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Eamonn Farrell

Taoiseach floats idea of a Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland’s military neutrality

TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he was concerned about recent calls for greater cooperation with NATO.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has floated the idea of a holding a Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland’s military neutrality.

“I think we could look at a Citizens Assembly” to deal with these issues, the Taoiseach said during Leaders’ Questions today.

It would allow for detailed, prepared submissions and perspectives from a wide range of opinion to be articulated on the matter, he said. 

He suggested that right now, in the middle of a terrible war, is not the time for such a debate on neutrality.

Martin said we should be concentrating our resources on helping the people of Ukraine, that it “should be our immediate priority” and we should not be diverted to a debate around military neutrality. 


He was responding to People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett who told the Taoiseach that it was “extremely worrying” that there has been a “clamour of media commentators” as well as leading government ministers who he claimed are “trying to exploit this Ukrainian tragedy and crisis”.

Boyd Barrett said some were calling for Ireland to move away from its traditional position of military neutrality and move closer to NATO and to the project of European militarisation. 

Boyd Barrett condemned Putin’s “absolutely bloody inexcusable and murderous invasion of Ukraine”, but said he was concerned that some were calling for Ireland to consider greater cooperation with NATO and increased arms expenditure.

“I find it absolutely extraordinary that in the face of the dire consequences of warmongering and militarism, on the part of Putin, that there is a thought that somehow more militarism, more arms expenditure and alliances, aligning more closely with a military alliance that has also conducted and supported murderous wars elsewhere in the world, is somehow a legitimate response,” said Boyd Barrett.

If Ireland is opposed to Putin’s unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, then Ireland should not respond to that by joining with powers that, for example, support the Saudi dictatorship conducting an equally murderous war in Yemen, or continues to ignore the plight of the Palestinian people, argued Boyd Barrett. 

The Taoiseach said leading NATO countries that Boyd Barrett criticises and accuses of being militarist in their orientation, “did everything they could to say to President Putin ‘you don’t need to go to war’”.

Martin said any security concerns Russia had about its security could have been dealt with through a forum for discussion. 

In terms of the clamour from some to open up a debate on the issue of neutrality, the Taoiseach said “that’s called democracy”.

While he said some might not like the views expressed, it represents diversity of opinion and viewpoints. He said the crisis in Ukraine does give cause for reflection on the overall security architecture within Europe and within the wider world.

‘Never politically neutral’

“Ireland has a tradition of military non-alignment or military neutrality, we’ve ever been politically neutral,” he said.

“We’ve evolved into our membership of the European Union, we’ve developed the 1999 the Partnership for Peace with NATO, in order to sustain interoperability if we were on peace missions, or peace enforcement missions with NATO countries. We’ve been part of Pesco, we’ve been part of battle groups,” he said. 

In 2017, numerous TDs criticised the Government for trying to “ram” through a vote on Ireland joining the permanent structured cooperation arrangement (Pesco).

Some argued Pesco was the first step towards an EU army, with its proposals including inclusion in the European medical command, a network of logistic hubs across Europe and a creation of a European crisis response centre, as well as the joint training of military officers.

The Taoiseach at the time, Leo Varadkar, maintained that signing up to the deal would not challenge Ireland’s neutrality and would not mean Ireland joining a European army.

Ireland has also participated in European battlegroups, such as the German-led EU Battlegroup in 2020.

EU Battlegroups are multinational, military units which are part of the European Union’s military rapid reaction capacity. The group, made up of about 1,5000 personnel, are dispatched to emerging crises and conflicts around the world, if needed but it is a rarity for them to be called up.   

Ireland has previously participated in the Nordic Battlegroups in 2008, 2011 and 2015 and the UK-led EU Battlegroup in 2016. Ireland took part in a German-led group in 2012 and 2016. 

Boyd Barrett said if Ireland is going to “oppose the madness that we are seeing unfolding in Ukraine, we have to be consistent in opposing all militaries. All imperialism, not selective”. 

The Taoiseach said people are pointing out that the “world is changing”. “President Putin has fundamentally changed multilateral rules based order by the nature of his unprovoked attack on Ukraine. It would be foolish to ignore that reality,” he concluded. 

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