What would you have thought if during the 1970s or the 1980s the British government had decided to take direct action against the IRA in a different form? Say, for instance during the 1970s when the IRA was at its most lethal or during the 1980s when the IRA attempted to blow up the British government itself, they had decided on something new. What if the attempt on the British Prime Minister’s life in Brighton in 1984 had resulted in the House of Commons debating a new form of military action against the IRA? After all, if the bloodshed of the 1970s, the torrents of spilt blood of that decade, were not enough to provoke the British then surely the Brighton bombing would have been. So what would you have thought if the British government had decided to bomb the IRA? What would you have thought, if they had decided that the Falls Road and South Armagh were to be targeted? Would you have thought, fair enough, the IRA are murderous and bloody, wipe them out? Or would you have hesitated and thought but what of the people living there, the children and the innocent men and women? Or would they not count? Would defeating the bad guys have been enough? I mean, all’s fair in love and war, is it not? And deaths aren’t even deaths are they if you don’t mean them, they are merely collateral casualties. True too that those bombs falling on the Falls Road and Crossmaglen would have been aimed at stopping the further decades of IRA violence to come. So would it not have been alright?
Now ISIS make even the IRA look tame and I wholeheartedly agree with Hilary Benn in his House of Commons speech when he called them fascists. If there has ever been a fascist power since the Nazis it is this lot. I agree too with him when he declared the rightness and bravery of those who fought against Franco’s fascists and fought against Nazi Germany. I think too that his speech in the debate not only showed up the paucity of other contributions but showed up the poverty of debate in our own Dail. And I’m not a great admirer of neutrality or a believer in pacifism as sustainable. I abhor the militarisation of our planet for sure and the way our free market system allows the selling of arms to whoever bids for them. That means that the likes of David Cameron can sign lucrative arms contracts with the Saudis and their intolerant, repressive, terrorist friendly regime and still position himself as the saviour of Syria. But Ireland’s neutrality alone shows where such a questionable position leads, it leads to sending condolences to Germany on the death of Hitler and to US troops flooding through Shannon. But for all that I think the decision to bomb Syria is the wrong one for two reasons. One, how exactly will it help to defeat ISIS and protect our freedoms? And two, how many innocent people will it kill too? For just like bombing the Falls Road or South Armagh would have definitely weakened the IRA I doubt very much it would have defeated them. In terms of recruits it might well have strengthened them. Now at this point I should accept that the comparison I’m using between South Armagh and Syria and the IRA and ISIS is flawed and the military situation probably completely different. I’m just using it to get a point across. But in one respect there is no difference. Those children on the Falls Road who would have bled beneath British bombing and those mother and fathers too would have bled exactly the same blood as the children in Syria will bleed. And Hilary Benn and David Cameron and their cheerleaders here in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail should remember that whenever they cheer the bombing of anywhere. The pretence that bombing is an exact science that only kills bad guys is a fiction. After all, just a few weeks ago, the Americans bombed an Afghani hospital in an incident that should have seen all those Facebook pages sporting the Afghan flag. But it’s still true that one sure-fire way we will defeat ISIS is by making sure that we value life whether it is Syrian or Irish, in Kabul or in Crossmaglen, refugee or resident, poor or rich. British governments, after all, have a track record in bombing faraway places and even if the likes of Hilary Benn want to do so with the best intentions the result is usually the same.