Monday, September 21, 2009

Irish Neutrality - To be or not to be?

Irish Neutrality - To be or not to be?

Article 28.3 of the Constitution of Ireland states that “War shall not be declared and the state shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dail Eireann.” Nowhere are the terms “neutrality”, “military neutrality” or “non-aligned” to be seen in the Irish constitution. The popular conception that Ireland is legally “neutral” is wrong.

“There is no neutrality and we are not neutral”

– This statement was not made by a zealous member of Young Fine Gael campaigning for our immediate induction into the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. No, the speaker in question was none other than former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, who said these words back in 1960. Two years later the very same Taoiseach stated in Dail Eireann that:

“We think the existence of NATO is necessary for the preservation of peace and for the defence of the countries of Western Europe, including this country. Although we are not members of NATO, we are in full agreement with its aims.”

In an interview with the New York Times, the leader of Fianna Fail then declared:

“We recognise that a military commitment will be an inevitable consequence of our joining the Common Market and ultimately we would be prepared to yield even to the technical label of neutrality. We are prepared to go into this integrated Europe without any reservation as to how far this will take us in the field of foreign policy and defence.”

And yet, bold statements to American newspapers were not followed up with concrete policies back home to confirm our military commitment to an integrated Europe. Successive Fianna Fail governments obfuscated the realities of Ireland’s evolving relationship with the then EEC, happy with paying lip service to neutrality without investing the necessary money in the Defence Forces, which could have formalised and guaranteed genuine Irish neutrality - if that’s what we as a country want - as in other non-aligned European countries. For genuine neutrality means massive military expenditure and regular call-ups of the citizenry to the armed forces, as is practiced in Switzerland, which spends 6.4 billion euro on defence annually. The maintenance of the substantial Swiss armed forces and continued high spending on defence was indeed reconfirmed by the Swiss people by a massive majority of 78% in a recent referendum. No one on the pro-neutrality side seems either prepared to acknowledge or advocate that this is what would be required were Ireland to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution. Sean Lemass’ successor, Jack Lynch, confirmed the difference between Ireland’s inconsistent approach to neutrality with that of truly neutral countries when he stated that:

“We have no traditional policy of neutrality in this country unlike countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Austria.”

He emphasised that Ireland’s Constitution meant: “We can make up our minds as to our neutrality in the light of circumstances prevailing.”

This view had been supported by Eamonn de Valera back in 1948 when he had said; “If a war occurs we may take one side, or we may take the other or we may be neutral”. This clearly is not compatible with permanent neutrality.

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