – Ted Heath told me that was his preference when I buttonholed him 20 years ago at Oxford – but then those pesky unionists just didn’t see things the same way. Ho hum.

  • Let’s get a bit real in C21 here.
    The neutrality that some people think is a cloak of invisibility from foreign bullets is a quaint but now strangely bizarre notion in today’s world.
    This is not a world where Ireland can be insulated from the new political currents that are flowing in very different directions and ways than was possible to be imagined as foreign policy directions lapping at the neutral shores of the Republic in the dim and now very distant past.
    Ireland has a proud and now an individual military tradition now entirely of it’s own, BUT unless it wakens up to a new reality it is in great danger of sending it’s sons and daughters out into peacekeeping missions that will turn entirely into fighting operations that it is not really equipped for or able to sustain.
    It is under resourced in all aspects of capability and the current mission in Chad is a disaster waiting to happen because of overstretching of resources and support and suppy lines.
    It is actually not really a political matter but one of health and safety at work.
    Ireland needs troops that are as well trained and equipped as any other in Europe and keeping soldiers from exchanging training and ideas about how battlefields are run in the twenty first century with ALL the other armies of Europe means that Irish soldiers are being sent out to do incredibly dangerous jobs of work less well trained and prepared than they should be.
    No-one would think of sending out Firefighters to deal with fires if they only had learned about how to put out domestic fires contained in the grate. Their ill preparedness would be condemned as a failure to ensure proper health and safety at work preparation for all eventualities.
    Politicians need to grow some backbone here and start telling people that being in Europe in a world more dangerous than it ever was before means that the old ‘certainties’ about what neutrality is have have gone and gone for ever.
    Irish soldiers would welcome the chance to train to fight modern wars with the rest of European soldiery and it is only the political notions rooted in the civil war politics that puts Irish soldiers in danger of not being able to work as safely and effectively at the job they signed up for when the peacekeeping turns to battle, as surely it will.

  • hovetwo

    Irish should abandon neutrality on health and safety grounds. Have to say that never occurred to me, but there is a fair point in the argument.

    Of course, it is possible to train and equip yourself adequately for UN peace enforcement missions. It’s also possible to collaborate with other European armies. You don’t need to be a member of a military alliance to do that, and you don’t need to wait for the next UN mission.

    Had the great powers in the inter-war years adequately supported Collective Security when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, or when DeValera was President of the General Assembly of the League of Nations in 1938, we might have seen a very different sort of neutrality in Ireland.

    In a world of interdependence it’s trendy rather than anachronistic to support concepts like Collective Security via the UN. You don’t have to sign up to the full NATO deal as a result. France, for instance, sits half in and half out of NATO, and she doesn’t get access to intelligence files shared between Britain and America.

    In any event, the defining characteristic of Irish neutrality is that the decision to go to war can only be made by the Irish people, rather than being triggered through the unforeseen consequences of a military alliance. Doesn’t feel like an anachronism to me.

  • Tazia Doll

    “What a load of alarmist crap. We were part of UN peacekeeping missions for half a century without an EU command structure, so we can just join those. It’s not like there’s a shortage of problems in the world. ”

    And some are so strange, peple like me are complaining of abduction of Catholic girls, Tachell complaining of resistance fighters being boiled in oil, my friends protestng the burying alive of reluctant brides, the Pentagon wanting unilsteral bombing rights,

    Pakistan accused of army abuses in Balochistan
    Tribune, UK – 4 Sep 2008
    by Peter Tatchell FOUR Baloch prisoners have been burned alive in hot coal tar by the Pakistan army during military operations in occupied Balochistan, …

    So maybe we send Peter, and a few hundred Irish troops, and give them a EC mandate, with NATO logistics, and let Pink News pick the uniform.

    Mostly I fear the EU will eventually get its own secret police to make life a complete misery. I genuinely do feel we are looking at a group-think federal state, and we are in danger of becoming our own Balochistan,

    just go listen to the NUJ at conference, they only have a prob with *some* journalists getting arrested. It is a creeping sensation of ‘unfree’.

  • As a firm no voter, this kind of concession leaves me cold. This issue was never the deal-breaker for me. The problem is the loss of sovereignty and the growing encroachment of the ECJ in particular into our lives. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is the dealbreaker. Unless the govt gets an optout and ignores pressure from the unions to retain it, I will again vote no. It expands the European Court’s jurisdiction into an endless area of fundamental Irish human rights, including asylum and immigration, industrial relations, scientific ethics etc. This is the most federalist and statebuilding part of the Lisbon treaty, and one which the British and Polish govts felt sufficiently concerned about to obtain optouts from. The Irish govt reportedly considered a similar optout in the run up to signing the treaty, but changed its mind because of pressure from the unions. But when it came to the vote, most of the unions either stayed on the fence or in a few cases called for a no vote (e.g. the TEEU and UNITE). So FF doesn’t owe the unions anything. I think one big thing to look out for today is the release of the govt-commissioned Millard Browne/IMS research into the reasons for the no vote. They have already flagged conscription as a big deal for the no voters, but the press were reporting in recent weeks that so to was the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Is the government going to be straight with us and disclose all the findings, or just the ones that suit their agenda of getting Lisbon passed based on real or apparent concessions to the Irish no voters? I do not believe the Irish people will allow themselves to be manipulated with selective disclosures of research, because what united the various strands of the no vote was a feeling that European integration has gone far enough, and that in seeking to impose of the peoples of France and Holland, a superstate they voted no to, that the union was crossing the rubicon between a democratic union and an undemocratic superstate. Anyway – without an optout from the Charter, it’s another no from me.

  • Dev

    Why exactly is it a bad thing that a small nation like Ireland chooses to minimise the chances of it’s young citizens being sent to their slaughter? Perhaps if other countries adopted a similar line we might have a few less unecessary military conflicts. I’m not a pacifist, I know there are some occasions when there is no recourse but to military action, I just don’t see a problem with Ireland refraining from going around the world kicking the shit out of people.