Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has said that he welcomes public discussion around Irish neutrality but that it should take place in the context of a referendum, which would offer a platform for a real debate.
The Wicklow TD was responding to the announcement by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that public discussions on the future of Irish neutrality are to be unveiled later this year by Tánaiste Micheál Martin.
Teachta Brady said:
“I welcome the opportunity to participate in any public discourse on the issue of Irish neutrality, and on Irish security and defence.
“A referendum on Irish neutrality would provide the correct forum for this to take place.
“I would like to hear from the Tánaiste why he has abandoned his original preference for a citizens’ assembly, what is the alternative format he has yet to reveal, and who are the experts he will roll out before us.
“I can understand how the Tánaiste would have concerns about holding a referendum at this stage, as I believe he would prefer to create an opportunity to shift public opinion by stacking the debate in favour of abandoning neutrality.
“Fianna Fáil grassroots supporters, along with the vast majority of the Irish people, are committed to a policy of Irish neutrality. He may feel that he needs to prepare the ground before he commits openly to ending Irish neutrality, for fear of risking their ire.
“The reality is the majority of Irish people have consistently exercised strong support in opinion polls in favour of neutrality, including 66% of Fianna Fáil voters, and 61% of Fine Gael supporters.
“The government has continually attempted to influence public opinion on this, and has hijacked the emotional response to the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in an attempt to trammel future discussions on neutrality within the confines of a sense of inevitability around a necessity for Ireland abandoning its neutral, non-aligned status and moving towards significant immersion in an EU military alliance to begin with, with possible NATO membership to follow.
“The government is continually attempting to undermine the Triple lock. The Triple Lock is not a threat to Ireland’s UN role, but this government is.
“The decision to withdraw Irish troops from the UNDOF Mission to the Golan Heights in Syria to allow participation in an EU Battlegroup undermines Ireland’s sterling role and record as a peacekeeping force. The government has been continually blurring the lines around neutrality through participation in PESCO and EU battlegroups.
“The Triple lock was first introduced as a concession to the will of the Irish people, by Fianna Fáil in government, in order to persuade the Irish people to overturn the result of the first Nice Treaty, which was rejected out of hand for fear of its impact on Irish neutrality.
“I believe this government wishes to end Irish neutrality, that it wishes to sign up Ireland to a military alliance, be that within the EU to begin with, or full membership of NATO if it feels that it can get away with it.
“It is telling that the Taoiseach’s comments come against a backdrop of a meeting of EU leaders, where the Taoiseach’s aides were once again forced to clarify his remarks following Leo Varadkar’s announcement that Vladmir Putin will only be stopped ‘when we stop him’.
“In late 2019 and early 2020 the last government commenced a process of public consultation around Ireland’s future security and defence. It was subsequently parked with no progress to date, even though as the government would agree we are entering into a new era of geo-political consideration and threat following the invasion of Ukraine.
“The fact is the government has run down our defence forces to a dangerous level. To a level that it will soon be unable to fulfil its core function of guaranteeing the security and sovereignty of the state. This is the most serious security threat that the state currently faces.
“Ireland needs to also develop and maintain a strategy of active neutrality, which will allow Ireland to become an active advocate for peace, nuclear non-proliferation, and the rights of small nations, particularly those affected by climate change.
“In an increasingly polarised world, the role of neutral non-aligned nations will be pivotal in ameliorating the impacts of escalating tensions between major military alliances in the years ahead.
“If the government is serious about listening to the voice of the Irish people, it will be left with no other option to support the Sinn Féin commitment to hold a referendum in order to have neutrality enshrined in the constitution.”