Varadkar attends ‘Davos for Defence’ for first time to discuss neutrality and push for Gaza ceasefire

First time an Irish head of Government has attended prestigious event in 60-year history

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is attending the Munich Security Conference this weekend, the first time an Irish head of Government has attended the prestigious event in its 60-year history.

Mr Varadkar is attending along with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheál Martin. The conference, unofficially unknown as the “Davos for Defence”, will be attended by dozens of world leaders, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

The three-day event in Munich, which marks its 60th year, is expected to be dominated by discussions on the ongoing violence in Gaza, former US President Donald Trump’s threat to gut Nato if re-elected and faltering western support for Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia.

Mr Varadkar’s main public engagement will be a round table discussion on Saturday morning on neutrality with representatives from Malta, Austria and the International Red Cross. The discussion will be chaired by Prof Louise Richardson who headed up the Government’s Consultative Forum on International Security Policy in Dublin last year.


Later in the day, Mr Martin will take part in a discussion on reform of the UN Security Council alongside leaders from Peru, Kenya, Germany and Slovenia. He is expected to use the opportunity to vent Irish frustrations with the deadlock in the Security Council caused by the veto power enjoyed by its five permanent members.

The Security Council has not mandated a new UN peacekeeping mission in a decade, prompting Mr Martin last year to announce plans to scrap Ireland’s triple lock system which requires UN approval before Irish troops can be sent overseas.

Both leaders are expected to hold a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the event.

The attendance of a sitting Taoiseach at the event for the first time “shows just how seriously we view the current global situation”, Mr Varadkar said.

“With war in Ukraine and the Middle East and simmering tensions or outright conflict in many other regions, now is a crucial moment for international peace and security.”

He said it is very important Ireland takes part “to set out our views on how best to manage the many – and growing – security challenges that we all face.

“I’m particularly looking forward to taking part in a panel discussion on neutrality. I will explain the work of the recent Consultative Forum on Neutrality and our Commission on Defence and show how Ireland and our policy of active neutrality can be part of the response to challenges in cybersecurity, hybrid warfare, disinformation, the protection of communications infrastructure and outright conflict,” he said.

He also committed to push for the release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and an immediate ceasefire in the region.

“I also hope to raise the prospects for a permanent political solution based on two States side by side, living securely and in peace with each other.”

Both Israeli and Palestinian representatives have been invited to the conference. Western leaders are expected to use it as an opportunity to persuade Israel to call off its planned ground offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Russia and Iran were not invited, as they are not open to meaningful dialogue, the events chair German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times