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Don't ask, don't tell

Two faces of Irish neutrality

8 May 2022

US veterans Len Mayers (left), 85, and Tarak Kauff, 80, leave court in Dublin after they were
convicted of interfering with the operation of Shannon airport as part of an anti-war protest.

The trial of two American anti-war activists for interfering with operations at Shannon airport speaks volumes about the dual nature of Irish neutrality. Tarak Kauff, 80, and Ken Mayers, 85, were convicted of interfering with the operation, safety or management of an airport by entering the runway area and causing the airport to close and fined €5000 each. The peace activists spent 13 days in prison and were obliged to spend nine months in Ireland pending trial.

Tarak Kauff responded; “Our purpose was to expose the hypocrisy and violation of Irish neutrality and that’s what we did.”

But if the US is violating Irish neutrality how can the protestors be guilty? The element of the Irish constitution referred to is actually very narrow and refers specifically to direct participation in war. This allows the state to cloak itself in constructive ambiguity while wholeheartedly cooperating with the US, Europe and Britain in military adventures. Even if the US use of Shannon is technically legal on its face, it actually involves crimes such as rendition that the Irish state should prevent and is legally obliged to do so.

Recently the right felt that they could use the Ukraine conflict to build support for NATO membership.  Opinion polls suggest that push has failed, but the neutrality sentiment is not sufficient to prevent what really amounts to informal subordination to US imperialism.

There is a peace movement in Ireland, but much of it is in the hands of activists, with socialist groups taking a back seat to preserve alliances with liberals and the trade union bureaucracy.

If we are to change that then we need a movement that demands opposition to imperialism rather than the current don't ask, don't tell culture.

Until then the state will hide behind a pretence of neutrality while suppressing activists like Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers.

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