From top: Luke’ Ming’ Flanagan addresses a public meeting in NUI Galway on the increasing militarisation of the EU; Ciaran Tierney
On a cold Thursday night in November, a few dozen of us congregated in a beautiful but obscure new lecture hall on the western outskirts of the sprawling campus at NUI Galway.
Two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), four TDs, academics, and peace activists had gathered for a lively and informative three hour discussion which garnered little or no media attention.
I know, because I asked three news editors in advance of the meeting if they would be interested in a piece. Not one of them even replied.
The subject of the meeting was the thorny question of whether or not Ireland is being steamrolled into joining a European Union army since PESCO – Permanent European Security/ Military Co-Operation – was rushed through the Dail last December.
In theory at least, Ireland is a “neutral” country. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the Independent MEP, called the Galway meeting in response to growing alarm over what PESCO actually means to Ireland.
Are we on our way to becoming part of a European ‘Super State’?
Is our military spending going to increase dramatically to €6 billion per year (or half of what we spend on our desperate health service) because of something our country signed up to with so little debate last year?
Does anybody care?
It is astounding that we hear so much about Brexit on the national airwaves every day, because Britain’s shambolic departure from the EU has such massive implications for Ireland, but we hear little or nothing about the contentious issue of a European Army.
Are ‘Ming’ and the Independent TDs just alarmist crackpots? Is it really acceptable that unelected EU officials can lead us toward the formation of a ‘super’ army to rival those of the USA and Russia in the future?
And why, oh why, are so few Irish people talking about this?
Perhaps Irish neutrality is a sham, but shouldn’t we at least discuss this issue?
In Shannon last week, the important Shannonwatch peace group noted that a US military plane stopped off in a civilian airport on its way to and from Tel Aviv.
Nobody in authority Shannon ever checks the contents of the US military machines which have been landing there each and every week since 2001.
Last year, over 61,000 US troops stopped off in Shannon on their way to and from wars in the Middle East. That might mean a hell of a lot of leprechaun and whiskey sales in the duty free shop, but it also makes a mockery of the concept of Irish neutrality.
If it wasn’t so serious, Irish people would be laughing over Brexit and the shambolic way in which pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, in their jingoistic haste to leave the EU, seem to have had no vision for the future.
Perhaps reform, rather than withdrawal, might be the correct response to an undemocratic, unaccountable Europe; but at least in Britain they have had some sort of debate about the EU and their country’s place in it.
The Irish, meanwhile, see ourselves as “model” Europeans even though it was our EU masters who forced us into the “bank bailout”, with devastating implications in terms of the loss of public service jobs, health care and welfare cuts, the privatisation of state assets, and a new wave of emigration at the start of this decade.
Not to mention the huge debt our country has been saddled with for years to come.
Now PESCO, according to the Independent TDs and MEPs, will see Ireland being steamrolled into an EU Army and it is quite amazing how little talk there is about this in Ireland.
“We have to work on a vision of creating a real true European Army,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a “real” European Army during the Armistice Day commemorations last weekend.
On Tuesday, the European Commission said that a European Army is “likely” to be formed one day.
So the Galway conference this week seemed to be extremely timely.
“Does PESCO damage our neutrality?” asked Catherine Connolly TD. “Yes, it does. We are normalising war and the militarisation of Europe. PESCO was not discussed in our Dail. The good news is that 42 of us voted against it. Language has been stood on its head. We are heading towards a militarised Europe.”
She said that Irish soldiers have to rely on family income supplement in order to survive, in the middle of unprecedented crises in health care and housing.
Deputy Connolly pointed out that the head of the European Commission has never been elected by anyone and spoke of how uncomfortable she felt when he was given a reverential reception in the Dail.
A Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, has called for the “redefinition” of neutrality and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have denied that PESCO will impact on Irish neutrality.
Independent MEP Flanagan has described the massive global arms industry as an “untapped goldmine” in the eyes of the European Union.
Just as US President Donald Trump feels that punishing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia would only be foolish if it damaged his country’s $110 billion arms trade with Riyadh, perhaps the Irish should be far more honest with ourselves.
Does our ‘neutrality’ mean anything when we get a chance to cosy up to and find favour with the world’s military powers?
Do we want to stand beside the French and Germans as they, too, aim to become global powers?
Perhaps, ultimately, the vast sums of money to be made from militarisation are far more important than the human rights of children in Syria, Palestine, Yemen or Afghanistan as the US military aircraft land and take off from Shannon Airport with total impunity every week.
“When you question why they are militarising the European Union, you must understand that this is not to protect or defend you,” said Flanagan. “It is about money . . . and billions of it.”
Next time you have a loved-one lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours, or finding it impossible to find an affordable place to live, remember that PESCO is set to increase Ireland’s military expenditure six times over.
Sometimes, when you look at the stories which are creating headlines, it’s just as informative to check out which stories are being ignored.
When a ‘neutral’ former colony wants to be part of a new global super-power, when arms sales are more important than human lives, language truly has been stood on its head.
Neutrality means next to nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes.