Neutrality in a time of instability

A chara, – Elizabeth Cullen cites Article 29 of the Constitution (Letters, May 19th). While it affirms that Ireland likes the idea of settling disputes peacefully, it in no way prevents us from recognising that in the real world, states will often use force to settle disputes or gain advantage. It certainly does not force us to remain neutral and isolated if joining an alliance is a better way to protect ourselves from external aggression (as many small and previously neutral European nations have done).

Ms Cullen seems to think that Ireland is bound to serve neutrality, when in reality it is the other way around. We should preserve neutrality only while it serves our interests, and must be ready to jettison it without hesitation the moment it ceases to do so – just like Finland and Sweden, who are joining Nato after about 80 and 210 years of neutrality, respectively.

I would also put it to Ms Cullen that we cannot even call ourselves fully neutral as it stands. Alone among neutral European nations, we are fully dependent on Nato to protect our sovereign territory, airspace, and waters when the Russians come prowling. We can pretend that we are neutral while we call in the RAF to see off Russian fighter jets, but we are only fooling ourselves.

Until Ireland stands fully on its own two feet militarily, like other neutral European nations, Irish neutrality is effectively non-existent, and the voices eagerly discussing what it can do for peace are simply building castles in the air. – Is mise,



Sir, – Derek Scally's article "What could Ireland do if faced with a threat of war?" (Opinion & Analysis, May 18th) highlights the many issues and contradictions regarding Ireland and defence.

A discussion is needed to establish how we will proceed regarding our defence requirements. Currently we are defenceless, after decades of Government indifference and neglect regarding defence. The first fix should be the funding and implementation of the Commission on Defence report and the rebuilding of capability for the Defence Forces. This will take time to achieve, as procurement of new equipment will have lead-in times of possibly years. Pay, allowances, pensions and conditions of service also need to be addressed to retain skilled military personnel. The argument that increased military expenditure is putting us on the road to joining Nato or a European army is simply wrong. What needs to be addressed is our chronic underspend and lack of interest in our defence and security requirements. We should have the basic ability to police our skies, our territorial waters and provide for a basic level of defence for the State. One hundred years after independence, I don’t think that is much to ask for. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am delighted to read Derek Scally’s injection of realism into the debate about the future of Ireland and its defence spend. But there are two things which he does not mention, so I will point them out.

It is not about Ireland defending itself from an isolated threat to one island. It is about Ireland making a contribution to the joint defence of the West. Ireland is a gaping hole in the Atlantic. Norway has six submarines. Ireland is taking a free ride.

But another thing: on the issue of a united Ireland, the casting vote in any border poll lies with those in the centre ground of politics who do not wish to be identified with either of the tribes, now known up here in the North as “the neithers”. Rather like rejoining the Commonwealth, joining Nato wouldn’t half help. – Yours, etc,



Co Down.

Sir, – Simon Coveney has declared that Ireland will not be joining Nato "any time soon" (News,, May 17th).

From this, we can infer that he considers Ireland’s neutrality to be merely provisional. Mr Coveney is entitled to dream of Ireland eventually joining Nato, but as Minister for Defence he should refrain from cavalier pronouncements that undermine Ireland’s long-standing and well-regarded neutrality policy. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.