Last year, Fine Gael members of the European Parliament published a policy document entitled ‘Ireland and the EU: defending our common European home’. At first glance it might sound rather innocuous but the devil is always in the detail; as they say. The reality is that the paper’s proposals - if enacted - would end Ireland's long-standing independent foreign policy and our proud history of military neutrality and would cost this State billions of euros to implement.
In their paper, Fine Gael’s MEPs propose abandoning Ireland’s “triple lock” mechanism for deploying Irish soldiers abroad in favour of giving the government the power to deploy Irish troops as part of missions not approved by the United Nations. That is a disgraceful position that would overturn decades of Irish foreign policy and could ultimately see Irish forces deployed at the behest of NATO on military operations that have no support amongst the Irish people and as part of conflicts that do not involve Ireland in any way.
Much of the instability we see in places like Iraq and Syria is a consequence of the failed policies of military alliances and interventions and any suggestion that Ireland should be part of strengthening Europe’s commitment to the failed policies of militarisation does nothing to increase Irish security or address the causes of global instability.
Our Defence Forces have a proud history of acting as peacekeepers around the world. They have a special place in the hearts of the Irish people and they deserve better than to be carted around the world on military escapades.
Fine Gael’s paper also proposes a massive increase on defence spending - not on soldiers wages - but on armaments and on the European Defence Fund. At a time when we have a housing emergency in this State and a healthcare system in a state of a perpetual crisis that is an absolutely reckless position. The billions that they want to spend on defence would build over 20,000 homes in this State - that would be the right thing do to.
The cruel irony here is that many men and women serving in our Defence Forces, as well as Irish veterans, are the ones who are suffering because of the bad polices being pursued by Fine Gael in government. The image last year of a former soldier sleeping rough outside the GPO shocked us all and rightly so. What we need to see is the delivery of homes for all, not spend billions on military adventures. We also need to see the pay and conditions of our Defence Forces prioritised - that will not happen as part of Fine Gael MEPs plans to increase defence spending.
Up to now, members of the Defence Forces have been side-lined in public service pay negotiations, are excluded from trade union membership and are prevented from demonstrating or protesting over terms and conditions. At a time when around ten percent of soldiers are leaving the Defence Forces annually, they deserve a fair wage to support their families and provide a home in return for their service.
It is crucial on the 24th May that we elect Irish MEPs who are going to Europe to fight for Ireland and to fight for ordinary people, not MEPs who want to cheerlead for the European militarisation agenda and lead us down a path that leads to the establishment of an EU Army. We need MEPs who will stand up for Ireland’s position as a neutral State and ensure that position is understood and respected by the European Union.
Lynn Boylan is a Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin and a candidate in the European elections