The Irish government’s war on what remains of neutrality has taken two forms in the last year.
One has been a rhetorical assault on the idea of neutrality. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine saw an immediate response, with Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin all making comments about the need to spend more on defence, have greater involvement in ‘European Defence’, and the fact that neutrality is a policy issue that can change without a referendum. The purpose of this was clearly to abuse the sense of solidarity people in Ireland had with those facing invasion in Ukraine and to shift public opinion. It is clear from opinion polling that that has been a failure – with a substantial majority continuing to support neutrality, despite the best efforts of right-wing politicians and media commentators.
The other front has been generally less commented upon but is even more sinister. This is the cynical use of the war on Ukraine to align Ireland more openly than ever before with the NATO war machine. A number of significant lines have been crossed, without even public debate or a vote in the Dáil.
One is the fact that Ireland participated in the first ever EU military aid programme to a ‘third country’ – Ukraine. The government justified this by saying that Ireland was only paying for ‘non-lethal’ equipment. This is an entirely meaningless distinction – given that the total military package remained the same. The idea that Ireland paid for the fuel in the tanks rather than the tanks themselves is ridiculous.
The second is that Ireland has now agreed to participate in an EU military training mission for Ukrainian soldiers. This time the government has justified it by saying that Irish soldiers will just be providing training for the clearing of mines. Micheál Martin in the Dáil claimed the Prime Minister of Ukraine asked for help with demining. But he failed to mention this is a full-scale military training exercise, where Ireland is doing one part of it.
The third is the participation of Ireland in what’s called the ‘Ukraine Defence Contact’ group. Thanks to answers to Parliamentary Questions from Paul Murphy we now know that Ireland has been represented in person at two meetings at the NATO HQ in Brussels and one meeting at the NATO Air Command at the US Airbase at Ramstein, Germany. This Group has been described by the US Secretary of Defence as a “NATO alliance”. Its purpose is to funnel weapons from NATO supporting countries into Ukraine.
People Before Profit remains committed to solidarity with Ukrainian people facing Putin’s brutal invasion. However, we are completely opposed to the drive to militarisation being presented as support for Ukrainians.
It is worth asking the question – why is this military training, participation in a NATO alliance and military aid happening now? What Ukrainians are facing, an invasion and occupation by Putin is horrifying. They’re unfortunately not the first or only people to face that.
The people of Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and many more countries have been victims before. So why is this drive to militarisation happening now? Nobody ever suggested Irish military training for Iraqi, Yemeni, Afghan, Palestinian, or Chechen soldiers resisting the invasions they faced.
Why now for Ukrainians? Because the conflict in Ukraine is not only a brutal imperialist invasion by Russia. It’s because it’s also a part of an international clash between Russian and western, US-led, imperialism.
It has the potential to go nuclear, with horrendous consequences for the whole world.
We should extend solidarity and support to Ukrainians in such a way that does not fuel the inter-imperialist conflict. We should give humanitarian aid and welcome refugees. We should shut down the shadow banking system used by oligarchs. We should call for debt cancellation.
But we should protest loudly against the Irish government dragging us into an inter-imperialist clash, against participating in the NATO alliance of Ukraine Defence Contact Group, against participating in EU military training missions and against participating in EU military aid.