Shannon policy facilitates Ireland’s role in Iraq crisis

Opinion: The Army, born in a national struggle against imperialism, is being increasingly integrated into Battle Groups of the EU, a strategic military partner of Nato

A protest at Shannon in 2003 about US military equipment and troops passing through the Shannon Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson

A protest at Shannon in 2003 about US military equipment and troops passing through the Shannon Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson


‘A small nation has to be extremely cautious when entering into alliances which bring it, willy nilly, into those wars... we would not be consulted in how a war should be started – the great powers would do that – and when it ended, no matter who won . . . we would not be consulted as to the terms on which it should end.” – Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, Dáil Éireann, July 12th, 1955.

On February 15th, 2003, millions of people throughout the world marched in protest against the plan by the US and its vassal states to invade, conquer and occupy the secular state of Iraq. In Ireland well over 100,000 marched in Dublin against the war as did thousands more in Belfast. We failed.

The US and the UK invaded and destroyed the state, the consequences of which are continuing to played out in the current phase of the ongoing war on Iraq. Of course, the destruction of the state of Iraq and its replacement by a Kurd state, a Sunni state and a Shia state might be the outcome after a prolonged vicious and bitter war with the only winner being Israel, could be exactly what the US wants.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil party finally terminated the values of its founder, de Valera, and backed the war, destroying Ireland’s long-standing policy of neutrality as defined in international law by the Hague Convention of 1907 by allowing millions of US troops use Shannon Airport on their way to and from the war, and by voting against enshrining Irish neutrality into the Constitution (which was proposed by Sinn Féin and supported by Labour and independents).

Since then, the forces in favour of perpetual imperialist wars have grown stronger. Germany, which opposed the war in 2003, is now dominated by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a strong advocate of the Iraq war. France, which also opposed the war, is now an integral part of Nato, the nuclear armed military alliance dominated by the US.

The state of Libya was bombed and destroyed by Nato. Every effort has been made by the US and its allies to destroy the state of Syria, as over the past few years it has actively supported the Salafi jihadi rebels, who are now taking over large parts of Iraq. The US is actively seeking a confrontation with Russia. With its “shift to the East”, the US also seems to want to take on China as well.

Nato partner

In Ireland, the Army, born in a national struggle against imperialism, is being increasingly integrated into battle groups of the EU, a strategic military partner of Nato. Despite the massive economic crisis no banker has seen the inside of a prison, but Margaretta D’Arcy, an opponent of Ireland’s support for the Iraq war, is imprisoned.

The Labour Party, which under the leadership of its then spokesperson on foreign policy, Michael D Higgins, in 2003 played a key role in opposing the Iraq war; in government it supports the aviation policy announced by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar on December 12th, 2012, in which he advocated “additional military flights” for Shannon Airport.

The section in the agreed Labour Party/Fine Gael programme for government which stated, “We will enforce the prohibition on the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law”, has been rejected in favour of the additional military flights. With US president Barack Obama now sending US troops back into Iraq, one can only assume the Government will be pleased its policy of additional military flights through Shannon Airport will be a success.

However, the doctrine of perpetual war that was expressed in the Project for the New American Century produced in the 1990s is in trouble. Simply put, the American people are increasingly becoming tired of these never-ending wars.

The American people are beginning to say that it’s about time we focused on nation building at home. In the UK when for the first time since the 18th century a British prime minister’s proposal to launch yet another war, as David Cameron did, was rejected by the British House of Commons, a decision in no small measure due to the campaign by the Stop the War Coalition, a British peace group with which the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (Pana) has a strong association. One suspects opposition to this doctrine of perpetual war is growing not just in the UK but throughout the EU. When UKIP and the National Front in France oppose these perpetual wars they are gaining support from voters who in previous years would have voted for parties such as the Democratic Socialists that used to oppose them.


The RedC poll commissioned by Pana in September 2013 showed 78 per cent supported a policy of neutrality and 79 per cent opposed a war with Syria without a UN mandate. Maybe the time is coming when article 2.4 of the UN charter that says all UN states “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” shall be restored as the keystone of international law.

Finally, in the local elections in 1920, the Unionists and Home Rulers in Kingstown were replaced by an alliance of Sinn Féin and Labour councillors that changed its name to Dún Laoghaire as a symbol of their commitment to Irish independence. Some would now like it to return to its old name while a good deal more would like to call it Merkeltown. Those of us who support Irish independence, democracy and neutrality remain happy with Dún Laoghaire – but with more pride, more self confidence and a greater willingness to resist imperialism.

Roger Cole is chair of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and was one of the main organisers of the demonstration in Dublin against the Iraq war on February 15th, 2003

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