Russia Is Far Away

Politics - June 18, 2024

Normally when one writes about the abysmal level of defence spending in Ireland and its inability to defend or even monitor its seas and skies that’s the job done for another year. No one really cares and why should they if the government of Ireland doesn’t? This week however saw one of those synchronicities of life and an incident that might momentarily at least make Dublin sit up and take notice.

The Sunday Times reported that aircraft from France, Britain and Norway were engaged in a search for a Russian submarine off the Sligo coast last week. A French Bréguet 1150 Atlantic plane flew off the Clare coast, while a Boeing Poseidon P-8 aircraft sent by Britain and Norway flew off Sligo and Donegal. The Poseidon 8 is a specialist in tracking submarines. The purpose of these is manoeuvres is not to interdict the submarine but to make it clear that its presence is known and that these waters are unsafe. It is the practice of Russian submarines when detected to make their departure quickly.

This was just the latest in a series of recent incidents involving Russian vessels in Irish waters that were rehashed in the press. In December of last year it leaked  that a Russian sub had been “hovering” opposite the entrance to Cork Harbour just outside the 12 mile limit along with its satellite surface vessel. It went on its way only after a British helicopter deployed sonar equipment into the water near the unidentified submarine. This action was followed by the arrival of a Royal Navy anti-submarine frigate. When this story broke was also when Irish people discovered that since the 1990s no Irish vessel in the naval service has pssessed sonar, which would not have been the case 30 years previously, and therefore the Irish Navy had no capacity to monitor underwater activity.

The story was news around the world and produced some fairly caustic commentary. In The Telegraph an article by Tom Sharpe lead with the headline and sub

Putin’s subs have exposed Ireland’s shameless hypocrisy

Ireland is richer than Norway – why is it reliant on Norwegian planes to defend it?

While distorted GDP aside Ireland is not richer than Norway, few countries are, the question is a fair one. Why should one EU and two NATO nations be more concerned about the activities of the Russian military off Irish coasts, near essential Irish infrastructure, than the Irish are. Ireland is not a member of NATO and has pearl clutching fits when there is any discussion of joining it or even contributing to any defence or military components within the European Union.

Michael Martin, deputy Prime Minister and minister for defence, not a cabinet role in Ireland, stated clearly

“Ireland will never be in a position really to engage in [anti] submarine warfare, but I think you can develop strategies to protect vital economic assets, particularly in terms of undersea cables,”

What those strategies might be other than freeloading off your friends and neighbours might be was not made clear. Norway however had just committed to investing in a new submarine fleet that will increase its operation capacity to 6 boats because as Rear Adm Berdal of the Royal Norwegian Navy explained Russian submarine capability is greater than at any time over the last 30 years, with steadily increasing numbers of new and very capable boats.

Normally the only press the Irish armed forces get is the occasional story on how badly paid soldiers and sailors are and consequently how hard it is both to retain and recruit. There has been a vague unconcerned awareness of the fall off both in numbers in the Army and operational vessels in the Navy. The sense has always been that Russia is far away and Britain is close, so why worry and more importantly why spend money? Particularly money on arms, which is very much not on brand for Ireland 2024.

Irish politicians for the most part see politics as performative not practical. This is why Micheal Martin can go on twitter can call out Russia for genocide in the Ukraine. A member of the UN security council accusing a permanent member of genocide should have been the shot heard around the world but it was in fact the Dog that didn’t bark in the night. In Ireland only one newspaper picked up on the story and it made no impact internationally. Which can only be because no one takes then seriously and why would they when they don’t take themselves seriously. If you truly believed that another state was engaged in acts of genocide would you allow them to maintain and embassy and consular staff on your soil? The Russian Embassy in Dublin is in Rathmines and open 9am to 11.45am, Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays, except for Russian holidays.