‘I wouldn’t be opposed to us joining Nato’ - public’s differing views ahead of neutrality debates

Members of the public at UCC were asked for their opinion on Ireland’s neutrality ahead of first Consultative Forum on International Security Policy

UCC psychology masters student, Danny McEnery said he didn’t share President Higgins’s concerns and he believed that it was time for Ireland to look again at its traditional policy of neutrality

The first of four neutrality debates – the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy – will begin on Thursday at University College Cork (UCC).

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin chose his alma mater as the venue for the first forum. Students and members of the public on the grounds of UCC were asked by The Irish Times for their own views on the controversial topic and there were differing opinions.

Most of those around the campus were either foreign students visiting for some summer course or Leaving Certs availing of UCC library membership to get in some last-minute swotting.

Having safely negotiated third year medicine and heading into fourth year, Vincent Savage from Cobh said he shared some of President Michael D Higgins’s concerns and believed that getting involved in any sort of military alliance would necessarily have an impact on areas of Irish life closer to home.


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“I suppose I’m not hugely political, but I do think that our neutrality is important. I know we do intervene in some ways in foreign countries and as part of peacekeeping missions. I think that should be about the extent of this, we shouldn’t really be more involved.”

“I could understand why EU members would think we should be aligned militarily but at the end of the day, I think we are a smaller country, and currently, we couldn’t contribute hugely militarily, and I think a huge part of us becoming a part of the pact would involve increasing our defence budget.

“Our defence budget would naturally have to grow if we were to join some common defence pact and I just think that there are other areas that we need to spend money on at the moment such as health and education before we start spending money on defence.”

Psychology masters student, Danny McEnery said he didn’t share President Higgins’s concerns and he believed that it was time for Ireland to look again at its traditional policy of neutrality, particularly given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the need for a united approach across Europe.

“I don’t think in today’s world especially with what’s happened in recent times with Ukraine, that it’s fair to stay out of conflict, not to take a side and to ultimately, rely on our neighbours for military support – that’s not really neutrality, that’s just sitting on the fence.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to us joining Nato, but I think some sort of joint defence pact within the EU should be the first step- I suppose not being opposed to joining Nato says a lot about where my mind would be but as a first stage, some partnership within the EU is what we should be looking at.”

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Columnist and former Fianna Fáil advisor Gerard Howlin joins Hugh Linehan, Pat Leahy and Jennifer Bray to talk about two controversial topics: recent comments by President Michael D Higgins and the Hate Speech bill that is making its way through the Oireachtas.

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But for retired Bus Éireann driver and former UCC mature student, Michael O’Sullivan, who has organised shipments of aid to Chernobyl, Gaza, Beirut and Sierra Leone, the proposed consultative forum is part of a long-term strategy to nudge Ireland away from its traditional policy of neutrality.

“We’ve had 100 years so far of neutrality, it served the country well – we’re highly involved in the UN, and we have 95,000 Ukrainians here so we’re a generous people and Russia is 100% wrong, it’s an authoritarian dictatorship as far as I can see, and Putin is delusional attacking Ukraine.”

“So, do we, the Irish, want to get involved in this mess? Now it won’t affect my generation and it may not affect our children, but it will affect our grandchildren. But I read about what’s going on, it’s a kind of a slow process, moving us away from the neutrality that has served us well, bit by bit by bit.”