From Socialist Voice, August 2006

Neutrality is not dead yet!

A number of important events occurred during July that will have a long-term impact. First was the victory of the Catholic Workers’ Movement peace activists, who won their case with a unanimous verdict by the jury in the High Court.
    The five defendants had been charged with criminal damage to an American military aircraft that was being used in the US war effort in Iraq. The five had not denied that they had attacked the aircraft. They faced a lengthy prison sentence and heavy fines and possibly the cost of repairs to the damaged plane.
    They had argued that what they had done was an attempt to stop a bigger crime: that these aircraft were carrying soldiers and equipment to be used by the US military in its continuing war of occupation in Iraq, and that they had a moral duty to do whatever they could in a non-violent manner to stop these flights and to prevent the use of Shannon Airport by US military aircraft. The jury agreed with the five people’s defence, and acquitted them. The US ambassador quickly demanded a meeting with the Government to discuss the outcome of the trial and possible future impact of the verdict.
    The jury’s verdict shook the legal and political establishment but very much reflects the opinion of the majority of the Irish people, that the US military should not be allowed to use Shannon Airport as a bridgehead to Iraq and its war of occupation. Clearly our people still believe in neutrality, even if the political establishment would dearly love to jettison it.
    The second event was the deliberate targeting of the United Nations observation post in southern Lebanon by Israeli bombers, which resulted in the death of four unarmed UN peace-keepers. The officer in charge of this group is an Irish officer, who had contacted the Israeli military liaison officer ten times that day to inform him that their shelling was too close to the observation post. These warnings were ignored.
    The Irish Government issued a strong condemnation of the killings, and summoned the Israeli ambassador for a dressing-down. Over the years the Government has been very reluctant to make such a public statement and openly challenge the Israeli version of events, mainly because of the strong US backing for Israel. But this time it is clear that the Irish army demanded of the Government a clear political statement and public support for the Irish soldiers still serving in Lebanon with UNIFIL.
    There are thousands of soldiers who have served in Lebanon and are well aware of the role and actions of the Israeli army over nearly three decades. This is particularly so among older officers and the rank-and-file soldiers. The present crop of officers are more interested in getting involved in the evolving European “battle groups.” The Irish army now has a permanent staff in Brussels as part of the “Partnership for Peace” alliance, which is an arm of NATO. It is clear that the Government would not have taken such unprecedented steps if it had not come under tremendous pressure.
    The third thing that shows that neutrality is still a live issue is the refusal of the Government to allow US aircraft carrying huge bombs—“bunker-busters,” as they are called by the psychopaths in the Pentagon—to restock the Israeli army. This decision is very much to be welcomed and needs to be built on to get Shannon closed to the US war machine.
    The Government are clearly worried about public opinion in relation to appearing as a complete toady of the United States. They do not want anything to upset their strategy of having the Irish armed forces totally integrated in the new imperial EU army. It would be an acute embarrassment to them if neutrality were to become more talked about and discussed within Irish society. It is clear that there is a strong base among our people in relation to neutrality that can be built on.

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