13 February 2003 Edition
Don't do it
This weekend, tens of thousands of Irish people on the streets of Dublin and Belfast are joining millions in demonstrations throughout the world and demanding that the governments of the United States and Britain stop their drive to war and do not launch their planned full-scale invasion of Iraq.
These mass demonstrations may be the largest ever seen around the world on one day and they expose the isolation of George Bush's US Administration and of his British ally Tony Blair in the face of world opinion.
In Ireland, opposition to the war has been mobilised in massive numbers and has placed the demand for truly independent Irish foreign policy and positive neutrality back at the top of the political agenda. The 'nod and wink' arrangement whereby an Irish government has allowed Shannon Airport to be used as a staging post for the war has been revealed in all its shameful hypocrisy.
Irish republicans are to the fore in the campaign against this war. Independent foreign policy and neutrality have been fundamental to Irish republicanism from the days of Wolfe Tone to James Connolly and Roger Casement to the present day.
Sinn Féin is campaigning for lasting peace with justice not only in Ireland but internationally and when republicans march this weekend they do so because the cause of Irish freedom is inextricably linked with the cause of freedom and justice throughout the world.
Ó Caoláin calls for massive turnout
Speaking in the debate on Iraq on Tuesday, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said the government "stands shamefully in the shadow of the Bush administration". He called on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to "catch up with Irish public opinion", oppose the build-up to war and deny the use of Shannon Airport to foreign military aircraft.
He said it was a disgrace that it has taken so long for the government to allocate some of its time for a proper debate.
"As we speak the world is on the brink of a catastrophic conflict," said Ó Caoláin. "And catastrophic it will be not only for the innocent civilians of Iraq but for the entire Middle East and for the wider world where the longer term consequences can only be guessed at.
"Divisions have opened up between Europe and the United States. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation itself is divided. The Bush Administration and its British ally are increasingly isolated on the world stage. Governments are setting out their policies. Many governments are responding to the growing mass public opposition in their countries to the impending war.
"On Saturday people will march in this city in unprecedented numbers. They will be among the millions marching in no less than 316 cities throughout the world. I believe it will be the biggest demonstration of public opinion ever seen on one day.
"There are intense diplomatic efforts at many levels, including the United Nations and the EU, to avoid a war which the United States and Britain now appear determined to inflict upon the people of the Gulf.
"And amidst all this where stands the Irish government? What initiatives has it taken? What policy has it set out? Where has it placed this state on the international stage?
"The answer is that it stands shamefully in the shadow of the Bush administration, having abandoned independent foreign policy and turned Shannon Airport into a military air-base, a staging post in the build-up to war. It has made a mockery of Irish neutrality and whittled it away to nothing. The Jesuitical justifications of the Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot conceal the real policy that is seen in concrete terms in the form of troops in armoured personnel vehicles patrolling the perimeter of Shannon Airport.
"I take this opportunity to salute the peace campaigners who established their camp at Shannon Airport and who by their vigilance exposed what was really going on. They stirred the conscience of the Irish people. And to those who hysterically condemned the protesters for damaging a military aircraft I ask. 'Is it wrong to strike a military aircraft with a hammer in protest at an unjust war but right for that same military aircraft to participate in the aerial bombardment of a city full of innocent civilians?'
"From the days of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, the demand for independent Irish foreign policy and for Irish neutrality have been fundamental to the cause of Irish freedom. As a colonised people we have opposed empires and superpowers and expressed solidarity with oppressed peoples throughout the world. That is the historic origin of Irish neutrality, and not simply Eamon de Valera's position in the Second World War, as this government so often asserts.
"In the peace process Ireland has given an example for conflict resolution globally, just as we learned from the example of South Africa. (And in passing I note that one of the most eminent voices against this war is that of Nelson Mandela). Our peace process is far from perfect and it continues to experience very great difficulties. But it is based on inclusivity and dialogue. And does this country's experience with Britain not show that no superpower can prevail by force and repression and domination and that it must respect human rights and accept its responsibility in the peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue?
"That is what the Irish government should be demanding now in the Gulf. It should set its face against the build-up to war by the United States and Britain. It should refuse access to Shannon Airport for the build-up to war.
"The Sinn Féin TDs handed in letters to the US and British embassies last week calling on their governments to halt the build-up to war and to allow the United Nations to take the lead in the peaceful resolution of the international crisis. In his reply to our letter the British Ambassador Ivor Roberts relies upon the now discredited dossier for his claims that Iraq has 'continued to try to produce nuclear weapons'. What was presented as hard information from British intelligence has been exposed as a sham.
"This development and the growing dissent from allies of the US that we have seen since, makes the position of the Irish government even more pathetic. The Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs should catch up with Irish public opinion and firmly oppose British-US preparations for a war that can yet be stopped.
"I encourage people to turn out in massive numbers in Dublin this Saturday and to join the millions around the world demanding peace and justice."
Clones sends out anti-war message
Over 100 people from both sides of the border attended an Anti-war vigil in the Diamond in Clones on Sunday last. Many children at the vigil had made their own posters carrying similar messages and they distributed leaflets encouraging people to personally register their protest against the war by contacting government ministers, the US embassy and even George Bush himself (via E-mail). Olivia Johnson-Murphy, one of the organisers of the vigil, read aloud a letter of protest and presented this along with a signed petition to the Cathaoirleach of Clones Town Council, Sinn Féin's Pat Treanor. He acknowledged the petition and congratulated the organisers on a successful event. He also called on the 26-County government to review its policy and attitude towards the crisis.