The meaning of Irish neutrality


Madam, - Recent developments have again raised the intractable issue of Irish neutrality. The problem is that there are two definitions of neutrality, the internationally accepted definition and Ireland's unique and traditional interpretation.

The internationally accepted definition of neutrality is non-participation in a war between other states, maintenance of an impartial attitude towards the belligerents, and in peacetime not doing anything that would make neutrality impossible during wartime.

Ireland's unique and traditional interpretation is non-participation in a military alliance. In none of the government publications on the matter have I seen a commitment to non-participation in a war, or to maintaining an impartial attitude towards the belligerents, or to respecting and obeying any of the international conventions and treaties on neutrality. All that is promised is a commitment to non-participation in a military alliance.

Ireland's neutrality is not enshrined in the Constitution, in law, or in any international treaty. It is a one-line policy statement with no detail and no legal authority.

So is Ireland neutral? The answer, thankfully, is no. Even the Government does not refer to Ireland as being neutral; instead it says that we are militarily neutral. The reason for this is because "neutrality" has international legal ramifications whereas "military neutrality" is a made-up phrase that can mean anything.

In reality Ireland is non-aligned. However, the phrase "military neutrality" is used to soothe the fears of those who have a sentimental attachment to the word "neutrality".

Since there are two definitions of neutrality in use it makes it difficult to have any sort of rational, intelligent, informed debate on the subject, especially as there are people who purport to be in favour of neutrality but who do not know or understand what neutrality is. These proponents confuse neutrality with being anti-military, anti-nuclear, anti-conscription, anti-armaments industry, anti-European, anti-American and so on.

Perhaps some day, some brave new leadership in Ireland will remove all the confusion either by explaining Irish neutrality in clear, unambiguous language or, preferably, by throwing neutrality into the dustbin of history. - Yours, etc.,