Both the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and President Michael D Higgins have spoken about Irish neutrality over the weekend, with the Taoiseach suggesting neutrality needs to “evolve” while the President praised a “special role” for neutral countries.
Attending the Fianna Fáil 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill on Sunday, Mr Martin was asked by The Irish Times if Irish neutrality needs to change in response to the invasion of Ukraine. He said: “I do think it needs to evolve, yes. It has evolved to a large extent.”
Mr Martin said not being part of military alliance was a characteristic of Irish neutrality in the past, but given the threat from Russia and the changing nature of the threat, Ireland should work with other countries to ensure its security.
He said that Ireland already co-operated on security with other EU countries. Asked if that was not being part of an alliance he said: “It’s not yet, there’s no formal EU pact, and if there was there would have to be a referendum for us to join such a pact.
“I do think we have to evolve our thinking on this.”
In his speech, Mr Martin said: “We have to be clear that we need a proper, informed and inclusive debate about our future policies.”
He added: “The world has changed and Ireland must respond. We cannot sit still and simply hope that we are left alone.”
In a reference to Russian military exercises that have taken place near Ireland, Mr Martin said: “In the sea and air around our island we have seen actions taken which have no innocent explanation. Óglaigh na hÉireann must have the capacity and the authority to carry out essential functions to protect our freedoms and those who share our values.”
Mr Martin also referenced efforts to increase defence and security spending and co-operation in the EU: “Our commitment to working with our European partners has to be reinforced. Co-ordination and shared activities with other defence forces over the last 20 years has proven that this activity is a benefit to us and aids European security. We have to look for ways to build on this.”
Mr Higgins, who last week called for a “well-informed debate” on Irish neutrality, told a gathering in Howth Co Dublin on Saturday: “I think there is a special role for people and countries who embrace neutrality to be active in making the case for diplomacy to the very end.”
He said that the “rise of the bellicose language of militarism must end”.
Mr Higgins was speaking at the unveiling of the restored “Éire 6” sign – designed to inform aircraft they were in Irish airspace during the second World War, which he said proclaimed Irish neutrality in the war.
Referring to the war in Ukraine, Mr Higgins paid tribute to “the brave Ukrainian people who are struggling to defend their homes and their people”.
“A great sense of darkness has fallen across the world with the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine,” he said. The darkness had “resulted from the invasion by its [Ukraine’s] powerful neighbour [Russia] operating with total disregard for the principles of international law”.
The President said that “we must always exert all of our efforts to avoid war and armed conflict and we must relentlessly pursue a diplomatic approach and particularly involving the multilateral institutions, if we are to avoid bloodshed”.