Sunday 23 October 2016

Not the week for point-scoring in the Dáil about American military using Shannon

Gerard O’Regan

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Shannon Airport
Shannon Airport

It's been a bad week for some of those who might be termed the "know-alls" who so often pump up the heartbeat of the nation's political chit-chat.

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We seem to have more than our share of such politicians. Their stock in trade, is all-consuming, ultra-dogmatic certainty, about almost any subject under the sun. Put a microphone anywhere near them and they will sound off, super confident they have the answer, no matter how intractable, or indeed insoluble, the problem at hand may be.

Yet that feigned outward certitude can ring a bit hollow at times. All the more so given that political self-interest is usually the spur for many of their outbursts. The rules of the game is that whatever the Government says, the Opposition is "agin it". And, of course, vice versa also applies.

All too often, there seems to be a big-time bluff going on. Yet tolerating a kind of gamesmanship is the price we have to pay, for all the jousting both inside the Dáil and elsewhere. It is, after all, the imperfect - but still to be bettered - system of government which we dub parliamentary democracy.

It's just that sometimes the more dogged and self-righteous of our political caste can wax a bit too lyrical about matters which leave more ordinary mortals confused and uncertain.

Such was the stance of Deputy Clare Daly this week. Many, many, words have been written and spoken in the wake of the slaughter in Paris. Yet the more perceptive and knowledgeable commentators suggest the questions to be asked surrounding such manifestation of cold hatred remain almost as elusive as the search for answers. In other words, the modern-day divide between the West and Islam is multi-layered and deeply complex.

It is a problem of sometimes nightmarish proportions, certainly not given to easy solutions.

A few years ago, the much respected journalist Robert Fisk wrote an insightful study on the ongoing trauma of the Middle East called 'The Great War for Civilisation'. It is a phrase which surely sums up the yawning chasm which now divides the popular mindset in Western countries and the tumult which is engulfing much of the Islamic world.

Almost inevitably, given her core ideological standpoint, Deputy Daly gave a predictable reaction to the Paris outrage, centring on the United States and its Nato allies. Of course, she has a point in arguing that aerial bombardment and military force alone will not resolve the instability wrought by the patchwork of violent extremism, now on the march.

But such was her desire to place the overriding responsibility for this state of affairs on American foreign policy, we were reminded once again of the hoary old chestnut regarding US military planes refuelling at Shannon.

Images of Deputy Mick Wallace and herself acting as a kind of Oireachtas active service unit earlier this year (scaling a perimeter fence at the airport in an attempt to carry out a search of US aircraft) seemed a little incongruous given those images transmitted from Paris.

The reality is that Irish neutrality, as reflected in our approach to those US military planes landing in Shannon, has by necessity always been a bit fudged. Ireland is too small and too militarily weak to risk completely going it alone without some form of Big Brother protection.

During World War II, we were famously officially neutral. But there was often a nod and wink approach towards helping the Allies. One cannot but wonder if Clare Daly had grown up in Eastern Europe, when Russian military might stole the freedom of generations, would her attitude to the US be different. Given their experiences, the overwhelming majority of the populations of these countries are now more than desperate, to have America and Nato as their ultimate defender.

Syria is a collapsed and disintegrating society - hence generating a flow of desperate refugees. Isil and its blood lust have emerged for many reasons, including the madness and mass killing of the ruling Assad regime, who have butchered so many of their own people.

Clare Daly may have her opinions as to how all this can be resolved - but really the refuelling issue at Shannon is neither here nor there given the week that was in it.

Irish Independent

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