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Defence Force parade on Easter weekend outside the GPO 2018.
Defence Forces

Public forum examining Ireland's neutrality to be held in Dublin, Galway and Cork in June

Micheál Martin says there is no preconceived outcome to the debate.

LAST UPDATE | 5 Apr 2023

THERE IS NO preconceived outcome to the the public forum being organised by the government to discuss Ireland’s foreign policy, including neutrality, according to Tánaiste Micheál Martin. 

The forum will take place in three different locations across four days in June 2023: 

  • 22 June at University College Cork
  • 23 June at the University of Galway
  • 26-27 June at Dublin Castle 

Outlining the plans to the media after Cabinet this afternoon, Martin said it will be an “open, informed, respectful and evidence-based discussion” on Ireland’s foreign policy.

“There’s no pre preconceived idea in terms of the outcome of the debate, but I do you think it’s important that we have this national debate,” he said.

The Tánaiste said last month that his proposals seek to address how Ireland’s neutrality “may evolve”.

Experts in security policy, academics, and members of the public will take part in the forum which he said is designed to build public understanding and generate discussions on the link between the State’s wider foreign policy approach, and national security and resilience.

“People have their own political views and perspectives on this and that’s why the forum will allow the for submissions from the public and individuals,” he added. 

Since the crisis in Ukraine began, Martin has spoken about his belief that there should be a debate in Ireland on its long-standing tradition of military neutrality.

When asked why the government didn’t opt for a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue, the Tánaiste said he believes this forum is a “better model for the subject matter”. 

The issues go to the core political philosophy of political parties, he said. He told reporters the makeup of the debate will allow for the “widest dissemination of those views” to come forward. 

The Tánaiste has stated that Ireland is not politically or morally neutral on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over the four days in June, the topics of conversation will include: 

  • The rules-based international order
  • Engagement in peacekeeping,
  • Conflict prevention and peacebuilding
  • Lessons from our UN Security Council membership
  • Global strategic stability
  • International arms control and proliferation challenges
  • Challenges posed by new and emerging threats.

The independent chairperson of the forum is Louise Richardson and a report following the events will be used to inform any recommendations to government.

It is understood that speakers from a range of backgrounds and political philosophies will be invited to take part, with between four and five sessions to take place each day.

Geopolitical realities

Since the conflict began in Ukraine, western governments have scrambled to form and maintain a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

This has been achieved by imposing heavy sanctions and through pledges of military and humanitarian aid in support of Ukraine.

As Ireland is a neutral country, the Government has had to navigate new geopolitical realities under that umbrella, with Martin’s line that Ireland is “militarily neutral, we’re not politically neutral” repeated by senior ministers since the conflict began.

The Journal reported earlier this year that the Government is considering new legislation that could allow Irish special forces to be dispatched on foreign missions. 

It has emerged that reviews of the so-called ‘Triple Lock’ system is on the table this year. 

The Triple Lock system is a policy measure whereby there needs to be separate approval by the Government, the Dáil and a UN Resolution to mandate a mission in order to send more than 12 Irish troops abroad.

It’s understood that discussions surrounding the Triple Lock will be held at the upcoming forum.

A change to the Triple Lock system was mooted by then Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in November, after Fine Gael members voted in favour of such a move at its annual conference.

It has now been included in a Government policy document. Such a departure from that mechanism would be a major change in Ireland’s foreign policy. 

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently said he does not believe Ireland is becoming isolated in EU circles due to its lack of participation in Nato.

“There are four countries in the European Union that are not members of Nato and don’t intend to join Nato,” said Varadkar.

“There’s very good and fair understanding of our position, and our particular sensitivities and culture and politics around that.

“I’ve never for a second felt under pressure from other prime ministers or presidents to change our position on it.”

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