Category: Archive

Anti-terrorism demands put neutrality under microscope

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Ireland, the Republic part of it, sprouts from the thing. But it’s not in the alliance that bears the ocean’s name. But given what NATO is apparently turning into, it might as well be.
The NATO summit in Prague last week was notable for the way President Bush almost casually redefined the entire alliance as a band of friends with each member being able to choose how to help in what is now, according to Bush, the alliance’s main reason for existence: the war against terrorism.
Ireland is very much involved in this war.
It’s all a far cry from the heyday of Irish neutrality, the years when Eamon de Valera kept the Free State out of World War II and publicly objected to the use of Northern Ireland as a base for GIs preparing for the invasion of Hitler’s fortress Europe.
The American attitude toward Irish neutrality at that time varied from grudging acceptance to barely concealed anger. Washington’s view was well explained in a wartime publication for North-based U.S. troops called “The Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland.” The guide, a historical gem, was recently unearthed and posted on the satirical website The Portadown News.
The first thing that the guide told the northern Ireland-bound GI was that there were in fact two Irelands. “The people of Northern Ireland are not only friends, but Allies. They are fighting by the side of England, the United States, and the rest of the United Nations,” the guide stated.
“Every American thinks he knows something about Ireland. But which Ireland? There are two Irelands. The shamrock, St. Patrick’s Day, the wearing of the green — these belong to Southern Ireland, now called Eire (Air-a).
“Eire is neutral in the war. Northern Ireland treasures its governmental Union with England above all things. There are historic reasons for these attitudes.”
The guide elaborated on this conundrum: “There are many of you soldiers who are of Irish descent. Some of you, Protestants and Catholics, may know at first hand or second hand about the religious and political differences between Northern and Southern Ireland. Perhaps they seem foolish to you. We Americans don’t worry about which side our grandfathers fought on in the Civil War, because it doesn’t matter now. But these things still matter in Ireland and it is only sensible to be forewarned.”
Being forewarned required knowledge of the border. This was explained under the heading “Eire Border Problems.”
American troops, it stated, “are not permitted to cross the border into Eire, and, as you probably know, Eamon De Valera, Prime Minister of Eire, publicly protested against the first landing of our men in Ulster.
“This may strike you as strange — as it is strange — when the grave issues at stake in this war are considered. Behind this border closing, behind the De Valera protest, is the whole difficult and complicated Irish question. You need to know about this problem and what is said on both sides, but the best plan for an American soldier is to stay on the sidelines.”
The guide was clearly enunciating the official U.S. government attitude to partition at this juncture. Soldiers were warned not to attempt to bridge the “chasm” between Catholics and Protestants.
“Wiser and better equipped people than you have discovered that Ireland is one place where intervention is not blessed, however well intended.”
De Valera’s goal, the guide continued, was the unification of all of Ireland into one nation.
“His government protested against the landing of troops because, as a matter of public policy, it does not recognize the separation of Northern Ireland. Eire has declared itself neutral in the war. However, the great majority of the citizens of Eire privately hope for an Allied victory, and the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck is said to have been cheered more loudly in Dublin than in London.
“Nevertheless, Eire’s neutrality is a real danger to the Allied cause. There, just across the Irish Channel from embattled England, and not too far from
your own billets in Ulster, the Axis nations maintain large legations and staffs. These Axis agents send out weather reports, find out by espionage what is going on in Ulster. The Ulster border is 600 miles long and hard to patrol. Axis spies sift back and forth across the border constantly.”
Some things change and some don’t. The United States is no longer entirely on the sidelines when it comes to the Irish question. The “wiser and better equipped” types took a holiday.
There are “grave issues” at stake yet again in the world and Ireland is required to make decisions with the United States very much in mind.
The gravest issue in George Bush’s view is terrorism. Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen is on record as saying there is no neutrality in the war against terrorism. Fighting terrorism, in Bush’s view, can take varied form. Providing overflight facilities and landing rights for the U.S. military are but two.
U.S. military aircraft have been flying over Irish air space for years. And Shannon Airport has become a regular rest and refueling stop for U.S. aircraft ferrying troops to and from the Middle East and other global trouble spots.
Ireland, currently a member of the United Nations Security Council, was represented at the Prague NATO gathering by the minister of state for European affairs, Dick Roche. Roche attended a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. This meeting was chaired by NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson. The council’s function is to coordinate relations between the NATO offshoot Partnership for Peace and the full alliance.
Ireland is a member of the former, though not a member of the latter. Irish troops are operating in Bosnia with the partnership. That operation was set up to combat what was nothing less than state-sponsored terrorism.
Meanwhile, the planes landing at Shannon are American but they are also effectively NATO aircraft.
Irish neutrality, once so clear cut, is now anything but. It has, in fact become rather fuzzy and contradictory compared to de Valera’s day. If the man was still with us, he would have every right to be confused.

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