By Gerry Kelly
Special for TSC
I write this article in the second week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s fair to say that like many Europeans I am still in a state of shock at seeing pictures more reminiscent of the 1930s & 40s on my TV screen and smartphone. For all his prolonged threats and sabre-rattling very few people thought Mr. Putin was serious about invading Ukraine. But then again very few experts seems to realise that “Bad Vlad” may simply be “Mad Vlad” after 2 years of extreme isolation terrified he may catch Covid.
In January the Russian Navy announced they were going to carry out training exercises of Ireland’s south-west coast. Following public disquiet AND a campaign by local fishermen the exercises were moved north to the waters between Norway & Iceland. This shone a spotlight on Ireland’s defence capabilities, and policy of neutrality.
Ireland was officially – and controversially – neutral during WW2. This policy remained in place throughout the Cold War, and remains the case today. But as we now know the world keeps changing and evolving, and what exactly does “neutrality” mean today? Also, is it even moral to be neutral given the horrors in Ukraine and the utterly spurious excuses for its invasion.
Other neutral countries such as Switzerland, Finland and Sweden have military service and are armed to the teeth. Any country attempting to invade them could expect a serious bloody nose.
But we learnt in January that Ireland does not even have sonar and radar to monitor its air and sea space. It has a navy of 9 patrol ships but a max of 4 can be at sea at any one time due to staff shortages. The Irish armed forces are seriously poorly paid, their daily budget for food is less than that allocated to prisoners. In reality the British Royal Air Force monitor Irish Air Space, and the Royal Navy our marine territory. (Few people seem to know that almost 90% of Irish territory is ocean)
Another damning statistic to recently emerge – Finland has 3% of the area of Irish Territorial waters but its navy has 200 vessels.
It now appears very likely that both Sweden and Finland will shortly join NATO. Their neutrality was to appease the Soviet Union/ Russia but that policy is not pointless.
Ireland is Europe’s defence weak link, and this is what January’s Russian Navy exercises were intending to point out. Vital Transatlantic cables may well have been damaged had the exercises gone ahead. Russia was saying they know all this.
The idea of neutrality has a level of almost religious piety about it. We would never get involved in a war. Irish soldiers have a proud reputation as peace-keepers on U.N. missions around the world.
Ireland was fortunate to escape the horrors of WW2.Most people who live in continental Europe now have a very different idea of the necessity of being able to protect yourself. Only a handful of nations failed to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it reads like a rogues gallery that a civilised country should have nothing in common with.
THE REAL issue with neutrality is that it identifies Ireland as a pro-western / pro-American free market liberal democracy. It seems for 80 years we have known this, but nobody has wanted to declare it openly and publicly. Given recent events, and given the competing ideologies, it may be finally time for Ireland to look itself in the mirror and stop living in a fool’s paradise.