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If the Irish army had entered the North in 1969… the difference between an invasion and an incursion. September 1, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

It’s interesting how two pieces on the same topic can be quite widely divergent. Take an article in the Irish Times yesterday by Tom Clonan, Irish Times Security Analyst, which is entitled…‘Operation Armageddon’ would have been doomsday – for Irish aggressors. And then consider “No longer stand[ing idly] by’? Irish army contingency plans, 1969 -70 in the 1969 themed issue of History Ireland and written by Edward Longwill who has a doctorate from the University of Ulster. Because the message from the two is intriguingly different.

Let’s start with Tom Clonan’s piece. He suggests that…

The Defence Forces’ plans to invade Northern Ireland, which were drawn up 40 years ago as violence there erupted, display a mixture of enthusiasm and naivety that would have provoked massive retaliatory action from the British . . . had they been implemented

For almost 40 years, historians and political pundits have argued over the precise meaning of this provocative – and yet somewhat ambiguous phrase. Had Jack Lynch intended to convey the possibility of an Irish Army invasion of Northern Ireland – ostensibly to protect nationalists from sectarian attacks?

Unlikely as it may seem today, the Irish Army did indeed draw up secret plans to invade the six counties.

He continues:

In a secret Irish Army document, drawn up in September 1969 and entitled Interim Report of Planning Board on Northern Ireland Operations – the Irish military authorities explicitly outlined their concept for “feasible” military operations within the six counties.

In its opening paragraphs, the military document – seen by The Irish Times – predicts with considerable understatement that “all situations visualised [in this document] assume that military action would be taken unilaterally by the Defence Forces and would meet with hostility from Northern Ireland Security Forces”.

Let’s stop there for a moment. For this secret military document, seen by the Irish Times is so secret that I can find references to it not merely in the Longwill article in History Ireland, which we’ll come to in a moment or two, but also here on The Irish News (dating from August… 2004), on The Blanket (currently difficult to access, but archived by Google here and dating from September 2004) and last but not least here at the Irish Independent dating from January 2nd 2001 where it is made clear that the ‘secret military document’ was actually released publicly from national archives under the 30-year rule.

You will, I trust, agree, that such secretive information is extremely exciting. As are terms such as ‘aggressors’, etc. But perhaps less so when not exactly – well – secretive.

Clonan continues:

In other words, due to the prospect of confronting far superior forces and being exposed to “the threat of retaliatory punitive military action by UK forces on the Republic”, Irish military operations would of necessity commence unannounced – with no formal declaration of war.


The document sets out various attack scenarios whereby the Irish general staff would seek to exploit the element of surprise to launch both covert unconventional or guerrilla-style operations against the British authorities, along with conventional infantry attacks on Derry and Newry.

Before elaborating in detail on the precise nature of such offensive operations within Northern Ireland, the authors of this secret document provide a health warning of sorts to their political masters.

At paragraph 4, a statement is made that “The Defence Forces have no capability of embarking on unilateral military operation of any kind . . . therefore any operations undertaken against Northern Ireland would be militarily unsound”.

However, despite this caveat, the document goes on to outline “accepting the implications of subparagraph 4a . . . conventional military operations on a small scale up to a maximum of company level and unconventional operations could be undertaken by the Defence Forces” – subject to such action being of short duration.

At paragraph 4, sub-paragraph g of this extraordinary document, the Irish Army goes on to identify the towns of “Derry, Strabane, Enniskillen and Newry” as most suitable for infantry operations “by virtue of their proximity to the Border” – and also by virtue of their predominantly nationalist demographics.

He also notes that:

At sub-paragraph h, the Irish military authorities identify the BBC TV studios in Belfast as a primary target for destruction along with “Belfast airport, docks and main industries . . . located in the northeast corner”. The document observes that due to their “distance from the Border . . . any military operations against these (targets) should preferably be of the unconventional type”.

The remainder of the 18 pages of secret documents dealing with “Northern Ireland Operations” and “Planning for and conduct of Border operations”, also seen by The Irish Times , deal with the steps necessary for the execution of specific – albeit limited – military operations against Newry, Derry and major infrastructural targets in Belfast.

Interestingly though, the Independent report from 2001 portrays this in a much less gung-ho light.

A document dated October 27 is headed “interim report of planning board on Northern Ireland operations”.

It gives the object as “to report on the feasibility of the Defence Forces undertaking military combat or support operations in Northern Ireland, including the nature and implications of such operations”. The board says that it “would have liked a clearly defined political objective”.

In the absence of such an objective the board considered a number of political situations each of which might suggest military intervention. Having stated that “there is no precise knowledge available … as to what the reaction of public opinion would be either North or South of the border,” it considers four possible situations: “attacks on the Catholic minority by Protestant extremists with which the Northern Ireland security forces cannot cope; conflict between the Catholic minority and the Northern Ireland security forces on civil rights issues; conflict between republican-nationalist elements (possibly supported by illegal elements from south of the border) and the Northern Ireland security forces; and conflict between Protestant extremists and Northern Ireland security forces not directly involving the minority.”

It asserts bluntly that “the Defence Forces have NO capability of embarking on unilateral military operations, of any kind (conventional or unconventional), from a firm base at home. This means, in effect, that were operations in any form to be launched into Northern Ireland we would be exposed to the threat of retaliatory punitive military action by United Kingdom forces on the Republic.

Therefore any operations undertaken against Northern Ireland would be militarily unsound.

The paper outlines a number of alternatives, such as “a wide range of unconventional operations in any part of Northern Ireland designed to draw forces off from the area of direct combat.”

It goes on to note that “a number of the courses suggested would involve support of and co-operation with various movements in Northern Ireland such as civil rights and republican groups.

“This could also lead to co-operation with illegal groups in the Republic. These contacts would have serious political implications on the national and international stage.

It is considered that the support and assistance of a substantial part of the minority would be essential for success in Defence Force operations in Northern Ireland.

The fact that active intervention by us in the North would expose the minority to retaliatory action could limit the amount of overt assistance they would be prepared to give.

“It would be necessary to confine conventional operations to those areas where there is a Catholic/nationalist majority. In minority areas, particularly Belfast, only unconventional operations could be conducted.

“It is considered also that it is to these latter areas that supplies of arms and equipment should be chiefly directed.”

The document, like subsequent papers, warns that involvement in Northern Ireland would lessen the Defence Forces’ ability to protect vital installations in the Republic.

You pays your money, you takes your choice which interpretation you find most credible.

Clonan argues that any Irish incursion would have been annihilated. Not an unreasonable proposition…

In terms of ground forces, in September 1969, the British army presence in Northern Ireland was already on high alert and consisted of almost 3,000 heavily armed troops of the 2nd Queens Regiment, the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment based in Belfast, Omagh and Derry. These units had – unlike their Irish counterparts – considerable experience and training in conventional large-scale combat tactics as part of Nato’s UK 16 Para Brigade.

Many of these units had just recently rotated to Northern Ireland following deployment as part of Europe’s Nato Northern Flank Mission.

Armed with Humber armoured personnel carriers – equipped with Rolls Royce six- cylinder engines – along with Saracen armoured fighting vehicles and overwhelming air superiority, the British army presence in Northern Ireland in the autumn of 1969 would have been more than capable of dealing decisively with any Irish Army incursion north of the Border.

Irrespective of the element of surprise, the Irish Army would have been subject to a massive British counter-attack – probably within hours of their initial incursion. Irish casualties would have been high as the British would have sought to swiftly and indiscriminately end the Republic’s unilateral military intervention – which would have had the potential to completely destabilise Northern Ireland, leading perhaps to the type of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing seen in central Europe just two decades later.

And from the Irish military point of view…

At the time that this document was drafted, in September 1969, the Irish Army was seriously under-strength, with a total of 8,113 personnel. While individual troops were relatively well armed with FN 7.62 automatic rifles – purchased for service in the Congo – the Irish Army was severely lacking in transport and other support elements necessary for combat operations, however limited in scale.

However, the Irish had little or no air support – the Air Corps possessed approximately a half dozen serviceable De Havilland Vampire jets in the autumn of 1969. These aircraft would have been of little use against RAF Phantom and Harrier jets, stationed at that time within a very short flight time from Northern Irish air space. [small pedantic point of detail, the first Harrier squadron was only declared to the RAF order of battle on 1st of January 1970 and as far as I can make out they were in training in August/September 1968 – still, Phantom’s, and Lightnings and other jets, would have been bad enough – wbs].

Of course that depends on the political context within which an incursion was framed. And here Longwills article is most interesting. For under the heading Justifiable intervention or an illegal invasion? he writes…

Under international law, sending a military force into another sovereign state without that state’s permission is classified as an illegal invasion. A UN peacekeeping force cannot enter a member state’s territory unless that state has given prior consent. Furthermore, Britain could have vetoed a UN decision as a member of the Security Council.

He continues…

Even if the UN ruled Britain as a party to the dispute, neutralising its veto, the Cold War alliance between Britain and the US would most likely have seen the US veto decisions on Britain’s behalf. The Irish governemnt astutely recognised that Irish military intervention could only be internationally justified in the event of a total breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland. Under these circumstances Irish intervention could not be labelled as an assault on British sovereignty. On the contrary, the Irish government could have successfully claimed that it authorised cross-border operations primarily for humanitarian reasons in response to Britain’s failures under humanitarian law.

Okay. So, all depended upon the political context. Clearly, and self-evidently, as argued by the Irish Army there was no military possibility for victory. And this tallies with something else Longwill points out…

The Irish government’s contemplation of military intervention never involved the question of partition. Assessments and contingencies developed in response to humanitarian concerns. As Jack Lynch accurately told an emotional FF Árd Fheis in 1970, the Irish army did not have the means to intervene, and his policy in relation to partition was to seek unity by consent.

Longwill argues that:

An Irish army incursion into Northern Ireland would have ended in two possible ways: either withdrawal or total destruction. The most likely British response would have been the issuing of a withdrawal ultimatum.

But note the word he uses, ‘incursion’. His reading of the Interim Report, that most secret of documents, is such that it leads him to state…

Military planners viewed intervention with clear apprehension and knew that an incursion without an attainable political objective would be counter-productive to Irish interests. They recognised the difficulty of justifying an incursion and realised that internationally the Republic of ireland might be seen as an aggressor, with negative political and public opinion influencing the ‘outcome of any operations undertaken’…

And he then describes the four intervention scenarios which would undercut such claims of aggression.

He also argues that ‘they knew an incursion beyond the immediate border area was completely out of the question. The army assessors produced a realistic report of what the small, under-strength and under-equipped Irish military could accomplish – a brief, limited, short-term incursion across the border.

But as Longwill argues, a year later Minister of Defence Jim Gibbons was careful to note in the February Directive of 1970 which ordered the army to ‘train and prepare’ for an incursion, that…

…intervention would only occur in the event of a complete breakdown of law and order in Northern ireland, and the only objective would be to protect the life and property of civilians. Clearly intervention would only be authorised in the event of genocide or medium-scale expulsions of Catholics.

And Longwill cuts to the heart of the issue when he notes;

The Irish government’s criteria for an incursion were nightmarish-the army would only cross the border if Northern ireland were so severely destabilised that Irish entry would not cause further destabilisation.

At such a point, presumably, the idea was that the British Army would itself have been overwhelmed by the events on the streets. A situation that potentially might have occurred in the event of a Bosnia like scenario.

And humanitarian concerns are central to this. Even at this point, and one can read it expressed in the documentation from August and September 1969, the IRA and Sinn Féin envisaged a process of disengagement and withdrawal by Britain, not an appropriation from the South.

Of course, to place it in this political context of humanitarian concerns, of short lived incursions to – perhaps – at most relieve nationalists populations in areas close to the border, is much less dramatic than to talk of ‘invasion’, ‘agressors’ and armageddon.

Would an Irish army incursion outside the constraints detailed here have been of benefit? It’s hard to see how precisely, in that it would perhaps have triggered the very events it was meant to forestall. The problem though was never military, since long after the time that any incursion had ended (short of catastrophic collapse of state institutions on the Northern side of the Border) the fundamentals would have remained in place. But then the problem was never that the South was disengaged militarily from the North, but that it was disengaged politically, not even willing to take up its responsibilities to those populations who looked to it for support across the many decades of Stormont and after – and an intriguing counterfactual is one where the Free State and later the Republic of Ireland actually sought to carve out from the off a political space where they exerted and maintained an influence on the North. In any event, one could posit that, almost as ever with regard to the North, the military was the distraction from the political.

Clonan concludes his piece by suggesting that:

Luckily for the Irish Republic – and the people of Northern Ireland – Lynch’s declaration not to stand by never translated into a declaration of war.

True indeed, but since the purpose of this exercise was never to do any such thing, even had it been implemented, which it wasn’t in any detail, it does seem to miss the point. And the point is that such feints, even in their rhetorical form, were not about war.

There’s more on this tonight, as the IT notes:

What if Lynch had invaded? A documentary on the consequences of an Irish invasion of Northern Ireland in September 1969 will be screened tomorrow on RTÉ 1 television at 9.30pm


1. Backward irrendentist - September 1, 2009

‘Even at this point, and one can read it expressed in the documentation from August and September 1969, the IRA and Sinn Féin envisaged a process of disengagement and withdrawal by Britain, not an appropriation from the South.’

Though from the United Irishman September 1969 there is a statement from Cathal Goulding demanding that the Dublin government used their armed forces to defend the people of the north. What does this mean, other than going across the border?


2. WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2009

That’s true, but again, presumably the idea was defence not offence, since the political track envisaged by SF is not one of taking areas.

In the same UI on the front page it argues for RoI pressure in the UN and their short term goal being a revision of the (UK) Government of Ireland act ‘in the Irish interest’.


3. CMK - September 1, 2009

Half way through the documentary and can’t contain my irritation……

Headach inducing CSI Miami style wobbly camera work; Tom Clonan looking like he’s behind enemy lines in the Bogside (which is probably how he felt during filiming); completely inappropriate bombastic blockbuster music score; boring interviews (except Tony Benn). Very disappointing – hope it picks up after the ads…….


4. worldbystorm - September 1, 2009

This is how history on tv is done in our wonderful shiney Republic.


5. Ian - September 1, 2009

The thing about counterfactual history is, well, that it’s pure fantasy. Michael Collins could have come back from the dead and finished the job he started 50 years before leading the troops to conquer Belfast after a six week campaign.

Now that’s outlandish. But even so called ‘serious’ attempts, like in this TV documentary are absurd. Fact of the matter is, Jack Lynch, like most Irish politicians of the time, was conservative. Launching such a suicidal and radical mission would have been beyond him. History, based on the fact that no such incursion ever occured, proves that.

In fact all this show does is make our poor army look like a joke. They deserve better than that.


6. MWhitehouse - September 1, 2009

God this programme is awful nonsense!

I see Tom Clonan lectures on media communication in DIT, and seems not to have any background in history. One wonders in fact if there was any historical consultant on the programme. If not, that would explain the ‘tell a good story and hang the facts’ approach. I’m not against counter-factual questions per se, but even the interviewees seem to be pointing out the ridiculousness of the programme-makers’ ‘opinion’ of what might have happened.


7. Worldbystorm - September 1, 2009

I think you both have it right. Saddest aspect of it all? That it tries to make an entertainment of sorts of a dismal part of our history. I know that sounds po faced but people were beaten, houses and families burnt out, others shot and killed, and not for a moment would I trivialize that. A close friend of mine remembered his parents sitting on his bed terrified one night during the height of it as to what would come next. Eventually they gave up, left Belfast and came south. That’s a store of human misery deep enough to put all the “might have beens but weren’t” in at least some sort of perspective. And that’s not to say these issues shouldn’t be discussed, but that striking a tone and having some slight perspective is crucial.


Dr. X - September 2, 2009

And that goes to the heart of the Dublin 4/Irish Times/Indo/RTE approach to the north. The killing of thousands, and the maiming of tens of thousands is to those people a convenient backdrop against which they can pose and preen themselves.

But you know this already.


8. Worldbystorm - September 1, 2009

And drifting slightly from that tone isn’t this reminiscent in a way of that US tv show that pitted the IRA against the Taliban? Irish Army v the BA. Everyone knows the outcome from
the off…Which is precisely why it would never happen.


9. MWhitehouse - September 1, 2009

That’s the thing. All this told us was that the Irish army would have been no match for the British army, and that the international community would have frowned on an ‘invasion’ of Northern Ireland. You don’t need any knowledge of the period to know that. But then again…


10. EamonnCork - September 2, 2009

Agree with everyone here. The period is so interesting and yet we end up with a trivialisation like this, the problem being that the next time someone wants to do a programme on 1969 they’ll be told it’s been done already. There is probably a good alternative historical The Man In the High Castle/Fatherland type novel to be done about the possible outcome of an invasion/incursion/whatever you’re having yourself but it makes for a fairly meaningless historical doc. I can’t help thinking that Tom Clonan is making a great deal out of his military expertise, he seems to be the media’s choice as our native David Petraeus. There also seemed to be some complacency about the mighty power of the British Army which seemed ill judged considering the problems they suffered in the following two decades with the IRA. I have an awful feeling that this is how history is going to be done under the new dispensation in RTE where everything, politics, the arts, has to be portrayed as a kind of entertainment. It’s a pity TG4 don’t have more money, their instincts seem to be better on this kind of thing.


11. Jim Monaghan - September 2, 2009

The idea of military intervention would have been to internationalise the conflict. Eg Bring in the UN. It might have brought things to a head.
The Free State opted to be satisfied with their little 26 county republic.
In the end odf the days small countries survive by making it akward for the big ones to sallow them. hence the survival of say the Benelux. Woe betide those when the big ones make an agreement. look at the fate of Poland.
I think an intervention would have cost a maximum of say a 1000 lives. Still a gain over the number actually lost
An if of history


12. Tim - September 2, 2009

The British army would not have opened fire on Ireland’s army, there would have been some kind of stand-off and a huge diplomatic incident instead – as it happened the British army went into Northern Ireland, not the Irish one. I don’t think history says anything negative about the Republic’s armed forces.


13. Edward Scissorhands - September 2, 2009

I wondered to myself after the programme, what the point of it actually was. The first part outlined the background to the affair (or parts of it at least), and the second part saw Clonan slide off the scale into complete fantasy land about a “what if” scenario.

The fact is that Lynch did NOT invade. That’s the history. Last night’s programme was like those “What if Hiltler won the War” programmes we see every once in a while. Fantasy stuff. RTE should know better than to put this on tv.

Let’s not forget that Clonan was an artillery officer, I wonder where his knowledge of urban infantry tactics comes from? Taking Newry with 120 troops is in keeping with the fantastical tone of the programme though…


14. Garibaldy - September 2, 2009

The British Army mightn’t have but the RUC and the B Specials – who were incredibly well-armed and had access to motars and the like – and who I think outnumbered the Irish army certainly would have.

On top of that there would have been attacks on non-unionist areas to make Bombay Street look like a picnic. Which is why I think Jim’s estimate above is far far too low. As for the free state army having no stain of negativity on them, there 1920s are a good place to start. Although broadly, and especially since the 1960s, I’d be inclined to agree to some extent.


15. Walshy - September 2, 2009

Problem was, Jack Lynch painted himself into a corner with his “not standing idly by” remark…which is just what he had to do. Like it or no, the 6 counties were beyond his jurisdiction; if an Irish soldier had so much as looked longingly at the border, Mr. Lynch would have been summoned immediately to London to explain himself! GB has been at this game for centuries, Ireland was still getting off the train. And don’t forget, Harold Wilson was a damn sight more agreeable than those PMs who followed! Memo: when trouble looms, don’t start painting…


16. EamonnCork - September 2, 2009

Jack Lynch did not say, “we will not stand idly by,” anymore than Bogart said, “play it again Sam.” It’s the most frequent misquotation in Irish political history.


17. EamonnCork - September 2, 2009

However, to be fair, the statements he did make were sufficient to paint him into the corner.


18. Lisbon and historical fiction - September 11, 2009

[…] of soldiers, was not made clear. (Edit: see an analysis of the army document in question on the Cedar Lounge Revolution blog which makes a nonsense of this claim.) The second redundant claim was that the British army would […]


19. Mick Murphy - November 6, 2009

Clonan’s primary training was as an infantry officer. He is also a fellow of http://www.ius.org – check it out. His PhD had strong history emphasis. So. He would have an intimate knowledge of fibua and also of how to provide moving arty sp to wit. Lots of jealousy here I suspect ….


20. WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2009

Do you think Mick?

Edward Goodwill, historian, has noted in the current issue of the Irish Political Review:

RTE’s entire visualisation of an incur-sion into Newry is woeful. Narration10 claimed that Irish troops would have taken the border customs post. Well that would have been impossible because rioters burnt it down on 13th August. According to RTE the troops would have then entered Newry town, found it in a state of “calm” with “some nationalists coming out to support troops”. An Irish platoon would then take the local RUC station in a surprise attack. This is just absurd because Newry experienced intense rioting on 13-14 August and rioters placed the RUC station under siege with volleys of petrol bombs. Sleepy Newry town was in fact in a state of anarchy. Hijacked lorries blocked roads and arsonists targeted several public buildings.

And all the knowledge in the world of FIBUA isn’t going to counter the actuality. And speaking of FIBUA Goodwill notes also:

Irish troops were shown in an open field, standing there waiting to get bombed or strafed. RTE thought that Irish soldiers don’t know how to take cover. However, Irish military planners envisaged taking positions within an urban area and it is unlikely that the RAF would have been ordered to strike targets south of the border. According to the documentary’s scenario Irish troops would lie in ditches shaking with fear or else run away and get shot in the back. This implied that Irish soldiers were poorly commanded and undisciplin- ed. A more accurate depiction of British soldiers fighting with Irish soldiers would involve British troops advancing into a bombed out urban area under Irish sniper fire. Would it have been the ‘Irish Bay of Pigs’ as the documentary claimed? No, because the Bay of Pigs was an invasion to conquer a territory and overthrow a government. An Irish incursion would have been a short-term operation to intensify the crisis followed by a rapid withdrawal.

But the main complaint I have and have articulated is that the programme drifted away from actual historical fact into complete fantasy as regards the actual plans of the Irish govt., the capability of the Irish Army, the events on the ground and so forth. It was setting up the Army for a fall.

So I’m bemused as to how it jealousy to point out these matters.

Frankly I have no beef at all with Clonan, he writes well and makes a lot of sense much of the time. But this was a deeply deeply terrible programme.


David Joseph - August 16, 2010

The point wasn’t whether the Irish Army crossed the border (as a military entity they had been rendered useless by a long policy of non-investment. The Irish goverment had removed its own ability to have any military options at all by ignoring the many calls for re-armament and investment that were made by Irish army chiefs of staff for many years before 1969). The point was, training and arms for the Citizens Defence Committees in the North so as they could contruct their own defence in the continuance of pogroms from the Loyalist community.

Sadly, British agents and pro-British figures of influence such as Peter Berry, working in the heart of the Dublin establishment prevented this happening. That is the real blunder from that time, not any foolishness of the army crossing the border.

As it happened, elements within Northern nationalism acquired their own arms and training and we all know what happened then.

Unfortunately the South of Ireland fell into a deadly slumber when it received its limited form of self-government in 1922 and hasn’t awoken even to this day. It was fast alseep in 1969, even faster asleep during Hitler’s war and now, well, sleep sleep, perchance to dream.


21. Jim Monaghan - August 16, 2010

I regret to say that any “investment” in the army would be to equip it for NATO missions (disguised of course) not defence of any section of the Irish people


22. Garibaldy - August 16, 2010

Sure isn’t part of Lisbon to spend a certain amount on the army to ensure it can do the EU’s bidding with suitably modern weapons?


EWI - August 16, 2010

Sure isn’t part of Lisbon to spend a certain amount on the army to ensure it can do the EU’s bidding with suitably modern weapons?

A considerable amount (the majority, in fact) has been invested in the comms and logistics needed for us to interoperate with NATO forces. We didn’t need such toys for UN service – it’s not what they’re being bought for.


23. Jim Monaghan - August 16, 2010

I would go further and say that the army brass are very much in tune with NATO as was O’Dea when he was minister.In fact a lot of our elite are only neutral in name. All those visits to Fort Bragg.
A country this size only needs (if it needs) an army of about 5000.
As well as that we are over policed for our population with far too many police stations which have to be personned (so many police unavailable for policing.


Mark P - August 16, 2010

I’m not sure that this country “needs” an army at all, let alone one expensively equipped so as to enable “interoperability” with NATO and EU forces.

Historically it’s main purposes were to (a) mop up any overspill from the North and to (b) provide a reserve army of strikebreakers. The first purpose is now largely redundant and the second is an obviously pernicious one. That only leaves us with an army used to provide PR for other country’s imperialist wars (see under Chad, fellating Sarkozy).


WorldbyStorm - August 16, 2010

There are arguments pro and con. On balance I’d come down on pro, but with some considerable rethinking of roles, etc.


Mark P - August 16, 2010

What are the left wing arguments pro?


WorldbyStorm - August 16, 2010

Are they left wing arguments per se? I’m not sure, more utilitarian ones.

I think a state has the right and obligation to defend its citizens – and this can be a passive thing as much as an active one. Clearly any determined adversary would roll over our army in fairly short time. But… the very existence of our army would give some pause for thought. Now, in real terms the likelihood of our being invaded is near minimal. But it’s not absolutely so and in a world with growing threats from environmental and other pressures which are vastly more likely I’d be very leery about disbanding the Irish Army – even were it politically feasible which it isn’t. But that assistance to the civil power – during flooding, etc, etc, is something I’d like to see a lot more of. I’d also like to see increased specialisation in areas where internationally the army could and if I recall correctly already has operated in an unarmed mode in – for example mine clearance, etc.

Armies or militias, although at national level the distinction is often blurred, are a good vehicle for quite a lot of things beyond a defensive role. And the particularly useful aspect of an army is that it can be channeled towards other socially useful goals in times of emergency, etc.

There are other political arguments that make a case for armies. Leaving the security of a state simply in the hands of police forces strikes me as an unwise idea, even at the best of times. And truth is we have a pretty demilitarised army as it is. Yep, there is some high profile, well, not that high-profile, engagements with international forces but in the main our army is broadly speaking pretty minimal.

That’s a bit of waste and a strengthened humanitarian posture through the auspices of the UN and a shift away from traditional roles would be no harm.


24. Garibaldy - August 16, 2010

Let’s not forget its historic purpose of suppressing the anti-Treatyites.


25. shane - August 16, 2010

Most neutral countries are armed to the teeth. There’s much to be said for the Swiss model: conscription for all young men (with conscientious objectors being allowed to do civilian service, eg helping out in a nursing home) with almost every adult male being legally required to possess a gun. The whole country is like one big militia.


WorldbyStorm - August 16, 2010

Shouldn’t, and I’m not being facetious here because I think militia’s can potentially be a useful way of a country defending itself if one does shift the model of an army, every adult female also be legally required to possess a gun?

That’s very true about neutral countries.

Thing is, in this state there was a conscious decision I suspect around 1970 to mentally disarm the state, obviously on foot of the conflict in the North.


EWI - August 16, 2010

Thing is, in this state there was a conscious decision I suspect around 1970 to mentally disarm the state

Not just mentally. The personal weaponry issued to FCÁ and kept in homes was withdrawn to guarded barracks at that time.


shane - August 16, 2010

I think it’s because women are not subject to conscription, though they can still serve voluntarily. Conscripts are trained on how to respond in the event of an invasion.

I agree about the demilitarization. I would hate to see us go down the NATO route. As you said above, the threat of invasion is fairly minimal. Our natural resources are limited, but nobody can predict the future.

Switzerland has had an armed citizenry for centuries (linked to its independence). It’s kind of taken for granted. I don’t think it would be politically feasible for Irish politicians to recreate it here. But I wouldn’t mind well-trained (and geographically dispersed) local militias established to complement the IDF. There are obvious (internal) security concerns about that though, particularly if we see an economic catastrophe or a rise in political extremism…as seems to be happening throughout the rest of Europe. It’s also very hard to disarm militias once established.


EWI - August 16, 2010

But I wouldn’t mind well-trained (and geographically dispersed) local militias established to complement the IDF.

There was one – the FCÁ – but the beancounters of PwC got at it and it barely exists at all now, by accounts I’ve heard from the few left in it.

You may also want to note that when referring to the Irish regular armed forces, the correct acronym is PDF – the Permanent Defence Forces. The ‘IDF’ is the Israelis, who have been behind the deaths of many Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanon over the years.


shane - August 17, 2010

Cheers for the correction, EWI. I have two cousins that were in the FCA – they went for two weeks training in the Summer, but not a lot more than that (to my knowledge). Shame they axed it.


26. Jim Monaghan - August 17, 2010

“Most neutral countries are armed to the teeth.”
This is because most of them are neutral in name . At least as far as Europe.
Austria, only as a result of an agreement allowing it unity and a Soviet withdrawal.
Finland like wise.
Sweden, well you have to be kidding. Interesting that they made the Germans pay in gold after Stalingrad.
Switzerland, home of hot money from the Nazis to Mobutu.
WE should oppose any increase in army equipment and size and work towards is reduction.


27. Admiral Blog - August 17, 2010

‘But I wouldn’t mind well-trained (and geographically dispersed) local militias established to complement the IDF.

There was one – the FCÁ – but the beancounters of PwC got at it and it barely exists at all now, by accounts I’ve heard from the few left in it.’

Ahem. The FCA, or the Free Clothes Association, where ironically you had to buy part of your kit in army surplus stores and which was issued with .303 rifles until the 1990s is indeed no more. It was replaced by the Reserves, who number almost 12,000 (Army) and 400 (Navy). They are equipped with the same kit as the regular defence forces, exact same weapons etc. The Army Reserves are almost 30% female, as you may notice from the number of young women in fatigues wandering around our towns at various times of the year. The reserves are a cross section of people, though a lot would be from towns where there are barracks, and possibly have relatives in the Army or Navy.


EWI - August 18, 2010

It was replaced by the Reserves, who number almost 12,000 (Army) and 400 (Navy).

Admiral Blog, if you share any part of the same background as myself, then you know the differences between establishment strength, effective strength and actual bodies in uniform. As to the matter of the name change, putting lipstick on a pig to cover for the cuts in the PDF, and I believe the old acquaintances telling me of the decline even from what it was in numbers (McCarthy, of course, living up to the very stereotype of an economist, wants to do away with what’s left).


28. Admiral Blog - August 17, 2010


Any left-wingers want training see above. I’d keep the politics quiet though.


29. WorldbyStorm - August 17, 2010

Thanks AB… very useful to know.


30. Luke McFadden - November 8, 2010

Clonan is a cowardly windbag like the rest of them in dublin and would run a mile if he heard a shot going off … naturally he thinks the Irish Army should have stood by exactly as it did back in ’69. We did nothing in 1974 when the Loyalists set bombs off in Monaghan and Dublin, except blaming ourselves for critisising the regime in the north. Cowardice runs through us like fat through bacon … no wonder we drink so much, helps to subsume the shame …


31. Michael - May 3, 2012

As a nothern catholic I remember jack lynch radio statement on rte news as a kid – like a wave of optimism from the out of control b specials and uda who were showing us tags who run the place – driving in jeeps with guns etc.

I spent the next few days looking for the Irish soldiers to turn up ….


32. Coffee Pure Cleanse Review - May 3, 2013

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33. Paddy o'brien - November 4, 2014

Quote. Lynch didn’t say…..we won’t stand idly by….what he actually said was….”the govt can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured or perhaps worse”


EamonnCork - November 4, 2014

You’re right. It’s the ‘play it again Sam’ of Irish politics.


Paddy o'brien - November 4, 2014

Jack then retired and spent the rest of his days drinking whiskey with the British ambassador in his rather abode……and got a state funeral….and had a tunnel named after him..”.


Paddy o'brien - November 4, 2014

….that should read…ratgar aboard….


34. texas education policy careers - August 30, 2017

Adventist Boarding School In Texas

If the Irish army had entered the North in 1969


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