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Diarmuid Breatnach

In March this year, the Irish State signed up to join PESCO, the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation military force. The Irish State’s armed forces are a now a part of it and, in a sense, so is every person in Ireland. It is a military alliance with other states and that changes our neutrality stance to which we have held since the creation of the State.

Protesters with the Dáil in the background (Photo: photographer on my phone)

          On the afternoon of 15th January this year, I attended a protest against PESCO in front of the Dáil, feeling a little guilty because it was the first such I had supported. We were few in number and, among the protesters, though I recognised some of them from other events, there were none I would associate with Irish Republican or Socialist groups – perhaps a few associated with the Communist Party.

My neglect and that of others is a pity. They may feel that other issues are more pressing but that surely does not prevent an occasional attendance. They may feel that there is nothing to be done – the decision was made by the Government a year ago, with the support of Fianna Fáil. But if something is wrong and we can’t for the moment end it, we should never acquiesce to it, by agreement or by silence.


          PESCO is an EU agreement on military cooperation. It is not a European Army, according to its supporters in public. Not yet, according to its opponents – but it is a big step on the way there. The European Commission has committed €1.5bn to ­PESCO projects by 2020, and Ireland will be obliged to boost its spending on personnel and weaponry. With such a budget in its early stages this is clearly no small project.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission and the man who favours an EU army, was rejoicing at the sign-up to PESCO and was quoted as saying of it: “She is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty.” Yes, we remember the Lisbon Treaty don’t we? ‘Just keep voting until you vote the way we want you to’!1

When I cycled near to Kildare Street on Dawson, I found the south end blocked by Gardaí. I turned back pushing the bike and went up Frederick St. South, left into Setanta Place and found myself blocked by Gardaí again. I had to turn back and work my way into Molesworth Street, which runs from Dawson Street to the Dáil, facing the main entrance. There were Gardaí here too but at least they were only turning away vehicular traffic. The small group of protesters were gathered by the metal barriers at the east end of Molesworth Street and I joined them there.

All these ‘security’ operations for the anti-PESCO protesters? No, of course not but there was a bigger demonstration expected later, protesting about a range of injustices (I didn’t stay for it).

Gardaí preventing pedestrian access to Kildare St., main access route to Irish Parliament and, coincidentally, to Buswell’s Hotel
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Protests at the Dáil have become so frequent in recent years that a new type of barrier has been employed. These cannot be easily separated or unhooked and the have steps built into them at regular intervals – on the Garda side. “They’re so the bastards can stand on them and baton protesters”, explained one of the demonstrators. Indeed.

Those who support our participation in PESCO justify it on the grounds of defending Europe and that, if we are a part of it, we should help defend it. No doubt a number of Army professionals relish the thought of playing with big weapons and the big boys.

People in opposition to our involvement say if Europe should be attacked then we have a choice of whether to join in its defence and that should be made democratically, whereas PESCO brings us in by stealth.


          Of course, states always claim that their armies are for defence. The USA, currently and for some time the most aggressively military state in the world, calls its ministry for military affairs the “US Defence Department” and its protege, probably the most aggressive state after the USA, calls its army the “Israeli Defence Forces”2.

Regarding a ‘defence’ of Europe, we might ask: against whom? Possibly against Russia, it is sometimes said. Russia has imperialist ambitions, of course but is that any different from France or Germany? Or the UK? Even the USA is hinted at as an enemy of the EU and it certainly a competitor.

Irish Army soldiers are ideal for sending into conflict areas, as the UN has found because, apart from military considerations, it has no imperialist past, ostensibly no axe to grind. Which of course is not strictly true, since the Irish State has traditionally sided with the USA on many issues and with the EU on others. But not militarily, at least not yet (apart from the Congo, that is, in the 1960s)3.

Contributing to a European Army however puts Irish soldiers in the field under EU direction and the EU is certainly a capitalist and imperialist mutual alliance, under the control essentially of Germany and France. The Spanish State faces possible future military conflicts with some nations within the state as does the French State, which also has involvement in a number of African states. Italy too may face such conflicts in future. A number of other European states also have economic interests in states in Africa and even some of the seemingly cleanest are major arms exporters.

Special steel barricades now used by the police at the Dáil. Note the step provided on the police side! (Photo: D.Breatnach)


          PESCO is of course an EU military alliance and a first step towards an EU army and Ireland joining it is undermining its traditional neutrality. Irish soldiers will be mobilised in EU military offensives against regimes the EU finds awkward, whether in support of the USA for example, as many EU states did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, or possibly against former colonies of France and Spain, with new governments, taking measures to safeguard their natural resources. Our country’s involvement in such operations will of course render us a possible target for terrorist action here in Ireland.

I think more people should protest against PESCO, even if occasionally. I will make sure I do.


Protesters with Dáil (Irish Parliament) in the background, Buswell’s Hotel to the right and also the Irish National Archaeological Museum entrance visible in right background, access to all blocked by Gardaí. (Photo: D.Breatnach)



1The Irish State signed up to the Lisbon Treaty of the EU in October 2009, following a referendum majority vote earlier that year in favour of the necessary amendment to the Irish Constitution. However, a majority vote in an earlier referendum in 2008 had voted to reject that amendment. A ‘no’ vote in Ireland could have finished the Lisbon Treaty for the whole EU and Ireland was the only state to hold a referendum on the question. After the first referendum, a campaign of State and media propaganda had pushed for a second referendum and achieved a 20% swing in favour in the 2009 vote, reversing the previous popular verdict.

2Apart from its attacks on Palestinians, Israel has attacked Egypt (with France and the UK, over control of the Suez Canal), Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and has carried out assassinations in and bombings of a number of other states; it is also constantly rattling its sabre at Iran.

3The Belgian state engineered a breakaway of Katanga Province from the new Republic of the Congo which, led by Patrice Lumumba, had declared independence in 1960 and was intending to protect the state’s natural resources. Katanga had copper mines. The Belgian state armed a rebel army run by a warlord and also supplied military expertise in the form of European mercenaries and seconded officers. The USA supported the breakaway (as did France) and the UN brokered a very imperfect ceasefire which the rebel army and the Belgian state had no interest in observing. The Irish Army were deployed there as part of the UN peacekeeping force, undermined and badly supported. Nine Irish soldiers were killed in ambush by tribesmen who did not support the secessionists and had seen their villages burned by European mercenaries as a result. More about it here:



Good overall summary here:

PANA (Peace And Neutrality Alliance — organises some protests against Ireland joining PESCO):

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