After a six-hour debate last Thursday, marked by the delivery of set-piece speeches, the taoiseach sought to separate the issue of Shannon and permission for overflights from the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion.
Recalled for an emergency session during the St. Patrick’s week break, the
Dail discussed the issue as hostilities were already under way.
Outside in Kildare Street, anti-war activists picketed Leinster House. One of them smeared red paint on the suit of Fianna Fail Sen. Terry Leyden, whose nephew Sean is serving with a U.S. Patriot missile battery in Kuwait.
All the opposition parties opposed providing continued transit and refueling facilities at Shannon. Without the backing of the UN, they argued the flights contravened the country’s traditional policy of military neutrality.
Ahern told the Dail that Ireland could not participate in the military action against Iraq without an explicit further UN mandate and said the government regretted that the U.S.-led coalition had found it necessary to launch the campaign in the absence of agreement on a further resolution.
He proposed a 14-clause motion reaffirming commitment to the UN as the “guarantor of collective global security” and seeking support to maintain the longstanding arrangements for overflights.
The Shannon issue was, he stressed, a “separate question.”
“We have decided not to change our current policy in relation to stopovers or overflights,” he said.
The Irish government does not regard continuing to grant the facilities as participation in a war.
“The provision of facilities does not make Ireland a member of a military coalition,” Ahern said. “Nor does anybody regard us as such. We remain militarily neutral. The decision we have taken on this issue is our own.”
The facilities had been available to the U.S. for 50 years covering many crises and military confrontations taken without specific UN endorsement.
Ahern said no other country was contemplating the withdrawal of existing facilities from the U.S., even Germany and France, who were its strongest opponents in the UN.
“The United States and Great Britain are our partners in the Northern Ireland peace process, working with us to bring peace to our island,” Ahern said. “They are our biggest trading partners. They are the biggest foreign investors in the Irish economy. They are host to the biggest Irish communities overseas. They share many of our political and civic values.”
Withdrawing facilities would be seen as “a radical and far-reaching change” in Irish foreign policy.
“Any such change could also be seen by the U.S. and its allies as the adoption of a hostile position in relation to their country and their interests,” Ahern said.
Since the Dail vote, Labor and the Greens have called on the taoiseach to clarify Ireland’s situation in regard to the coalition of the willing.
“Senior U.S. figures, such as Donald Rumsfeld, have spoken of a coalition of the willing made up of the active involvement of 35 countries, adding that there were another 15 countries providing backup support, but who did not wish to be publicly identified as such,” said Labor spokesman Michael D Higgins.
Meanwhile anti-war protests are continuing but on nothing like the scale of
the 100,000 who marched in the antiwar protest in Dublin last month.
On Friday, silent vigils were backed by, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the union umbrella body, to give workers an opportunity to express their opposition to “this unjustified war” in a solemn and dignified manner.
“The sound of our silence will be a strong statement of deeply felt anger at the use of powerful weapons of destruction, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of innocent people,” said David Begg, ICTU general secretary.
In Dublin, 16 children from different ethnic origins, which the ICTU said represented 16 million children in Iraq whose lives are threatened by the attack, released 250 paper doves attached to helium balloons.
Backed by anti-war groups like the Irish Anti-War Movement, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, and the non-governmental organization Peace
Alliance, protest rallies were held in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway, Limerick
and Sligo on Saturday.
In Dublin, gardai said a march and rally outside the Dail was attended by
about 2,000, though organizers claimed it was up to 10,000.