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More people support a change in neutrality, but few agree on what it should be

Irish Times/Ipsos poll: Surprising numbers are comfortable with British air defence agreement, even among Sinn Féin voters

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos poll shows a growing desire for Ireland to examine its security and defence policies, even as a majority continue to express support for the concept of neutrality.

Polling also shows Irish people are increasingly concerned about maritime and air threats, areas which were once the preserve of defence wonks and military officers. Furthermore, they are surprisingly open to the idea of co-operating with other countries to counter these threats.

Nevertheless, the impact of the war in Ukraine, now in its 17th month, and an increasingly uncertain global security picture, has had only a modest impact on Irish attitudes. This is especially so when compared with the dramatic shift in public opinion in Sweden and Finland, both previously neutral countries which applied to join Nato last year.

The polling, which was carried out in the run-up to the Government’s consultative forum on international security policy which starts next week, shows there is at least some appetite for a debate on the matter.


Asked if they support Ireland’s “current model of military neutrality”, which the Government defines as remaining outside military alliances, 61 per cent said yes. That’s still a sizeable majority but five points lower than the result in April 2022.

Irish Times/Ipsos poll quesion on Irish neutrality. Graphic: Paul Scott

Twenty-six per cent of respondents said they would like to see a change in Irish policy (up two) while 13 per cent said they didn’t know (also up two).

Curiously, among those who would like to see a change in neutrality policy, there is no agreement on what that change should be. For example, just 56 per cent think we should join Nato.

This is 7 per cent lower than last year, perhaps indicating an increased fear of the alliance being pulled into the war in Ukraine.

Among those who favour a change in neutrality, support for closer European Union defence co-operation is much stronger at 71 per cent. But even this is lower than last year when it was 78 per cent.

So more people want a change but fewer are agreed on what that change should be. The upcoming forum might clarify some of this thinking but for now the only clear conclusion is the majority of people are happy with our version of neutrality, whatever they take it to mean.

But that does not mean people are opposed to co-operation with other militaries. The occasional visits of Russian military or government ships to Irish-controlled waters, particularly in the areas hosting subsea cables, appear to have focused Irish minds to an extent.

Asked if Ireland should seek help from other countries to protect subsea cables, 48 per cent responded yes, while 38 per cent said the job should be for the Irish Defence Forces alone. The result indicates the Government’s recent decision to join a Nato-led mission in this area isn’t as controversial at it may have feared.

Another surprising result is the amount of people who are comfortable with the Government’s secret deal with the Britain which allows the RAF to protect Irish skies in certain circumstances. Forty per cent said they had no problem with the arrangement and only 12 per cent said they were unhappy. Remarkably, only 17 per cent of Sinn Féin voters expressed unease with the deal.

Irish Times/Ipsos poll quesion on RAF arrangement. Graphic: Paul Scott

However, given that 33 per cent said they were unaware of the arrangement, caution should be exercised in interpreting the result.

Of course there is a big difference between co-operating with other countries to defend the country and relying on them entirely. It’s the view of most people that Ireland should be capable of carrying at least some of the load.

A majority, 55 per cent, want to see a significant increase in Ireland’s military capacity to defend our air and seas, a result no doubt influenced by repeated instances of Irish naval vessels being unable to go to sea due to lack of crew.