FINE GAEL’S four MEPs have been chosen to open up a new front against Irish neutrality with their document to be released this week urging the abandonment of Irish neutrality and a stronger military alliance with EU states; in other words, an EU army.
It is beyond credibility for the government to pretend this initiative is being made independently of Leo Varadkar and FG, although doubtless Vlad’s army of spin doctors will deny any involvement in the document, deliberately leaked last weekend. But the notion that the four MEPs – Sean Kelly, Deirdre Clune, Mairead McGuinness and Ireland’s answer to Boris Johnson, Brian Hayes – did not check with the boss on such a dramatic and unpopular project beggars belief.
In Leinster House last November Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said Irish participation in the new military entity (Pesco) had “absolutely nothing to do with the creation of an EU army” and “has no implications for Ireland’s policy of military neutrality”. Now, his party colleagues in the EU Parliament say they want to abandon neutrality.
Kehoe also claimed Irish involvement in Pesco amounted to the furtherance of “democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights”. But Boris and his militaristic chums want to “face growing threats from Russia, international terrorist groups and cyber crime”. Already, the Irish Defence Forces and the ‘elite’ Ranger wing are, as recently reported, involved with the German Battle Group. The Ranger Wing will be involved in long-range reconnaissance, gathering intelligence and target acquisition, but apparently even this is inadequate for gung-ho FG MEPs.
Again, backing Kehoe’s claims last year, Varadkar said: “Ireland will not join a European Army, nor will we contribute to a common European defence budget”. But the MEPs want to co-operate with EU military expenditure plans, meaning greatly increased military funding for Ireland.
The MEPs also want to beef up the 2015 White Paper on Defence. But the then defence minister Simon Coveney stated in that paper: “It is now necessary for the Defence Forces to be trained and equipped to NATO standards” (see The Phoenix 6/11/15). Coveney also promised he would be pressing for increased military expenditure. But buried deep in the White Paper (p117) it states: “Ireland’s financial position remains extremely difficult… However, the government have resolved that Ireland’s investment in defence, over the lifetime of the White Paper, must be on a sustainable footing taking account of long-term national interest.” It adds: “The Government are putting in place new defence review arrangements to elevate discussion and debate in a way which ensures that, notwithstanding other pressing demands for resourcing, investment in defence is given the appropriate consideration.” In other words, decisions on serious increases in military expenditure had already been decided on by the then FG led government. Even this commitment to raise military expenditure, however, is not deemed explicit enough or sufficient for the bellicose MEPs.
If the four MEPs really are acting independently of Kehoe, Varadkar and FG foreign policy, they face a serious split with their government colleagues. Perhaps Boris and the other warriors are being used as an experiment to gauge public opinion. Vlad and Boris, who are very close, may be floating a provocative idea to see how the electorate react to the notion of an extra billion euro or so being spent to send Irish soldiers to theatres of war around the world.