INDICATIONS OF the militarist tenor of Tánaiste and foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin’s Forum on International Security were noted in The Phoenix (see edition 24/4/23). Martin announced that the forum is to be chaired by security expert Louise Richardson DBE. He did not spell out the DBE acronym (Dame Commander of the most Excellent British Empire) nor did he mention her book, What Terrorists Want; her support for US foreign military policy in places such as Afghanistan; or even her condemnation of the 10 dead 1981 strikers as “terrorists”. The forums – shortly to be held around Ireland – however, will not include contrary, pacifist voices judging by the negative response to a request from the Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education (Innate) to make an oral presentation at one of the forums.
Martin announced some details of the planned forums on April 5, which was accompanied by rhetoric about Europe’s “collective security architecture” and “a discussion on Ireland’s policy of military neutrality”. He said the public were invited to make “written submissions” and that further details about the forums would be “available in the coming weeks”.
Belfast-based Rob Fairmichael, who is the editor of Innate’s online newsletter Nonviolent News, submitted a request to the forums’ organising team at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to make an oral submission. The request was made on May 24, before any details of the programme had been released.
On June 9 the organisers replied: “Unfortunately at this stage, it will not be possible to accommodate an oral presentation as the composition of the panels is largely set. But we would be delighted to invite you and Innate representatives to attend the forum.” (Innate had already booked places at the Forum on International Security in Dublin.)
Following the publication on May 30 of a detailed list of topics to be addressed at the forums, on June 1 Goldhawk asked the DFA for the names and details of the speakers who had been booked.
Strangely, despite denying Innate’s request made on May 24 for an oral slot, on the grounds that the speakers were “largely set”, the department appeared unable (or unwilling?) to provide any details whatsoever to The Phoenix about the speakers when asked on June 1.
A spokesperson said that “more information, including the details of speakers and panellists will be published” shortly.
Innate is a genuine, substantial peace-building organisation that has existed since 1990 and has produced annual reports since 1999. Its written submission to the forum is a serious, peace document dealing with non-violent strategies to confront belligerence and advocating non-military strategies and alliances. Clearly this sort of ‘free-loading attachment to the sacred cow of neutrality etc’ is not what is wanted at Martin’s forums.
Fairmichael replied to the DFA saying: “I should point out the closed nature of this consultative forum… the fact would seem that there was no point at which it was possible to offer an input and it be accepted… In other words, the minister can choose who he wants and everyone else can make a written submission which can be ignored.
“This is therefore not a democratic exercise and the dictionary definition of a ‘forum’ is ‘a public place for open discussion’. This is a public place for discussion decided by the minister.
“There are serious problems with this forum in relation to democracy, transparency and fairness for the people of Ireland.”
Martin and other ministers can sometimes become confused by their own Orwellian language, as exemplified by the Tánaiste’s departmental statement on May 30, which said the forums were “not designed to focus on the binary issue of neutrality nor the issue of Nato membership”.
However, the DFA’s list of topics released on the same day for the June 27 Forum on International Security at Dublin Castle includes a session on “Ireland’s military neutrality: a historical perspective”, while another is entitled “Neutrality: definitions, options and implications”. Another Dublin Castle forum session will hear a talk on “Ireland’s engagement with Nato through Partnership for Peace”.