An Irishman's Diary


A la carte Sovereignty: that is the great Irish contribution to the world of political science. ALCS has infused political life throughout the history of this state. It provides a virtuous guise for policies of expediency over principle. It is government without governing, policy without cost, inertia masquerading as activity, mimicry purporting to be originality. It is shadow-government, stalking in the shade of other people's actions and pretending they are our own. It is the ultimate dependency within the mask of sovereignty.

The entire debate over the future of the Defence Forces - if that is the term for the sneers, jibes and misrepresentations coming from the Department of Defence in response to the Army's very proper concern for its wellbeing - was dictated by where we live: in the middle of a British lagoon, surrounded by an American sea.

Others less securely located take their defence very seriously indeed: the Danes, the Belgians, the Swiss, the Norwegians - small countries with relatively recent experience of either being overwhelmed or, in the Swiss case, of being too costly to attack - spend lavishly on their military. We, living within the Anglo-American protectorate, do not.

Attack on morale

Our governments know there is no crippling consequence to the kind of disgraceful attack on the morale of the Defence Forces such as the oh-so-studiously leaked memo by the Department of Defence last weekend: "Although trumpeted everywhere as a major concession, in effect this supposed agreement is something of a chimera which evaporated under close scrutiny, in truth a fig leaf to cover the Chief of Staff's retreat from an increasingly untenable position."

We might wonder at the regard for the English language revealed in this stew of metaphors, in which in a single sentence a trumpet consorts with a chimera, which - though in reality a wild beast - then behaves like a liquid and evaporates, only to be transformed into a tiny fig leaf, which - lo! - then swells sufficiently to cover a retreat. The slovenly chaos of imagery reveals more than an ignorance of how language or reasoning work: it also exhibits a triumphalist disdain for the Army's Chief of Staff, and, by extension, the organisation he has the very great honour to lead.

Any country that took its moral duty to defend itself seriously would simply not have a civil service department so desperately anxious both to belittle and diminish the strength and the morale of the armed services it had the public duty of overseeing. But of course, we do not take either our sovereignty or even our neutrality seriously. Living within the Anglo-American protectorate, we are deluded into thinking that the Defence Forces are an expensive luxury, one that it is possible to trim to the bone and beyond, to the marrow beneath; and that belief is only possible when a political culture is suffused with addictive ALCSism.

Target for plunder

Is not utterly amazing that even after 30 years of terrorist war on our Borders, we have not a single troop-carrying helicopter? Is it not amazing that the defence budget is still seen not as a sine qua non of sovereignty, but more a suitable target for plunder, so that the cost of non-defence items, such as the Government jet, or the Garda helicopter, are cheerfully drawn on the Defence Forces budget? Is it not amazing that though the western approaches to the European Union run by our shores, we still do not think of the strategic and military consequences - and indeed, obligations - of this inescapable geographical truth? Is it not amazing that not one of our ports has submarine-detection devices?

Actually, no, it's not amazing, once you consider the power of ALCSism in our political culture. It appears and reappears time and time again, from those district justices who used to declare that guilty men would not go to jail provided they emigrated to England, to our failure to confront the reality of abortion, to our feebly mimetic tracking of British summertime (which we then proudly call Irish summertime), to the latest and perfectly ludicrous Cabinet decision to accept British passports for the importation of pets from mainland Europe.

Irish solution

But although we have chosen to accept British passports for animals, we will not be introducing our own. Animals will not be able to travel direct to Ireland from the mainland of Europe; instead, they must come via British ports with British passports. Ah yes, that traditional Irish solution to an Irish problem: Britain.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals calls this daft. It is that, but it is also ALCSism at its quintessentially sleveenish worst. Without ALCSism, we would long ago have faced up to the wilful stupidity of British measures against rabies, and introduced our own animal-passports system, regardless of whatever consequences might result.

Though millions of people from these islands - oh how angry we get when people call them the British Isles - visit mainland Europe every year, and then do not go round savaging their neighbours on their return, we have nonetheless operated a legal conceit that Abroad is Packed With Mad Dogs. That idiocy has now resulted is us being the only sovereign country in the world whose animal health measures are entirely dependent on another country.

ALCSism at its purest.