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VE Day is a good reminder that Ireland should drop its shameful pretense at neutrality

Jason O’Toole
Jason O’Toole

Jason O’Toole is an author of several best-selling books who has worked as a senior feature writer for the Irish Daily Mail, a columnist with the Irish Sunday Mirror and senior editor of Hot Press magazine.

Jason O’Toole is an author of several best-selling books who has worked as a senior feature writer for the Irish Daily Mail, a columnist with the Irish Sunday Mirror and senior editor of Hot Press magazine.

VE Day is a good reminder that Ireland should drop its shameful pretense at neutrality
Ireland is officially recognized by the EU as a country with a “traditional policy of military neutrality.” That “neutrality” had Ireland lament Hitler’s death in 1945, and still stretches credulity in 2020.

If asked which nation – including one of its future heads of government – had “celebrated” VE Day in 1945 by burning British and American flags, most people would probably answer Iran or Iraq. 

It’s unlikely you’d guess the real culprit was actually the Republic of Ireland (then called the Irish Free State), which likes to take great pride in its supposed neutrality since the 1930s – starting only a few short years after it gained independence in 1922.

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Yet, since 2001, the US military has been able to make pit stops at Shannon Airport to refuel before flying on to its final destination in some warzone or another. I’m not disputing the rights or wrongs here of the country’s assistance with the War on Terror in the noughties, but, as I pointed out in my book ‘Brian Cowen: The Path to Power’, “Allowing foreign soldiers on Irish soil clearly contradicted Ireland’s neutrality.” 

That goes to show how hollow the pretend “neutrality” of Ireland – or Éire, as stamped on the front of my passport – really is. However, it pales in comparison with what happened during World War II.

Anyone but the Brits?

It still boggles the mind how the Irish PM Éamon de Valera made an official visit to the German ambassador to “express his condolences” on the death of Adolf Hitler, which was correctly described as showing “allegiance to a devil.” 

It wasn’t a one-off diplomatic mistake either, because a Reuters report at the time stated, “The Éireann Minister in Lisbon today hoisted the German swastika at half-mast over the legation as a sign of mourning for Hitler.”  Sure, there was even a mass for Mussolini in Ireland!

The burning of flags and swastikas at half-mast and on VE Day 1945 doesn’t chime with the image you’d expect from the country that prides itself on its ‘céad míle fáilte’ – on being “the land of a hundred thousand welcomes.” It was more a case of ‘céad míle f*** off’! 

It’s hard to argue against the view that my ancestors hated the British so much they secretly wanted the Germans to win. Yes, I, like most of my compatriots, am deeply ashamed of these past actions by Éamon de Valera. But it all needs to be viewed in historical context, because Irish wounds were still raw from the brutal occupation it suffered under the British regime. 

Also, Irish citizens didn’t know what was going on, because Éamon de Valera’s government refused to even acknowledge there was a world war, officially calling it ‘The Emergency’, and the Irish media had been censored from fully reporting on it. It’s hard to imagine any decent Irish person – even with so much hatred towards the English – would not have truly celebrated the Allies’ victory on VE with such gusto had they been fully aware of the horrendous war crimes of the Nazis.

‘Blood on its hands’

These days, Ireland not only allows the US military to use Shannon Airport, but it also turns a blind eye to covert operations by American intelligence services being run under its nose. It’s been proven that US “rendition flight” aircraft that ferried terrorists suspects off to be tortured at undisclosed sites around the world have come in and out of Shannon Airport. 

The Irish government claims it is only allowing US troops without weapons and munitions being separately transported to stop at Shannon, but there’s absolutely no monitoring of who or what is going through the airport. As The Irish Post recently observed, “Concerns about Ireland's neutrality regarding Shannon Airport have been raised in the Dáil [Irish parliament] before, with a number of TDs stressing that simply trusting that the US government wasn't transporting arms or weapons on flights in and out of Shannon wasn't good enough.” 

Ireland can’t pretend it’s squeaky clean, because – no matter how you spin it – it has “blood on its hands” by allowing war planes into the country. It’s an emotive metaphor, but a truthful one, and has been echoed by many Irish public figures, both church leaders and left-leaning politicians. This was iterated in January by a prominent Irish MEP who was once arrested for a security breach when protesting at Shannon Airport herself. 

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Why doesn’t Ireland just go all the way, drop the charade of this neutrality nonsense and just join NATO? After all, it’s already shown its allegiance to the US. Irish troops have made a name for themselves among UN peacekeepers, and the Irish Army Rangers Wing are the only non-Americans to ever win the US Army International Sniper Competition in 2018. 

Maybe if we took that step and admitted neutrality doesn’t work, then we could be certain we won’t see the repetition of the fate of the brave Irish soldiers who fought in World War II, siding with the British army against the Nazis, and ending up being treated as personae non gratae on their return home. 

Therefore, seeing as VE Day in Dublin comes and goes, for the most part, without any substantive celebration, even during pre-Covid-19 times, it’s touching that these men – an estimated 130,000 – who went off to join “foreign” armies (American, Australian, British and Canadian) were honoured today with a special tribute by Europe to mark the 75th anniversary. 

The British author LP Hartley once mused in his novel ‘The Go-Between,’ “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” This is very true of Éamon de Valera’s Republic, and I’d hate to see history ever repeat itself. Ireland should never again be found sitting on the fence.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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