Opposition condemns Government’s plans for public neutrality debates

Forums on foreign and defence policy to take place in June

Opposition TDs have condemned the forthcoming series of public consultations on defence policy and neutrality as an attempt to “soften up” the public for an abandonment of Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality.

Last month Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin announced the establishment of a series of public forums to discuss foreign and security policy, and the future of neutrality. Today, answering questions in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the forums would “seek to generate an open and evidence-based discussion on the State’s foreign and security policy”.

“It seems to me that we have to move away from the traditional and binary debate on neutrality that tends to characterise discussions on our security and defence policy,” he said.

But opposition TDs condemned the move, seeing it as a means of moving away from traditional neutrality.


“The Government is involved in a systematic campaign of trying to condition public opinion to move Ireland away from neutrality,” said People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett.

“It is exploiting every dire crisis around the world to further make the case for reviewing neutrality and, ultimately, moving away from it into a closer alliance with Nato and the EU militarisation project.”

His party colleague Paul Murphy said that the forums were set up “with a predetermined outcome to undermine neutrality further”.

Referring to the decision not to set up a Citizens’ Assembly as previously suggested by Mr Martin, Mr Murphy said:

“If that was not already clear from the fact that the Government has Bertholt Brecht-style dissolved the random selection of citizens and replaced them with a so-called expert group, it should be absolutely crystal clear when we look at who the Government has appointed as the chairperson – Dame Louise Richardson, dame of the British Empire – someone who in writing repeatedly identifies with the aims and targets of US militarism.”

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy said that the “consultative forum on international security policy appears to be the exact opposite to consultation”.

He said that in a response to a parliamentary question, Mr Martin “does not reference the word ‘neutrality’ at all, yet it does mention that the forum will examine our current and future engagement with Nato.

“Does the Taoiseach understand why so many Irish people who value our very proud tradition of military neutrality and non-alignment are concerned about the approach that is being taken?” Mr Carthy said.

But Mr Vardkar replied that “to be very clear, the Government has no proposals to apply for Nato membership or join any military alliance or mutual defence pact ... We are, however, a Nato partner for peace, we are involved in the European Union’s battle groups, and we are part of the European permanent structured co-operation, Pesco, arrangement.”

He said that the events in Sudan “demonstrate why it is particularly important for a small country like Ireland to have security partners, because we did rely on EU mechanisms to assist us to evacuate our citizens.

“No small country, or even no big or medium-sized country, can do these things on their own. The fact that we had the assistance of France and Spain made a big difference. It is one of the many reasons why security co-operation is in the interests of our citizens.”

The forums are expected to take place in June, and will be open to the public.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times