Subscriber OnlyOpinion

Stephen Collins: Russian hostility should spark analysis of Ireland’s security needs

Stephen Collins: The sheer hypocrisy of Nato’s Irish critics is stunning

Why is it that some of the most vocal defenders of Irish neutrality take delight in blaming Nato and western democracies for international conflict and can always be depended on to make excuses for the behaviour of tyrants? This tendency has been exposed in all its absurdity by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The most blatant exponent of this attitude is Munster MEP Mick Wallace. Earlier this week he called on the people of Europe to campaign for the abolition of Nato, inverting reality to claim that the organisation preferred war to peace. Naturally, he made no reference to deployment of the massive Russian war machine in the invasion of a sovereign neighbouring democratic state.

We have been able to enjoy military neutrality, a luxury that is not available to countries bordering Russia

Wallace is far from being alone in this country in making excuses for dictators by focusing on the flaws and failures that are an inevitable part of democratic societies. But the outrageousness of his stance should prompt a full debate on where Ireland stands in this terrifying new world of Russian aggression.

The response of Nato leaders, from US president Joe Biden to German chancellor Olaf Scholz, to the Russian build-up gave the lie to the claims of Wallace and his ilk about who wants war. The western powers made it clear in advance that they would not respond to Russian aggression by military force but would rely on sanctions and diplomacy no matter what happened. French president Emmanuel Macron took a huge political gamble by going to Moscow to try and persuade Russian president Vladimir Putin to follow a diplomatic route and received a very public humiliation for his efforts.


The arguments in favour of Irish neutrality in its current form are undermined by those who clearly care nothing for the rights of the people of eastern and central Europe to their sovereignty and freedom. Those countries lived under the Soviet yoke for almost half a century and the first thing they did after the collapse of communism was to plead for Nato membership to ensure their new-found freedom would last.

They subsequently applied for, and were accepted, as members of the EU but their first priority was to try and protect their security by gaining admission to Nato. If they had not done so it is doubtful if they would be free, democratic states today enjoying the full privileges of EU membership.

The blatant disregard for human life and contempt for international law revealed by the declaration of war shows just what Putin is capable of

The sheer hypocrisy of Nato’s Irish critics is stunning. This State’s independence has been guaranteed by our geographical position on the western edge of Europe, wedged between two of the biggest Nato powers, the US and the UK. We have been able to enjoy military neutrality, a luxury that is not available to countries bordering Russia, safe in the knowledge that we are shielded by Nato from any potential aggression.

Thankfully, Taoiseach Micheál Martin made it clear that Irish neutrality does not involve having no opinion on the Russian invasion, or, even worse, blaming the victims for their predicament. Condemning Russia’s “indefensible attack on the sovereign people of Ukraine”, he pledged to work with EU partners at the United Nations to hold President Putin and his regime accountable. “Russia will pay a high price for this outrageous act of aggression. We stand with Ukraine,” he said.

It is worth recalling that Ireland’s EU partners to the east had no hesitation in supporting this country when it felt threatened by the UK’s attitude to Brexit. Despite their Nato ties to Britain they supported a fellow EU member state. Obviously, Ukraine is not in the EU but the fear across eastern and central Europe of what might happen next if Russia is allowed to get its way without serious punitive sanction is something about which we need to be extremely conscious.

Russia may have understandable security concerns about Ukraine joining Nato, but Putin’s behaviour explains just why Kyiv has been so anxious to gain admission. The blatant disregard for human life and contempt for international law revealed by the declaration of war shows just what Putin is capable of.

The Russian-sourced cyberattack on the HSE showed how vulnerable we are

At this stage all that European democracies can do is to stick together to try and limit Putin’s territorial ambitions. The hope must be that the enormous economic damage that Russia will inevitably suffer from a unified western response may prompt Putin’s people to question their leader’s appalling behaviour.

In this country it should prompt a full discussion of how our security needs are to be protected in this changed world. The Russian-sourced cyberattack on the Health Service Executive, which damaged the health system and cost the exchequer hundreds of millions of euro, showed how vulnerable we are. So did the Russian naval exercises off the southwest coast of Ireland and frequent incursions into Irish air space.

The allocation of significant extra resources to the Defence Forces is one obvious response. It is also time to revisit the cumbersome and restrictive “triple lock” that gives the UN Security Council, of which Russia and China are permanent members, a veto on Irish involvement in overseas military operations. The sovereignty of the Oireachtas should not be compromised by this nonsensical rule.