Fine Gael sets course for an end to neutrality


Fine Gael will lobby hard for public support for its proposal to abandon Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Gay Mitchell, has vowed.

In its document, Beyond Neutrality, Fine Gael has proposed that Ireland should commit to coming to the aid of our European Union partners "on a case-by-case basis".

"We intend to take the argument to the people, and to make sure that our own party members are aware of this," said Mr Mitchell, who has been a long-standing supporter of a common EU defence.

"We are not going to resile from it, or walk from it. Fine Gael stands for equality of opportunity, social justice and enterprise. With every right, though, comes responsibility," he said.

Dismissing fears that the policy is politically risky, he went on: "We believe that there is 30 per cent out there who are prepared to join in our view of society," he told a seminar hosted by Fine Gael.

During the Rainbow government, Fianna Fáil opposed Ireland's membership of Partnership for Peace without a referendum, yet joined up without one once they got into power.

"Fine Gael is not prepared to allow this argument to go the same way. We are putting forward openly the reasons why we should join a European defence based on rules that we think that we can bring about," he said.

The EU common defence policy should honour United Nations principles; support universal nuclear and biological disarmament; while member-states should be able to join a mutual defence pact on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, the EU should fully support the so-called Petersberg Tasks, covering peacekeeping and peacemaking operations, and respect the rights of all member states to join, or not join, NATO.

However, Peace and Neutrality Alliance spokesman, Mr Roger Cole, said the majority of Irish people want to continue to remain in control of their own independent foreign policy.

A common EU defence policy would be dominated by pro-United States countries such as the United Kingdom and Poland, who are happy to act "as the vassal states for the US Empire".

"We believe that the majority of Irish people don't want to die for George Bush.

"And they don't want to kill for him either," said Mr Cole, who accused the Government of "frightening" people into silence before the Iraq crisis.

Fine Gael's demand for extra defence spending would mean there will be less money available for health and education.

"That is a fact, and it is a fact that we will be making clear to the Irish people at every opportunity."

Peace campaigner Comdt Edward Horgan said the United States under President George Bush, in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, is now close to being "a rogue state".

"I don't necessarily agree with Fine Gael, but the honesty with which they are addressing it is in marked contrast with the way the matter is being handled by the Government," said Cmdt Horgan.

The former Defence Forces officer launched a Constitutional challenge to the Government's decision to open Shannon to US forces, though the Supreme Court found against him.

Irish neutrality died in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, he argued, when large amounts of weapons were shipped through Shannon Airport by the US military.

"We have the blood of children on our hands," he said.