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Any change in neutrality must be weighed with care




Taoiseach Micheál Martin said long-held policy cannot be changed overnight. Photo: Brian Lawless

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said long-held policy cannot be changed overnight. Photo: Brian Lawless

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said long-held policy cannot be changed overnight. Photo: Brian Lawless

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the conversation on security in Europe. The lesson is: Killing people has never been easier than it is today; the more efficient the process becomes, the more difficult it is to restore peace.

The confidence of a continent basking in peace since World War II no longer holds.

If borders are no longer sacrosanct and illegal invasions are tolerated, our rules-based order cannot be taken for granted.

Since the Trump presidency, the US has taken a step back from its dominant role as global policeman. Its attention is more focused on China, so Europe can be expected to look after its own backyard. The ease with which Sweden and Finland entered the Nato fold speaks to the new threat levels.

Given the criminally irresponsible behaviour of Vladimir Putin and the carnage in Ukraine, no one is sure what the Russian president will do next. Countries that border his do not wish to be the first to find out.

Thus, the focus on military spending and the strengthening of defences has become intense.

Given such an unstable background, it is no coincidence that our own defence budget is to reach at least €1.9bn by 2028.

Newly released plans represent the biggest military investment in the history of the State. It allows for the recruitment of about 6,000 extra troops.

It is right that our Defence Forces be adequately paid and equipped and fit for purpose; but what that purpose is in today’s world is a question that needs more attention than it gets.

As peacekeepers, Irish soldiers have served with valour and distinction, winning acclaim for our country.

It is wrong that they should be denied resources to such a degrading extent.

However, debates about the levels of investment to defend this country must be rooted in reason.

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We will always rely on allies to defend us from nuclear attack – if such a defence be possible.

Since the 1930s, we have remained a neutral country, and for good reason.

However, as Taoiseach Micheál Martin explained in March, our military neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not make us politically or morally neutral on the violation of sovereignty.

Speaking on the BBC, he said we will need to consider what this means in the long term and for the future of military neutrality.

He was also careful to add: “One cannot, in the middle of a crisis, change a long-held policy overnight.”

Albert Einstein saw the concentration on munitions and the military system as the “plague-spot of civilisation”.

He believed peace cannot be maintained by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.

A Citizens’ Assembly and a referendum would be the very least we would expect before any real change could be considered in our neutral status.

Any redefining of our position must be weighed with consummate care.

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