In a new blow to Irish neutrality, the Dublin government is planning to send 14 ‘special operations’ soldiers into an African war zone in support of a French post-colonial agenda.
Sinn Féin and other left-wing parties and independent TDs oppose the mission to Mali, noting that the deployment to suppress a rebellion there has no peace-keeping function.
Twenty members of the 26 County Defence Forces are already on the ground in Mali as part of a European Union operation, and a further 14 members of the ‘elite’ Army Ranger Wing are now set to go out with UN support.
The deployment will be on four and six month rotations, and the Dublin government has committed to a two-year involvement in the campaign.
The Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe admitted that it was a “dangerous mission” in a conflict zone in which ISIS and al-Qaeda are involved, but that the soldiers “have the necessary skillsets” -- apparently meaning an ability to take part in a shooting war.
Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that more than 18,000 foreign military personnel were already in Mali. He noted France and the UN Security Council said they were there to stop “international terrorism” and to “put down risings”.
The soldiers were being sent on a mission which involved taking sides, and was “breaching everything for which neutrality stands”, he said. It also undermined “the proud tradition of Irish soldiers who have served abroad in defending peace when it has been established”.
He added: “There is no peace in Mali. If there was, the French battalions would not be sending in drones to attack villages and the like.”
People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said the decision being made was a big mistake from the point of view of Ireland’s neutrality and from the point of view of the safety of Irish soldiers. He said it was a French colonial intervention and he said getting involved in this was a “very dangerous thing to do”.
Labour defence spokesman Brendan Ryan said the international forces present were not neutral. “The only end game that seems to be envisaged is one where insurgent groups are defeated,” he said.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister if Ireland was getting caught up in a bigger situation than peace keeping. She said: “Are we getting caught up in the residue of a colonial coming from French imperialism and their historic role there?”
However, a vote on the motion was passed in the Dáil on Thursday, with the support of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, by 77 votes to 39.
EU ARMY BECKONS
The move comes after the government rejected a Sinn Féin Bill to enshrine Ireland’s long-standing traditional policy of neutrality in the Constitution two months ago.
This would given Irish voters a chance to consider the 26 County state’s membership of the European Union’s “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO), widely seen as a forerunner to a potential European Army.
The Dublin government has also committed to increasing its spending on EU military and defence and contribute to the €10.5 billion “European Peace Facility” (EPF). That payment which has been dubbed a “war tax” by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.
“Ask any representative of either the Dáil or local government, and they are likely to tell you that they support Ireland’s traditional neutral status and oppose any moves to drag us into foreign wars,” Mr Toibin said.
He called on Ireland’s newly elected MEPs to accept that as representatives of this nation they “are under a moral onus” to reject war mongering by the EU. He added: “There needs to be more national focus on what these MEPs are accepting in Brussels.”