Tuesday 18 June 2019

'Neutrality is different now' says Varadkar

Ireland ready to 'opt in' with European nations to tackle migration crisis and cyber attacks

CHEER: Leo Varadkar visiting Irish troops in Lebanon
CHEER: Leo Varadkar visiting Irish troops in Lebanon
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the definition of military neutrality has changed dramatically since Ireland declared itself a neutral state during World War II.

Mr Varadkar insisted neutrality meant "something different now" and said Ireland was not neutral when it came to human trafficking, the migrant crisis and cyber attacks.

"In the 1940s, it was about not taking part in the Second World War. It is different now because the security challenges and security threats are different," he said.

"For example, things like cyber security and cyber terrorism, people interfering in other people's elections using online tools. It's managing mass migration. It's human trafficking.

"That's why we've decided, for example, not to be neutral on those things and to get involved with other countries, particularly other European countries on an opt-in basis to play our part in dealing with those security threats."

The Taoiseach's comments come weeks after the Government signed up to a controversial new European Union military pact which allows members states to pool resources when buying defence equipment and taking part in training.

Left-wing TDs claim the so-called Pesco agreement is unconstitutional and a breach of our neutral status. People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the deal was part of a plan to create an EU army.

However, the Government has insisted the country's neutrality will not be affected by the defence pact.

Speaking at a Christmas media briefing, Mr Varadkar said he had not always held the view that Ireland should be a neutral state but had come to learn that the country's lack of a military force could be a diplomatic asset.

"Ireland is a small country. We're never going to be a significant military power. Nobody is going to want to be close to us diplomatically because we have military assets and we just aren't ever going to have a big navy or a big air force. So where we can actually can be strong diplomatically and put our foreign policy forward is by doing things that are a little bit unique to Ireland," he said.

He said Irish officials were campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council but insisted the country would not seek to join Nato.

A briefing document prepared for Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe states that Pesco has "no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality or for the 'triple-lock' on the deployment of Irish forces overseas".

"Participation in Pesco should also be seen in a wider international security environment and the ever-changing complex security threats to European citizens. The Government attaches great importance to our position of military neutrality which is restated in the White Paper on Defence," it added.

Mr Varadkar last week visited Irish soldiers on United Nations duty in the Lebanon where he laid a wreath at a memorial for troops who died on duty. The UN-mandated mission began in 1978 and 47 Irish troops have lost their lives since then. There are 343 Irish soldiers on duty in Lebanon over the Christmas period.

The Taoiseach was joined on the visit by Mr Kehoe and Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett.

Mr Varadkar thanked the soldiers for their dedication and said they had made a major contribution to security and peace in the Lebanon and elsewhere around the world.

The Taoiseach also used the trip to criticise US President Donald Trump's recent decision to begin the process of moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Mr Varadkar said his US counterpart was making the "wrong long-term decision". Ireland voted in favour of a UN resolution condemning the US move.

Sunday Independent

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