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Canadian and Irish views on war with Iraq

"On March 17 of 2003 will there be war? Will there be peace?"

Those were the questions posed in last month's issue of this e-zine, the Canadian Vindicator. We now know the answers. On the night of March 17 the President of the United States of America issued a televised ultimatum to the President of the Republic of Iraq, demanding disarmament and departure from office within 48 hours.

Leaders of other nations faced a moral dilemma. Some believed diplomacy under the aegis of the United Nations Organization should not be abandoned. Others believed diplomacy had been tried without success.

What their peoples believed either supported or opposed their leaders' views. There was no overwhelming consensus. Launching a preemptive war had its supporters and its detractors.

Nowhere was the divergence between national views better illustrated than the positions taken by the governments of the two countries which this web site seeks to link, Canada and Ireland.

When the United States President sought support for his country's stance, the responses of Canada and Ireland could not have been more different. While the traditional ties between two neighbours, Canada and the United States, might well have guaranteed Canada's backing, Canada dithered and hedged. And while Ireland's internationally recognized neutrality might well have prevented an overt show of support for the United States, its Government openly guaranteed the use of its major airport, Shannon, for planes ferrying American troops to the war zone.

In fact the Irish airport and freedom of Irish air space had been placed at the service of the U.S.A. for weeks before war actually began, despite public protests.

The matter was debated in the Irish parliament, the Dáil, and some of the statements made in that debate are worth quoting.

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Mr. Ahern said it would be extraordinary for Ireland to oppose the U.S. in a way that even its harshest critics were not prepared to do. "No other country is known to be contemplating the withdrawal of existing facilities from the U.S.," he said.

The Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Mary Harney reflected on how deep the ties between the U.S., Britain and Ireland ran "historically, culturally, socially and economically. We accept their honesty. We trust them as friends. We want and need the continual engagement of the U.S. and the British Government in our vital national interest."

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that while Ireland had a special relationship with the U.S., and the strength of that needed to be re-stated, this relationship was not and never had been based on "economic subservience or international patronage. At no time, up to and including the present day, has the U.S. put Ireland under pressure to abandon our non-aligned status or our concept of neutrality as the litmus test of that relationship."

As an aside it may be worth recalling that the U.S. did just that during World War II as related in Chapter 2 of "The Friendly Town" as follows:

"When America entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, it too was added to the list, with de Valera and Roosevelt exchanging a few pleasantries on the issue through the American ambassador in Dublin, David Gray, who pressed and pressed for an end to Ireland's neutrality and its entry into the war on the side of the Allies.…"

"These matters are for ourselves to decide," said Mr. Kenny. "The reduction of that relationship to an implied coercive threat to bring us to our knees in post-war revenge for not allowing the use of Shannon is profoundly offensive to both partners in an historic trans-Atlantic link."

In the age of Kings personal animosity was cause for war between nations. Almost unthinkably, in our present age personal animosity between leaders of nation states is cited as cause for or against war. Blair and Bush, Chirac and Chrétien, not even Saint Patrick himself could mediate between them.

"And the killing goes on, goes on, goes on,
And the killing goes on."

Much has been made of what other famous leaders would have done faced with the present situation, and quotations trotted out with increasing frequency.

Here are just two.

"To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war."
Winston Churchill, (1874-1965) Washington, 26 June, 1954.

"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
John F. Kennedy. Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.


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