The Day Ireland declared war on NATO.

Jack Lynch: Saved the country from humiliation and bloodshed.
Jack Lynch: Saved the country from humiliation and bloodshed.

I enjoyed RTE’s “What if?” broadcast last night, “If Lynch had invaded.” It was ably presented by Tom Clonan and Keelin Shanley, and aside from some incredibly irritating camerawork (The cameraman seemed to be on about seven cans of Red Bull.) was very watchable. The actual dramatised sections were were quite well done, although there were some camera shots of soldiers using Steyr rifles which hadn’t been manufactured in 1969, and the British soldiers seemed to be wearing riot equipment into combat, but overall it looked like they got a lot out of a modest budget. The other surprise (But not to people who know him.) would have been how republican Des O’Malley comes across in it, which just goes to show that being a republican and a provo are two different things. 

The tone of the show, however, was very clear: We would have been stark mad to have sent the Irish Defence Forces, essentially a paramilitary police force with light machine guns, up against an air supported major NATO military force. In fact, it would have been criminally negligent to treat Irish soldiers like that. Ironically, one of the reasons the PDF would have fared so badly, despite their own courage and willingness to obey their orders, would have been the refusal of the neutrality lobby (incl Sinn Fein.) to actually equip them with modern equipment with which to put up any sort of resistance to modern British forces.

Where the show missed out, I think, was the focus on the doomed conventional “invasion” of Newry. Whereas it would have been a very symbolic intervention, and certainly made for good telly, the truth is that the army were also planning to send guerilla forces into the North, to attack key targets such as the BBC and Belfast Airport, and given the effectiveness of the IRA, there is no reason to believe that professional Irish soldiers could not have inflicted similar damge. The show also failed to deal, in a major way, with a key reason why Lynch didn’t invade: We could not have defended the catholics in west Belfast from a post-invasion pogrom. Nor was the issue of the Irish in Britain addressed: How would the British public have reacted to having half a million citizens of an enemy combatant nation in their midst? How would we have reacted to having to take in half a million unemployed Irish expelled from Britain? And, as the show pointed out, we could forget about joining the EEC. Indeed, the show failed to point out that, under the terms of article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, by attacking Britain we had actually attacked NATO, ludicrous and all as it sounds. But what it would have shown was that, despite all our guff about how much the world loves us, we would have been isolated, almost North Korea style.    

But it still points to the same outcome. A single British Phantom jet fighter could have flown south unhindered, and taken out an ESB power station as a single gesture to the Irish government: Get out, or within hours there won’t be any electricity in Ireland. Even that simple act alone would surely have made an Irish government cease operations.

We dodged a bullet, and Jack Lynch, for all his flaws, showed toughness when it was needed, and saved the country, and for that we should be grateful.

P.s. Get ready for the complaints to RTE that it was biased, and part of a pro-Lisbon agenda, for showing that a tiny country could not take on a major NATO power and win. Like, say, Vietnam!    

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