Thoughts on Irish Neutrality, Eamon De Valera, and Rendition Flights
Posted on 15 Aug ’11
Why Don’t We Abandon Our Neutrality
Recently, in a pub on Baggott Street an English work colleague posed a provocative and interesting question, about Ireland’s neutrality. He said that given Ireland’s dependence on Britain, as a trading partner, and America, both financially and politically, why don’t we abandon our neutrality and get involved internationally with our allies?…..Specifically in the war on terror?
It’s a tough one I suppose.
Maybe For Lack Of A Defense Force
Many Irish people are of the opinion that we don’t really have a need for a large effective army, but that having an defense force is still important for the security of the nation, so how can we justify trouping around the world protecting other countries, what could we actually do, other than offer a token gesture to the international community? (However, Irish armed forces i.e. peace keepers, are operational around the world and they are rarely commended for the exemplary service they do Ireland internationally)
Are We Really Neutral, If We Can’t Say NO!
I don’t believe that we remained neutral in the war on terror anyway, I mentioned, to my English co-worker, the fact that we allowed American planes refuel en route to Guantanamo in Shannon Airport etcetera. We weren’t exactly neutral and we weren’t risking direct conflict with Al Qaeda by doing this, but it did signal a stand against Global terrorist networks, something that we should be proud of. We can congratulate ourselves for standing up for the ideals of a free world, without chaos, oppression or desperation.
But have we ever considered saying No to Britain or America? Is our neutrality not one of the founding principles of the state?
Socio-Economic Reason Perhaps?
Pragmatists will argue that our neutrality is irrelevant in the face of economic necessity. Now more than ever Ireland needs the employment brought by American companies. Now, more than ever we need our biggest trading partner, England, and our biggest backer, Europe, to know that we can play ball internationally.
And Not Forgetting Our History
However, lets not forget that two of the greatest wars in Human history were fought in Europe on the pretext of the protection of the rights of small nations and their own sovereignty.
During World War 2, the then Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera, was lambasted by Winston Churchill, for not allowing British military vessels to refuel in Bear Haven in Castletown, in Cobh, and Lough Swilly in the north west. The so called “Treaty ports”. Churchill stated that he would have taken them by force was it not for the northern ports that remained loyal to the British crown. So in order to best preserve the interests of Britain, Churchill was prepared, if necessary to invade and occupy Irish ports and force a breach of our neutrality in order to defeat Nazi Germany. The justification for his actions would be obvious, regardless of their barbarity. Just as we have justified the use of Shannon in rendition flights, as a people.
The Irish governments’ response was subtle and devastating, and an important lesson in why our neutrality is a supporting pillar of our society. Rather than attack Churchill with rhetoric about Irish sovereignty, De Valera congratulated the British Prime Minister for resisting the temptation to behave like an oppressor and force Ireland into the fight. He then explained the reason for our neutrality via a hypothetical quandary.
Imagine a Britain occupied by Nazi Germany. A Britain that lost World War 2, and that after many years of struggle forced her exhausted oppressor to return to her, her freedom. Now, in the hypothetical scenario, assume that Germany retained control of say, six counties? Around the straits of Dover, in order to control the narrow entry point from the sea to their coastline, to Germany’s tactical advantage, but forever weakening Britain defensibly. Given this situation, De Valera asked would Churchill expect British subjects to willingly join a fight against enemies of Germany? Probably not.
Neutrality – Is It The Irish Principle?
Britain and America resisted oppression against a foreign power for several years, and to their everlasting credit won out in the end against terrible odds. However, Ireland resisted oppression for several hundred years and against the worst of odds, gained most of her freedom. Freedom earned by the struggle of men and women who were willing to face up to their responsibilities, and who wanted their children to have a life that was worth living, free to decide their own destiny and independent of tyranny.
We stood up for our principles in the face of Nazi Germany, can we not do the same in the face of Al Qaeda? Is our bowing to international pressure not a victory for the terrorists?
Our neutrality is one of the founding tenants of our state. It should not be taken so lightly or given up so easily. We need to remember this, the next time we write off another refueling flight at Shannon airport, as a simple economic necessity.