'Lessons' of History

There ain't any - only interpretations of sources.

This commentary takes the form of the reply I wasn’t able to deliver due to the strictures of the Q&A session.

The setting is a conference on International Relations. That is a subject in which Lucinda Creighton TD, Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs, has obtained a degree from D.C.U. (2005 - link).

I apologise for being inarticulate in the video; and I can only plead nervousness (this was the first time I had ever questioned a politician face-to-face and with a live audience of fifty people).

                                                          1. Neutrality.

  • A Policy, not a Law.

The ‘triple lock’ of Irish neutrality (explicated in the video) is not any kind of legal obligation, as Ms. Creighton suggested by calling it a ‘requirement’.

It has no statutory basis that I am aware of: either in primary or delegated legislation.

The Defence Acts (no. 1 - 1954; no. 2 - 1960), have sometimes been adduced as the ‘enshrinement’ of neutrality. However, neither Act speaks of ‘neutrality’, and instead outlines how Irish Defence forces may serve on UN missions.

The ‘triple lock’ certainly is a touted policy, but it remains with the parliament to declare war (Article 28.3 of the Constitution.) No act of parliament has, or can have, been passed contrary to that. 

Funny though that the European Commission seems to think Ireland has a constitutionally ‘enshrined’ neutrality (link). I leave to someone else the honour of correcting them (you can contact them at this link).

TL;DR - the ‘triple lock’ is nowhere save in the rhetorical arsenal of successive Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs. It can be discarded, tweaked or ‘massaged’ as suited.

  • An example?

Prime Minister Sean Lemass, whose government passed the 1960 Defence Act, is a good indicator of how inchoate, if not amorphous, our neutrality policy is. He clearly saw nothing in the Defence Acts to prevent him from saying that ‘Ireland is not neutral’ in 1960. See M. Callanan, ‘Ireland, from the Treaty of Rome to Membership’ in An Irish Perspective on Fifty Years Since the Treaty of Rome, (Dublin, 2007), p. 25ff. (link)   

Non-neutrality is something which I do not have a problem with, per the maxim: ‘you must stand for something or you’ll fall for anything’.

My grievance, instead, is with the dishonesty of the Irish position (which smacks of having one’s cake and eating it.)

  • Collective Security is Neutral? Someone tell Saddam Hussein.

Secondly, the UN is a collective security organisation. Article 42, Chapter VII of the UN Charter mandates the Security Council, having duly voted a resolution to that effect, to act militarily to uphold international peace and security. 

All member states pledge, as a condition of membership of the UN, to give assistance to missions authorised under Chapter VII. (Link to the Charter.) 

Switzerland, the prototype neutral, hesitated in joining the UN until 2002 (link), as that decision had implications for Swiss neutrality. 

Yet, Switzerland hasn’t gone down the road of joining the European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) or NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP). Ireland, by contrast, has done so.

Otherwise the rest of Creighton’s justification is almost post-modern. Neutrality is whatever you want it to be, and (conveniently) defies anything approaching objective measurement; or even a spectrum running from ‘most’ to ‘least’ neutral.

She erects a nice strawman too about ‘not telling other countries how to conduct their international relations’. Who said this? Certainly not I.

Comparing Ireland’s contrivance of ‘neutrality’ with that of other states (such as Austria, which codified neutrality in its 1955 ‘State Treaty’ - link) is just that: comparing, not ordering others about.

                                                       2. Human Rights

In many respects, Ireland holds little of value in its human rights praxis for other states to emulate.

  • Asylum seekers are housed in hostel-style accommodation, paid a pittance of €19.10 on which to live, and are not permitted to work or take up full-time education (link). They are also overwhelmingly rejected for refugee status (current acceptance rate of claims: 3.27% of all applications in 2011 - link)
  • Prisoners in the country’s leading gaol, Mountjoy, are subject to over-crowding and drug-abuse. Seven prisoners have, at times, been known to share a cell designed for just two. They have no flush toilets. A new, high-capacity prison situated at Thornton Hall has been shelved due to the economic crisis (link/link/link)
  • Schools remain, for now, able to discriminate on the basis of their religious ethos (link)
  • We resurrected a criminal offence of Blasphemy in 2009, for which one can be indicted in the event of causing offence to a majority of adherents of a religion. On conviction, the offence carries a large fine (link

Historically, we also lagged far behind the rest of the world, when we:

  • Censored and banned books and film until the 1990s (although the Censorship of Publications Board still exists, it is effectively defunct)
  • Prohibited condoms until 1985
  • Prohibited women from continuing in the civil service after marriage until 1974
  • Criminalised sodomy until 1993 (after an ECtHR decision against the state in 1988)
  • Prohibited divorce until 1995 (and what we got then was stultified: when, as remains the case, one has to be physically separated from a spouse for 4 of the last 5 years before a dissolution is granted - link

I’d say I was being charitable in describing Ireland as more cosmopolitan abroad  than it ever was at home.

  • Creighton’s Gay Marriage Conundrum

However, I always prefer to speak from personal experience.

I’m gay, and the latest scrap from the table, since the Equal Status Act (2000) (from which religious organisations are exempt), is the Civil Partnership Act (2011).

Lucinda’s party, Fine Gael, was not first to table a Civil Partnership Bill, as she claimed.

It produced the first policy document supporting civil partnerships (2004). She was not then a member of parliament (first elected 2007). 

The honour of the first civil partnership bill introduced in either house of the Irish Parliament goes to Independent Senator David Norris, in 2004 (link).

The Labour Party was the first political party to table civil partnership legislation, in 2006 (link).

The Civil Partnership legislation which Ireland now has, in the event, is that of the Fianna Fail/Green Coalition’s design (January 2011), not Fine Gael’s (or Labour’s).

In something of a Viking funeral for satire, Creighton was then Opposition Spokesperson on Equality when she made her comments that marriage was ‘for raising children’ and not open to gay people (February 2011 - link).

Thus, I ran with this example, from her own track record, as an indictment of a speech that was heavy on platitudes about ‘respect for human rights’.

Most curious, given Creighton’s qualification as a barrister, is her assertion in the video (and you can hear me heckling, barely audible in the background) that there is a constitutional bar on gay marriage.

The language of the Constitution is not nearly so clear (Article 41 - The Family.) She must also be  ignorant of the appeal in Zappone & Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners [2006] to the Supreme Court of Ireland, which is ongoing (link).

Rounding all of this out is her chilling coda: ‘You may disagree, but it’s not a human rights issue.’

What do you say to someone like that?.

                                                         3. And the Rest

The remainder of the video? Res Ipsa Loquitur, as I’m sure Creighton learned in King’s Inns.

                                                        On The Plus Side …

The least that can be said for Ireland’s Human Rights record is that I haven’t had my passport revoked in the interim. But for the grace of Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore go I, eh?

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