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Just after noon on 30 August the peace of the skies over Dublin was shattered by the scream of military aircraft. We are not accustomed to the sounds of military aircraft flying at low level because the Irish military does not have such aircraft and because Ireland is officially militarily neutral and non-aligned.
The reason for this particular violation of our military neutrality? A game of football. Two US F-16s screamed by as the University of Central Florida Knights and Penn State Nittany Lions were about to start a game. To add insult to injury, US Marines paraded on the football grounds.
Despite initial reluctance, a spokeswoman from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade finally conceded that this situation came to pass because the US authorities demanded (she said requested) ‘permission’ to fly the F-16s over Dublin. She insisted that strict conditions had been imposed – mainly that the aircraft would not be armed or carrying ammunition.
When I asked her who had inspected the aircraft to ensure compliance, she replied that the Irish Government accepts the assurances of the US authorities on these matters. This follows on the assurances given by US authorities that US aircraft stopping over at Shannon Airport were not engaged in so-called ‘extraordinary rendition’.
So far so ordinary. The fact is that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is just a sub-office of the US State Department and is widely recognised as such. On the question of whether the flyover was the result of a request or a demand is simply an academic point – Ireland is so compliant that the US doesn’t even have to make demands.
No matter what the issue, Ireland can be relied on to do its duty and unfortunately, there is nothing new about any of this. In 2006, I did a study of the position of successive Irish governments towards Cuba but, pick any issue you like and the evidence soon emerges of shameless, slavish attendance to US demands (requests).
However, nothing prepared me for what happened next: I phoned the Foreign Affairs Department to speak to the spokeswoman and I was put through to her answering service. I was directed by a female with a North American accent to leave a message. Thinking that the message was perhaps dictated by a resident spy (sorry) intern my naivety was shattered when, inquiring about the nature of the accent, I was informed that the entire answering service of the Department is served by this voice.
How nice it must be for our US friends not only to be received with open arms but, in the unlikely event of being put on hold, to be greeted by a familiar accent.
DECLAN McKENNA is a former Co-ordinator of the Cuba Support Group-Ireland.