Taoiseach: ‘Neutrality is a policy issue that can change at any time’

Irish role in any European common defence initiative would require referendum – Martin

Ireland’s participation in any European common defence initiative would require a referendum but neutrality is a “policy issue that can change at any time”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

He said Ireland is part of the European Union and supports its ideals which are under pressure from regimes like Russia and "it would be naive in the extreme not to reflect on that".

His remarks come after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar urged that new consideration be given to Irish security policy in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine saying: "I think we'll need to think about deeper involvement in European Defence."

Asked if he agreed Mr Martin said Irish foreign policy has evolved in relation to security and defence issues within Europe.

He said Ireland is part of the EU’s Pesco (Permanent Structured Cooperation) initiative and wants to be part of the Europe-wide response to cyber attacks.

He also noted how Irish troops went on a European peace enforcement mission in Chad and how Ireland has been involved in Nato's Partnership for Peace.

Mr Martin said the constitution is very clear that formal participation in European common defence would require a referendum.

But he said: "Neutrality is a policy issue that can change at any time, subject to the Oireachtas or the government of the day."

‘Naked aggression’

Mr Martin said that for now the focus is on helping the people of Ukraine and that nothing in Ireland’s neutrality policy has hindered the provision of €500 million in support to them from the EU.

Part of this is being used to fund weapons but Ireland’s contribution will help cover the costs of non-lethal equipment.

Mr Martin said the war in Ukraine and Russia’s behaviour “illustrates is the degree to which Europe is vulnerable.

“We’re politically part of the European Union. We support the ideas of self-determination, sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom of association, free media, free trade, basic rights. It’s under attack now.

“And it’s under pressure from authoritarian regimes like Russia, and it would be naive in the extreme not to reflect on that.”

He said: “post-this war we do need to reflect on all of that, and how do we preserve what’s best about democracies, about the European Union, where we along with other like-minded states share common values.”

He said: “I think this naked aggression has really exposed the vulnerability at the heart of the European Union and its project because people are not playing by the same rules at all.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

READ MORE