Today’s Ireland, a successful sovereign nation regards militarisation as an anathema, which is odd given how much we commemorate a military action and indeed a war to declare the country a sovereign nation. Our history literally tells us that sometimes a nation, particularly a small nation, has to have the military capacity to fight and kill (as we did on Bloody Sunday) to achieve or defend sovereignty.
Yet today we have no control over our airspace and almost no control of our below surface waters. We have no main battle tanks.
Now, you could reasonably argue that we probably don’t need tanks in Ireland and our airspace is not under any actual threat despite the odd Russian bomber buzzing Belmullet. Don’t get me started, by the way, on our bizarre ability to totally ignore Russian aircraft but be obsessed to the point of fetish with the aircraft of the United States, our actual kith and kin.
Our waters are another matter: our fisheries our important to us, and as a transatlantic cable starting point for the rest of Europe it might be worth our while being able to keep an eye on the Russians poking about in our waters.
But it’s time to think bigger about what is our national interest. From our cyber security to recognising that we are a weak link into EU communications for Russia (And them next door, it has to be said). Aside from our own ability to protect ourselves from terrorism be it it Islamist or political extremist, well-resourced organised crime, and external powers, we also have to accept that the defence of Europe is also our business. A war in Europe is an attack on our allies and our markets but even above that, if we have a shred of honour then we will do what we can to help other small democracies defend their sovereignty.
That doesn’t mean us arming ourselves to the teeth. But it does mean imagining a European Defence Force that could do something for us. We have no fighters, and building an interceptor force from scratch would be incredibly expensive. But a European Defence Force, operating parallel to national forces with a share of national budgets, could operate the sort of benefits of scale that would help the Irelands and Estonias and Lithuanias. We could share the cost of an airforce between us. The same with a cyber security centre, and military transport. Luxembourg with a mere 400 odd troops has an Airbus 400M transport plane, a capacity Ireland with its 9000 troops can only dream of. Same with a submarine capacity for the Baltics and us (although I suspect getting Luxembourg onboard might be a hard sell.)
But it involves us getting over the weird hangup that we have about purchasing military equipment as if there is some sort or immorality about it. Stopping people interfering with our telecommunications aor carrying our cyberattacks on our infrastructure are perfectly sensible things for a serious nation to be doing.
Our politicians boast of getting nothing but the most modern equipment for our universities and hospitals yet take pleasure in denying our soldiers many of the basic needs for defence in the modern world.
We need to start the debate by asking our party leaders a simple question: can Ireland be relied upon to contribute what it can to the defence of other European countries. Let’s hear a straight no from those parties who believe it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it.