Proposed neutrality Bill would likely curtail Irish efforts on international peace, Coveney says

Bill proposed by People Before Profit seeks to insert military neutrality into Constitution

Proposed legislation seeking to enshrine military neutrality in the Constitution would likely curtail Ireland's efforts to contribute to international peace and security, "rather than in any way enhance it", Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said a Bill put forward by People Before Profit on the issue would “serve to seriously undermine our proactive international role”.

He said the Government was opposing the 39th Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2022, which was being debated at second stage in the Dáil on Wednesday and seeks to insert military neutrality into the Constitution.

Mr Coveney said if the Bill was enacted it could constrain the Government’s scope to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

He said it could also prevent current or future Irish Governments from “using the instruments and tools at our disposal, either bilaterally or through the EU, to give practical expression to our foreign policy”.

“To be blunt, it would prevent us putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Mr Coveney said there were provisions in the Constitution that “underpin our foreign and security policy framework”.

The Minister said a "fresh conversation" was needed in Ireland about its approach to security and defence, "a mature, honest debate about the world that is and Ireland's place in it today".

Mr Coveney said the Taoiseach had already indicated that Ireland’s neutrality could be discussed “at an appropriate time” through a Citizen’s Assembly or similar framework.

“Inserting provisions now into the Constitution on military neutrality without allowing for a serious discussion about the threat environment that Ireland and its EU partners now face and the appropriate response to that threat simply closes off that conversation before it’s properly even begun,” he said.

‘Under attack’

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said many people believed Ireland's neutrality was already protected in the Constitution but it was not and his party believed it was "seriously under attack at the moment".

The Dún-Laoghaire TD said successive Governments had sought to undermine Ireland’s neutrality, “most egregiously with the decisions of previous Governments to allow millions of US troops go through Shannon airport”.

Mr Boyd Barrett also said the current Government and the wider European political establishment had sought to exploit the war in the Ukraine, "in order to justify moving towards greater EU militarisation, the establishment of a European army and closer alignment with Nato".

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the Green Party leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan had voted to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution on three previous occasions in 2003, 2016 and 2018.

Mr Murphy said the question of neutrality was “very clearly” in the Green Party’s election manifesto and asked what the party do now.

“Are they going to stick to their actual principles or supposed principles, or are they going to stick to what was decided by their membership in terms of what is in their election manifesto,” he said.

"Are they going to stick to the promises that were made to the electorate or will they, like on so many other issues, fold under the pressure of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and fold to the drums of militarisation, the complete abandonment of neutrality."

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

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