Security forum chair Louise Richardson: ‘I didn’t find the panellists hawkish’

Pro-neutrality activists describe discussions as ‘stacked’ with speakers in favour of ‘closer alignment with Nato’

Professor Louise Richardson, the chair of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, rejected suggestions that the forum is made up of “hawks” who want to see Ireland join Nato as she expressed regret that protesters in Cork didn’t stay to hear the full debate on Irish neutrality.

Prof Richardson, who chairs the second session of the forum in Galway on Friday, dismissed suggestions that the various discussion panels at the first session at UCC in Cork were made up of those who favour Ireland abandoning its traditional policy of military neutrality.

“They didn’t strike me as hawkish at all – on the contrary and again, I respect anybody’s right to disagree, but I didn’t find the panellists hawkish and I don’t think those who listened to them thought they were hawkish,” she said, speaking to the media after the conclusion of the first session.

The first session was marked by a series of protests with Dominic Carroll of the Cork Neutrality League the first on his feet to seek to raise a point of order as Tánaiste Micheál Martin was about to begin his address in the Boole Lecture Theatre in UCC.


“The selection of speakers at this forum is unfairly weighted towards supporters of increased militarisation – for example the session on Ireland’s members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) is to be addressed by three speakers who all support PFP even though many in the country oppose it,” he said.

When Mr Martin did begin to speak, four members of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM), the youth wing of the Communist Party of Ireland, stood up and unveiled a banner declaring “Nato Wars, Millions Dead” and one of the group, Mark, began to speak over Mr Martin.

“The Irish people resoundingly reject militarisation and increased participation in imperialist military blocs. ... This is a forum that is organised in order to manufacture public acceptance for increased military spending and participation in EU and Nato militarist projects,” he said.

Questioning the presence of military officers and members of international think tanks, he added: “These forums are filled to the gills with propagandists for EU militarisation and closer alignment with Nato. If it was actually true that the state wanted to discuss this in an open and honest way they could put it to a vote of the Irish people but they are too afraid of the answer they would get.”

Mr Martin initially delayed his address for a minute or two before stating that he had learned the values of free speech when a student at UCC and he went on to accuse the protesters of failing to respect democracy by their interruptions.

“The most undemocratic thing you can do is to shut down debate and that is what you are doing here this morning. You are behaving in a manner that is intolerant of freedom of speech. That is not what we are going to do today,” said Mr Martin.

After the CYM members were escorted from the lecture theatre by gardaí and proceedings resumed, Prof Richardson was interrupted by former county councillor, Diarmuid Ó Cadhla of the People’s Convention, who accused the forum of being made up of apologists for Nato and imperialism.

But speaking at the end of the various debates in an interview with the media, Prof Richardson said she believed that if the protesters had actually stayed to hear the various contributions, they might have come around to the view that the panels were not stacked with “hawks”.

“I’ve run universities for the past 14 years and I’ve been in universities my entire life since the day I left Tramore and so I respect people’s right to protest. I think it’s a hallmark of an open society so I welcome people’s right to protest,” she said.

“So, I think everybody has a right to be heard, and I welcome protesters expressing their point of view, but I think their effort was to prevent anybody’s else’s voice being heard – drowning out the Tánaiste or indeed myself – doesn’t demonstrate commitment to freedom of speech.

“I used to say this to every single student who matriculated at Oxford, please adhere to this Augustinian precept – ‘Audi alteram partem’ ‘Listen to the other side’- it was unfortunate today that the people here weren’t prepared to listen to the other side.

“In a sense I was disappointed that they left, because I think had they remained and listened to the good, fairly nuanced discussion ... I doubt they’d still be saying they were all hawks, in fact I think they would have been hard pressed to find a hawk there.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times