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Adriaan Palm

Dutch Ambassador: There has been a shift in how Ireland is discussing neutrality

Recently The Journal met with Dutch Ambassador Adriaan Palm and his country’s military attaché Lieutenant Colonel Richard Piso, to discuss Ireland and the Netherlands’ connections.

THE DUTCH AMBASSADOR to Ireland believes there has been a marked change in how Ireland is debating the issue of neutrality.

Recently The Journal met with Ambassador Adriaan Palm and his country’s military attaché Lieutenant Colonel Richard Piso to discuss Ireland and the Netherlands’ military connections. 

In a wide-ranging interview, the Dutch diplomats spoke about the changing security environment, their views on Irish neutrality and how Brexit has opened greater relationships between European partners who previously looked to the UK for alliances.

There was also discussion about the Netherlands’ hopes that Ireland would purchase its military hardware, including advanced primary radar system, as part of the investment in the Irish Defence Forces and national security. 

Experienced diplomats

The Dutch embassy is located in leafy Dublin 4 on the Merrion Road – in an art deco building a short distance from St Vincent’s Hospital. 

Palm is the current ambassador, taking up his post in 2019. He is one of the Netherlands’ most experienced diplomats, having served in Ukraine and Moscow. He has also worked on European affairs and Dutch diplomatic relations with Asia. He speaks six languages, including Russian.

Piso is the point of contact for all defence liaisons between Ireland and the Netherlands and is based in London. He has served in the Dutch military as an artillery officer. 

While the European security environment and the Russian invasion of Ukraine were front and centre for much of the discussion, we began with Brexit and how the unintended consequence of the move now means that the Dutch are looking more to Ireland in terms of trade and the broader European project. 

“What happened is that when Brexit took place we in the Netherlands, but I think also the people in Ireland, started to look beyond the UK. Because for a lot of things within the EU, the Netherlands and the UK were on the same wavelength – [such as] an open economy, strong relations with the US,” he said.

After the UK left [the European Union], everybody was looking a little bit more around each other, and looking at ‘what alliances do we need’, and ‘where we need them’. 

“I think all countries in the EU started to look much more at each other and [to] work together – more than before, and see that we are all on the same wavelength,” he said.  

Rather than Brexit being a fractious outcome for Europe, Palm believes it has led t0 a more united grouping.

“We realised that we need an EU that is strong to represent us in the world. So from that perspective, the Netherlands did not only look east towards Germany, but [also] west to Ireland,” he added. 

War in the East

As war has been a confronting possibility on the Eastern borders of Europe, Palm said the western countries of Ireland and Netherlands are not immune from the impact of Russian aggression.

He believes that while Brexit established an economic and social alliance between European countries, the combination with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also driven countries to look to military alliances. 

Palm and Piso repeatedly spoke of the importance of closer security bonds, such as alliances with other nations and working together with those countries and agencies, throughout the interview.

adriaan.palm2018 Dutch Ambassador Adriaan Palm. Dutch Embassy Ireland Dutch Embassy Ireland

The Dutch, like other nations, are increasing defence spending to meet the new environment, Palm said. The complexity of Irish neutrality was not lost on the diplomats, and Palm believes there is a need for a definition of what neutrality means to Ireland.  

He said that “the issue of neutrality is something that lies at the heart of people” and that there is not a desire in Europe to change Ireland’s “identity”. But he said the Netherlands has accepted it needs to fund defense adequately.  

“If they look at it this way, that’s fine. We, Netherlands, are building up our defense for defensive purposes, not to go to war,” he added. 

From an Irish perspective, that looks set to be on the agenda of Government this year – with a citizens assembly mooted on defence and new legislation to deal with issues such as deploying of Irish troops abroad.  


Palm said that Ireland’s signing up to the Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) element of the EU’s Global Strategy was a major step forward in European co-operation.

Ireland has been involved in one Greek-led maritime surveillance PESCO mission, and was an observer on a further nine missions. The Dáil recently voted in favour of the Defence Forces’ full involvement in four projects relating to cyber threats, disaster relief capability, Special Operations Forces medical training and systems for mine countermeasures.

However, PESCO involvement has been strongly criticised by Sinn Féin in Dáil committees and raised questions over a more intense relationship with European armed forces. 

Much of the debate in the Dáil centres around Article 42(7) of the Treaty of the European Union, which exempts Ireland from potential participation in an EU army.  

This was brought in by the European Union following the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum by the Irish people. It was seen as an undertaking key to the Irish population accepting the treaty in the second vote in the early 2000s. 

Palm believes that one key consideration for the Irish Government when it comes to joining with other European Union countries in closer military ties is the financial side of things – if you go it alone, it will be expensive.

“Well, [going it alone is] an option, but something tells me it’s an expensive option; but that’s the choice that you have ultimately – partnership is cheaper.”

There are always budgetary restraints that you have as a country so that’s one of the things I think why PESCO projects are attractive – there are concrete solutions for certain problems that a number of member states in any case have. 

Piso, the Military Attaché, said that there are jurisdictions which are also neutral, such as Switzerland, that have close co-operation with other nations, citing their sharing of radar information for air defence. 

“This is one of the hot potatoes in Ireland. They don’t want to have foreign soldiers here, to be stationed or to be trained here. We’ve seen the history and that may be very understandable,” Piso said of Pesco.  

Palm shares that view, and said he has studied the history around Ireland’s neutrality policy, but suggested that the historic reasons for neutrality are now in a different threat environment.

He said that he believes that the origins of modern Irish neutrality date to World War Two, and the fact the decision was made just 20 years after the War of Independence. 

“We have to respect that,” he said. 

Palm said that there is a lot of respect for Ireland’s leading non-proliferation work and UN peacekeeping missions, but stressed that the environment has changed. 

Key message

Piso believes that the strategic action plan from the Irish Defence Forces and Department of Defence was a key message as to Ireland’s intention to grow and modernise its Defence Forces.  

Palm said that he has noticed, since arriving in Ireland, that there is now a very involved and detailed discussion on defence topics which didn’t exist when he first came here. 

He particularly noted the discussions around removing the Triple Lock mechanism. This is the procedure of dispatching Irish troops abroad, which requires a UN mandate, Government agreement and Dáil vote to dispatch troops.

Palm explained that he has seen a shift by all political parties, some of which have moved away from an absolutist approach to neutrality.

Recently three Dutch warships arrived into Cork Harbour on an apparent courtesy visit. The visit included the Karel Doorman, a multi-role vessel similar to one recently proposed for the Irish Naval Service. It was built by a Dutch ship-building firm.

Two other Dutch warships, the HNLMS Groningen and HNLMS Zeven Provincien also visited.

Palm said the visit was for rest and recuperation of crew rather than for any other reason, but an Irish delegation from the Air Corps, Naval Service and Department of Defence visited the Karel Doorman in Cobh.

IMG_2934 (2) The Karel Doorman in Cobh. Niall O'Connor / The Journal. Niall O'Connor / The Journal. / The Journal.

When it came to the sale of military equipment by Dutch companies, Palm said it was not a concerted campaign by the Dutch embassy in Dublin, but that he would entertain approaches from interested Irish State agencies.

The ambassador said that he and his team were very conscious of the importance of the Irish tendering process, but that he would be willing to set up links with Dutch companies.

One key consideration for Irish military planners is the purchase of primary radar. Piso said that the Dutch had the best radar in the world, which gave “multi-mission” coverage for air, sea and ground operations. 

Piso said that the Dutch industry “would not hesitate” to provide such a service if approached by Ireland. 

Cable security

Both Palm and Piso spoke at length in regard to the security of pipelines and undersea cables, but said that no approach has been made by Ireland to get help in protecting the infrastructure. 

Concerns have been expressed across Europe about the safety of such pipelines following the sabotage of gas pipelines near Denmark. Meanwhile, there have also been concerns about the safety of Irish undersea cables.

Piso said that such an approach from Ireland to other countries for assistance to secure the pipelines would be made through EU mechanisms; that has not happened and he has not seen it in any EU reports. Palm said that the key consideration in this issue is a threat assessment and whether the infrastructure is in danger or not.

He said individual threat assessments, both from NATO and from EU perspectives, give differing views on the risk to the cables. 

The ambassador believes that Ireland is “militarily safe” geographically because of its positioning between the US and the UK.  

But Piso warns of a “four-dimensional battlespace” in which cyber and other threats combine to threaten countries – he repeatedly stressed as a result the importance of a holistic perspective on defence, as seen in the HSE cyber attack. 

Palm believes that the key to understanding how Ireland responds to the changing defence environment is through understanding the risk. Piso explained how the threat is measured: “Risk is measured in the possibility of it happening but also in the impact of if it were to happen.”

“Military and security planners will examine it on that basis, and while the probability of it happening could be low the damage it can cause is also measured. And if the impact would be high then it is classed as a high risk,” he said. 

The Dutch team at the embassy in Dublin are slow to talk about specific military relationships between their country and Ireland. 

However, clearly there is a desire for greater links, and in the light of Brexit and the war in Ukraine, Ireland has established a new like-minded partner in Europe. 

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