Ireland, on the western flank of the European Union, is one of the most vulnerable countries to Russian aerial and naval intrusion. It is also the least prepared. Ireland has made a virtue of being disarmed, a luxury that is only possible because its skies and seas are effectively protected by the British. But that protection is of the hypothetical non-warfare variety and presumes that RAF fighters will always be at the beck and call of the Irish government, a fiction that Putin has now firmly laid to rest.
However, that doesn’t mean the vocabulary and the attitudes of the Irish political classes can be freed of their deadly dependence on the British, especially since this reality is never publicly admitted. Instead, Ireland’s unarmed neutrality is seen as a natural if mystical blessing, uncontaminated by anything as sordid as weaponry. So Russian intrusions are never the subject of questions in the Irish parliament, the Dail, for such questions might demand serious answers. Which is why the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, who also doubles as Minister for Defence, has declared that he is not “comfortable” with the idea of Ireland supplying weapons to Ukraine, and so is limiting Irish aid to peaceful items.
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Time will tell what these items actually consist of, but at a rough guess they will include hairspray, ukuleles, marshmallows, urinals and golf clubs. Unprincipled sanctimony in Ireland has long been a national vice masquerading as a virtue, and it is not without its rewards. It saves a fortune in defence spending—the Irish military is so small that it does not even merit a full-time minister—yet it allowed Irish diplomats to schmooze a way to winning Ireland a seat on the UN Security Council. That this was done by discreetly pandering to the basest instincts of the Arab and Muslim world, as the Irish government threw its weight behind a nakedly anti-Israel motion in the Dail, is now conveniently overlooked. One of the darkest hours in Irish diplomatic history was then applauded at home as a major triumph in foreign policy. Bashing Israel is one of the most popular political pastimes in Ireland, alongside being publicly holier than thou, which is why Ireland spends more on foreign aid than it does on defence.
With the largest Atlantic seaboard of any EU country apart from France, Ireland has no warships. It is in the process of buying two second-hand inshore patrol vessels from New Zealand, which just about sums up its Atlantic vision. It has no fighter aircraft to defend the skies above the 36,000 square kilometres of sea under its lawful control. It has no military radar of any kind to detect Russian intruders such as Bear and Backfire aircraft approaching from the west and no fighters or surface-to-air missiles to shoot them down. A report by the Irish Aviation Authority on the scandalous neglect by successive Irish governments was so heavily redacted by civil servants that its only real use was as carbon paper.
Ireland has chosen as a matter of principled neutrality never to get involved in any larger European war, which might well be regarded as laudable, but then neither Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium nor Luxembourg chose to fight Hitler, and look what happened to them. If in an attack on Britain, the Russians wanted to avoid the meagre British air defences on the east coast, the backdoor over Ireland is wide open. A Bear could loiter over Dublin and fire its salvo of twelve cruise missiles at British targets, and it would be illegal for the RAF to shoot it down, while neither the Irish Army nor Air Corps has any means of even slapping its wrist—though Coveney would probably feel uncomfortable if it did.
Expressing discomfort at the notion of Ireland supplying weaponry to a country facing existential ruin as Coveney did is not adult talk but the product of schoolgirl emotions. These, regrettably, are widespread in Ireland. The grim truth is that war is about competing discomforts, with no comfortable, pain-free options—except in Ireland, where war anywhere provides an opportunity for the Irish to reveal their moral superiority. As hostilities approached last December, the European Parliament voted to condemn the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukraine border and to begin sanctions against Putin’s regime. The motion was supported by 548 MEPs. But six of Ireland’s thirteen MEPs refused to support the motion, either abstaining or voting against it. Ireland’s two Green MEPs abstained. They were the only Green MEPs to do so; all sixty-two of their fellow party members voted in favour.
One of the Irish Green MEPs, Grace O’Sullivan, explained her abstention. “I am a peace activist … I stand fully behind Ukraine … I believe the moon is made of cheese.” I made up one of these assertions: I leave you to decide which one. Incredibly, there has been no outcry in Ireland at so many MEPs abandoning Ukraine at its time of need or at the refusal of the Irish government to supply weaponry to the embattled country.
The most popular party in Ireland, north and south, is Sinn Fein. From its very beginnings, this party was explicitly anti-Semitic and tried to get a ban on Jewish immigration into Ireland. The men who led the 1916 Rising and who later led Sinn Fein hailed the German army—which had murdered thousands of unarmed Belgian and French civilians—as “our gallant allies”. In 1939, the IRA entered an alliance with the Nazis three months after Hitler had promised to exterminate the Jews of Europe. During the Troubles, the IRA’s most loyal backer and supplier of arms was Libya’s murderous court jester, Gaddafi.
History, surely? Not really. Well into this century, the current party leader Mary Lou McDonald made her breakthrough public appearance when proudly delivering the address at the memorial statue to Sean Russell, a senior IRA figure who died in the service of the Nazis in 1940. Where else but Ireland would such an address be possible? Where else would such a statue even exist? Where else would such a speaker then be elected to the European Parliament, as McDonald was?
It didn’t end there. Four years ago, after Ireland joined the EU sanctions against Russia in response to the Salisbury poisonings, she denounced Ireland’s assent to these sanctions as a “a flagrant breach of our neutrality”. In short, Sinn Fein likes strong ruthless men, especially if they’re sticking it to the Brits. A wee bit of chemical warfare in England? Ah well, boys will be boys. Far from what was essentially a pro-Putin policy damaging her reputation, she is consistently hailed as Ireland’s most popular leader.
How is this possible? Here’s how. One of the more famous definitions of the meaning of Irishness was enunciated by a former Irish Prime Minister, Charles Haughey, who as well as ostentatiously taking vast fortunes in backhanders from Irish millionaires, said of his government’s decision to make the purchase of condoms by unmarried couples a criminal offence that it was “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”.
In other words, Ireland really is not like any other country in the world. And because so many Irish people genuinely believe this, this makes it so. It is a self-fulfilling assertion, a cultural equivalent of the belief in transubstantiation that defined Irish Catholicism. Which means that any attempt to discuss the wanton immorality of depending on other people—their guts, their gold, their gallantry—to defend Ireland is invariably laughed off: “Who’d want to attack us?”
You don’t need to be a Clausewitz to reply: Anyone who felt the need to.
Which is why the knowledge that an intrusive Bear might spiral into the North Atlantic courtesy of an Irish Air Force F-18 is one reason why Putin might not hazard such an incursion. However, since there is no Irish Air Force, no Irish F-18s and no Irish military radars, Bears have regularly intruded on Irish “controlled” air space. We know this because they sometimes leave their transponders on, making them visible to air traffic control. In other words, they’re being co-operative: very soon they might not be, yet none of this causes any anguish in the smug and serpent-free Eden of Irish politics.
“Serpent-free” is not quite an adequate description, because within the Irish psyche, there is always the serpent of England (when Irish commentators refer to Britain, they usually mean the English bit). One Irish Times columnist, Jennifer O’Connell, wrote:
In the aftermath of Brexit, there was a sense Britain no longer really knew what it stood for, only what it was against: EU meddling in its affairs; the triple scourges of immigration, liberals and urban cosmopolitans; multiculturalism; bureaucracy; its own declining influence.
Even by the abysmal standards of current Irish journalism, this was an exceptionally dire piece. When she ironically referred to the “scourges” of immigration and multiculturalism, what was she talking about? Only 45 per cent of the population of London is now white British. The same is true of Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford and many other cities. No country in Europe and perhaps the world—and certainly not Ireland—has freely accepted so many foreigners with no connection to it. This is an act of generosity unprecedented in world history, yet quite the opposite is now being presented as fact by what was once the newspaper of fact.
This blatherskite continued:
The House of Commons gave Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy a round of applause, but all it has done for his people is 24 individuals sanctioned and fewer than 1000 visas for refugees at the time of writing … Putin’s war on Ukraine is … a brutal reminder to the UK of just how isolated it has allowed itself to become. Faced with the first major geopolitical challenge of its existence, Brexit Britain’s response has been to hum, haw and then outsource the hard decisions to the US and the EU.
Really? The truth is that the UK has given more military and financial aid to Ukraine than any other European country, including 3615 anti-tank missiles, with training in Ukraine by the Rangers wing of the Special Operations Brigade. However, there is an Irish component to this aid: the missiles were made in Belfast, but O’Connell is probably unaware of this. And why would she not be? What do you need to know if you want to sneer at the British? Her kind of ignorant Anglophobia is run-of-the-mill in the Irish media these days, the tone having been set by a series of inexcusable and unconstitutional attacks on Britain by President Higgins. These have been met with warm popular approval: so, yes, it’s both that serious and that unpleasant.
Terrible events await Ukraine. We who remember the Bosnian and Croatian wars know how bad things can get. Ukraine has not yet had its Vukovar moment, its Mostar stand-off, its siege of Sarajevo, or its Srebrenica. Worse of all is the possibility of a Chernobyl Mark II, with any of its four nuclear power stations being turned into proxy strategic weapons in what the Russians will probably assure us were tragic and unforeseeable accidents.
Though there is no moral justification for continuing a conflict that can never be won by its victim except in hypothetical or mystical ways, Ukraine has not yet reached the point where armed resistance is futile. Possibly, the Kremlin’s general staff will conclude that as Russian casualties continue to mount, not merely victory will be too expensive, so too will the occupation that must inevitably follow. However, I am unaware of any occasions in history when Russian military leaders have followed the path of humanitarianism merely because of casualties.
Even if the Russians are victorious in the field, the conflict must then move into another phase, as a long and terrible financial war against the Russian empire must then begin. This will not be easy. Russia is not Rhodesia or South Africa, where sanctions worked, for it is effectively a continent. With China willingly providing a market for Russia’s food while suppling Putin with the technology and weaponry that his war requires, the outcome might well be over a very distant horizon.
But from the Irish point of view, what now? The only proper moral and pragmatic response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine would be for Ireland, very pointedly, to join NATO, now, and buy itself an air force and a navy. But that would require an ethical maturity and a vision that are entirely lacking from the lexicon of Irish political life.
Moreover, there is even a “poor Russia” lobby amongst the liberal Left in Ireland: it’s not Russia’s fault that Russia had to invade Ukraine. Their standard argument is that Russia has been invaded three times from the west—1812, 1914-15 and 1941—leaving terrible scars on the national psyche. And now—the argument continues—NATO had insidiously crept up on poor Putin’s Russia. But this argument is baseless. NATO didn’t want to go east: in that direction lay too many tripwires, as 1914 showed. The oft-cited trio of invasions of Russia derive their narrative potency from colossal factual ignorance. Moscow was as far east as the invaders ever got, just twice, and beyond that city lay the impenetrable fastness of the Urals and thereafter another 10,000 kilometres of untouched and untouchable Russia, all the way to the Pacific.
So Russia’s ordeals don’t even begin to compare with those of Ukraine, which was on all the invasion and foraging routes from the west. It was not just conquered by the tsars initially, but invaded in 1812, again in 1914, again in 1917, again in 1919, again in 1921, again in 1931, again in 1941, again in 1944, again in 1945–47 and again in 2014. No soil in the world has been so repeatedly nourished by the warm blood of its inhabitants.
The Ukrainian crisis obliges everyone to examine almost all existing policies, stripped of their largely ornamental pieties. Who now really believes that Europe’s energy needs will be met by windmills? And what is this thing Europe? Central to this question was the rejection by the EU that its constitution should accept any acknowledgment of its historic debt to Christianity. This is rather like Dublin disavowing the Liffey as its reason for existing, likewise Paris the Seine and Rome the Tiber.
Once one vital fact had been disavowed, might others not also be discarded? Thus, Western civilisation has been indoctrinating its children in racial gobbledegook, in dogmatic multiculturalism, in feminist pseudo-egalitarianism and the fictions of transgenderism. Schoolbooks and party-political manifestos have been rewritten to include the right of transgender homosexuals to marry one another, for history and literature to be rewritten to incorporate black people regardless of the factual impossibility of such narrative generosity, and for slower, weaker and physically inferior women athletes to be paid the same as their superior male counterparts, as of right. The Irish government is especially steeped in this stupidity, where the stated objective of the defence forces is to achieve gender parity. No army could possibly function with such an irrelevant objective, rather than what should be its priority: the ability to kill as many of the enemy as swiftly as possible.
The Ukraine crisis should have been the long-overdue wake-up for all Western democracies, including Ireland. I am unable to predict what will happen in other societies, but I am fairly confident about the response here. The adamantly unprincipled refusal of successive Irish governments to defend this state will continue as a restatement of our inherent moral superiority. Thus, the adjectival triple-lock of Irish defence policy: cowardly, contemptible and cretinous, all summed by that single abject collective, Coveney.
Enough is enough. When a Tupolev Bear reconnaissance aircraft next enters Irish air space, I sincerely hope the RAF will let it buzz Dublin at chimney-top height and dislodge the rooftiles on the Parliament buildings. For when Ukraine falls, as fall it probably will, much of the free world will have some responsibility for its fate: but no free country anywhere has played as abject, as cowardly and as sanctimonious a role as Ireland, here on the westernmost flank of the Europe of the free. Irish men and women from both their home island and their worldwide diaspora have fought bravely for freedom in numerous conflicts, but they have done so in other nations’ armies, usually the British Army or its sister services, and have often been disowned or even vilified on returning home victorious.
But since the famous weather report from Blacksod Bay in County Mayo in June 1944, which was forwarded by the Irish government to the allies in utter violation of Irish neutrality, so allowing the Normandy landings to go ahead, what has Ireland actually done to protect that freedom? Not a thing …
Kevin Myers is a Dublin journalist. He has contributed his occasional Letter from Dublin since 2018