"We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible." -- Proclamation of Easter Week 1916
Controlling their own destiny has always been a bit of a preoccupation for the Irish, in large part because for 735 years someone else was in charge. From the Norman invasion in 1169 to the establishment of the Free State in 1922, Ireland's political and economic life was not its own to determine. Its young men were shipped off to fight England's colonial battles half a world away, at Isandlwana, Dum Dum, Omdurman and Kut. Almost 50,000 died in World War I, choking on gas at Ypres, clinging desperately to a beachhead at Gallipoli, or marching into German machine guns at the Somme.
When the Irish finally cast off their colonial yoke, they pledged never again to be cannon fodder in other nation's wars, a pledge that has now been undermined by the U.S. Once again, a powerful nation -- with the acquiescence of the Dublin government -- has put the Irish in harm's way.
The flashpoint for this is Shannon Airport, located in County Clare on Ireland's west coast. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on Washington and New York, some 2.5 million U.S. troops have passed through the airport on their way to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The Shannon hub has become so important to the U.S. that it hosts a permanent U.S. staff officer to direct traffic. It is, in the words of the peace organization Shannonwatch, "a US forward operating base."
The airport has also been tied to dozens of CIA "rendition" flights, where prisoners seized in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were shipped to various "black sites" in Europe, Asia, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Irish peace activists and members of the Irish parliament, or Oireachtas Elreann, charge that an agreement between the Irish government and Washington to allow the transiting of troops and aircraft through Shannon not only violates Irish neutrality it violates international law.
"The logistical support for the U.S. military and CIA at Shannon is a contravention of Ireland's neutrality," says John Lannon of the peace group Shannonwatch, and has "contributed to death, torture, starvation, forced displacement and a range of other human rights abuses."
Ireland is not a member of NATO, and it is considered officially neutral. But "neutral" in Ireland can be a slippery term. The government claims that Ireland is "militarily neutral" -- it doesn't belong to any military alliances -- but not "politically neutral."