‘A VIVID IMPRESSION’: THE REPRESSED POTENTIAL OF IRISH NEUTRALITY. John Maguire.

Why on earth keep going on about neutrality?  Aren’t we in a bizarre twilight zone, where the governments who systematically undermine neutrality declare it alive and well, while its defenders, frustrated by such hypocrisy, are almost tempted to declare it dead and buried?  After all, what is so special about ‘Irish Neutrality’? 

After all, indeed…

THE ‘POSTWAR’ WORLD

World War I was centrally a war between European empires, and World War II brought the beginning of the end for them, heralding the era of decolonisation.  But as various colonies gained or sought independence they found themselves in a world where great powers still had designs on them.

The two major allies of World War II soon entered into a so-called Cold War, where each treated the other as seeking world domination; every gain for one side was seen as a loss for the other.  The nuclear arms race began, promising mutually assured destruction.  ‘Conventional’ proxy wars flared and subsided.  This was the global context in which Ireland joined the United Nations. 

Our entry had been opposed by the USSR, who saw us as too close to the US and the West, until 1955.  That fateful year, in which the Warsaw Pact was set up by the USSR, also saw the Neutral and Non-Aligned (NNA) group hold its first major conference in Bandung. 

Here was a set of newly-emerging states trying to shape post-colonial independence in a ‘third way’, not beholden to either superpower.  Whilst the USSR sometimes offered assistance, this was often as much with a view to thwarting the US and NATO as to promoting a genuinely independent Third World.

We need not speculate how much independent human and social flourishing would have been possible if the Stalinist version of socialism had won the Cold War; it lost a contest which – though it didn’t always seem clear at the time – it was probably doomed from the start to lose.  The fate of attempts at ‘Socialism with a human face’ in various satellite states did not inspire confidence.  Of course Western meddling was often involved – but there was plenty to meddle with. 

Un General Assembly President Freddie Boland in an exchange with Fidel Castro

The view from Washington was pithily summed up at a Georgetown dinner party: ‘Foster hates neutrality!’  John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, like his CIA Director brother Allen, was quite clear that US national interests – which providentially coincided with the real needs of the entire world – dictated a prolonged, disciplined, united struggle against the red tide.

In this fraught global context, Ireland’s first decade-or-so of UN membership displayed a modest but genuine degree of realism, creativity and courage.  We saw ourselves as having a bond with the newly emerging states, and made common cause with them on a number of issues.  We participated in peacekeeping, most tragically in the Congo.  We endorsed peaceful conflict-resolution, argued for nuclear disarmament, and even dared to back the admission of ‘Red China’ to the UN long before it was endorsed by ‘realists’ in the West.

But here we must pause: surely that last paragraph is sadly – indeed, almost comically – delusory?  Surely Ireland had no rights, no standing, in this post-war world?  Wasn’t ‘Irish Neutrality’ quite unlike any of the values inspiring the ‘Third World’?  Hadn’t we shamefully, irremediably, sat out the life-and-death struggle against fascism?  Weren’t we simply whitewashing a deplorable failure to defend democracy, passing off a false currency as a bright new coinage? 

NEUTRALITY 1939-45

World War II, the One Good War…  It has functioned in Irish debates as the ace, the trump card, the question-stopper in any dispute about neutrality.  Isn’t it the territory where the peaceniks dare not tread, the quick-sands of shame, the stain of dishonour they must tiptoe around if their worldview is to present any coherence or plausibility?  Maybe it’s time we went there.    

Nobody wanting to speak with any credibility about today’s challenges can minimise the ethical and other dilemmas posed by Ireland’s response to the outbreak of war in 1939.  It was and is entirely reasonable to argue that Ireland should, at whatever cost, have joined openly in the Allied cause.  But, all other considerations apart, any attempt to lead the 26 counties into the conflict could well have caused a new civil war.[1]

However worthy the impulse of many to join the war, and however base the motives of some of those opposing them, there was arguably no other realistic course but neutrality for an Irish government in 1939.

The decision was taken by the government of a newly-emergent state, seeking to establish effective self-government after a partially successful independence struggle whose still unresolved conflicts had already fuelled a vicious civil war only seventeen years previously.  Even many who disagreed with the policy recognised that its successful implementation was a significant achievement, and a crucial consolidation of sovereignty, by the fledgling state.

Unsatisfactory?  Yes, like much of life’s complexity; and we can, perhaps must, continue to debate that crucial decision.  But we shouldn’t misrepresent the debate or draw false conclusions from it.  Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has argued that much recent criticism ‘suggests a diminishing rather than a deepening of historical understanding’ and serves ‘narrow contemporary agendas born of hindsight and current values.’ [2]

THE ROOTS OF IRISH NEUTRALITY

In the first place, the years 1939-45 did not, and could not, set a permanent template for post-war foreign policy, still less for the world we now inhabit. There was no predetermined path along which Ireland had to develop in the post-war setting: mature life in the real world requires constant choices and sacrifices.  Secondly, Irish Neutrality has roots dating from well before 1939, reaching deep into our history. 

In 1790, as the European empires were consolidating themselves through war, Wolfe Tone argued against allowing Ireland to become caught up in the conflict looming between Britain and Spain.  As the empires began to immolate themselves and one another in ‘The Great War’, James Connolly was an equally clear opponent of participation:  ‘A declaration of neutrality’, he argued, ‘would make a vivid impression on the world.’ [3] 

Thirdly, there was a choice: whether rightly or wrongly, the state was able to make a decision, and to take steps to implement it.  The central thrust of subsequent criticism of the stance adopted in 1939, whatever the particular arguments employed, has been that in effect there should have been no choice at all: the issue was allegedly simple, albeit stark, and the state has supposedly ever since been ‘playing catch-up’ after its alleged ethical and strategic blunder. 

The last half-century and more has seen a struggle between those seeking to amplify, and those seeking to extinguish, the potentially vivid impression of Irish neutrality.  As the EEC, which we joined in 1973, evolved into the European Union through a succession of treaties, we have had a succession of referendums, thanks to the insistence of the late Raymond Crotty that those treaties raised fundamental constitutional issues.

Bunreacht na hÉireann, which came into effect in 1937, contained a profound statement of democracy, rejecting all notions of monarchy, empire and authoritarianism:

All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good. (Art. 6.1)

Our constitution went on to commit our state to ‘peace and friendly co-operation… pacific settlement of international disputes… [and] international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States.’ (Art. 29)

These principles emerged from our long history of colonialism and empire, including the still-unresolved impact of the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mór.  They underlined the destructiveness of aggression and war, the vital importance of democracy, and the necessity for peaceful and law-bound responses to conflict situations.  They informed our early UN participation, where along with other likeminded members we made a modest contribution to seeing them implemented.

DENIGRATING NEUTRALITY

But it hardly needed the displeasure of the US, Britain or NATO to warn us off actually ‘going native’ with the NNA group.  Our own emerging elite were quite determined that the question would never arise: ‘cowardly 1939 neutrality’ became the ideal rod to discipline any of us who took Articles 6 and 29 too literally, or presumed that they were any of our business as mere citizens. 

This attitude has now mutated into the smug suggestion that we should take our cue from the readiness of other self-declared neutral member-states to go along with EU ‘Battle-groups’ and the like.  Heaven forbid that a ‘mini-NNA’ might have emerged within the EU itself – and perish the thought that Ireland might even have taken a lead in it: not at all the kind of enterprise Official Ireland has in mind.[4]

On the contrary, decades of impression-management,  the trashing of any notion of positive, creative neutrality, and crude suppression or distortion of the truth, have facilitated our incorporation into an evolving EU army.  The scale of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) and other recent developments has led some even to see the EU as an emerging empire in its own right.[5]

Meanwhile, those of us who value neutrality – along with 78% of our fellow-citizens[6] – owe an apology: we should apologise for ever having been apologetic about neutrality.  We have too often been thrown onto the back foot by the relentless, orchestrated denigration of Irish neutrality and of its potential to help subvert the modern war-machine. 

In a moment of rich irony, during one of our many wrangles over EU military developments, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern – he who claimed to be one of only two socialists in Dáil Éireann, and that his heart had been with us in the 100,000 march against the 2003 Iraq War – upbraided his opponents for being ‘so defensive’ about the issues involved…   

John Foster Dulles hated neutrality, as do our establishment, not because it is old-fashioned or unrealistic, but because it is a highly relevant, realistic refusal to pursue peace and democracy through arms and aggression.  Specifically, it rejects the template of globalised capitalism and militarism which Dulles and company envisaged from the 1940s and which has pervaded the world so banefully since the triumph of the West in the Cold War. 

AN EARLY DEBATE: The Bell 1951

And we had our own heated debate as early as 1951.  During the Korean War, trades-unionist and peace-activist Louie Bennett questioned in the Irish Times where US economic assistance might lead us: ‘the spectre of war makes some of us think, ‘Whither now?’, on every new evidence of  peaceful penetration.’ [7]  The Irish Times columnist ‘Aknefton’ grasped the cold-war context, including the link between socio-economic and politico-military developments:

No objective-minded person can deny that Irish working-class suspicion is well founded.  Every attempt that is made to enhance their living standards is met with hostility.  One has merely to think of such socially beneficial legislation as the Social Security Bill or the Mother and Child Scheme to realise this.  [8]

‘Aknefton’ was referring to how powerful professional, religious and other hierarchies had deployed the rhetoric of the red scare to thwart a modest measure of publicly-funded healthcare.

This was Ireland’s homeopathic dose of a treatment which elsewhere, from Asia to Latin America, branded any straying from the prescribed course of ‘development’ as the thin end of the communist wedge.  Nationalist movements, along with even the mildest socialist parties, were branded ‘Communist’.  The consequence, along with a disastrous series of wars and military interventions, has been that any dissent or discontent was relentlessly driven towards the further shores of religious fundamentalism.

Seán O’Faoláin, writing in his own journal The Bell, did not dismiss the link between US aid and military involvement; rather, he insisted that we should embrace it.  We should, he declared, stop ‘snoring gently behind the Green Curtain that we have been rigging up for the last thirty years – Thought-proof, World-proof, Life-proof.’

Bennett admitted ‘the strong propagandist appeal’ of an ‘anti-Communist crusade’.  But, she maintained:

it is our duty to think out for ourselves the part we should play in the present ideological conflicts.  How many of us really believe that a war such as now devastates Korea will defeat communism?

O’Faoláin had no time for this: ‘The world of today is an Either-Or world…  Nobody is free to dither indefinitely.’ [9]

TOWARDS THE EU: THE TWIN-TRACK STRATEGY EMERGES

There was little or no indefinite dithering by Official Ireland a decade later, when they first applied to join the EEC.  Dr T. K. Whitaker spelt out the stakes in January 1962 in a memo to the Minister for Finance:

[W]e should not ourselves raise obstacles to our being admitted as members of the EEC.  To say that we would withdraw our application if membership of NATO were insisted upon would be extremely unfortunate.[10]

No dithering there – but not much democratic disclosure, let alone O’Faoláin’s brutal candour, either.  The official line in the 1972 White Paper was as follows:

the Treaties of Rome and Paris do not entail any military or defence commitments and no such commitments are involved in Ireland’s acceptance of these treaties.[11] 

It is worth our while to ponder those slippery little words ‘entail’ and ‘involved’: their many meanings can range, for example, from ‘logically imply’ to ‘currently include’.  As the hardware is ever more blatantly unveiled, the question arises of precisely where and when The Big Decision to install the software of EU military developments was clearly and conclusively taken by the sovereign people: 1972? 1987 with the Single European Act?  Maastricht?  Amsterdam?  Nice (Part Deux) or Lisbon (ditto)?

As the iron fist undeniably began to bulge through the velvet glove with the launch of ‘European Political Co-operation’ in the Single European Act of 1986-87, it was already implausible to maintain that nothing was happening.  It therefore became necessary to invoke a transcendental concept of ‘neutrality’ which would remain immune from anything that actually was happening in the terrestrial world.  Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald reassured us:

The Government are committed to preserving Ireland’s neutral position outside military alliances… [and] it would have been superfluous to include a declaration to that effect in the Act.[12]

And so it went – and so it goes to the present day.  The mandarin mantra runs: ‘Neutrality is sacred, of course, and it means… … …whatever is not happening now…  Nothing to look at here…’ 

What has actually been afoot in the EU and NATO has meanwhile been draped in such Orwellian camouflage as ‘defence’ and ‘humanitarianism’.  So long as this works, the mantle of democracy can still be claimed by those who are relentlessly fraying its remaining threads, whilst their critics seem to be reduced to sulking that ‘the people are uninformed’, or else to silent, seething frustration.

WARFARE AND WONDERLAND

It is of course bitterly ironic that those who depict neutrality as stemming from a shameful pretence that the Second World War wasn’t happening should so transparently and fatuously deny their own proven complicity with today’s aggressive wars and torture.[13]  But we must note that, whatever occasional discomfiture it may bring them, there are also distinct advantages for our policymakers in continuing to inhabit this twilight world.

We need no conspiracy theory to appreciate the extent to which – despite their frequent handwringing over ‘misunderstanding’ and regular calls for ‘proper, informed debate’ – it suits the mandarins to become ever more deeply imbedded in EU/NATO structures without needing to face the implications of formally joining NATO and abandoning their pretensions of neutrality.  The twin-track strategy allows them to adopt an Alice-in-Wonderland approach, where we are regularly promised decision-jam tomorrow, ‘if ever we were to consider abandoning Neutrality’.

But whenever it’s argued that they – not we – have already conceded far too much, they blithely tell us that we carelessly ate our decision-jam yesterday.  The mandarins cherish such nuggets as ‘what Seán Lemass always said’ about being prepared to take on military commitments with EEC membership, conveniently overlooking the fact that he had the sense merely to say it now and then rather than ask the sovereign people to endorse it.     

Yet however ludicrous the official strategy may appear, we should not deceive ourselves: it really is working.  Though there is no evidence that the Irish people’s commitment to neutrality as a policy has diminished, in a recent poll 59% of respondents did not perceive any conflict between that commitment and ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation’, or PESCO;[14] the twin-track strategy at work…

PRODUCT PLACEMENT: MARKETING PESCO

But the policymakers themselves are clearly feeling the strain. Their option for concealment has not only been an ethical and political disgrace.  It also contained, and still contains, serious dangers for them; they’re playing a highly risky game – and they know it.  In autumn 2017 they were explicitly aware that they were on the brink of a further huge betrayal of our – and their – proclaimed principles.  As ever neutrality, now whittled down to an incoherent ‘military neutrality’[15], was piously shunted onto the transcendental track – but new sleepers had urgently to be laid on the terrestrial one. 

They had recently learned a painful lesson in marketing through the adverse reaction to EU ‘Battle Groups’, and so we are now being fed militarism as a blend of pasta and pesto from our friendly local supermarket: PESCO.  This bland-sounding dish was quietly slipped onto the menu without a full list of ingredients – no warning that ‘this product contains NATO’ – let alone a fanfare, in late 2017. 

Meanwhile the mainstream media were chewing on the latest Brexit crunchie, which they seemed to find more palatable than the tougher fibre of EU militarism.  Even our TDs were taken by surprise as the vote was rushed through after a mere three hours’ debate on 7th December. [16]  Nevertheless 42 TDs voted against, and a new Oireachtas Neutrality, Peace and Disarmament group held its inaugural meeting in July 2018.[17]   There is plenty for them to scrutinise. 

The list of ‘nothing-to-see-here’ has so far, with Irish government acquiescence, yielded for example an EU Common Defence Fund; a joint EU military HQ; EU Battle Groups (in which Ireland participates); a centralised EU military budget and research programme, and a European Defence Agency (on whose board Ireland sits) promoting ‘a single market for defence’.  And of course everyone signed up to PESCO gets a CARD: Co-ordinated Annual Review of Defence.  So our parliamentarians will not be the only ones assessing our performance within these rapidly-crystallising structures. 

Our mandarins will assure them, and us, that the money will be doubly well spent: spent prudently, and for worthy purposes.  They will breezily dismiss concerns that we will have to reach NATO’s 2% GDP target for ‘defence’ spending.  Yet PESCO embodies the Lisbon Treaty’s aim of ‘a more assertive Union role’ contributing to ‘the vitality of a renewed Atlantic Alliance’ [18] – and the only specific target around so far is NATO’s 2% of GDP per annum.  It seems implausible that its own ambitions, plus intensified pressure from the US, will let the EU commit to much less. 

Will Irish ‘defence’ expenditure reach that 2% figure?  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, responding recently to a parliamentary question from the leader of Sinn Féin, usefully confirmed that 2% would amount to ‘around €6 billion’, compared to our current figure of under €1 billion.  He dismissed any prospect of our spending so much, and it is far from guaranteed – but the graph is definitely rising, as he also confirmed. [19] A substantial ‘straw in the wind’ is the recent consideration of buying a €200 m. ‘Multi-Role Vessel’, clearly designed to add ‘force-projection’ abroad to any function of local defence.[20] 

Such prospects will spell out the concrete reality of all the shabby sell-outs.  One aspect of this reality is the opportunity-cost of diverting large sums from housing, education, health etc. at home.[21]  Another is the nature of the ventures we will engage in – are already involved with – abroad.  Armies, navies and air forces nowadays require a specific long-term configuration and doctrine, and cannot easily be switched back and forth between policies: significant changes in policy-direction are not easily reversed.   

In 2019 the Ranger Wing takes up a central role in a German-led EU battle group on standby, while the recent revelation that Irish soldiers had been serving in Afghanistan for almost a decade points to increased Irish military involvement with NATO.[22]

Our navy had worked bilaterally with the Italian navy in Operation Pontus, rescuing African refugees from the Mediterranean and bringing them to Italy; not perfect – addressing the consequences rather than the causes of conflict in Libya – but having some claim to the label ‘humanitarian’.  Now, that label has been implausibly pasted over Operation Sophia, in which 25 EU states combine to return refugees to the hell they have just attempted to escape.  Minister Paul Kehoe explained to the Dáil that Ireland was now participating in ‘a military mission’.[23] 

One of the saddest of our opportunity-costs is the abject failure to articulate and apply our constitutional principles as active neutrality, a modest contribution to building a fairer and safer world.  The cumulative strain of all these contradictions on the ground will ultimately bring the transcendental track crashing to earth as a charred, tangled wreck, sadly reminiscent of the devastation we have joined in visiting on the world over recent decades. 

Whenever we have warned over those decades about EU militarisation, the great and the bad have breezily dismissed our warnings.  They have been free with labels such as ‘scaremongering’ and ‘hysteria’; ‘deliberate deceit’ has been par for the course.  During successive referenda many of our fellow-citizens, whilst uneasily conceding a growing validity to our warnings, have felt inclined, even obliged, to give priority to other, non-military, matters which at the time were presented as more substantial or urgent.

However worthy or pressing the ‘other matters’ in question, this approach has now, we must respectfully suggest, at last run out of political and moral road: President Macron and Chancellor Merkel have used the centenary of the 1918 armistice to call openly and explicitly for a ‘real EU army’.  This call follows Commission President Juncker’s recent gleeful boast: ‘EU defence policy was supposed to start in 1954, we proposed it in 2014, it’s happening now.’ [24]

Not only has the decades-long process (in which our governments have always acquiesced) carried us to this point, but the final step is being urged as a logical and natural extension of ‘business as usual’ for a union wanting and allegedly needing to ‘flex its muscles’ on the global stage.[25]

OUR PRESENT PLIGHT: HOPE AGAINST HYPE

The extent of our present plight is explored in a contribution to an intriguing new series from Cork University Press.[26]  Harry Browne paints a disturbing picture of the failure of our conventional notions of ‘civil society’ and ‘the public sphere’ to grapple with the realities of today’s state and corporate power.  The suppression of the truth about Shannon Airport’s role in the ‘War on Terror’ – and about sustained peaceful activist opposition to that role[27] – is tellingly central to his analysis. 

The most recent instance is the blanket refusal of the Irish media to report on a major conference held in Dublin’s Liberty Hall on 16th-18th November of this year – all except Phoenix magazine, which proudly noted its own unique position, and the Belfast Newsletter. This was the very first conference held outside the US by the Global Campaign Against US/NATO Military Bases – but why did the organisers pick Ireland?  Our governments may render themselves increasingly ridiculous by their evasions, but we have Moses and the prophets – as well as the dogs in the street, in the absence of genuine newshounds. [28]

Harry Browne’s critique of contemporary society and public debate, and of superficial optimism as to how we can transform them, is initially devastating, and rightly so.  Yet it leads him ultimately not to abandon, but rather to reconceive, our struggle for a more humane, convivial world. 

Whilst not reposing faith in our ‘fatally flawed institutions’, he believes that part of our argument and activism should nevertheless go to insisting that they ‘live up to their dishonest hype, as part of a way of moving toward better institutions in a better kind of society…  Thus, we may seek to occupy the fissures in neoliberal hegemony by attaching ourselves to some of its norms while maintaining the coherence of our critique.’[29]

This is particularly relevant when we are understandably tempted to declare once and for all that our constitutional commitments, and the corresponding policy option of creative neutrality, are simply dead and buried.  As our militaristic mandarins cosy up to ‘our sophisticated security partners’ in NATO they at least know that their real quarrel with neutrality, both as a policy and as a marker for our poor, battered constitutional commitments, is precisely that it is not immoral, incoherent or outdated, but squarely confronts the hidden horrors of our furtive, shameful facilitation of the ‘War on Terror’.[30] 

CAN WE RECLAIM ARTICLE 29?

The twin-track strategy simply cannot be maintained in this new scenario.  But the track is not the train, and Article 6 reminds us that we are, or should be, the drivers.  There is no good reason in the world to abandon the commitments of Article 29:

  1. Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.
  2. Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.
  3. Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States.

However, not only has Article 6 been flagrantly violated, particularly in the reruns of Nice and Lisbon.  Article 29 has also been trivialised, most shockingly by our High Court’s declaration that its provisions are merely ‘guidelines rather than binding rules on the Executive’ in foreign policy.  This is but one instance of our judiciary’s self-censoring refusal to fulfil their constitutional role where it is arguably most crucial. [31] 

The whole point of Bunreacht na hÉireann is that states are awesomely powerful contrivances; they must be subject to the effective control of the people, who are in turn responsible for ensuring that they do no harm to other peoples. Whatever mess we allow public authorities to make of our own home, we have no right to license or ignore their destruction of other peoples’ lives and homes abroad.  What the reality of PESCO will increasingly teach us, indeed, is that the rigid distinction of ‘home’ and ‘abroad’, if it ever was meaningful, is losing its purchase in today’s world. 

Nor may we any longer maintain the pretence that ‘ordinary business’ is one thing, and war is an unrelated and regrettable exception to it.  This realisation is expressed graphically by Tom Clonan, who on the eve of the 2003 Iraq War grasped the  combination of economic and military aggression, and the ‘widespread suffering on an almost unprecedented level’ resulting from their synergy.[32]

Is it possible to confront our sorry present with a realism that does not despair of all humane futures?  Perhaps it is, but it will require digging deeper than what has so far been billed as the ‘debate’ on issues such as PESCO.  This in turn will require a radical humility which does not strive to outwit the imperial mentality on its own terms, but rather seeks through argument and activism to rebuild, ‘at home’ and ‘abroad’, from the trampled, neglected soil of human livelihood.[33] 

Of course our current crises are not simply the product of NATO and the West, however unwise and aggressive these have clearly been.  If we do indeed live in an ‘Either/Or’ world, the vital choices today are not between ‘sides’ in a catastrophic arms escalation, but between the practice – and industry – of war and that of peaceful, patient, law-bound conflict-resolution.  This latter course is compatible with genuine defence and genuine peacekeeping; it is incompatible with the kinds of military doctrines and structures involved in PESCO, let alone ‘a genuine European Army’. 

Has Article 29 been degraded to mere ‘dishonest hype’ – or can it be made the fulcrum of struggle for ‘better institutions in a better kind of society’?

Irish Neutrality is ours to reclaim and rebuild; it was never theirs to barter and betray.  There is a lot of work ahead for our already blood-stained hands.[34]


[1] For a nuanced and thought-provoking account of these complexities, see Geoffrey Roberts, ‘Three narratives of neutrality: historians and Ireland’s war’ in Girvin, B. and G. Roberts ed., Ireland and the Second World War: Politics, Society and Remembrance (Dublin 2000), pp. 165-79. 

[2] ‘Denigrating Neutrality during Second World War has become fashionable’, Irish Times 11th May 2013.

[3] See Roger Cole, ‘Introduction’, pp. 4-5, and Francis Devine, ‘A Vivid Impression upon the World: The Irish Neutrality League, 1914’, pp.  6-13,  in Cole, R., ed., The Irish Neutrality League and the Imperialist War 1914-18 (PANA, Peace and Neutrality Alliance, Dublin n.d.).  See also the prescient survey in Chapters 5 – ‘The International Context’ – and 6 – ‘The Roots of Irish Neutrality’ in Daltún Ó Ceallaigh, Irish Republicanism: Good Friday and After (Dublin 2000).

[4] The inclusion of Trade with the Department of Foreign Affairs seems to have been accepted as obvious; Justice was never in the running.

[5] See various contributions to Cole, R., ed.,  The European Union: Democracy or Empire, published in 2017 by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance,  http://www.pana.ie

[6]   http://www.shannonwatch.org/story/new-red-c-poll-shows-irish-people-want-neutrality

[7] Quoted in The Bell, March 1951, p. 8.

[8] Irish Times, 20/1/1951.

[9] Quotations are from respectively pp. 18, 10 and 16 of The Bell, March 1951.

[10] Quoted in Gary Murphy, In Search of the Promised Land (Mercier, Cork, 2009), pp. 278-79.

[11] Quoted in John Maguire, Defending Peace: Ireland’s Role in a Changing Europe (Cork University Press 2001), p. 64.

[12] Ibid., p. 66.

[13] See various contributions in Lannon, J. and R. Cole, eds, Shannon Airport and 21st Century War, published by http://www.shannonwatch.org and 3 other NGOs. 

[14] http://bit.ly/EMIRedCResults2018

[15] For the incoherence, indeed non-reality, of this concept see, e.g., Karen Devine, ‘Neutrality and the development of the European Union’s common security and defence policy: Compatible or competing?’, Cooperation and Conflict 2011, 46:334, accessible online at file:///C:/Users/Admin/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/GEMEVXVE/Neutrality%20ESDP%20CoCo%20Devine%202011%20(4).pdf .

[16] Disgracefully, RTE Radio One held a relatively informative debate, after the vote had been taken…

[17] https://www.alicemaryhiggins.ie/news/post/first-meeting-of-the-oireachtas-neutrality-peace-and-disarmament-takes-place.

[18] Quoted on p. 12 of Roger Cole, ‘Europe: Empire or partnership of Democratic States?’ in Cole, R. ed. The European Union: Democracy or Empire, (PANA 2017), pp. 10-13. 

[19] See People’s News 196, 25th November 2018, at https://www.people.ie/news/PN-196.pdf.

[20]  An Taoiseach’s reply to Deputy Séamus Healy explicitly envisages ‘a flexible and adaptive capability for a wide range of maritime tasks, both at home and overseas’.  It is reported at

[21] See for example Kieran Allen, ‘Why is defence spending prioritised over housing?’, Irish Times 15th December 2017.

[22] People’s News 197, December 2018, https://www.people.ie/news/PN-197.pdf.

[23]  See Sally Hayden, ‘No escape for refugees trapped in Libya as search-and-rescue closes down’, Irish Times 28th December 2018, and https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2018-11-21a.111.  See also Séamus Healy TD, ‘Growing Involvement of Ireland in European Militarisation – New Government Proposal’, in Cole, R. ed. (2017), pp. 25-27.

[24] See Justine McCarthy, ‘We can’t stay neutral on an EU call to arms’, Sunday Times 25/11/2018, and Frank Keoghan, ‘Forward to an EU Army!’ in Cole, R. ed. (2017), pp. 27-31.  The reference to 1954 concerns the ‘European Defence Community’, a proposal which, we should note, was mooted even before the EEC itself was founded in 1957.

[25] Here we must note the ‘Protocol on the concerns of the Irish people’ which was annexed to the Lisbon Treaty in 2013.  It is a very strange, and carefully crafted, confection indeed.  Though purporting to address our concerns at the level of the treaty text as such, it reads, and largely operates, more like a mere Declaration about that text.  The reference to ‘the Irish people’, far from emphasising our sovereignty, serves to dispel any impression that our concerns might be shared by an Irish government.  Tellingly, a text agreed at the request of an Irish government clearly sidelines the UN, merely expressing the EU’s respect for its ‘principles’ and preparedness to act ‘in accordance’ with them (as interpreted by whom?).  The Protocol appears to allow that member states may decide for themselves how to fulfil the EU’s version of the NATO ‘mutual assistance against aggression’ obligation.  However it does not remove or override the basic treaty clause, which says that ‘Member States shall have… an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power’ (Lisbon Treaty, Article 42.7; emphasis added).   The statement that ‘The Treaty of Lisbon does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality’ merely recycles previous declarations.  Promoting them to the level of a protocol does not as such affect the matter: either the treaty does, or it does not, prejudice Irish neutrality.  The remaining content of the ‘Protocol’ recycles, and to some degree specifies, reassurances about particular details of the rapidly-evolving EU military structure.  Concluded in 2012, when PESCO was already in the pipeline, it reassures us that member states can freely decide ‘whether to participate in permanent structured cooperation or the European Defence Agency’, and that Lisbon ‘does not provide for the creation of a European army’.  Two down, one to go…

[26] Harry Browne, Public Sphere in the series ‘Síreacht: Longings for Another Ireland’ (Cork UP 2018).

[27] See Harry Browne, Hammered by the Irish: How the Pitstop Ploughshares Disabled a U.S. War Plane – With Ireland’s Blessing (AK Press 2008).

[28] The Phoenix, 30th November 2018.   The full videoed proceedings, and other relevant links, can be found on the website of www.pana.ie, who hosted the conference here.  See also www.nousnatobases.org

[29] Browne, pp. 120-21.  A similar argument is advanced by John Holloway in his Crack Capitalism (London 2010).

[30] Defence Green Paper 2013, http://www.defence.ie/WebSite.nsf/grnPaper,e.g. pp. 7, 12, 22, 26.

[31] See Horgan, E., ‘Irish Neutrality: Interpreting Horgan v An Taoiseach, 2003’ in Lannon, J. and R. Cole, eds., Shannon Airport and 21st Century War, pp. 36-37.

[32] Clonan, T., Whistleblower, Soldier, Spy (Dublin 2013), pp. 166-67.

[33] This latter notion comes from Raymond Williams’s 1983 essay ‘Resources for a Journey of Hope’, which still, like Harry Browne’s argument, provides inspiration – along with salutary warnings for today.  See Williams, R., Towards 2000 (London 1983), pp. 241-69.

[34] My thanks to Andy Storey and Frank Keoghan for comments on drafts of this article, and to Joe Noonan and Karen Devine for comments on aspects of it.  I would like to dedicate the article as a small tribute to the memory of my granduncle Frank Corcoran, of ‘London-Irish’ emigrant stock, who with his brother Bernard refused to join the carnage in 1914-18 and who, half a century later, brought his grandnephew to see Joan Littlewood’s ‘Oh, What a Lovely War!’

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