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Irish president queries the drift to war

Flash in the pan?

19 June 2023

President Michael D Higgins.

The leading definition of capitalist democracy, attributed to Voltaire by his biographer, Evelyn Hall, is: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".  In a strange inversion the Dublin commentariat are now saying of the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins:  I sympathise with what you say but dissent utterly from you actually saying it.

The row arose after he warned that Ireland is at risk of a “drift” towards NATO and criticised an upcoming Government forum on neutrality. In an interview with the Business Post he is quoted as saying Ireland is “playing with fire” during a dangerous period of “drift” in its foreign policy and must avoid “burying ourselves in other people’s agendas”.

The President called into question the make-up of the Government’s Consultative Forum on International Security, saying that it was made up of “the admirals, the generals, the air force, the rest of it". It included “formerly neutral countries who are now joining NATO” but not countries retaining their neutrality.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Micheál Martin has in recent days defended the composition of the forum. A spokesperson said;  “This is not a binary discussion on neutrality or on NATO membership and was never intended to be…. “The aim of this Forum from the start has been to prompt a national discussion on security policy".

What the Higgins statement does is draw attention to a process of managing public opinion that is utterly skewed to legitimise a barely disguised pro-NATO policy. Included is an online survey designed to produce the right result.  In addition, the government has already taken broad steps to double the military budget and to integrate with elements of NATO and to advance activity in the PESCO European military alliance. For example, Irish forces training Ukrainian soldiers in de
-mining is considered as direct military involvement with one side in a war.

The row following the President’s statement will yet again throw a light on the divisions in Irish society with 50% agreeing with him and opposing Irish integration with imperialist military forces. However, this is the silent and unrepresented element of society.

That's the real issue. Micheal D. Higgins spoke out last year about Ireland's housing crisis. The crisis is worse than ever. The new statement about neutrality will help support the President’s legacy but will not, by itself, lead to any change in direction from the government.

So, who is expected to represent the anti-imperialist current in the Irish working class? Politically the parliamentary opposition is Sinn Féin. Their main interest is in establishing themselves as a responsible party of government and they do this by speaking out of both sides of their mouth. So, Sinn Féin spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, supports the President and calls for "an honest, open, and respectful discourse on neutrality". At the same time, however, a few months ago the Sinn Féin leader addressed a pro Ukraine rally saying:

“Putin must understand that the international community will remain united with Ukraine for however long it takes to face down his brutal invasion."  The other pole of opposition is the trade union movement, but it has been completely silent on the issue, shackled by partnership agreements that the tie it to the government.

Statements by the president are like flashes of lightning in the utter darkness of a pro-imperialist political landscape. The reality is that for years Britain has had free rein in Irish airspace as part of a "don't ask, don't tell" pro-NATO policy, not constricted by the British military presence and control of the North.

There is a small anti-war movement in Ireland. Meetings are taking place in June on both sides if the border to build this movement.  It will have to fight to recruit trade unionists and to confront the political allies of the warmongers.

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