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CPI meeting: A campaign for neutrality?

14 August 2023

CPI pamphlet on neutrality.

The Communist Party of Ireland organised one of the few political discussions at the West Belfast Féile, entitled Irish Neutrality: A Critical Component of National Unity and Independence on Friday (August 11).

The panel was:
Jimmy Corcoran, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland.
Vijay Prashad, an American-based Indian historian, author, journalist, political commentator, and Marxist intellectual.
Former Green Party politician, Patricia McKenna.
Fearghal MacBhloscaidh, an historian, lecturer, activist and author of a number of books on Irish history.

The CPI case was that polls continue to reflect that the vast majority of Irish people cherish the principles of ‘neutrality’, peace-making and non-interference in imperialistic wars and conflicts around the globe. They asserted that it’s time that Irish peace forces stopped allowing themselves to be bullied, intimidated, and blackmailed by the pro-war, pro-NATO lobby so strongly entrenched in the Irish establishment and in the Irish media. These forces have used the plight of people fleeing war in Ukraine as a political tool to garner support for their pro-NATO stance.

The call for a pro-neutrality campaign as the major activity of the left was opposed within the meeting and undermined to some extent by the speakers themselves.

Vijay Prashad pointed out that Ireland had only "nominal neutrality." How can a country claim to be neutral when it is compromised by US war flights from Shannon airport, especially given Irish collaboration in the transfer of the disappeared to Guantanemo Bay? he asked. However, he believed we should still defend the form of neutrality in order to oppose US and NATO dominance over its European vassals and to prevent a Sinn Féin drift to the right.

Patricia McKenna made a similar point about the nominal nature of Irish neutrality. Many EU treaties had been incorporated inside the Irish constitution and cannot be overruled. A campaign to include neutrality in the constitution would have no effect.

Fearghal MacBhloscaidh made an important point when he pointed out that the battle against colonialism had led to a current of assimilation and a current for democracy. Modern Ireland was not based on the democratic impulse but on the counterrevolution that came to the fore after the war of independence.

A Socialist Democracy member, speaking from the floor, drew attention to the recent Vilnius summit. The imperialists had indicated that they intended to continue the war in Europe and that their overall aim was world war with China. Essentially Ireland was acting as part of NATO. Could socialists respond by saying that we wanted to abstain on the issues? It was hard to face down the war propaganda, but it would eventually wear thin and the opportunity to mobilise would come.

The debate that followed did not accept that. The issue of class did not arise despite the extent to which ICTU had supported the pro-war mood.  The main theme was of asserting democracy and national independence. One surprising element in the discussion was the view of Sinn Féin. There seemed to be general agreement that Sinn Féin were untrustworthy, opportunist and moving to the right, but also that a large neutrality campaign could hold them to account.

All that said, the discussion was remarkably open and fraternal. Even if the CPI's campaign is restricted to neutrality, it would be a step forward from the silence and submission in the face of the open integration to NATO, and opportunities will arise to argue for an anti-imperialist campaign led by the working class.

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