Neutrality and the Constitution

Sir, – I refer to Pat Leahy’s article (“Any decision on neutrality will come at a price”, Opinion, March 12th) where he states that war presents “binary choices”.

There is a third option; our Constitution states that we are devoted “to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination”.

Why then are we not taking a more proactive role in addressing the current situation in Ukraine?

We need to establish a centre in Ireland for the non-violent resolution of conflict. Being neutral does not mean staying silent. It is the only way to a peaceful resolution of the current crisis.


– Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Not surprisingly Noel Dorr provides an excellent summary of the issues relating to our "traditional policy" of neutrality mainly the historical evolution, the Hague Convention 1907 and our current constitutional prohibition on a common EU defence ("Do we know what we mean by Ireland's 'traditional neutrality'?" Opinion, March 15th).

Most notably of course this policy has no actual legal basis whatsoever.

Two further provisions may be relevant. A fellow EU member state, Austria, has a constitutional provision on neutrality dating from the aftermath of the second World War. Not surprisingly it prohibits membership of a military alliance and the hosting of military bases.

It also, consistent with the Hague Convention 1907, requires the country to defend itself, a point rarely considered in the Irish debate. In essence this frames the choice for small states as “be in an alliance or defend yourself” it is not responsible to do neither.

Secondly, another part of our Constitution should also be noted. Article 29.3 (3) commits us to accepting “the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States”.

This surely is much more than plámás in today’s world. In conflicts like Ukraine the principles of international law are clear, wars of aggression are illegal, occupation cannot be rewarded or tolerated, civilians must not be targeted, war crimes and crimes against humanity must be confronted and those responsible held accountable.

Indeed the idea of a universal obligation to protect people from the most serious crimes has been endorsed by the United Nations in the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

It would seem then that from the provisions of our own Constitution and the absence of any legal basis for neutrality, that upholding international law must be our prime guiding principle in international conflicts.

It is similarly difficult to imagine how most of our people could object to such a policy.

– Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – Alan Shatter is correct. (“West must call Putin’s bluff and impose no-fly zone over Ukraine”, Opinion, March 14th).

It is time we stopped surrendering to our own cowardice.

– Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.