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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Readings in Nonviolence

Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)

Irish neutrality

Introduced by Rob Fairmichael

What on earth, you might justifiably ask, is a piece on Irish neutrality doing in a section headed ‘Readings in Nonviolence’?

The following is the text of a fact sheet in the series of posters and fact sheets which INNATE will be launching this year. Irish neutrality is not a nonviolent ideology since it fully accepts the need for a conventional armed state. However it sees that armed entity standing aside from the great power blocs and doing something positive with its armed forces, as in the military peacekeeping which Ireland has been engaged in since the 1950s. Such peacekeeping may not have a positive effect in all instances, and may not be taking the initiatives needed to move beyond conflict, but it may prevent the escalation of conflict. Irish state policy has also had a positive direction in many instances, from involvement with the League of Nations through to Nuclear Non-Proliferation, involvement with landmines and clusters weapons issues, and, very recently, the Arms Trade Treaty.

For people committed to nonviolence, those working for and on Irish neutrality should be considered allies in the struggle against increasing militarisation of the EU, and the attempt to synchronise the EU and NATO (this also includes the attempt to equate ‘Europe’ with the ‘EU’, an attempt to distort the very language we use, worthy of George Orwell’s ‘1984’). Irish neutrality obviously includes opposition to the ‘Western’/NATO wars which the Republic has also seen fit to back through massive US military use of Shannon Airport.

There will be times when those working for nonviolence will disagree and part company from people who support Irish neutrality. But for the vast majority of the time we are allies, and the concept of Irish neutrality can be used to develop the possibilities of peaceful cooperation and even nonviolence.

We do, however, need to understand what ‘Irish neutrality’ is or is not. Here’s the text of the fact sheet:

Irish neutrality – a very short guide

  • The foundations of Irish military and foreign policy neutrality were set before partition. Wolfe Tone addressed the issue in the 18th century. Republicans (as with the Irish Citizen Army) had the concept of serving ‘neither King nor Kaiser”.
  • It is true that after independence an important reason for not engaging in any military treaty with Britain was the desire not to copperfasten partition by doing so—but this was not the only reason.
  • Eamon de Valera, after he became head of government in 1932, played a prominent role in the League of Nations, including as its President.
  • The First World War - a clash of empires - called itself 'the war to end wars', but in fact sowed the seeds of further conflicts, particularly World War Two. The Irish Free State maintained neutrality during that war, chiefly to avoid a repetition of the Civil War, but in many indirect ways aided the Allies against fascism.
  • Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and has been involved in military peacekeeping operations in the entire period since 1958.
  • Ireland played an important role in the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), launching the process at the UN in 1958 which led to the treaty coming into force in 1970.
  • Ireland has continued to back disarmament initiatives such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008 with a key conference taking place in Dublin.
  • EEC/EU membership in 1973 has led to attempts to bring a common foreign policy and, increasingly, common military policies both through the evolution of EU military cooperation but also dovetailing with NATO. There has been a significant but unstated move away from previous policies and this has included involvement with NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ (sic).
  • The Irish Government’s greatest departure from neutrality is arguably the provision of Shannon Airport ‘with no questions asked’ as a transit point for the US military during the Afghan and Iraq wars. Several million US troops have passed through Shannon and it has also been used for illegal rendition of prisoners.
  • Despite all this, Irish neutrality remains a popular policy with the public in the Republic—though peace activists would, obviously, take its logic much further.
Copyright INNATE 2016