From top: President Higgins inspects troops at the 1916 Leaders’ Commemoration in Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin last week; Derek Mooney
“Beyond the Fringe” was a 1960s British comedy revue that was seminal to the rise of British satire… well, according to Wikipedia, it was.
Even if you never heard of the show, you will know its cast. They were: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet
The revue had lengthy sell-out runs in London’s West End and Broadway and introduced several classical comedy sketches. One in particular has been coming to mind over the past few weeks.
It opens with a group of obsessive devotees gathering at the top of a mountain. They are counting down to midnight and, they believe, the end of the world. Their shaman tells them of what is to befall the world and assures them that they will be safe. Meanwhile the individual followers sheepishly wonder about mundane things like who brought the tinned food… and the tin opener.
The countdown nears its climax. 3… 2… 1. [Spoiler Alert] There is silence. Nothing happens. Unperturbed, the shaman concedes:
“this wasn’t quite the conflagration I’d been banking on… same time tomorrow lads, we must have a winner one day”
And so it is with Sinn Féin, Ming, Daly et al. With the same fixated zeal as the lads on the mountain they are once again predicting the end of neutrality
Mercifully, it is not nightly, though their incantations do seem to come around with a regularity curiously attuned to the electoral cycle.
The fact that every single other prediction of neutrality’s demise and the imminence of EU militarisation have turned out to be utter bunkum or – as the Liberal Democrats might say – bollocks, doesn’t seem to stop them.
Over the past few weeks they have been desperately trying to shoehorn the words PESCO, EU Army, EU militarisation into every answer to every question.
It’s a tactic that worked in Nice I and Lisbon I and they seem to hope it will scare folks into keeping them in the European Parliament. Fool me once, hey?
Other practitioners of the dark arts such as Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and the folks at Cambridge Analytica would be so proud.
So, our motley crew of doomsayers press on, hoping that facts don’t matter and will be brushed aside in favour of their alternative facts.
But facts do matter. One hard fact that matters a lot, as it debunks the scaremongering, is to be found at Art 29.4.9 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. It vetoes any possibility of Irish involvement in EU common defence:
“The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State”
This was inserted, by the people. The statement is explicit. It constitutionally prohibits our participation in EU common defence.
The idea of Ireland been dragged into some form of EU militarisation or an EU army is such a whopper of a lie that it could be painted on the side of a big red bus and driven around by Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.
What these people need to get their heads around is that like-minded EU countries can and will talk about defence cooperation and increasing their spending on defence. They will act on it too. It can hardly come as shock seeing that 22 (Incl UK) of the 28 EU member states are members of NATO.
But our insistence that other EU member states acknowledge our right to opt-out of Common Defence, means that we cannot then deny them the right to decide for themselves if they want to opt in.
Merkel and Macron have indeed said that Europe must “take more responsibility for its defence and security” especially given Trump’s disparaged the European members of NATO.
It is a debate and a development to which we should pay attention. No one is saying that this is something we should ignore. But the point is that we are not being dragged, pulled or pushed into anything. There is no clandestine Brussels scheme to entice, cajole or force us into any type of creeping EU militarisation.
We have our veto. Our Constitution affirms Ireland’s “adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination”.
We are multilateralists. We believe in the international rule of law. Our military neutrality not only means we will not be part of a military alliance, it also means that we decide how our troops are deployed and how much we spend on defence (an issue to which I shall return).
The Triple Lock on overseas deployments for 12 or more troops is still the basis on which we decide how our troops are deployed, as it has since the first UN peacekeeping mission 61 years ago.
Our troops are only deployed where there is a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval.
There has been no diminution in any of these things despite decades of our being told that the end of all of them is nigh.
The folks who say our neutrality is under threat are the ones who also said that it would be destroyed forever by joining the EU (then EEC) or by passing each and every EU treaty. But it hasn’t.
Sinn Féin said that the Lisbon Treaty would lead to an increase in Irish defence spending. It is the exact opposite. It has gone down since then – but this is not something we should treat as a virtue, especially as over 70% of Irish defence spending is on pay and pensions. The remaining 30% is supposed to be on training, defence equipment etc., but the percentage is now lower.
Instead of all the fatuous scaremongering how about a proper grown-up debate on Irish defence spending?
How about we talk seriously about real defence issues here like fair pay, declining morale, and the chronic personnel and skills shortages across the Defence Forces.
How about an evidence-based debate on the role of the Defence Forces play in on-island security and the central role they should be playing in protecting our vital infrastructures such as hospitals, transport and information systems from cyber-attacks and info ops. This is not about future risk. Ireland is one of the EU member states most targeted for cyber-attacks now.
These are the defence issues we should be discussing, but instead we get rehash of Ming’s greatest misses. Sinn Féin slumps in the opinion polls here and loses seats on Derry and Belfast City Councils and suddenly it goes into full alarmist, dog whistle mode.
As someone who strongly believes that military neutrality is the right policy and that the Triple Lock is essential, I am affronted by the assault on both from people spuriously claiming to be their defenders.
Their mendacities are a greater threat to our military neutrality than any loose talk of an EU Army because they risk convincing voters that the policy is already lost and is no longer there to be maintained.
When you stop and think about it, the best way to reaffirm our military neutrality is not by backing the ones who claim it is already gone, but by voting for MEPs who will strongly make the case for it.
That means having MEPs in European Parliament groups such as Alde (Fianna Fáil), S&D (Labour) and the Greens, who support the Triple Lock and drop the those who tell their mates on the EU fringes that all here is lost.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney