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Dáil Diary 27- 30th March 2015

We Must Enshrine Neutrality in our Constitution...

Most Irish people are of the opinion that Ireland is a Neutral country. Sadly, this is not true. Consecutive Governments have continued to declare that we are neutral, but the reality is that we have a policy of neutrality but since it is not in legislation or the Constitution, the Government ignores it's own policy and proceeds to promote War rather than Peace, by allowing the US Military to use Shannon as a military air base. 

Last Friday I had the opportunity to introduce my own Bill on Neutrality, and I had 25 minutes in total, on what was a very lively debate involving several Deputies - here is the opening part of my speech -

 

I wish to begin by thanking Dr. Ed Horgan and Mr. John Lannon of Shannonwatch, who have been involved in a long-running campaign to have neutrality enshrined in the Constitution and to have Ireland promote peace rather than facilitate a war effort. The amount of time they have put into that campaign beggars belief. Both men have been doing something very positive for this country for a long period.

 

Since 1939, successive governments have continually declared that Ireland is a neutral state, subject to the rules and obligations applicable to such states under international law. In recent years the current Government has attempted to redefine neutrality in order to justify its entanglement in military alliances such as the NATO Partnership for Peace, PfP, and European Union battle groups under the Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP. However, the rules are clearly defined in Article 2 to The Hague Convention, which states that "Belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power." Since October 2001, successive governments have allowed over 2.5 million armed US-NATO troops and large quantities of war materials to pass through Shannon airport on their way to and from the Afghan and Iraq wars, in clear contravention of the customary international laws on neutrality.

 

Earlier this month, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, stated, "While Ireland is committed to a policy of military neutrality, we need to be clear that Ireland is not ideologically neutral. Political neutrality in international affairs has never been part of Ireland's foreign policy tradition". This statement came directly after the Minister reaffirmed the Government's commitment to Article 29.1 of the Constitution, which states, "Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality." It is crystal clear that Article 29.1 of the Constitution states that Ireland is devoted to the ideal of peace, friendly co-operation, international justice and morality. It is also crystal clear that these are ideological and political concepts in and of themselves. The Minister holds that we are committed to the political concept of neutrality in one breath, while in the next he states that we are not, and never have been, "ideologically or politically neutral". There is only one type of neutrality covered by international laws on neutrality and that is military neutrality. The concepts of political and ideological neutrality simply do not apply.

 

The concept of ideological neutrality, while nonsensical, is a new phenomenon. It has only been referred to in the Dáil on three occasions in the context of the concept of neutrality as regards international warfare. It was first mentioned in passing by former Minister and Deputy, Pat Carey, in 2004 and then once by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, last year and again by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, this month. Never has this new concept been defined, yet the aforementioned Ministers, in their clamour to legitimise and justify our taking sides in international acts of aggression, both state that Ireland is not, and never has been, politically or ideologically neutral.

 

There is no concrete and clear commitment to neutrality in the Constitution. For far too long, this Government and others which preceded it have used this lack of clarity to lie to the Irish people and this House about where we stand. The Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputies Coveney and Flanagan, have even gone so far as to invent an entirely new category of neutrality that has no place, meaning or purchase, anywhere in international law. This behaviour is entirely consistent with the lie that made Ireland a belligerent in the Iraq war in 2003, while still claiming the status of a neutral country. In March 2003, Bertie Ahern, the then Head of Government, lied to this House and the Irish people, when he argued that facilitating the use of Shannon for the then illegal invasion of Iraq was "not of sufficient degree or substance to constitute participating in the war". He also said that "The provision of facilities does not make Ireland a member of a military coalition". These statements, and many more that were made on 20 March 2003, were outright lies. On reading the transcript of the argument put forward by the then Taoiseach, one would not know whether to laugh or cry. It is a heady mixture of false prophecies-----

 

Acting Chairman (Deputy Derek Keating): I apologise for intervening but I am obliged to inform the Deputy that he cannot state that the comments in question were lies.

 

Deputy Mick Wallace:That is fine. I will say instead that the then Taoiseach was being economical with the truth. So, he engaged in fear-mongering, provided misinformation and was economical with the truth.

 

The statements to which I refer were untrue because at base they rode roughshod over a series of very straightforward laws by which Ireland is bound. According to customary international law - namely, the Hague Convention on Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land of 1907 - a power that claims to be neutral is forbidden to allow belligerents "to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power". The law is unequivocal. We were not, as former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern claimed, non-participants in the Iraq war - and we are not today - or militarily neutral. We are belligerents and, as long as Shannon remains a forward military base for the US war machine, we will remain belligerents in an endless and senseless war that has led to deaths of over 1 million civilians and served solely to line the pockets of the arms industry, which has developed into one of the most powerful and influential entities in the world. The Hague Convention on 1907 is customary international law, and customary international laws are unusually strong, binding, and cannot be abrogated or disobeyed by states, regardless of whether or not they have ratified them.

 

The motion presented to the House in 2003 by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern stated:

That Dáil Éireann, noting the imminence of military action by a United States led coalition against Iraq:

 

- reaffirms Ireland's commitment to the United Nations as the guarantor of collective global security and as the appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security ...

This completely ignores the fact that the UN Secretary General had stated that the Iraq war was contrary to the UN Charter. The motion to which I refer also stated that Dáil Éireann "condemns the continued refusal of the Government of Iraq over a period of 12 years to comply with its obligation to disarm as imposed by numerous resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, most recently in Resolution 1441". In 2003, the US wanted Iraq to surrender its weapons of mass destruction but as matters turned out Iraq did not have any such weapons. History has borne that out. The Dáil motion of 2003 was, therefore, based on a number of false premises. The motion in question also went on to state that Dáil Éireann "expresses its earnest hope that military action, should it occur, will be of short duration and that loss of life and destruction will be kept to a minimum". This was an echo of what happened at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, when everyone was informed that the conflict would be over by Christmas. The motion of March 2003 also states that Dáil Éireann "declares its commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq". How is it possible to invade and destroy a country while at the same time respecting its sovereignty and independence? It is not possible.

 It beggars belief that the motion to which I refer passed muster on the day it was debated. The motion goes on to say that Dáil Éireann "welcomes the arrangements put in place by the Government to ensure that Ireland will be able to contribute rapidly to the humanitarian effort in Iraq". As it turned out, Ireland played no part in the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq. The motion further stated that Dáil Éireann "recalls the long-standing arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft" but it did not indicate that up until 1999, any US troops who passed through Shannon were either going on holiday or travelling to air bases in Germany.

 

However, all of that changed with the invasion of Kosovo, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

 

The 1907 Hague convention is customary international law. Such laws are unusually strong and binding and cannot be abrogated or disobeyed by states regardless of whether they have ratified them. Although Ireland has not ratified the convention, two weeks after the then Taoiseach was deceptive to the House in March 2003, a High Court judgment in Horgan v. An Taoiseach & Ors. stated that Ireland was in breach of Hague Convention V by allowing US troops to use Shannon Airport on their way to and from the war in Iraq. The ruling from Mr. Justice Kearns read: "The court is prepared to hold therefore that there is an identifiable rule of customary law in relation to the status of neutrality whereunder a neutral state may not permit the movement of large numbers of troops or munitions of one belligerent State through its territory en route to a theatre of war with another." This judgment effectively declared that Ireland, as a self-declared neutral state, was - it still is - in breach of its international law obligations.

 

Since the judgment, Ministers have argued that Irish neutrality is defined either as military neutrality or non-belligerence and that Ireland is not politically neutral. Based on the work of experts in the field, these arguments do not stand up. International law experts Professor L. F. L. Oppenheim and Sir Hersch Lauterpacht stated: "[A]ll States which do not expressly declare the contrary by word or action are supposed to be neutral, and the rights and duties arising from neutrality come into existence, and remain in existence, through the mere fact of a State taking up an attitude of impartiality, in not being drawn into the war by the belligerents." According to another expert, Professor Michael Bothe, neutrality is defined in international law as the status of a state that is not participating in an armed conflict between other states and "is incompatible with this conflict-restraining function of neutrality that states should try to evade their duties flowing from their neutral status by styling themselves non-belligerents".

 

Mr. Justice Kearns ruled that he was not going to act to address this breach of international law on neutrality on the arguably dubious grounds of the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary. The Government was never held to account for misleading the Dáil and the people.

 

On the matter of the Lisbon treaty, which has been incorporated into Irish law, the Government in June 2009 attempted to clarify its meaning by stating: "The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality." However, the concept of military neutrality is not defined in legislation and the current interpretation is in contravention of the legal concept of neutrality as outlined in the Hague convention.

 

Ireland does not have a policy of neutrality anymore. Active neutrality embodies a commitment to the legal definition of neutrality as described by Hague Convention V and to the following values and foreign policy goals - peace promotion, non-aggression, the primacy of the UN and the confinement of state military activity to UN peacekeeping, not being involved in wars, impartiality and maintaining Ireland's independence, identity and independent foreign policy decision making. These differ from the concept of military neutrality that has allowed us to facilitate the movement of munitions and millions of armed troops who are engaged in invasion and occupation through Shannon Airport. What is most infuriating is that, since Mr. Justice Kearns ruled that the Government was in clear breach of international laws on neutrality, more than 2 million additional US troops and vast quantities of arms and munitions have passed through Shannon Airport. The Governments since 2003 have consistently been acting in breach of the High Court finding while illegitimately claiming military neutrality.

 

The aim of the Bill is to put an end to this dishonesty and illegality by strengthening the position on neutrality in the Constitution while eradicating the ambiguity that has thus far allowed the Government and courts to misrepresent Ireland's place and standing in international relations. The Bill's function is to take back the powers that have been abused by successive Governments and the courts since 2003, and for the people of Ireland to take back from the Government the power to allow the US the use of Shannon Airport as a military air base and the unfettered use of our airspace for military aeroplanes on the way to a warfront and to send Irish people to unjustified wars. We can only do this by enshrining neutrality in our Constitution.

 

Trying to get an honest debate and clarity from the Government has been a difficult fight for the years we have been in the Dáil. There is nothing but confusion. Four Departments are involved. They kick responsibility from one to the other. As the dogs in the street know and, when published, a recent court judgment in Ennis will bear out, heavy armaments are passing through Shannon Airport on the way to warfronts where more than 1 million innocent people have died. We have facilitated that and should be ashamed.

 Mick Wallace.

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