4 July 2002 Edition

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Ireland's thriving arms industry

The reality behind Irish 'neutrality'

As the Indian and Pakistani governments still stand perilously close to nuclear war, as the Israeli Army occupies and destroys Palestine town by town, and the US administration pursues its war aganst "the axis of evil" in the Third World, the armaments industry has taken a great leap forward.

And right in the middle of the peace process in Ireland, which proclaims to the world that conflict may be resolved through negotiation, understanding, and goodwill, a cluster of international armaments producers are assembling. Ireland, it seems, is increasingly becoming a little hub in the multi-billion dollar international arms trade.

We are neutral, or so we're told. EU politicians were anxious to convince us all of this 'fact' when they gathered in Seville to prepare the ground for our second chance to vote the way the government wants on the Nice Treaty debate.

Ireland's neutrality

Part of our alleged 'neutrality' means that fully fledged weapons systems cannot be manufactured in the 26 Counties. So, for example, Timoney Armoured Personnel Carriers) cannot be produced here in Ireland. Professor Timoney, a one-time employee at Alvis, a British company that makes tanks, designed the Timoney APCs, and the company transfers the technology to others to produce under licence. So, for example, the Kuwaiti armed forces run about in the Vickers Valkyr, which was produced under licence in Belgium in conjunction with Vickers, using Professor Timoney's designs.

But although Ireland cannot produce the fully fledged weapons system here, that doesn't mean that components of weapons systems can't be manufactured. In 2000, 1,155 individual export licences for military goods were issued by the Department of Enterprise. Components went to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and continental Europe.

In addition, 37 global licences were issued. A global licence gives a company licence to export a particular product for a year, whereas the individual licences are to a specific consignment. It's hard on the basis of global licences to find out what went where and might have helped to kill whom. But that is the arms trade. Big bucks and heavily camouflaged.

Ireland's recent success in software has undoubtedly been an attraction in the field of digital technology, which, as Jane's Defence Weekly points out, is "the next generation of military software". According to Magill magazine, Dublin based GeoSolutions produces an "electronic Battlefield Management System", which allows a commander to track his troops' movements. Iona Technologies sold communications security software to a US agency "responsible for designing and maintaining the US army's nuclear arsenal".

IDA help

Ireland is especially well placed to subcontract into this highly specialist multi-billion dollar market. Partly as a world leader in electronic engineering and information technology, but also precisely by virtue of our neutrality. As a recent investigation in Magill magazine pointed out, "the IDA in the US uses Irish neutrality as a marketing tool". In the last few years, the IDA has given at least €48 million in aid towards US multinationals that produce components for fighter aircraft and other war machinery.

Data Device Corporation (DDC) in Cork is one such company producing electronic components. The IDA gave it €3 million. DDC components go into the 'nerve system' of the Apache, Euro fighter and Rafale attack helicopters. Apache helicopters have had a high profile in the Israeli war against the Palestinian people. Other DDC hybrid products go into missiles, radar, sonar, secure communications and night vision equipment, and DDC has full MIL-STDS certification. This certificate means the products meet the requisite standards of the US military programmes.

AfrI's list

Action from Ireland (AfrI), which over the past few years has played a major role in the attempt to expose the largely hidden but growing involvement of Ireland in the arms trade, wrote to a number of listed companies in Ireland with MIL-STDS approval standards. The list includes DDC in Cork, Analog Devices in Limerick, which produces components for US fighter aircraft, and Schaffner Intepro Systems, also in Limerick one of whose customers is the RAF.

It has long been known that Cork is a base for a number of armaments industries. Best known of these is MOOG Ltd (Ire) which according to Jane's International Defence Directory, produces 'gun stabilisation systems', turret stabilisation systems and electrical equipment for wheeled armoured vehicles. The company makes electronic controllers for a range of tanks and anti-aircraft guns, including the Bofors L-70 Air Defence gun, which are known to be part of the ordinance of the Indonesian armed forces.

Also in Cork is The National Micro-Electronics Research Centre at University College Cork, which although anxious to explain to AfrI's enquiries the 'non-military nature of its activities, has clients heavily involved in the arms trade, including British Aerospace, GEC Marconi, Thomson CSF, Thorn EMI, Moog and DDC.

Tax Free Zone

Shannon Tax Free Zone hosts a number of the companies listed, including Befab Safeland LTD, whose products include 'Runway arrestors capable of arresting the full range of military aircraft', which it supplies to air forces across the world, and Westinghouse Electric Systems and Logistics Ltd, which supplies Bus Analysers, which are a vital part of modern military aircraft.

There are several other companies in Clare, like Essco-Collins in the tiny village of Kilkishen. The parent company has 80% of the world's market in radomes, the round covering for radar antennae systems. Their customers have included Mexico, Egypt, China, and a deal through US arms giant, Boeing, which was bound for Saudi Arabia; a deal, through the Italian firm, Alenia, where the final destination was the Turkish Armed forces; and another for the Middle East brokered through French military giant, Thomson-CSF.

The Six Counties

No such restrictions as operate in the 26 Counties affect manufacturing in the Six Counties, where, in addition to smaller companies, Belfast is home to Short Brothers Aerospace, owned by Canadian company Bombadier, and Shorts Missile Systems (SMS), now owned by the French company Thomson-CSF, which is rated the fifth largest arms producing company in the world.

SMS, based in Castlereagh, has supplied more than 60,000 weapons to 56 armed forces around the world in the past 40 years. These weapons include Lockheed Martin Corp's Hellfire 2 and Longbow missiles, which were assembled at the Belfast plant. In September 1998, SMS launched its Starstreak missile, and in the same year the company won a £200 million contract from the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) to supply the Starstreak missiles.

In 1999, Economy Minister John McFall announced an IDB-backed investment by SMS, which would provide 34 new jobs and cost £1.6 million. He took the opportunity to present the company with the Investors in People Award, which AfrI appropriately points out in its Report "What Price Peace", should have been named the "Investors in Killing People Award".

The parent company of Shorts Missile systems, Thomson-CSF, produces fully integrated air defence-systems including the Javelin, Starburst, Starsteak, Samantha and Aspic. Shorts has sold heavily to the Middle East. Some of its recent deals included the Blowpipe missile to the United Arab Emirates, the Starburst air defence system to Kuwait, and the Starstreak surface-to-air missile to Oman. Other customers include Botswana, Dubai, Jordan, South Korea and Malaysia, a motley selection of distasteful regimes.

The British government clearly has intentions for the development of this industry in the Six Counties, ironically perhaps, plans which could be a part of the promised and long awaited Peace Dividend. In 1998, The Northern Ireland Aerospace Consortium (NIAC) was launched. At the launch, Sir Roy McNulty, chairman of Short Bros, said: "Northern Ireland has a long history in aerospace and the industry provides over 8,000 jobs in the province. There is no reason why that figure cannot be increased significantly given Northern Ireland's skill base and the increasing competence of companies here."


In 1999, welcomed by the two Nobel Peace prize winners, Hume and Trimble, Raytheon Systems Ltd (RSL), a British subsidiary of the US military giant, Raytheon, now the third biggest arms manufacturer in the world, came to Derry. Raytheon, in a consortium with Shorts Aerospace, got the British $1.3 billion MoD contract for an Airborne Standoff Radar (ASTOR) programme.

Raytheon has a turnover of some $20 billion and employs 100,000 people worldwide. "It's the largest manufacturer of missiles, including the Hellfire missile, which has been used recently to such devastating effect in Palestine against civilian populations," says Rose Kelly a spokesperson for the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign (FEIC). Although Raytheon came to Derry with the promise of some 150 jobs, so far it employs about 40 people.

This giant multinational was attracted to Derry precisely because of the highly trained workforce. Manager Director of RSL, Peter McKee, cited nearby Magee College as a key factor in their decision to site in Derry: "The level of software training at Magee College is excellent and we hope to take advantage of this. It would be our intention to use the skills of the Northern Ireland centre for the contracts we have worldwide."

Wasting costly Resources

Peter McKee unwittingly put his finger on why the argument that Raytheon should be retained in Derry because of the jobs it provides is flawed. The much sought after and highly skilled nature of the workforce ensure that these workers would encounter very little difficulty in finding alternative employment in work not tied to the destruction of humankind. The training and education at Magee College does not come cheap to the taxpayer.

There are a number of reasons why Ireland should be wary of specialising in arms manufacturing - quite aside from the political and moral arguments. The military industry is highly competitive, usually state-backed and state-funded, dominated by a handful of multi-billion dollar companies, and it is extremely capital intensive. A report by two Cambridge economists, P Dunne and R Smith, published in the Cambridge Econometrics Report in 1990, concluded that the diversion of 50% of British military expenditure to alternative expenditure would lead to 520,000 more jobs over a decade than would have emanated from the continuing arms industry.

Questions to be asked

Under these conditions it has to be asked, could it really be in the longer term interests of Ireland that 6 or 26 Counties, still less 32 Counties, should become an outpost for the US/British/French arms industry? That industry relies entirely on state funding and state purchases, and is inevitably vulnerable to vicissitudes in demand, much of which is regulated by political concerns, if not direct bribery to promote arms sales. The industry diverts an expensive and highly skilled workforce into crazy, pointless, sickening production of weaponry to kill people, in a world where all but the barest few know that it would be a better place without this production.

A colossal $756 billion was spent on arms at the turn of the century. Well over one third of this is US expenditure. Around a quarter represents expenditure in the poorer countries, the so-called third world. This annual expenditure figure alone exceeds the costs of providing primary health care, universal primary education and achieving the goals set for health and nutrition across the world. The price of one Hawk bomber is roughly as much as it takes to provide 1.5 million people with clean water for life.

When Raytheon came to Derry, John Hume said: "It will be warmly welcomed by all of our citizens. It is an act of great economic confidence in our city and is another major step forward in our dream to make our Foyle Valley the Silicon Valley of Europe." Did John Hume really believe that that is Raytheon's line of business?

Implications for neutrality

Is weaponry and guided missiles a proper industrial growth sector for an island where the vast majority of the people strongly support neutrality? What purpose to fight to keep Ireland neutral, outside of the world's military power blocs of NATO and the EU Rapid Reaction Force, and yet to dedicate some of our most skilled workforce to supplying the weapons for these very same forces?

Is the ongoing peace process, and the determination to "take the gun out of Irish politics" consistent with Ireland becoming a world centre for the production of weapons of destruction somewhere else? Politically, economically, not to mention morally, there is every reason to cry halt to our increasing reliance on the world armaments industry, and ensure an Ireland that is not only neutral in word, but also in deed.

As Joe Murray of AfrI points out, the words cobbled together in Seville to pretend a guarantee of neutrality up to nothing unless Ireland pulls out of all military alliances. AfrI is calling for legislation to prevent not only the production of complete armament systems across the island, but also to bar the production of components for weaponry which has no other use than to kill, maim and impose repressive regimes on human beings.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
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