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Michael D Higgins

Tánaiste defends forum as President claims Ireland is 'playing with fire' in neutrality 'drift'

In an interview with a Sunday newspaper Higgins spoke about his views on the impending Consultative Forum on international security policy.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has responded to claims by President Michael D Higgins that “Ireland is playing with fire” in a “drift” away from neutrality.

In an interview with the Business Post Higgins spoke about his views on the impending Consultative Forum on international security policy. 

In a strongly worded rebuke of the Government’s move ahead of the public engagement discussion on foreign policy the president said: “the most dangerous moment in the articulation and formulation of foreign policy and its practice, since the origin of diplomacy, has been when you’re drifting and not knowing what you’re doing”.

“I would describe our present position as one of drift.”   

In relation to the Consultative Forum he criticised the various panels claiming they were stocked with “the admirals, the generals, the air force, the rest of it” and also of former neutral countries that have now joined NATO.

Finland has joined but Sweden’s membership has stalled as Turkey is blocking it in a dispute over Kurdistan. 

Higgins asked why there was no representation from still-neutral countries such as Austria and Malta.

The president also criticised the European Union for, what he termed, was a more military aligned posture.  

“Any time that Ireland puts itself behind the shadows of previous empires within the European Union it loses an opportunity of expanding and enhancing and using its influence for the world,” he said. 

Higgins also said he was distressed about the reduction in the influence of the United Nations on world events. 

Government response

In a statement this afternoon, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin hit back at the president without mentioning his name.

He said the consultative forum was “not a binary” discussion on Ireland’s military neutrality. 

“I am proud to be part of, and to have lead, a Government that has been particularly ambitious in exerting Ireland’s influence abroad,” he said. 

Martin spoke about Irish successes on the international stage including membership of the UN Security Council, it’s multilateral approach as well as a host of other achievements such as the Good Friday Agreement. 

“Ireland has had an impact and made a difference.

“Since Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which blatantly violated the UN Charter and international law and fundamentally altered the European security environment, every country in Europe has examined and re-examined its foreign, security and defence policies.

“Ireland is no different. To shy away from doing so – or to do so behind closed doors – would have been a fundamental mistake and an abrogation of responsibility,” he added. 

Martin said it was a “fundamental” duty of Government to address the “challenging global situation as it is today”.

“Political leadership means taking on the responsibility of putting in place policies and practises to keep this country, and its people, safe and secure. In my view, it also means having an open, inclusive, evidence-based and public debate on these issues.

“The Consultative Forum on International Security Policy is the first time that any Irish Government has established such a debate.

“It will discuss a range of issues relating to the global and European security environment and how Ireland’s foreign, security and defence policy is responding to this new environment,” he added. 

In his statement, Martin referenced that 900 people had signed up for the events in Cork, Galway and Dublin. He called on interested people to send a submission with their views. 

He said that the 80 panelists were from a wide range of backgrounds and with a variety of expertise and experience. These include peacekeeping and peacebuilding experts, arms control and disarmament and conflict resolution on an international basis.

He said the Forum would also discuss cyber security, disinformation, maritime security and critical infrastructure.

“The aim of this Forum from the start has been to prompt a national discussion on Ireland’s foreign, security and defence policy. We want to hear from as many people as possible, with a diverse range of experiences, expertise and views. This is a conversation for everyone,” he added. 

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