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TD Richard Boyd Barrett says Government and the wider European political establishment are seeking to exploit the crisis in Ukraine to justify moving towards greater EU militarisation. Leah Farrell

Government parties vote against bill calling for a referendum on Ireland's neutrality

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland’s neutrality has never stopped us participating in world events.

LAST UPDATE | 30 Mar 2022

THE GOVERNMENT PARTIES have voted against a private members bill calling for a referendum on Ireland’s neutrality to be held.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said his party are seeking a referendum on the insertion of neutrality into the Constitution.

There were 67 votes for the proposal and 53 against, with no abstentions.

“Many people believe that Ireland’s neutrality is protected in the Constitution because there is a long understanding and overwhelming support for the idea that Ireland should be neutral but, in fact, that neutrality is not protected in the Constitution, and we believe it is seriously under attack,” he told the Dáil earlier today, ahead of the vote.

He said the Government and the wider European political establishment are seeking to exploit the crisis in Ukraine to justify moving towards greater EU militarisation, the establishment of a European army, and closer alignment with NATO.

‘A betrayal’

“Ireland’s neutrality and the struggle for an independent Irish republic are one and the same, they always have been. To move away from Ireland’s neutrality is not just some sort of interesting tactical or strategic choice. It is in fact a betrayal of the essential struggle to establish an independent republic,” he said.

“Neutrality does not mean indifference. Neutrality means standing against warmongers and empires and standing with the oppressed. If we throw that away, we will throw away what is the identity that was the struggle for the Irish Republic, and we will do so at our peril. We should not do that and I hope the House will support the Bill,” he told the Dáil.

TD Paul Murphy hit out at Fine Gael’s position on neutrality over the years, telling the Dáíl that in 2003, Fine Gael proposed a policy document called “Beyond Neutrality”.

Murphy claims this was a move towards participation in a common EU defence policy and abandoning the so-called triple-lock mechanism.

“Let us not kid ourselves that this latest push to fully undermine and get rid of this political straitjacket and to undermine neutrality is a mere pragmatic response to the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Murphy said that NATO is being rebranded “as some sort of peace force as if it was simply the neutral teacher on the playground stopping the bullies”.

“Tell that to the ordinary people of Afghanistan whose country was invaded and occupied by NATO for years. Who gave NATO or the US the right to consider themselves the world police?” he asked. 

The Green Party position

Murphy also questioned the Green Party on its stance, stating that the party leader, Eamon Ryan, has voted to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution on three previous occasions in 2003, 2016 and 2018.

“The question of neutrality is very clearly in the Green Party manifesto,” he pointed out.

Stop the War in Ukraine 008 Pictured are protestors, including Sinn Fein's defence spokesperson John Brady, at a demonstration organised by People Before Profit-Solidarity outside Leinster House this evening, calling for Ireland to remain neutral in the Russian Ukraine conflict. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told the Dáil that Ireland’s neutrality “has never stopped us participating in world events nor, self-evidently, from being affected by them”.

“It does not mean that we are inactive in situations where we see flagrant breaches of the UN charter and clear violations of international law, including international humanitarian law,” said the minister. 

The Bill would likely to curtail Ireland’s efforts to contribute to international peace and security, rather than in any way enhance it, said Coveney.

He said the Bill also purports to provide constitutional guarantees that the State shall not allow its territory to be used by other states to transport war material or personnel to third countries for the purpose of war or other armed conflict.

“Everyone in this House already knows that foreign state and military aircraft that are permitted to land at Irish airports, including Shannon Airport, must comply with strict conditions. These include routine stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, and must not engage in intelligence gathering,” said Coveney.

‘Pull the other one’

“Yeah, right,” replied People Before Profit’s Mick Barry, before telling the minister to “pull the other one”.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said Ireland should remain neutral and not be aligned to any military pact. However, he said Ireland is enthusiastic to use its vast experience in peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian efforts and in soft international power. 

He said Ireland is in a unique position where it is seen internationally as “honest brokers” that are not involved in armed oppression but “there to bring peace, diplomacy and relief to those who are oppressed”.

The Government has stated that it is opposing the Bill, calling it “unnecessary”. 

“Ireland’s policy of military neutrality – as practised by successive Governments – means that we do not participate in military or common or mutual defence arrangements.

“There is no need to insert a Constitutional provision, which could constrain the Government’s scope to respond flexibly and effectively in urgent circumstances.

“Any discussion of Ireland’s approach to security and defence should take place in an open and evidence-based way, and at an appropriate time,” said a Government spokesperson.

“Inserting provisions into the Constitution would close that conversation off.

“The provisions seem designed to also preclude contributing to even medical supplies, food rations or protective equipment via the European Peace Facility, to partners such as the African Union or Ukraine. 

“We may well need to have a fresh conversation about our approach to security and defence. This Bill obstructs rather than facilitates such a conversation, which should be open and evidence-based way, and at an appropriate time,” it said. 

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