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The myth of Irish neutrality Ireland is the weakest link in European defence

'Nato likely wouldn’t want Ireland as a member anyway.' (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

'Nato likely wouldn’t want Ireland as a member anyway.' (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)


October 27, 2023   8 mins

Over the summer of 1951, there were so many visitors to a remote Irish Army facility in County Donegal, known as Finner Camp, that traffic jams were common. The crowds were trying to catch sight of a strange new aircraft, a Westland Dragonfly: one of the first helicopters to operate in Ireland. The presence on a nearby beach of an amphibious DUKW truck painted in Irish Army colours stirred similar curiosity. Especially because the Irish Defence Forces did not, at that time, have any such equipment in its inventory: the military would not receive its first helicopter for another 12 years.

The poorly concealed truth was that the helicopter and DUKW belonged to the British armed forces. They had been disguised as being Irish to avoid starting a riot.

The vehicles were in Ireland with the cooperation of the Dublin government as part of Operation Sandstone, an attempt to create military maps of every part of the Irish shore. This was taking place at the request of the US, in case Soviet troops overran both the UK and Ireland and Washington needed to launch a counter-invasion. It is a little-known episode in Anglo-Irish relations that neatly demonstrates Ireland’s ambivalent and highly flexible attitude to military neutrality. The government was allowing, and assisting, what was essentially a Nato military operation on its shores — just two years after Ireland had refused an invitation to be a founding member of the Alliance.

Irish neutrality has been in the spotlight over the last two years. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2020 raised the question of just how much assistance Dublin can provide Kyiv without rendering neutrality completely meaningless. More recently, and more in keeping with the principle of neutrality, Ireland, unlike most western countries, urged Israel to comply with international law in responding to the Hamas terror attacks. Of course, an independent foreign policy stance does not always go hand-in-hand with military neutrality — but more on that later.

For the strongest defenders of Irish neutrality, it is a concept that predates the foundation of the state — and is a key motivation for the revolutionary leaders of the early 20th century. But this is a distortion. Neutrality was chiefly a way of distinguishing a new Irish State from Britain, rather than an ideological principle. Irish men should no longer be sent to die in British wars, Ireland’s founders argued: “Ireland cannot,” declared the section of the Irish Volunteers which went on to carry out the 1916 Easter Rising, “with honour or safety, take part in foreign quarrels otherwise than through the free action of a National Government of her own”. But a Dublin Government should be able to join whatever military alliances it saw fit. Indeed, one of the foundational documents of Irish statehood, the Proclamation of the Republic — which was issued during the Easter Rising — pays tribute to “our gallant allies in Europe”: a reference to Germany, which helped arm the rebels. Some of the main leaders of the Rising even favoured an Ireland with a German prince as its head of state. Some neutrality.

When the War of Independence ended in 1921 with a ceasefire, the Irish side went to the negotiating table in London with some aspirations to neutrality. But these were quickly dropped when it became clear that the British side, at the insistence of Winston Churchill, would not countenance an Ireland with an independent defence policy. On too many occasions, Ireland had been used by Britain’s enemies in attempts to open up a western flank. This could not be allowed to happen again, Churchill said.

The final settlement, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, denied the new Irish Free State the right to a navy and left three of its major ports in the hands of British forces. Britain would remain responsible for the external defence of the fledging state, rendering the question of neutrality largely moot for the next 15 years. But with the dismantling of the Anglo-Irish treaty by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera in the Thirties, neutrality again became a viable prospect. As the failure of the League of Nations became apparent and war clouds gathered over Europe, de Valera declared “we want to be neutral”.

But his decision was practical rather than ideological: he judged neutrality to be the best way to protect Irish lives and sovereignty. Then, as now, Ireland’s military was entirely incapable of fending off invasion or making any contribution to the war effort. And joining the war on the Allied side could have reinvigorated support for the IRA and potentially even led to civil war. But most important for de Valera, a declaration of neutrality was a way of announcing to the world Ireland’s final and complete independence from its former colonial master.

Still, de Valera knew that the neutrality employed by Ireland would have to preference the Allies. Otherwise, there was a very real possibility that Churchill could order a pre-emptive invasion to deny the island to the Germans. (In fact, Churchill had ordered his generals to prepare plans to do just that.) And so, Ireland allowed crashed Allied airmen to cross into Northern Ireland. Sometimes the Irish would even fix up Allied airplanes and send them back, too. Crashed Germans, on the other hand, were interned until the end of the war, as per international neutrality law.

Then there was the almost complete cooperation in intelligence between Ireland and the Allies. After the war, MI5 concluded that Irish “neutrality” actually helped the war effort, as it freed up tens of thousands of Irish workers to enlist in the British war effort while allowing Dublin to covertly collaborate with London in almost every way short of joining the hostilities. Unlike the policies relating to airmen, much of this assistance remained secret for decades after the war: in the eyes of the world, Ireland seemed much more neutral than it was.

Throughout history, then, Irish neutrality has meant whatever the government of the day has needed it to mean. Sometimes it has meant not taking part in sanctions against an aggressor nation, such as during the Falklands War when the government withdrew from European sanctions against Argentina. More recently, neutrality has been defined by the government in the narrowest way possible: not being a member of Nato.

Ireland’s refusal to become a founding member of the Alliance after the war has been held up as a clear example of the nation’s commitment to neutrality. But the truth is, the government of the day was very keen to join Nato, which it viewed as the best defence against the encroaching threat of godless communism. The only obstacle, it said, was partition. If America would pressure the UK to return the six counties, Ireland would be happy to become a member, Irish diplomats said. The gambit failed. “We simply replied, in effect, that ‘it’s been nice knowing you’,” an American official later recalled.

Over the subsequent decades, neutrality was rarely discussed in the public sphere. This suited the government perfectly, as its definition of the concept was becoming even more muddled. Having no air force to speak of, Dublin was happy to rely on a secret deal with the RAF to defend Irish airspace. It was also more than willing to support the western side in the Cold War when it came to dealing with Soviet spies. Meanwhile, it took comfort from the fact that if war did break out, Nato would, out of necessity, have to defend Ireland to ensure its own security.

The process of European integration only served to intensify the ambiguity. When Ireland voted to join the European Economic Community in 1972, various Irish leaders had publicly stated that the endpoint was likely some form of joint defence league — but the public did not seem to care. The prospect of economic stability and an avalanche of infrastructure funding from Brussels was enough to quieten any concerns about a potential loss of neutrality at some undefined point in the future.

But over subsequent decades, as EU military cooperation became more concrete, neutrality started to factor into decisions by Irish voters. Starting in the Nineties, whenever an EU treaty appeared promising closer union, including in military matters, the public were sceptical. Twice, in 2001 and 2008, Ireland rejected these treaties in referendums. This led to the insertion of significant opt outs for Ireland regarding military cooperation. In the Irish mind, neutrality had become what it remains today: an extremely popular if poorly understood concept.

Even after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, support for a general policy of neutrality remained as high as 70%. Events such as the 2021 cyberattack by a Russian hacking group, which crippled the Irish health service, or the presence of Moscow’s spy ships in Irish waters, have done little to change minds. And yet, other recent polls show a majority in favour of increased EU military cooperation, while support here for military assistance to Ukraine is among the highest in the EU. Trying to explain this contradiction to an outsider is difficult. The simplest and most cynical explanation is that most people don’t really understand what neutrality means or that it offers little defence against modern security threats. A somewhat kinder interpretation is that Irish people see their country as a force for good in the world and are therefore willing to adapt their definition of neutrality when necessary.

Take its response to Ukraine. Ireland has committed to providing millions in military aid but only of a “non-lethal” nature. As a result, it provides fuel for Ukrainian tanks but not ammunition for guns. It is training Ukrainian troops in “humanitarian” areas such as demining, while ignoring the fact that demining operations are a major part of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Last month, it emerged that this training also includes basic weapons instruction.

But how much longer can Ireland afford the luxury of ambivalence? Threats are mounting on the horizon, including growing espionage activity by Russia and China. Ireland’s vital subsea communications cables are vulnerable — as is its open, tech-based economy. In 2022, a government-appointed commission found that Ireland is almost entirely defenceless when it comes to military threats. Since then, the situation has only worsened. As it stands, the Defence Forces can only put two of Ireland’s eight naval ships to sea due to a lack of crew. When a helicopter was needed to carry out a maritime drugs bust last month, an air ambulance had to be used.

Some have seen warnings about Ireland’s vulnerability as an attempt to bounce Ireland into Nato against the wishes of the people. This is a conspiracy theory. Applying for Nato membership would be political suicide for any Irish party. While closer EU military cooperation may be palatable to the electorate, joining the Alliance remains deeply unpopular. Besides, the state of the Irish military means Nato probably wouldn’t want Ireland as a member anyway.

But ministers are conscious of the concerns of Ireland’s neighbours, including the UK, that it represents a weak point in European defence. The Government is making some moves to allay these fears. It has promised to increase Irish defence spending by 50% in the next five years, though that would still leave it with one of the lowest defence budgets in the EU. And Dublin has committed to the newly revamped EU Battlegroup system, which will provide an expeditionary force to carry out the EU’s foreign policy objectives overseas. In order to provide enough troops, Ireland has withdrawn from a major UN peacekeeping mission in Syria.

Critics of the Irish government have accused it of incrementally dismantling neutrality. Here they have a point, insofar as Irish foreign policy is now belatedly adapting to 21st-century threats. More is being spent on defence — although not nearly enough — and there is closer cooperation with other militaries, for instance when it comes to cyber threats. At the same time however, national security remains a low priority domestically; the government doesn’t even have a standalone defence minister and soldiers and sailors are leaving the Defence Forces in droves for better pay and conditions in the private sector.

But while neutrality is changing incrementally, the possibility of abandoning it completely and joining a military alliance remains remote. Moves towards a genuine EU common defence pact have stalled; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has convinced many member states that Nato is the best guarantor of their security. This suits the Irish government perfectly. The simple fact of geography means, in protecting its own territory, Nato also protects Ireland without the need for any potentially divisive national debate. For a while longer at least, Ireland can claim a form of neutrality, safe under the security umbrellas of its neighbours.


Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times. His book, Is Ireland Neutral? is out now.

ConorGallaghe_r

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Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

“Irish neutrality has meant whatever the government of the day has needed it to mean”. Other ‘neutral’ countries could be tarred with the same brush. Take Sweden, during World War 2. When the Axis was doing well, Sweden transported Wehrmacht troops on its railway system. Later, once the Allies had gained the upper hand, Sweden trained Danish and Norwegian volunteers so that they could liberate their homelands from the Wehrmacht.
Only Switzerland can afford to be neutral. No dictator will invade Switzerland because the Swiss are the custodians of his numbered bank account.

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago

Austria is just the same. Whereas Sweden and Finland headed straight for NATO when the war in the Ukraine began, Austrian politicians have been pathologically avoiding starting any discussions of what our neutrality means or whether it is still necessary.
For no longer being neutral would mean Austria having to stop waffling on about being a bridge between East-West…a neutral place where great powers may meet. That schtick has been going on for decades – but it was always a sham; what it really means is being able to play everybody on all sides while never having the courage to articulate a single, clear opinion.

Last edited 8 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Sounds like a very smart stance to me! There are enough bloodthirsty, warmongering evil killers out there.. NATO doesn’t need another one! What IS needed is another intelligent, peacemaking interlocutor- we have far too few of those..

Steven Targett
Steven Targett
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Well that would rule Ireland out then particularly under Varadkar’s leadership.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

However we’re not short on weasels who want safety and prefer other people pay for it.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bret Larson
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

In fact the Swiss airforce shot both German and allied aircraft over Swiss territory,numbered bank accounts not withstanding.Even now Swiss volunteers keep rifles at home ready for action.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Your mention of Switzerland reminds me that the Swiss did favour the Allies a bit eventually. They turned a blind eye to American agents exfltrating into Campione d’Italia (the bit of Italy inside the Ticino Canton).
> Even now Swiss volunteers keep rifles at home ready for action.
True, and also true of young Swiss doing their national service. But they do not keep ammo at home and the Swiss claim that their rifles have been designed NOT to take conventional sizes of ammo. I’ve worked in Switzerland for a number of years and I certainly got the impression that they are not leaving anything to chance. They even have a lot of those dreaded tunnels for military defensive purposes.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Wow, tunnels.. like Hamas, what does that say about the Swiss? Not a lot I guess..

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Like most Americans.. especially the mountainy folks.. but the enemy they fear is their own Feds!

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago

German dead in the two world wars? c. 7million. British? About 1.4 million. French? Maybe 3 million. Swedish? A few dozen volunteers who fought for Finland against Russia, plus Raoul Wallenberg.
Sweden did its job: it looked after the Swedes.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
8 months ago

ponce
[pɒns]
VERB
poncing (present participle)
BRITISHINFORMALseek to obtain (something) without paying for it or doing anything in return:“I ponced a ciggie off her”SIMILAR:be a pimpbe pimpingBRITISHINFORMALlive off a prostitute’s earnings:“he was arrested for poncing on the girl”

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

…nicely put…

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

When we find an enemy we’ll seek support.. as of now we don’t have any.. we only 3ver had one!

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Very wise. Inherently one’s biggest enemy is yourself.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of The Irish Navy, by The Dubliners….

The ClĐœona, the Meabh and the Mucha
The pride of the Irish navy
When the Captain he blows on his whistle
All the sailors go home for their tea

While the army is off in the Kongo
In Cyprus or some foreign parts
Our navy is strained to the limits
Deploying it’s nautical acts

One day from the Russian invader
Defending our very odd fish
We found it was just the red herring
From the signals we got from the dish

‘The ClĐœona, the Meabh and the Mucha
The pride of the Irish navy
When the Captain he blows on his whistle
All the sailors go home for their tea

Each year they go on manoeuvres
To prepare for defence they are keen
Sometimes it’s the Lakes of Killarney
More often the pond in the Green

The canal it could be of assistance
In defending our own holy ground
But due to proposed legislation
We’ll have to sail all the way round

The ClĐœona, the Meabh and the Mucha
The pride of the Irish navy
When the Captain he blows on his whistle
All the sailors go home for their tea

We are a seafaring nation
Defence of our land is a right
We’d fight like the devil all morning
Provided we’re home by the night

The ClĐœona, the Meabh and the Mucha
The pride of the Irish navy
When the Captain he blows on his whistle
All the sailors go home for their tea

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Joy
Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago

‘Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2020 raised the question of just how much assistance Dublin can provide Kyiv without rendering neutrality completely meaningless. More recently, and more in keeping with the principle of neutrality, Ireland, unlike most western countries, urged Israel to comply with international law in responding to the Hamas terror attacks.’
Uh? What possible meaningful support could a small, agrarian country like Ireland – with a modest gendarmerie of an army, a navy of a few fishery patrol vessels and no air force at all – provide to Ukraine, a whole continent away?
But oh no! Not Threats from Global Evilitude?! The Manichean Struggle of Light v Darkness? Pah. Sorry to disappoint Northrop Grumman Inc, but Ireland doesn’t need defending from anyone bar illegal trawlers, drug smugglers and the World Economic Forum’s Kulturkampf – and the same would go for an independent Scotland too.
As for the second sentence: urging Israel to comply with international law? Why, what a dangerous, radical, controversial and revolutionary proposition! How absolutely shocking! Ugh! Down with this appalling ‘neutrality’ thing! They’ll be saying there are two sides to the Palestine-Israel conflict next!!

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Joy
B Stern
B Stern
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

I was waiting for the author to get to the well-known Irish anti-semitism. Ireland isn’t neutral when it comes to Israel.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
8 months ago

It is telling that an article about Irish neutrality has a picture of the American president.

Cam Marsh
Cam Marsh
8 months ago

For a decade after 1999 the Irish had considerable presence in Kosovo (KFOR). Initially a transport/logistics company based in Camp Clarke, 15km south of Pristina under control of HQ KFOR their mission was to provide, on order, equipment and material lift to military units in KFOR and to humanitarian organisations working with the UN. In October 2004 the 8 Irish Transport Company was replaced by a Mechanized Infantry company, designated the 27 Infantry Group, and increased the overall commitment from 110 personnel up to over 230. The company operated as part of a Multinational Task Force (Centre) alongside soldiers from Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. This Task Force was commanded by an Irish General for 12 months in 2006 – 2007. (From the Irish Defence Forces Website)

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago

Given how poorly they fought in Katanga it is likely a good thing that they do not re-arm.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

The Irish fought magnificently in the Congo.. the ambush in Niemba was an aberration. Check the facts.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Siege of Jadotville

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Not true, in point of fact.
Had much close combat experience yourself, have you?

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
8 months ago

Ireland has only ever had one enemy and it isn’t Russia or China

Steve Hayward
Steve Hayward
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

And, when it comes to fulfilling its international responsibilities to other European countries by securing its own airspace, it can always quietly rely on the air force of an armed forces it affects to despise in public. I imagine those armed forces only tolerate it because they can well imagine what a joke any air defence Ireland would provide would be if its neighbours insisted on it.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
8 months ago

Small countries are always at the mercy of big bullies, and in that respect, the US is no less a bully than other great powers. And as the example Ukraine shows, no-one should be under any illusion about the US umbrella – as US senators are saying, the Ukraine war is a great investment for the US since it is killing Russians and weakening Russia without anyone else (that matters) dying.
The international standing of neutrality depends in where the US stands – so long as the US is neutral, neutrality is a Good Thing. As soon as the US takes a side, neutrality is denigrated as cowardice, vacillation, siding with the enemy, etc.
It is already clear that the Ukraine war will end with a total defeat of NATO – a NATO moreover that will have completely divested itself of ammunition and equipment. The EU’s militaristic “foreign policy”, which consists of acting as an extension of NATO, is bankrupt. Once this is all over, we’ll need some grown-ups and actual diplomats, not wanna-be ministers for war of an entity that has no army, and rebuild the credibility of Europe and its constituents.

Juan Manuel PĂ©rez PorrĂșa
Juan Manuel PĂ©rez PorrĂșa
6 months ago

“The Dublin Government”? The Irish government; Ireland’s government.

Sophy T
Sophy T
8 months ago

‘Otherwise, there was a very real possibility that Churchill could order a pre-emptive invasion to deny the island to the Germans.’
I don’t understand this sentence.

Paul Hopkins
Paul Hopkins
8 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

The British and then the Americans did the same thing in neutral Iceland in WW2 to deny the Germans any occupation there and prevent them from using it as a strategic base to further Hitler’s war against the Allies. Churchill’s logic – thankfully never carried out, had the same purpose, to prevent Ireland from being invaded and subjugated by Nazi Germany (see Operation Green/ Unternehmen GrĂŒn) and being used as a base for the invasion of Britain. In the unlikely event that Ireland had been occupied by Nazi Germany, it would have made the liberation of Western Europe a much taller order.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hopkins

Napoleon tried to invade Ireland for the same purposes as Germany would’ve had, and his fleet nearly succeeded but for adverse weather conditions off the southern Irish coast. The British government then reinforced its stranglehold on the island of Ireland, including full unification with Britain in 1801. A great deal of the subsequent violent history proceeds from that point, but the British government was almost certainly right to take the action they did at the time, as a simple matter of self-defence.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hopkins

…Great Britain’s PM had in place a provisional contingency plan…in case the Blueshirts rose against the Republic with a view to offering the Treaty Ports to the Third Reich, from which to conduct the Battle of the Atlantic. And bearing in mind the visceral hostility that many in Ireland maintain towards the British to this day…which was even worse then…it would have been remiss of him not to…

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

The hatred you refer to was less visceral and less widespread than you imagine, even back then.. our civil war with its atrocities made the population wonder if British occupation hadn’t been all that bad!
Hatred of the English (never British) today is virtually non existing (apart from the tiny few nut jobs that every country has) as witnessed by the Queen RIP walking freely among the people of Cork, arguably Ireland’s most anti English county of all. People need to come up to date.. GB had a visceral hatred of Germans, sure but that was 70+ years ago and there was some justification…then.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“Hatred of the English (never British)…”
I never understood why the Scots always get a pass, not just by the Irish but by all those who seek to denigrate Britain’s past. The Scots played a huge role in Britain’s colonies, particularly in Ireland. India was pretty much run by Scots and West Indian cricket teams are full of people with Scottish names.

Last edited 8 months ago by P N
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

My uncle, Con Cremin, served as Ireland’s ambassador to Hitler’s Germany and spent the war in Berlin.. his sole function was to con (!) the Germans into leaving us alone. Churchill berated DeValera in public for staying neutral but in secret was totally happy with Ireland’s neutrality.. to re-invade Ireland and man it against a German attack (to protect the UK’s Western coast) was more that the UK could afford.. neutrality was the better option for GB by far.. Churchill’s berating deValera was just a show to keep Germany on Ireland’s side. They also had Lord HawHaw but the Irish govt. had no part in that (afaik). By the way we mined all our ports + airports and were set to blow up amap of vital infrastructure if EITHER side invaded! Hence we called WW2 The Emergency!

Last edited 8 months ago by Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

You say Irish neutrality is whatever its government wants it to be sounds like an insult perhaps but in practical terms it makes perfect sense. Its opposite, being hamstrung into unwanted, foul conflicts is hardly smart is it?
In Ireland we have a phrase: An Irish solution for an Irish problem. Our approach gives us the best of all possible worlds: International acceptability as
â–Șan freelance broker
â–Șan acceptable peacekeeper
â–Șa non belligerent interlocutor
and as such, we have minimal expenditure on killing equipment (why not call it what it is?) and maximum influence (for a tiny state).
Instead of kowtowing to appalling NATO actions (warmongering, expansion and an aggressive stance ..it’s supposed to be defensive fgs!) we could have acted a mediator and made a real contribution to peace in Ukraine; but out vassal government did the opposite.
So, mock us all you like but we will keep our funny old neutrality and yes, WE will decide what it means and how to apply (within intl. law of course) and be a real force for good in the world and the rest if you can keep your warmongering and peacock posturing to disguise your wicked, murderous, neo-colonial, one world order, US sycophancy and get on with WW3 which seems to be the objective. In the words of Sam Goldwin: Include us out!

Last edited 8 months ago by Liam O'Mahony
P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilisation then you must be prepared to accept barbarism.” – Thomas Sowell
Expansion of NATO is not “appalling”. Ireland freeloads off NATO. Fair enough, it’s a rational move. Why wouldn’t Ireland save money on defence if it can? That’ll work fine provided Ireland isn’t once again “used by Britain’s enemies in attempts to open up a western flank.” That has been the problem since the Reformation.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilisation then you must be prepared to accept barbarism.

What an idiotic statement. Provoking war is barbarism.
Neither of the two prominent wars now going on (plus the less prominent ones) were inevitable. Both were warned about and would have been easy to avoid.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago

…by the Ukrainians accepting Czar Putin as their rightful liege lord, in his effort to rebuild “the Empire of all the Russias”…and the Israelis either abandoning their cherished and wholly legal state and going to exile again…or disarming, and letting Hamas use their tunnel network as a slaughterhouse and mass grave, I assume?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Utterly wrong on both counts.. you give simple-mindedness and naivety a bad name!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago

Right on!

P N
P N
8 months ago

Using force to defend civilisation is not provoking war. It’s hardly a novel idea: Si vis pacem, para bellum

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

No doubt you believe Britain’s near-millennium in Ireland was all for the betterment of the Irish so why would Ireland be a danger to Britain’s western flank?

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Britain’s near-millennium in Ireland can be divided into pre and post-Reformation periods. Before the Reformation, the Norman kings were just one of a number of local rulers on a divided island; there was no country called Ireland and never had there been. The idea that the English were oppressing the Irish during this period has no basis in fact. After the Reformation, the island of Ireland stayed Catholic, the rest of the British Isles went Protestant. From that point on, Ireland became a threat to Britain as a bridgehead for Catholic Europe to invade the British Isles and restore Catholicism. Britain’s relations with Ireland between the Reformation and 1922 can largely be defined by Britain fearing the restoration of Catholicism via Ireland. This threat reappeared during the Second World War, hence the reference in this article.
Should any enemy in the future seek to attack Britain, they might use Ireland as a bridgehead. Ireland may need an army to defend itself against Britain’s enemy or to defend itself against Britain.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

Did PIRA harm a member of your family? If so your veiled hostility is understandable. If not, your understanding of Irish history is as simplistic as the most tedious teenage republican.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

And your ad hominem is a very poor substitution for an argument. Very telling.
If you have a counter argument, then please make it. Otherwise your contribution is no more than a meaningless slur.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

Not every encounter is an argument and ad hominem would nowadays imply your character is being traduced. I’m quite willing to indulge anti-Irish interpretations of history from people who bear the scars of republican violence or whose families are affected. Nevertheless, I much prefer the ‘veni vidi vici’ strand of British anti-Irish sentiment. You surely know how Britain “went Protestant” so you might want to look into why protestantism was less successful in Ireland. There were sincere efforts to turn the Irish away from Catholicism and those efforts weren’t always unsuccessful. Likewise consider perusing medieval English law in Ireland or perhaps the enslavement of Irish in the Caribbean might pique your interest. It became such a profitable business British slavers even enslaved many Britons. Accounts from enslaved (non-Irish) noblemen who bought their freedom make for grim reading.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Nothing in your comment contradicts mine.

My comment was not an anti-Irish interpretation. I’m American so why would I care?

I pass no judgement on the whys and wherefores of the reformation. I merely stated the fairly mainstream interpretation of Anglo-Irish relations as being largely shaped by Britain’s paranoia of Catholic Europe using Ireland to attack Britain. Had Ireland not remained Catholic then British attitudes towards the Irish would have been totally different as would everything that stemmed from such attitudes. This is not a controversial viewpoint.

That you find this offensive or “anti-Irish” is puzzling.

An ad hominem is just a fallacious strategy of tackling the man not the ball. That is all. I’m not accusing you of libelling me.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

Ireland was a threat to Britain because of the brutal and rapacious treatment of the Irish, which after the ‘reformation’ ensured they mostly remained Catholic. Entirely sincere protestant proselytization was hampered by political reality: the British wanted Irish land, not Irish protestants.
Your arguments are the familiar fare of Ulster loyalists and their American admirers, whose interpretations of history can be reasonably described as anti-Irish.
For example, the Cambro-Normans despised the Irish. They weren’t just another set of brutal warlords. Their laws and other writings sometimes have the flavour of Imperial Japanese reports from occupied China.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

This is not true. The Old English in Ireland before the Reformation (or Hiberno-Normans) particularly those beyond the Pale assimilated with Irish culture and remained Catholic after the Tudor conquests and the arrival of the mostly-Protestant New English.
The treatment of the Irish by the Normans was not remarkable for being brutal and rapacious and the Irish had it much better than the Anglo-Saxons had a couple of hundred years or so before.
Your persisting with the ad hominem is tiresome. An argument is an argument; it doesn’t matter who’s making it. We are all impartial; what matters is whether our analysis is impartial.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

British history might be quite different if the Normans had ruled Britain as they ruled Ireland (which is not to downplay the ferocity of the Norman conquest of Britain). It’s true many Normans became partly or fully Gaelicized over time but Norman assimilation in Ireland is largely myth.
If Norman-ruled England has an equivalent of the Statutes of Kilkenny, forbidding marriage between ‘Engleis’ and Irish, then I’d be interested to know of it. 
Furthermore, Norman French survived as the common tongue of the ‘English’ in Ireland long after it faded in England*.
The papal nuncio Rinuccini, among other Catholic foreigners throughout Irish history, noted that the Catholic “Old English” typically sided with the English even long after the English turned protestant (and hostile to English Catholics).
The point remains: Ireland was a threat to Britain because the Irish were viewed as barely human and treated as such by the Normans and later Britons.
Are you aware of the efforts to colonize Ireland with European protestants? In spite of limited but sincere efforts to protestantize the Irish, most British officials had no interest in converting the Irish to their new religion and as such Ireland would always remain a threat.
*As recently as the late 20th C. there were still aristocrats in England who spoke Norman French.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  P N

I’m Thomas Sowell’s worst fan! I think the guy is deluded..
Ireland WOULD be freeloading off NATO if we had enemies to defend ourselves from but as of now, we don’t have an enemy in the world.. Indeed we are rated “Best country in the World”.. If we do ever make an enemy of a powerful bloc its as likely to be USUK as anyone else! Then we’ll seek support from whomsoever we choose. It might well be Russia or China both of which we have good relations with and neither of which ever, ever did us one bit of harm! Would that it we so in the case of every powerful nation!!

Steve Hayward
Steve Hayward
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“If we do ever make an enemy of a powerful bloc its as likely to be USUK as anyone else!” – You just invented that bizarre fantasy to give you the opportunity to pretend that there’d be the faintest chance of your palling around with Russia or China. It’d be interesting to see how much longer US presidents would fawn over Ireland if that ever happened. I’m sure that the Ukrainians are reassured by your conviction that Russia has never acted against Ireland’s interests.

P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“I’m Thomas Sowell’s worst fan! I think the guy is deluded..”
That explains a lot. However, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve never actually read any of his work. A lot of lefties wail against Sowell without ever being able to counter his arguments. Sowell’s line his hardly novel: Si vis pacem, para bellum.
You have missed my point. In the Second World War, Ireland also had no enemies. However, Britain did, just as Britain had enemies in France and Spain for most of its history. Since the Reformation, France and Spain and, briefly, the deposed Stuart dynasty, have used or threatened to use Ireland as a bridgehead against Britain. Had Hitler tried that, or threatened to try that, Britain would have occupied Ireland.
Britain’s bad treatment of Ireland stems almost entirely from the threat Ireland posed as a bridgehead for Catholic Europe (or the Stuarts) to attack Britain. Had Ireland broken with Rome as well, Britain and Ireland would have had very different relations.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

If Hitler had invaded what would you have done with the Jewish people, hand them to the Gestapo ?
Churchill’s greatest fear was the U Boat menace. Denying British ships to the Irish ports helped the Nazis and increased the number of sailors killed.It was not until the U Boat menace was defeated in mid 1943 was it possible to bring the large number of American troops and their equipment to the UK for the invasion of France which could not begin before mid 1944.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

You obviously don’t know much about submarine warfare.. if British ships used Irish* ports the U-Boats could’ve just sat offshore and dealt with them like shooting fish in a barrel!
* You seem to forget NI ports WERE of course available but not much used for that same reason.. a ship’s best defence against a submarine was to get ‘lost’ in the vastness of the ocean.. coming into (an undefended / undefendable) harbour makes it a sitting duck!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Bases for RN ships and anti- submarine flying boats. One of the problems was that in the centre of the Atlantic convoys either had reduced protection or even none at all because RN ships and flying boats had to turn back because of lack of fuel due to distances .
16 min 25. At beginning of war convoys could be escorted for 300 miles from coast. Use of Irish ports and airfields would have extended coverage further into Atlantic. The further the ship is away from the coast, the larger the area the U Boat has to search.
The World At War – A Matilha – U-boats no AtlĂąntico 1939 – 1944 – YouTube
Until mid 1943 the most important Battle of WW2 was the Battle of the Atlantic and Germany was close to winning it in 1942. The Atlantic not only supplied Britain but enabled supplies to be taken to USSR. Without the USSR receiving supplies from June 1941 could it have survived until early 1943? The USSR lost vast amounts of equipment and industrial capacity in 1941 and 1942 and time was needed to rebuild the factories in the Urals.

Steve Hayward
Steve Hayward
8 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

There wouldn’t have been that many. Ireland has a tiny Jewish population per capita. You’d have thought it would be an ideal country to settle in given that it famously has no enemies. I wonder what else has been putting the Jews off.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Minus 10 for that? Gee, I thought I was right-wing, but UnHerd really does seem to be attracting a large constituency of exceptionally narrow-minded, warmongering neo-Beitar/ League of Empire Loyalists/ John Birch Society reactionaries these days.

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Joy
P N
P N
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

“People who disagree with me are exceptionally narrow-minded,” is a weak argument.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Would you state which NATO actions concern you. It was the murder of Muslims at Srebrenica by Christian Serbs in 1995 which has done much to fuel Islamic terrorism. Should the EU and NATO have ignored actions by Serbs from 1992 in the former Jugoslavia.