Don’t give up on neutrality

Ireland has a long and honourable history of neutrality.

Irish Citizen Army group outside Liberty Hall. Group are lined up outside ITGWU HQ under a banner proclaiming
Irish Citizen Army group outside Liberty Hall.

The recent publication of the Commission on the Defence Forces report has been used to mount a concerted attack on our neutrality.

Irish neutrality has a long and honourable history, dating back to Wolfe Tone, who advocated for Irish independence and neutrality in the 1790s. The Irish Neutrality League was active in 1914 and vocal in opposition to British plans to introduce conscription in Ireland. 

They used the slogan: “We serve neither king nor kaiser, but Ireland”.

Our neutrality became firmly enshrined during the Second World War, when Ireland successfully remained neutral in spite of threats of occupation from the Allies and Axis belligerents. Ireland remained one the most neutral European states throughout this dreadful conflict. After the country was allowed to join the United Nations in 1955, our neutrality took on a far more positive role.

The Defence Forces undertook a very active role with UN peacekeeping; to date, eighty-eight Irish soldiers have died while serving overseas. Ireland’s foreign policy contributed to issues of global justice, and this positive neutrality has helped to get Ireland elected to the UN Security Council on five occasions.

While successive Irish governments have sought to end Irish neutrality, the Irish people have remained staunchly committed to maintaining positive neutrality and this was confirmed by a RedC poll in 2013 in which 78% said Ireland should have a policy of neutrality.

Neutrality is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution but it is clearly implied in Article 29:

1. Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.

2. Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.

3. Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States.

There are numerous reasons why Ireland should maintain a policy and practice of positive neutrality.

The moral reasons are based on the still very relevant, Fifth Commandment: “Thou shall not kill”. 

Unjustified wars across the wider Middle East from Libya to Afghanistan since 1991 have caused the deaths of up to five million people including over one million children who have died as a result of US-led wars, wars that have been facilitated by US military use of Shannon Airport.

The legal reasons are based on the importance of the rule of law at national, regional and international levels. 

At a national level, Gardaí have failed to investigate and prevent serious crimes that are being facilitated by US military and CIA use of Shannon airport. 

At a regional level, the European Union has outlawed capital punishment. However, twenty-one EU member states are also members of NATO, and NATO has been involved in numerous illegal wars which have resulted in the deaths of millions of people. This is capital punishment by means of war. At international law level, Ireland has been facilitating and is complicit in these illegal wars and serious breaches of international laws and conventions, including the UN Charter. 

Given our history, the humanitarian reasons for Irish neutrality should be a priority for the Irish people. Now Ireland is facilitating wars of aggression and exploitation that have resulted in the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, while simultaneously failing in our responsibilities to provide refuge for these refugees. Ireland is part of the EU Frontex border control system used to prevent refugees entering EU countries and failing to provide proper rescue services for refugees in the Mediterranean.

There are also environmental reasons for neutrality. Conventional wars and militarisation are doing huge damage to our living environment and there is a real risk of nuclear war. By abandoning neutrality, Ireland is also abandoning the most positive aspects of our foreign policy, which is to promote international peace and justice. 

It is the people who should be the primary focus of our Defence Forces, and the Irish diaspora are an essential part of ‘the Irish people’. The best way that the people of Ireland, including the Irish diaspora, can have their life and their best interests defended is by using positive neutrality to promote international peace. 

Finally, there are military and financial reasons to support neutrality. The Commission on the Defence Forces makes exaggerated and false claims about the threats to the security of Ireland. There are no credible threats that any foreign power will invade Ireland with military forces, but if it did happen the aggressors could only ever be major military forces, against which Ireland could never have the conventional military capacity to deal with. The territory of Ireland could only ever be defended using guerrilla warfare and by equipping our Defence Forces accordingly. We will never have the financial resources to equip our Defence Forces with squadrons of tanks and fighter jets or naval battle ships. 

Similarly, Cyber-attacks are primarily criminal matters best addressed by our Irish police force in cooperation with international police authorities and not by military forces. 

Up to 50,000 Irish men died in the First World War. If we abandon our neutrality and join NATO we could be dragged into wars that could result in more Irish soldiers and Irish civilians, especially children, being killed.  And these wars will not “be over before Christmas”! 

Dr. Edward Horgan Commandant (retired) served as a UN military peacekeeper in the Middle East, and worked with international organisations on election monitoring missions in post-conflict situations in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa.