There are concerns that Irish neutrality could be the price paid by the Dublin government for the European Union to defend its interest in the Brexit negotiations with Britain.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said this week that Ireland needed to reexamine its stance on neutrality “especially now that Britain are leaving the European Union”.
Hayes made the comments following European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s annual state of the union address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg today.
In his speech, Juncker confirmed that the EU will create a ‘European Defence Union’ by 2025. “We need it,” he said. “And NATO wants it.”
Juncker dealt with Brexit in fewer than 100 words in his speech, saying Britain and the EU would “regret” the decision but that the EU must not be held back.
It is believed Juncker and other right-wing elements wish to take advantage of an increase in support for the EU in the wake of the Brexit vote to advance their agenda of increased centralisation and militarisation.
Speaking to EuroParlRadio after the address, Hayes said Ireland’s neutrality needs to be looked at.
“We helped build this thing called Europe. We’re one of the oldest, most grown up, wealthiest members of this club,” he said. “We’ve got to defend it too in my view and I think we need to look at this policy, especially now that Britain are leaving the European Union”.
Sinn Fein MEP Liadh Ni Riada has said Ireland must defend its policy of neutrality.
She was “utterly appalled at Mr Hayes’ almost blase approach to our long standing policy of neutrality,” she said.
“I also find his notion that Brexit is the reason we should reexamine Irish neutrality to be nothing short of bizarre. I do not see how the two relate.
“This is not the first time he has made such comments and in the past his party has voted in the European Parliament for actions contrary to Ireland’s neutral position.
“Neutrality has been a key part of Irish foreign policy for almost 90 years. It’s the reason our soldiers are able to go into some of the most conflict-torn regions of the world and be seen as Peacekeepers, not an occupying army.
“It’s the reason our Naval vessels spend their time rescuing people who are fleeing war and persecution rather than bombing cities and carrying nuclear weapons.
“If there was any doubt before there can be none now that rather than opposing the creeping militarisation of the EU, Fine Gael is firmly behind it.”