Irish neutrality: stop the freeloading and end this cowardly policy

12 May, 2010

It’s one of the sacred cows of Irish politics: that we are a neutral country.  

Our sham neutrality has its origins in the struggle for independence and the partition question.  Rabid republicans were so blinded by their hatred of the old enemy Britain that they welcomed its possible defeat by Hitler and his allies.  Not taking sides in the Second World War, or not even having an official view as to the relative merits of Nazi dictatorship and democratic Britain, was a bit dodgy, so it had to be elevated to something grander than a mere cosying up to “my enemy’s enemy”.  Hence this wonderful principle of “neutrality”.

If Russian troops landed tomorrow on the west coast and set about annexing this brave Republic, would we not be shocked if the United States and other EU countries did nothing to help us?  We  certainly would feel aggrieved.  So why do we not expect this to work in reverse?  If our friends are prepared to sacrifice their citizens’  lives to keep Ireland free, should we not be prepared to lift a finger when they are in danger?

Sixty years ago, when the world was sharply divided between totalitarian communism (is there any other sort?) on the one hand, and free market economies (both democratic and non-democratic) on the other hand, there was a case to be made for not being willing to support either side militarily.  Even then, it was a pretty disgraceful position, as the tyranny and cruelty of Stalinism had been exposed, and the arms-bearers of Britain and the United States had saved our bacon from Nazi rule. 

Eleven years ago when NATO tried to save Kosovo by attacking Serbia, Ireland had no view on the matter. As one jornalist wrote “In the first war on European soil in some 50 years, the Government neither approved nor disapproved of the Nato action.  Ireland’s neutrality policy on the issue was hard to explain, and even more difficult to justify.”

Just what does “neutrality” mean in 2010?  In what dispute are we neutral?  Is there no cause which would justify us taking up arms?  Are we always going to be freeloaders? 

Sean Lemass remarked that  “a Europe worth joining is a Europe worth defending” and he was correct.  Martin Luther King, quoting Dante Alighieri, said that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality”

Another religious man, Bishop Desmond Tutu, warned that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”   

There’s truth in the old saying that the minute your shift into Neutral when you’re trying to go up a hill, you start going backwards.  So which of our political parties is going to be brave enough to call a halt to this craven and backward policy?  I’m not holding my breath.  Until other countries publicly call us out on this, instead of muttering behind closed doors, our politicians will continue to confuse cowardice with principle.


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