Government attempts to drum up support for militarisation and war

By Jonathan Diebold 

There was much clutching of pearls in the Dáil over the last several months as Socialist Party TD Mick Barry challenged the government on their Consultative Forum on National Security. This four-day event replaced Micheál Martin’s proposed citizens’ assembly on neutrality – in reality, an attempt to soften public opinion towards militarisation.

 The Tánaiste described Deputy Barry’s contributions as “shocking intolerance” on one occasion, while Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien described him as being “afraid of debate.” However, it is the government who are terrified of a genuine debate on militarisation. When Martin first floated the idea of a citizens’ assembly, an Ipsos poll found two-thirds favouring the Irish state’s (relative) military neutrality. Perhaps this, more than anything, influenced the decision to have an assembly, but replacing the citizens with hand-picked “experts.”

Stacked with warmongers 

 Of the 71 speakers, an overwhelming majority were either overtly pro-NATO, overtly pro-EU militarisation, have worked for various military machines, or have previously advocated for militarisation. While last year’s poll shows a two-to-one ratio of people in society in favour of neutrality, there was a five-to-one ratio of speakers at the forum with a history of arguing for militarisation in some form. Only a scant dozen spoke against this point of view, and only one prominent anti-militarisation campaigner.

 To use her full title, the chairperson herself is Louise Richardson, Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an academic with multiple books arguing from the point of view of US Imperialism, justifying what she calls “our” foreign policy. She has written to support various US-supported coups and attempted coups in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Chile. 

If the role of the chair at this forum was as a neutral arbiter of the discussion, these would already be questionable credentials. But the role of the chair went further – she alone is to write a report of proceedings and present recommendations to Tánaiste Micheál Martin (who doubles as Minister for Foreign Affairs), who in turn is to present recommendations to cabinet.

Repression against protesters 

 So the government’s security forum: a stacked debate; a biased chair; a pro-militarisation agenda; and no input from the public, whose opinion lies firmly against militarisation. Who is it exactly that is afraid of a debate? Perhaps another clue lies in the treatment of protestors. When four young people – probably the youngest people in the room at an event whose impact will be most strongly felt by the country’s youth – unfurled a banner during Micheál Martin’s opening of proceedings, they were violently ousted from the room by Gardaí. 

The irony must have been lost on him when he said of the incident that to “shut down debate is not the right approach.” Another campaigner was ejected when he attempted to ask the chairwomen if there would be any opportunity for the public to contribute during a point of order.

What are they afraid of? 

 Even after all the government’s efforts, the forum seems to have been a flop in softening public opinion. While it was met with fawning praise from the like of the Irish Times, in the public eye, it seems most people saw it for what it was, a fumbling attempt to promote militarisation in the face of widespread opposition. Politicians like President Michael D Higgens raised alarm bells over this during the event’s run-up. Socialist Party TD Mick Barry, along with other TDs from the socialist left, consistently brought people’s attention to it from the Dáil. Crucially, however, this was the protests of campaigners and ordinary people who demonstrated inside and outside each event. 

This points to what is needed – without public pressure; the government would renege on military neutrality in a heartbeat. It flows from their slavish subservience to the powerful Western capitalist powers such as the US. 

Still, with a mass movement opposing militarisation, we can stop their creep towards closer alignment with EU military forces entirely, end Irish military support for imperialist regimes like France, and kick the US military out of Shannon.

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