Efforts to exploit the invasion of Ukraine to push for an end to Ireland’s military neutrality have been condemned.
Pressure has continued to build for a militarisation of the 26 County statelet in support of NATO, the European Union, and Britain. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has now called for a debate ahead of a possible referendum to reverse Ireland’s constitutional position.
The coalition government currently allows US warplanes to refuel at Shannon Airport, a source of major controversy and protest, particularly in the west of Ireland. It has now seized on the opportunity presented by the Russian invasion to promote further moves in support of the NATO powers.
Under the Irish constitution a change to the policy of neutrality would require a referendum.
Micheál Martin suggested this week that a ‘citizens’ assembly’ should be convened to discuss the future of Irish neutrality. Assemblies of selected citizens have been used previously to accelerate the process of constitutional change.
Sinn Féin has not yet responded to the proposal, but Donegal TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn said Ireland’s military neutrality is “an honourable tradition that should be cherished and built upon”.
“It’s why our ‘blue helmet’ Irish UN peace keepers are respected around the world. It’s why we can be seen as honest brokers in conflict resolution around the world,” he said.
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín defended Irish neutrality which he said is a foreign policy tradition “stretching back over centuries”.
He said: “Irish political leaders from Theobald Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell to James Connolly have advocated neutrality as a way to serve the common good and prevent militarism.
“Historically small countries have rightly been sceptical of the intentions of military blocs and it’s clear that small countries such as Ireland would have little or no influence on the decisions of large military blocs.
“Having young men and young women fight in wars that he have little or no influence on would be a grave mistake”.
In opinion polls, Irish voters strongly support Irish neutrality. The police was backed by 82% of people in the 26 County state in an RTE/RedC poll in May 2019.
The Taoiseach told TDs that Ireland has a tradition of military neutrality “but we have never been politically neutral”.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Martin said the invasion of Ukraine had transformed the security situation in the world and that Ireland and the EU needed to take account of this.
“It would be foolish to ignore that reality. The European Union is exposed security-wise as a result of what has happened,” he said.
“We do need a discussion on this,” the Taoiseach added. “Not right now in the middle of a terrible war when we should be concentrating our resources on helping the Ukrainian people in a practical way... I think we could look at a citizens’ assembly to discuss these issues in the fullness of time – where detailed prepared submissions from a wide range of opinion could be considered.”
Mr Martin was answering questions from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, who said that Ireland’s neutrality was “under siege” from commentators and Ministers, who were suggesting it should be abandoned.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said there was a “clamour” to exploit the Ukrainian crisis to “move Ireland away to from its traditional position of military neutrality and to move closer to NATO and to the project of European militarisation”.
Mr Boyd Barrett strongly condemned Vladimir Putin’s “brutal and unjustifiable” invasion of Ukraine but said that Ireland should not respond by joining a military alliance that had “conducted and supported murderous wars elsewhere in the world”.
He cited Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories as evidence of this. Even as Western countries were deciding sanctions against Russia, Israel has continued to attack and kill Palestinians, although in smaller numbers.
Mr Boyd Barrett said the international community had failed to condemn Israeli apartheid after 70 years of systematic oppression and aggression against the Palestinian people.
“It took five days for sanctions against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin... but imposing sanctions for 70 years of oppression of the Palestinians would not be ‘helpful’,” he said. “Pure hypocrisy.”
In a speech widely shared on social media, he also referred to the brutal and inhumane persecutions of the Israeli regime. He pointed to the successive assaults on Gaza, the annexation of Palestinian lands and the systematic application of apartheid rules, denouncing the fact that the West does not even want to use the word “apartheid” in connection with Israel.
In fact, he said that the West sees the Arab population and the Palestinians in particular as “an inferior race,” and does not use the same strong language it uses to condemn Russia’s actions to condemn Israeli atrocities in Palestine and the regime’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, all of which he suggested was being supported by NATO.
Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland has also been pointing to historical parallels, noting that the 26 County State was originally established as a dominion of the British Empire, 100 years ago.
“Only the opposition of the Irish people has prevented full integration with imperialist alliances,” they said.
They warned of “false promises of independence” by Micheál Martin and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, who they compared to the Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond who “sacrificed tens of thousands of Irish men and women on the altar of Empire” by supporting a British agenda in World War One.
“With the Free State ruling class and media mobilising to push for an EU Army and NATO membership, the choice before the Irish people is as it was in 1914 and 1922: the Irish Republic, Sovereignty and Freedom; or the Empire, Subservience and Death.”