Antonov plane cargo raises new questions about Irish neutrality

Once again questions are being raised about the use of Shannon Airport and its implications for Irish neutrality following revelations about the cargo contained in an Antonov AN-124 which landed there in early May.

The airport has been used as a stopover and refueling stop for the US military for nearly 20 years, with tens of thousands of soldiers passing through it each year.

In 2020, around 75,000 soldiers used the airport. In 2019 the figure was 93,852 and in 2018 it was 86,653.

The airport’s use in the United States’ “war on terror” has proven a thorn in the side of Irish neutrality, regardless of opinions on that particular war. However, with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, a new problem arises. Surely few doubt Ukraine’s right to retaliate against an invading force, or the right of international allies to arm that effort.

Irish support

Here in Ireland however, it raises the question of what support we are prepared to offer. It’s a needle that Ireland has had to thread since the start of the war in Ukraine when the government announced that country was giving around 9 million euros to an EU fund, but said we don’t would not invest that money in “deadly” supplies.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters the money was to be used for personal protective equipment, medical supplies and fuel.

He insisted that the unprecedented use of the European Peace Facility for arms is not a breach of Ireland’s military neutrality. The European Commission’s plan saw around €500 million used to help buy air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and other military equipment for Ukraine’s armed forces.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland had been granted the right to “constructive abstention” from the European Peace Facility. Picture: Maxwells

Mr Martin said Ireland had been granted the right to “constructive abstention” from the installation.

“When we joined the European Peace Facility, Ireland sought an option regarding the ability to have constructive abstention in terms of using this facility for lethal force or for sending lethal weapons “, did he declare.

Asked about the difference between funding fuel from a tank instead of a tank itself, Mr Martin replied ‘you can argue one way or another’ but ‘the bottom line is that we don’t don’t fund the reservoirs”.

Despite what many commentators will say and have said, public support for military neutrality in Ireland is over two-thirds and only a quarter of people favor scrapping it.

However, the question remains whether allowing refueling or the transport of troops or weapons is a violation of neutrality in spirit or in letter.

For some, the spirit is largely taken on a case-by-case basis. They can look at US interventions in the Middle East and say they are unjustified, but find it hard to quibble about arming a vastly outgunned Ukrainian army. And this is both logical and morally reasonable.

For some, however, the matter is simpler: Ireland should not be involved in any military conflict, one way or another.

Writing in this article in March, Dr. Edward Horgan laid out the idea of ​​”active neutrality”.

“The humanitarian reasons for Irish neutrality should be a priority for the people of Ireland given our history of occupation by a foreign power which has committed crimes against humanity against our people, forcing millions of Irish people to seek refuge in other countries,” he said.

Irish facilitation of aggressive wars in the Middle East has contributed to the refugee crisis and our government is failing to promote peace in the Ukrainian conflict.

“The existential reasons for neutrality are highlighted by the risks of nuclear accident or nuclear war due to the current conflict in Ukraine and the possession and threat to use nuclear weapons by at least nine countries.

“Promoting peace by peaceful means using our positive active neutrality is the only sensible and practical policy for Ireland in the future.”

For others, including the Taoiseach, the war in Ukraine raises the question of whether Ireland can remain neutral in a smaller, more closely aligned world.

National talk

Mr Martin said in March that once the immediate humanitarian problem recedes, a national conversation could take place on neutrality.

“I don’t believe in a knee-jerk response to this in terms of the larger issue of misalignment, but… when this war ends, we should create a forum for thinking about this, because the world has changed,” he said. said.

“Russia has changed the multilateral order with this war. We have seen the growth of cyber attacks, the growth of terrorist organizations as well. The whole situation has changed so much that we have to think about all this.”

However, while this thinking remains a future concern, we need to have an immediate conversation about what needs to be done in Shannon.

Shannon Airport has been used as a stopover and refueling point for the US military for nearly 20 years, with tens of thousands of soldiers passing through it each year.  Photo: Eamon Ward
Shannon Airport has been used as a stopover and refueling point for the US military for nearly 20 years, with tens of thousands of soldiers passing through it each year. Photo: Eamon Ward

After 20 years, it is time to grasp the essence of the use of the airport by and for foreign military personnel. We are capable of such a conversation and it is imperative that we decide that a military neutrality approach, in which friendly forces are allowed access to the airport, is no longer tenable.

Whether or not this particular aircraft carried ammunition – we know it had no exemption to do so – the fact that a flight originating from a foreign military base and flying into what is effectively a staging area for a months-long war has not been at least superficially scrutinized by the Irish authorities raises questions.

This plane remained on the tarmac at Shannon for 24 hours and none of the competent authorities felt obliged to carry out a check, according to the Ministry of Transport.

We know that this plane left Amberley Air Force Base in Australia, crossed Japan to Anchorage in Alaska and stopped twice in Canada before landing in Shannon.

It is possible that the Irish authorities assumed that the governments of Japan, the United States and Canada would have ensured that the shipment was in good condition.

However, even this shows at best a lack of curiosity on the part of the authorities and raises the question of whether eyes are closed.