Ireland would not need referendum to join Nato, says Taoiseach

Martin says ‘we need to reflect on military non-alignment in Ireland and our military neutrality’

Ireland would not need to hold a referendum to join Nato as it is a policy decision of the government, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Asked to comment on remarks by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last week about a possible referendum on defence policy, the Taoiseach said a Citizens’ Assembly might be best placed to take a “informed, evidence-based approach” to assess the issue.

“We need to reflect on military non-alignment in Ireland and our military neutrality. We are not politically neutral,” Mr Martin said.

“We don’t need a referendum to join Nato. That’s a policy decision of government,” he continued.

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“We would need a referendum to join a European Union defence pact, if one was formally developed and declared, because there are provisions in our constitution that would demand such a referendum.”

Ireland is already part of EU defence coordination efforts, including initiatives to “develop stronger interoperability between our defence forces” through peacekeeping missions, he said.

“We are part of European security and defence process and... discussions for quite some time, for many many years now,” he said, saying that Ireland’s position had “not in any way injured or stymied the broader European Union response” to Ukraine.

“I do think we need a reflection on it, but it needs to be informed and without division,” he said. “For the moment I’m focused on maintaining the unity of purpose that is very evident in Ireland in relation to our overall approach to Ukraine.”

Mr Martin was in Strasbourg to address the European Parliament, marking the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s decision to join the European Economic Community, and gave a speech expressing solidarity with Ukraine and support for its EU membership ambitions.

Speaking in response to the Taoiseach’s speech, Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald said that all EU member states have a role to play in common defence.

“The brutal Russian aggression and invasion of Ukraine illustrates the scale of the threat to multilateralism, to human decency, and the international rule of law,” she said.

“All member states have a role to play in the future of defense and security policy. We must support one another.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times