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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Shutterstock/Akos Nagy

It's high time for neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution – don't let the government backtrack

At the last election the government received a mandate based on their pledges, and one was formalising a policy of neutrality.

NEUTRALITY IS NOT an academic issue about angels dancing on the head of a pin. It’s about our own personal interests, our own desire not to see our children taking part in other people’s wars. It’s about our own national interest, about our desire to be Irish, to be an independent people.

Later this month, a Bill to enshrine Irish neutrality into the Irish Constitution will be debated in Dail Eireann by the elected representatives of the Irish people. The people have made their position very clear. In a RedC poll commissioned in September 2013 at a time when France, Britain and the US were about to launch a war on Syria, 78% said Ireland should have a policy of neutrality; 67% said Ireland and the EU should not supply arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria; and 79% said Ireland should not support war on Syria without a UN mandate.

That seems pretty clear. So will 78% of the elected representatives of Irish people in Dail Eireann vote for the neutrality Bill? They should, of course, if the elected representatives of the Irish people where actually elected to reflect the views of the people the represent. We shall see.

Commitments made to neutrality 

At the last election they received a mandate from the people based on what they promised. Eamon Gilmore, then the leader of the Labour Party in a major statement just before the last election on 23 February 2011: “Labour in government is committed to a policy of positive neutrality”.

Supporting positive neutrality should not something you say just to get elected. The Fine Gael/Labour programme states: “We will enforce the prohibition of the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law”. This Neutrality Bill would ensure the implementation of the programme for government.

But it cannot be denied that the majority of the elected representatives of the people seem to believe that Ireland and the Irish people will not be drawn into a major war; that they can allow millions of US troops land in Shannon Airport on their way to and from their perpetual wars with no blowback. Big mistake.

The invasion, conquest and destruction of Iraq by the US, the UK and its allies – including Ireland – is now leading to the inevitable consequences of the emergence of Isis, which is ruling over a territory larger than the UK. Isis and its supporters throughout the world do not see Ireland a neutral state; they see it as a US aircraft carrier. In their eyes, a legitimate target. With the US killing thousands of Muslim civilians in drone attacks on a perpetual basis, is anybody going to draw a distinction between the US and its Irish aircraft hangar?

The Ukrainian conflict 

That’s just for starters. Now the US seems to want to fight a proxy war with Russia over the Ukraine. They want to provide arms to the Kiev government, and they will want to ensure that Shannon Airport is used to transport those weapons. Now, bad as it is that elected representatives are agreeing to take part in an endless war in the Middle East, it seems absolutely insane for the elected representatives of the Irish people to take sides in a direct conflict between two powers armed with nuclear weapons.

At least the Germans and the French, for the moment, are backing way from the war with Russia. A Neutrality Bill, which as the RecC poll clearly shows has the support of the vast majority of Irish people, would ensure we were not involved in the US/Russia conflict.

It’s a decision we should take regardless of what the Germans and French think. After all, Merkel is on record for wanting to create a European Army. Ireland was part of the British Empire for long enough, we took part in their wars long enough, why would we want to do the same again in a German-dominated European empire?

A history of neutrality 

Finally, it is no surprise 78% of the Irish people support neutrality. Wolfe Tone first advocated it in 1790 at a time when the British Empire was planning to go to war with Spain. The fight for Irish Independence, democracy and neutrality became totally intertwined. The leaders of the 1916 Rising had all been supporters of Irish Neutrality League and opposed participation in the 1914-18 war. In our negotiations with the British Empire, the Republican delegation led by Collins and Griffith sought to ensure neutrality would be perpetual.

In advocating support for the Neutrality Bill, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance stands in a tradition that stretches back 225 years. It is not a tradition that is going to go away any time soon.

Roger Cole is the Chair of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance

Remember when Ming asked for an aircraft carrier? He’s told us why

Here are the 30 countries who have landed military aircraft in Shannon since 2009

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