Government rejects Bill enshrining Ireland’s neutrality

Sinn Féin accused Simon Coveney of trying to be ‘best boy in class’ on route to EU army

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “The EU is born of a vision to end wars.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “The EU is born of a vision to end wars.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A Bill to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution could affect Ireland’s ability to participate in UN missions, the Dáil has heard.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney rejected Sinn Féin’s legislation to specifically include the policy in the Constitution.

And he hit out at claims that the EU was “some kind of war monger. It is the absolute opposite of that”. He said “the EU is born of a vision to end wars”.

He added that “neutrality isn’t about inactivity of or excluding oneself from difficult situations. It’s about being proactive but not aligned” to any military grouping.

The Tánaiste rejected claims that Ireland is somehow drifting towards being part of a European army and insisted that “we can continue to rely on the safeguards that we have”.

And he said that successive Governments had reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to a policy of military neutrality.

The Tánaiste was responding to Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh who introduced the Thirty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill.

Pesco

Mr Ó Snodaigh said the EU planned through Pesco (Permanent Structured Co-operation) to divert €13 billion of EU social funds to be spent on EU research on arms to be used in wars abroad.

He appealed for the Government to “pull back from the headlong rush to an EU army” and he told the Tánaiste “on this issue you don’t need to be the best boy in the class. You can take a firm stand against the EU war mongers”.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said that “every single action since 1997 in relation to security or defence issues have been undermining Ireland’s neutrality to such an extent that doesn’t seem to be an issue for some EU leaders and they flaunt it” and ignore the protests the Tánaiste might make in the backroom “because they know you’ll roll over and be a good boy as you did in 2017 when you signed up for Pesco (Permanent Structured Co-operation)”.

The Sinn Féin Bill states that “war shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, or conduct of war or other armed conflict, save where it is immediately necessary in defence of the State and with the assent of Dáil Éireann”.

Mr Ó Snodaigh claimed the Government and previous administrations had tried to find ways to circumvent neutrality. He added that the EU training mission in Mali in which a small number of Irish troops were participating was “circumventing the triple lock and it is undermining our neutrality”.

‘Ongoing wars’

He also hit out at the use of Shannon airport “for foreign militaries to facilitate their ongoing wars”.

The Tánaiste insisted that “facilitation of landing requests does not alter or breach Ireland’s policy of neutrality” and that the aircraft carry no arms, ammunition or explosives.

Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins said his party opposed the legislation which was “too rigid, too doctrinaire and unnecessary”.

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan said her party opposed the Bill and said it could mean Ireland could not participate in any UN missions because they involved conflict.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly hit out at the Government’s policy to facilitate the passage of US troops through Shannon airport and highlighted the arrest and imprisonment for two weeks of two US Veterans for Peace aged 77 and 82 who attempted to examine US aircraft on St Patrick’s day.

She said it was sending out a signal to the US that “look it lads we’ll take on anybody who tries to jeopardise your use of Shannon airport”.

She said the veterans said they carried their guns in their pockets.