Illustrated Talks & Debates / Musical & Cultural Evenings

WHAT HAS GONE WRONG WITH THE IRISH ARMY?

Michael thanked the Eblana Club for inviting him to speak on the subject ‘What has gone wrong with the Army’, in his remarks he praised the Eblana Club for being open to various viewpoints and as a great place for open debate. He said that because he may sound negative, he wished to state that he served in the Defence Forces from 1972 for 40 years and had a great time which certainly lived up to the claim of a ‘Life Less Ordinary’.

Michael outline that the purpose of any military is to study and train for war in order that citizens can be protected from internal and external aggression. Since the foundation of the state our military have provided that safeguard. The latest was during the Troubles in Northern Ireland where the military protected the state ensuring normal life could continue for citizens and commercial businesses. However, he stated since then the government have ignored the sacrifice made by ordinary soldiers who stood for long hours in all weathers along the border and elsewhere keeping the country safe.

He discussed that while there may be an argument regarding Ireland’s defence policy there can be no argument that the state is defenceless. While Ireland claims to be neutral the state is failing to ensure that it can operate Article 5 of the Hague Convention 1907 which states that neutral Power must not allow any of the acts referred to in Articles 2 to 4 to occur on its territory by belligerents. This requires a fully functioning military force. While the Irish government has never been militarily prepared for any adverse global conflict the present government is intending to repeal the ‘Triple Lock’ while simultaneously having a Defence Forces that is ‘Not Fit For Purpose’. This can only lead to disaster.

Michael outlined that Post WW2 the General Staff worked with the government on the maxim that ‘it was very difficult for a nation to create an army when it did not already a body of officers and non-commission officers to serve as a nucleus and a system of military organisation.’ Thus, when the Troubles started in Northern Ireland the Defence Forces had at least the nucleus to expand. In 1972 when he joined the DF consisted of 8,563 permanent members, a small First Line Reserve, and 20,089 FCA members. The defence budget was £19 million pounds or just under 1% of our GDP. At that time Sweden, another neutral country spent 12.5% of its GDP on defence.

Today the Defence Forces has a total strength of 7,550 personnel with just over 1,000 Reservists. This is roughly: 1,000 less than 1972, 2,000 short of its current establishment and nearly 4,000 short of where it is wants to be in 2028. Among that shortage are specialists which are vital for an operating system to work. While the government keeps focusing on recruitment to overcome the shortages, they continue to haemorrhage personnel, some who are specialists. The current defence budget of 0.2% of GDP and the proposed budget up to 2028 is totally insufficient to be taken seriously.

Michael stated that you cannot solve a problem until you identify the problem and it appears the Minister for Defence is failing to even investigate the problems with the DF which are multifactorial and are both external and internal to the Force. Chief among them is the fact that there hasn’t been a full time Minister for Defence since 2012 when Fine Gael came to power. Since then both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael must take responsibility for failings within defence.

Ministers for Defence follow a Yes Minister defence policy which sees the role of the defence ministry as not really there to defend the country but to make people feel as if they are safe.

The Minister’s Department of Defence has both civil and military elements with distinct but complementary roles, The Secretary General leads the civil side of the Department with a range of statutory responsibilities including that of Accounting Officer and is the Minister’s principal policy advisor. The Chief of Staff leads the military side and is responsible for the military effectiveness of the Defence Forces and is the Ministers chief military advisor. The minister therefore receives advice from both civilian and military. However, there is no doubt that Secretaries-General command the Minister’s ear. Therefore, there can be no questioning that it is the Minister for Defence who makes defence policy choices and must take full total responsibility for defence failures and cannot pass responsibility elsewhere.

Michael claimed that Simon Coveney throughout his tenure in office made many promises but left the Defence Forces in a much worst state than when he took over the function. His Commission on Defence, highly praised by so many, has numerous weaknesses and will in time prove to be a false hope. On other external factors, Michael continued by outlining how the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence fails to perform a useful function and will discuss any defence subject providing it doesn’t embarrass the Minister. Likewise, the Minister for Defence is similarly facilitated by the main stream media and academics.

Michael then turned his attention to internal Defence Forces factors. He discussed why men and women join any military including our Defence Forces. Nobody signs up to serve for a decreased quality of life or to willingly risk years of neglect at the hands of a government that does not care, or join a force that the Minister for Defence has peddled is made up misogynists, bullies and rapists who are out of control.

To excuse for poor defence management, it is often claimed by the Minister, his department, defence heads, and by civilian recruiting agencies, that it is extremely difficult to recruit or to retain personnel in an extremely competitive jobs market. This is to suggest that the military is the last resort for those who are left over from the civilian employment market. If this is true then instead of the military getting the best of the best, they get the worst of what is left over. How insulting. The Defence Forces appear to have bought into this nonsense.

Ask any soldier why they join the Army and the answers will vary because soldiers are a cross section of society and like most young people, they are unique. Few individuals are willing to suffer the many deprivations of soldiering. The people who do join are looking for something different; they join to soldier and to be treated like soldiers. It is an emotional decision. However, in time, if they find that the military does not match up to their expectations, are not challenged, or improperly treated due to poor management, they leave. Leaving is a logical decision.

A survey known as the Limerick Climate Survey commissioned in 2015 which interviewed serving personnel revealed negative results along several dimensions particularly pay, organisation, justice, aspects of leadership, performance management, career management, and aspects of commitment.

Michael went on to describe each of these problems starting with the new contract for soldiers introduced in 1994 where a soldier could end up at the age of 38 unemployed with no assistance from the organisation which he or she loyally served. This undermined the value of service to the state. Likewise, the new pension system will result in members who retire on mandatory age grounds having to sign on the dole for a number of years before drawing their service pension. This together with the new NCOs promotion system informed soldiers that they are merely there to be used by the state when they are young and will be discarded as a burden as they get older. No self-respecting member of the Defence Forces would accept that insult and therefore are leaving early.

Michael finished by stating that while our political parties have showered the Defence Forces with plaudits, in reality they do not respect military service or its members serving or retired. It is very much like Rudyard Kipling’s

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;

But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,

 

Presented by Michael C. Murphy, Lt Col (Retd)

Frank Spiers plays at the annual Robbie Burns / Scottish Night in the Eblana Club on the last Saturday in January.

Portions of the Haggis on brown bread and Scotch Whiskey at the Annual Robbie Burns /Scottish night in the Eblana Club held as usual on the last Saturday in January.

Audio to follow.

Ex-Guantántamo Prisoner Speaks in Dún Laoghaire

Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni national who served fifteen years in the post 9/11 US prison for Muslims in Guantánamo (often referred to as Gitmo), addressed a packed meeting in the Eblana Club, Dún Laoghaire, on January 25th. Overall, his talk demonstrated the sheer incoherence of US policy regarding the treatment of prisoners during the War on Terror. A lively audience discussion ended the meeting.

Mansoor is in Ireland for three months; the areas where he had already given talks included Shannon, Tipperary, Cork and Wexford. Following the meeting he was driven to Derry for an engagement the following morning. On the day after he was due to speak publicly in conversation with Clare Daly in the Culturlann in West Belfast; his last meeting before returning to Serbia where he lives was scheduled for Galway.

He related how, as an eighteen-year-old, he was picked up in Afghanistan and sold by an Afghan warlord for a bounty of $100,000 to the CIA. He had been doing low level work for a Saudi charity in Afghanistan and had no connections whatever with AlQaeda. Coming from a tribal village in Yemen, he had been captivated by the sights of Sanaa, the capital city; he had wanted to become a computer engineer. Initially he was held in various CIA black sites before being transported to Gitmo.

Mansoor devoted minimal time to describing the brutality of his various detainments. He said that even in the extreme conditions of Gitmo, it had been possible for the inmates to defy the regime in small but effective ways, and they had achieved small victories. At one stage a guard interfered with a prisoner attempting to pray. A mass riot broke out spontaneously; something simply snapped with the prisoners. Another battle concerned the shit buckets. The prisoners were obliged to carry these around; they refused. One said: “you people are responsible for all this; you carry them!

When the inmates discussed what tactics they might use, someone referred to the Irish hunger strikes. In time going on hunger strike became a weapon of resistance. The authorities responded by force feeding the strikers. Once while Mansoor was being force fed, he was surrounded by a number of officers in very clean uniforms. As frequently happened, he threw up but this took the form of projectile vomiting; most of the officers got sprayed. Mansoor remembers that moment fondly. A victory the inmates won was the right to wear shorts while showering.

The current Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, was present in Gitmo in some official capacity. He had conversed with Mansoor and affected to sympathise with him. Years later after his release Mansoor tweeted on how DeSantis had observed brutal treatment while defending the prison regime. His tweet was picked by the media and became a big story in the US.

As the Chair of the meeting I said I had attended a meeting the previous September hosted by Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace in the European Parliament. Mansoor had been one of the speakers. Having nine speakers in all, it was the largest and most significant meeting ever held on Guantánamo. A contribution that had stood out in my memory was by James Lee, a former Muslim chaplain at the prison. Lee was a conscientious, Westpoint-trained officer of the US military. He became alarmed at the treatment of the prisoners and reported to his superior that he considered a number of regular practices like desecrating the Koran equated to religious persecution. He was promptly arrested and detained for a year; all charges were then dropped and he was released. He eventually applied to leave the military and was granted an honourable discharge. Lee told the Brussels audience that the prisoners knew as much about 9/11 as rank and file US soldiers knew about the Pentagon’s strategic planning.

A woman in the audience spoke in a dignified manner about her experience of living in the South, having grown up in the North. She found the general Southern attitude to the Northern hunger strikes and the dirty protest to be ill-informed and deeply offensive. Hearing Mansoor’s testimony brought up her feelings on the subject. Three members of her family had been murdered and when she spoke about this in the South, the invariable response was that they must have been “involved”.

A man asked Mansoor had he been through Shannon Airport as part of his “rendition”. He had heard that a prisoner on an aircraft bound for Gitmo had looked out through a porthole and seen a sign identifying the Airport: it had been Shannon. Mansoor replied that he had been blind folded and forced to wear goggles at all times while being transported.

A woman asked what practical steps could people take regarding the thirty prisoners still incarcerated in Gitmo. Mansoor encouraged the audience to spread the word about the issue and write to public representatives about it. “Close Guantánamo” was the clear message that needed to be got out there.

Clearly enjoying his time in Ireland, Mansoor spoke with many people after the meeting. Orders were placed for his book, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found in Guantánamo. Apart from the campaigning he does, he has learned English, attained a degree, written a book and is currently studying for a higher degree. Such are his answers to the injustice of his Guantánamo experience.

Dave Alvey

Debate on Irish Media Coverage of Ukraine and Gaza

The Eblana Forum in Dun Laoghaire is to be commended for hosting a debate on the subject of Irish media coverage of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Developments within the Irish media are rarely examined objectively, especially since the demise of the Irish Press in the mid-nineties. At the same time media power has been steadily advancing in recent decades, its only constraint being the emergence of social media or new media outlets via the Internet.

The debate happened on Thursday 16 November in the Eblana Club, Dun Laoghaire, and the speakers were Senator Gerard Craughwell (Independent) and Dave Alvey from the Irish Political Review Group. The motion was “That the Irish media is providing dreadful coverage on the wars in the Middle East and in The Ukraine” with Craughwell speaking against and Alvey speaking for. The event was chaired by local engineer and expert on historic house restoration, Dermot Nolan.

Alvey went first, confining his case to six basic points. He firstly claimed that coverage of the Ukrainian counter offensive had been biased in favour of Ukraine. In evidence, he cited an Irish Times editorial on the anniversary of the start of the war in which the prospects of a Ukraine victory were hyped up. He then showed a map of the front line showing miniscule changes since January 2023 published in the New York Times on 7 October.
His next point was that the Irish Government, enthusiastically backed by every outlet of the Irish media, had attempted to use the Ukraine war to discredit Irish neutrality. This had fallen flat when an opinion survey was published on 15 April 2022 showing 66 per cent in favour of retaining neutrality. A second initiative aimed at burying the neutrality policy—the Government’s Forum on Security Policy—had also backfired when President Higgins criticised its obvious bias. Media bias was once more in evidence in a vilification campaign against President Higgins with the Irish Times leading the charge.

Alvey’s third point was that Western war propaganda against Russia, of which Irish media coverage had been an integral part, had proved a liability for Ukraine. On this point he quoted from an article published by the New Statesman on 2 September. Written by Lily Lynch and having the title ‘The Realists were Right’, the thrust of the article was that the school of international relations theory—the realist school—had been proven right and that over-hyped Western propaganda had caused “moral and strategic maximalism” in the Ukraine camp.

Turning to the war in Gaza, Alvey stated that Irish media coverage had been more impartial, especially as the blockade and bombardment of Gaza by Israel had intensified. Yet he claimed that the coverage was marred by numerous weaknesses which were shown up by various commentaries being offered on YouTube. He cited commentaries by Professor John Mearsheimer, Alistair Crooke and Caitlin Johnstone, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and others.

Alvey concluded by invoking the tradition of principled journalism represented by the legacy of the Irish Bulletin/Irish Press.

In reply to Alvey’s case, Senator Craughwell stressed that none of the narratives emerging in war situations could be trusted, that the fog of war simply sent confused messages. He agreed with one of Alvey’s points, that Irish media were too often acting as conveyor belts for narratives generated elsewhere but argued that the answer to that was State investment in Irish mainstream media which would allow proper investigative journalism to be conducted.

The Senator was not against Irish neutrality but considered it to be lacking in substance. He cited how we depend on the RAF to defend our air space. Regarding the war in Gaza, he said that Hamas needed to be taken out. As a long-term critic of President Higgins, Craughwell disagreed with the President’s intervention when he commented on the Government’s Security Forum.

Many of these points were taken up in the discussion from the floor. When a speaker said that Hamas needed to be negotiated with, the Senator said that was what he had meant in his comments on Hamas. Another speaker tackled him on his claim that we were never neutral. The speaker insisted that Ireland was neutral during the Second World War and provided statistics showing that our military capacity had been built up impressively in defence of war time neutrality. The Senator countered by referring to the manner in which the Irish army had released British Army personnel to Northern Ireland to which the speaker replied that the substance of our neutrality was defending the Treaty ports which was achieved.

Staying with the subject of neutrality, a speaker said that the Swiss had handed over members of the Waffen SS to Germany during the war but no one was disputing the reality of Swiss neutrality. An audience member stated that these wars were being driven by very powerful armaments manufacturers who wielded great influence behind the scenes. On that point Alvey stated that Chatham House, an entity that a number of speakers at the Forum on Security Policy had been drawn from, received funding from the two largest arms producers in the world, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems. The value of YouTube bloggers in providing well informed commentary on Ukraine and Gaza was emphasised by another audience member who mentioned Professor John Mearsheimer in particular.

Having spoken first, Alvey had the last word. He thanked Senator Craughwell for effectively agreeing with many of his points. He concluded by saying that the new reality in international affairs was the emergence of a multipolar world. In that context it made no sense for our media to be slavishly following the foreign policy of the US Superpower. Ireland, he said, should stand by its foreign policy tradition and continuously press for a strengthening of the United Nations.

DEC 2023

 

TRIBUTE TO LOLA RIDGE, a world famous poet who was born in Dublin but is still relatively unknown in Ireland. The tribute night, marked the 150th anniversary of her birth and included an address by poet AMANDA BELL (woman wearing glasses in pic), Ridge’s poetry was read by the leading Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock. A Chapbook containing Lola Ridge’s poetry was launched on the night and a painting was auctioned by auctioneer Sean Buckley

Eblana Club events in early 2024:

SATURDAY 20th January 2024:  EBLANA SESSIONS – trad. session commences at 7.30p.m. 
THURSDAY 25th  January 2024:  A talk by a man from Yemen who spent 14 years in the USA’s Guantánamo Bay prison, without charge or trial.  Commences at 7.30p.m. 
SATURDAY 27th January 2024:  Annual Robbie Burns / Scottish traditional night commences at 7.30p.m. 
Thursday 1st February 2024:  An OPEN FORUM on “what has gone wrong with the Gardai,Army and Naval Service ?”.  Lead speakers;  Spephen Moore, an ex-garda representing OUT OF THE BLUE,   Michael Murphy, former Deputy Director of Intelligence in the Irish Army and Conor Galvin, Irish Naval Association. 
To be sure of a seat, book now on eblanaclub@gmail.com 

All events are in the Eblana Club, 3 Eblana Avenue, Dún Laoghaire.and all commence at 7.30p.m

Get in Touch

Eblana Lodge
3 Eblana Avenue
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin

Email : info@eblanaforum.com

Phone : 086 0745 402

 

4 + 5 =