Stop facilitating Iraq killing

The decision of the American President, George Bush, to intensify the war in Iraq and, thereby, to consign yet further tens of thousands of Iraqis to slaughter and many more to misery, forces decisions on Ireland. In particular, it raises the issue of the continued use of Shannon airport as a facilitation for the American forces' operations in Iraq.

It has been suggested that Resolution 1483 of the Security Council, passed on 22 May 2003, which acknowledged the US and UK as “occupying powers” in Iraq, requires member states of the United Nations to facilitate that occupation and therefore there is an obligation on Ireland to continue to provide Shannon as a base for US forces. The Resolution does no such thing. It certainly calls on member states to respond to humanitarian appeals, to deny safe haven to the members of the Saddam Hussein regime, to assist the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country, to assist in the safe return to Iraq of stolen items of cultural heritage. But nowhere does it even request member states to support the occupying powers.

There is an insinuation in the Resolution, in the acknowledgment of the US and UK being the occupying powers and in calling on them to do certain things, that these are now legitimised as such. That is a questionable interpretation of the Resolution but it certainly does not request, let alone demand, assistance for those occupying powers. It means that our continued facilitation of American forces on their way to and from Iraq may no longer be illegal, as the facilitation of the actual invasion almost certainly was. But that is not now the issue. The issue now is whether politically we should continue to support the American venture in Iraq at all, irrespective of whether it is illegal or not.

Killing in Iraq would go on were these occupying powers to leave. Indeed it might be that the killing would intensify for a period, as the competing Sunni and Shia paramilitary forces fight it out. But it is now hardly arguable that the American and British presences are an exacerbation, that more people will be killed with them there than if they were  to leave now.

This means that in providing facilities at Shannon for the Americans we are contributing to the loss of life in Iraq and we are doing so for the base motive of not wishing to endanger our own economic dependence on US political, financial and corporate interests.

That perceived dependence is curious. The two counties that, arguably, are most dependant on US political, financial and corporate interests, Canada and Mexico, America's two closest neighbours, both stood out against the war. They had the gumption to take a stand, even though they were far more likely to be prejudiced in their economic interests than we. In the event of course they suffered nothing.

Isn't there something terribly abject about Irish foreign policy nowadays, abject in a way that reflects on what we have become as a people? We stand for nothing apparently but our own enrichment. So obsessed are we with that enrichment that we are willing to sacrifice even the semblance of principle and independence.

There was a time when it was otherwise.

In 1959 the British asked the Irish Department of External Affairs to be allowed the unoccupied Inistrahull Island, off Donegal, for the purposes of conducting military exercises. They were refused.

In 1958 the US were allowed over-flight permission for military aircraft on the strict understanding that were such aircraft ever to become involved in any military conflict the permission would lapse.

In October 1983 it was made clear by Peter Barry, then minister for foreign affairs, that permission for military over-flights “must not be an integral part of training maneuvers by foreign military aircraft; likewise, clearance is not granted where a troop-carrying aircraft is en route to military exercises”.

The late Brian Lenihan, as minister for foreign affairs in 1989, repeated this policy position. In other words, not alone even were over-flights banned were the aircraft in question to be engaged in military conflict, but they were to be banned if they were engaged merely in military exercises. And they keep asserting that the facilitation of US military forces has always been our position.