‘Neutral’ Ireland backs US imperialism

As inter-imperialist rivalries intensify and the imperialist nations redefine their blocs, the question of Irish neutrality has become a hot topic. Ireland’s policy of military neutrality has stood since the establishment of the so-called Irish Free State in 1922 and is historically intertwined with Ireland’s struggle for national liberation from British colonial control. In reality Ireland is not neutral. The economy of the 26 Counties in the south of Ireland is completely dependent on US imperialism. Such subordination inevitably results in pressure to support US imperialist interests.

The pressure is also coming, much less subtly, from Britain. Britain has always concerned itself with Irish military policy. It is one of the reasons the Labour Party rejected support for full self-determination for Ireland at its 1920 special party conference: Ireland could not be trusted and Irish liberation must be secondary to the need to ‘prevent Ireland from becoming a military or naval menace to Great Britain’. Today Britain is overt in its view that Ireland is a potential military and naval menace as it once again increases the pressure to draw Ireland into NATO. On 5 February the leading conservative think-tank Policy Exchange accused Ireland of ‘freeloading’ on Europe’s defence and labelled it a ‘backdoor’ threat. The report frames Ireland as being susceptible to infiltration from China and especially from Russia, ‘an acute military menace’, as a means of attacking Britain. Suspicion is cast on the ‘inordinately large Russian diplomatic outfit in Dublin’. As of 2023 there were 21 officers at the Russian embassy in Dublin. For comparison, there are an estimated 150+ officers at the US embassy in Dublin.

Days after the report came out, Ireland signed a new pact with NATO to enhance maritime security. Ireland is one of four EU members which are not members of NATO, alongside Austria, Cyprus and Malta. All four face pressure to join the NATO bloc. Formerly ‘neutral’ EU members Finland and Sweden have recently joined NATO.

Regardless, Ireland is aligned with NATO and has been since it established a formal relationship with the bloc in 1999, joining its ‘Partners for Peace’ cooperation programme which ‘provides a framework for enhanced political and military cooperation for joint multilateral activities’. It provided €122m in non-lethal aid to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022. In July of that year the government announced the largest increase in defence spending in its history, from €1.1bn to €1.5bn. The majority of Irish people continue to oppose membership of NATO, although the aggressive media propaganda over the war in Ukraine did begin swaying public opinion towards greater military spending. Ireland currently spends less than 0.5% of its GDP on defence. Joining NATO would mean this would need to rise to 2%. Those tens of millions of euros in extra military spending would inevitably be taken from working class people.

Base for US troops

Successive coalition governments involving Labour, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens have since 2002 allowed Shannon airport in County Limerick to act as a forward operating base for US imperialism’s bloody wars in the Middle East. The group Shannonwatch estimates around three million US troops have passed through the civilian airport since 2002: ‘the numbers were at their highest in 2005 when Shannon facilitated 341,000 soldiers on their way to war’.

Shannon is widely believed to have been a stopover point for aircraft carrying not only troops and weaponry but also prisoners of war. The Council of Europe in its interim report of 12 June 2006 stated that Ireland ‘could be held responsible for collusion – active or passive (in the sense of having tolerated or having been negligent in fulfilling the duty to supervise) – involving secret detention and unlawful inter-state transfers of a non-specified number of persons whose identity so far remains unknown – and for being a stopover for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees’ (shannonwatch.org).

The now former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar asserted in November 2023 that Shannon airport was not being used as a base by the US military to supply arms to Israel in its bombardment of Gaza. However over 50,000 US troops passed through Shannon airport last year up to November 2023. In 2023, 1,185 civil flights carrying weapons were granted permission to travel through Irish airspace by the Irish government: 181 of these were in October 2023 when Israel’s latest assault on Gaza began. There is a total lack of transparency about the purpose of these flights.

Much has been made of the Irish state’s position on Palestine. When Varadkar toured the US in March 2024 he made a speech in which he said ‘it is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine’ and called for a ceasefire, to which US President Joe Biden agreed. At the same meeting, Biden congratulated Ireland on ‘having stepped up and changed’ since the war in Ukraine. When Varadkar suddenly resigned as Taoiseach a week later, there were efforts to imply this was a push from Biden in retaliation for Varadkar’s mention of Palestine on his visit.

It was not possible for Varadkar to avoid emphasising Palestine on his visit. The Irish government faces pressure from a population overwhelmingly in support of Palestine due to obvious similarities in the histories of settler-colonial occupations of Ireland and Palestine. But words about a ceasefire have not translated into much concretely. On the contrary, in November 2023 the Irish government rejected a motion to stop the use of Shannon airport for US troops. It took until March 2024, six months after the genocidal onslaught on Gaza began and three months after the ICJ ruling, for Ireland to make an intervention in South Africa’s case against Israel. Israel’s ambassador to Ireland has not been expelled. In 2023 Ireland’s exports to Israel of ‘dual-use’ goods, goods such as software and technology that can be used for civil and military purposes, grew from €11m to €70m. Irish ‘neutrality’ remains a myth and the 26 County government remains content to maintain its dependency relationship with the US.

Ria Aibhilin



Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed