Sinn Féin drops pledges to withdraw from EU and Nato defence arrangements

Party seeking to ‘refine’ policy ‘in a way that’s contemporary’ as neutrality position evolves

Sinn Féin has dropped its pledges to withdraw from the EU common defence arrangement known as Pesco and from Nato’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) project, the party has confirmed.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman Matt Carthy confirmed that a government led by Sinn Féin would not immediately withdraw from Pesco and the Partnership for Peace, as the party has previously promised on numerous occasions.

“While we will not withdraw Irish defence forces from pre-committed operations and exercises, we will approach future proposals in the context of the principles underpinned by Irish neutrality and the opportunities that neutrality provides both Ireland and the EU to play a positive and constructive role in building peace and ending conflicts,” he said in a statement.

“Ireland’s future participation in Pesco and Partnership for Peace must also be assessed based on those principles and should never undermine our capacity to continue playing an important role in UN Peace Keeping missions,” said Mr Carthy, who recently became Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman.


Questioned on the issue, a senior party source said that the party was seeking to “refine” its policy “in a way that’s contemporary”.

“It’s not about throwing long-held policies out the window — it’s about what’s achievable,” said the source.

Mr Carthy accused Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments of undermining Irish neutrality through Pesco and the PfP, but confirmed that automatic withdrawal was no longer on the cards in a Sinn Féin-led government.

Pesco, or Permanent Structured Co-Operation, enables military co-operation between EU member states. The Government decided last year to expand State participation in the programme Partnership for Peace which is a Nato arrangement enabling co-operation between countries in a wide variety of military and non-military areas. The Republic has been a member since 1999.

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Earlier in the week, in the wake of revelations of an agreement between the Irish and British governments under which the Royal Air Force polices Irish airspace against intrusions by Russian military aircraft, Mr Carthy said that Sinn Féin would want to know more about the arrangement before deciding whether to discontinue it.

The moves are likely to be seen as a move towards the centre in preparation for possible leadership of the next government, but could alarm the party’s left-wing supporters.

The party has repeatedly pledged to leave Pesco and the Partnership for Peace. In its 2020 general election manifesto, it said: “Sinn Féin opposed the creation of Pesco and, in government, we will ensure Ireland plays absolutely no part in Pesco.”

It continued: “We would remove Ireland from Nato’s Partnership for Peace … which is a stepping stone to full Nato membership.”

What about Shannon Airport?

An earlier policy document pledged to: “Oppose a European Army and end Ireland’s participation in the EU battlegroups and Nato’s Partnership for Peace.”

Sinn Féin has also promised to end the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. Asked if this policy still stood, Mr Carthy confirmed that “combat aircraft en route to conflict zones should not be refuelling at airports of a neutral state”. Sinn Féin in government, he said, “will work to end the practice”.

Mr Carthy said that Sinn Féin believes that “all discussions surrounding Ireland’s security must take place with the unequivocal starting point that we are a neutral and independent State with a proud tradition of participation in UN peacekeeping missions and in supporting conflict resolution across the globe”.

He said that Sinn Féin’s priority in government will be “to deliver adequate investment in our Defence Forces, both in terms of personnel and equipment, so that we can protect our neutrality, defend and monitor our skies and seas, and secure ourselves from modern threats including cyberattacks.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times