Helping Britain's army marks end of 'social workers with guns' era
FINALLY, finally, some sense has prevailed in the Army's relationship with the British army. The deployment of a handful of Army soldiers on a training mission in Mali with soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment, a full 90 years after the two armies went their separate ways, is a long overdue recognition of political, cultural and geographical realities. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Minister responsible is Jewish, and is therefore less beholden to the traditions of querulous deference to "republican" sensitivities, which has gravely undermined the willingness of our political classes to engage in any closer military co-operation with the British.
It helps of course that Mr Shatter is also Minister for Justice, meaning that he brings substance to the argument. Traditionally, the Minister of Defence was the least capable and most lightweight political poltroon to whom the Taoiseach owed the largest debt: this had to be paid by someone, and so the poor bloody infantry, usually got him. A register of the ministers for defence of this Republic has all the martial valour of a convent laundry-list. Which was why for years, Irish soldiers' battle-dress looked like a job-lot bought in an Army & Navy store in Pimlico in 1946, and they lumbered around in Unimog and Panhard armoured personnel carriers that had, apparently, been bought from some Argentinian scrap dealers.
And of course, the other problem was the army with which the Army should most logically be co-operating with was British: a common language, a common land-border, a common military culture, even common staff college at Camberley – all conspired to ensure the minimum of commonality between the two. The Fourth Green Field was one reason for this, for our sulky neutrality was in large part underwritten by Partition. Even at the height of the Cold War, the Republic – so the De Valeran argument went – could never be part of a NATO alliance involving a country that had so unnaturally divided the island of Ireland.