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Sunday 25 February 2018

We can't be neutral on terrorism - Varadkar

Counter-terrorism officers march near London Bridge a day after the terrorist attack earlier
this month. Photo: Getty
Counter-terrorism officers march near London Bridge a day after the terrorist attack earlier this month. Photo: Getty

John Downing and Sarah Collins

Ireland's long-standing military neutrality is no obstacle to maximum co-operation with the EU and others in fighting international terrorism, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at his first EU leaders' summit in Brussels, the Taoiseach insisted that Ireland would not change military neutrality and would continue to remain apart from military alliances such as Nato.

But he said the nature of international co-operation on both security and defence was rapidly changing and Ireland was conscious of these changes.

EU leaders endorsed moves for more co-operation in the fight against terrorism, putting increased pressure on internet providers to actively fight the use of networks to distribute hate material. The leaders also agreed for the first time to allow smaller groups of EU states to increase defence co-operation under limited conditions.

"The threats that we face in the world are less about wars between countries, and more about threats created by terrorism, by extremism, and by cyberattacks for example," Mr Varadkar said.

"Those areas are not areas in which we should be neutral. We should be very much involved in working with European partners to prevent cyberattacks to manage migration and to stand against terrorism."

Mr Varadkar stressed there would be no change in Ireland's military neutrality.

"Ireland's position on neutrality is long-standing. We believe that by being a country that is neutral, but not being part of any military alliance, that it actually makes us stronger in the world," he said.

The Taoiseach's comments were echoed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, also in Brussels for a meeting of leaders of European Liberal Alliance.

While pointing out that Nato was the "powerhouse" of European defence, he said that Ireland "should not be cut off from the advancements that may be made in terms of data sharing and intelligence".

The EU leaders condemned recent terror outrages in Europe and pledged maximum co-operation to counter violent extremism. In a clear warning to internet providers, it added: "The European Council expects industry to develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites violence."

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU would legislate if the internet companies did not act.

The EU leaders also agreed to free up groups of member states to co-operate on specific defence projects, extending the principle of "enhanced co-operation" provided for in the 2009 EU Lisbon Treaty.

Ireland will not be in any way obligated to participate in such projects, which must be cleared by the other member states.

Irish Independent

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