Editorial: Global threats abound, but this militarily neutral nation will not be cowed by them

Finbar Cafferkey from Achill died fighting Russian troops in Ukraine. Photo: Shell to Sea/PA Wire© PA


Finbar Cafferkey, from Achill Island in Co Mayo, was killed on the front line in the east of Ukraine, helping to defend a sovereign nation from invasion by the neighbouring power of Russia.

He volunteered to serve with Ukraine’s army as he wanted to help the Ukrainian people. His family said he was against all forms of imperialism, be it US, British or Russian. And he was strongly opposed to Ireland’s support of US troops and any moves towards joining Nato.

Mr Cafferkey’s motivations were similar to those brave Irishmen who fought oppression in previous wars in the last century – with the republicans in the Spanish Civil War and the allies in World War II – while their country remained neutral.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin paid tribute to Mr Cafferkey as “obviously a young man of clear principles”. But the hostile reaction of the Russian embassy to Ireland was to claim the Government and media bear responsibility for his death by “promoting anti-Russian propaganda” and “distorting the truth about the conflict in Ukraine, misleading people like Finbar Cafferkey”.

The Russian embassy warned Ireland will suffer “all consequences” if Irish citizens are encouraged to fight in Ukraine or if Russia considers Ireland a “direct participant” in the war. The Department of Foreign Affairs said Ireland’s position on Russia’s “brutal and illegal aggression against Ukraine” was clear. While Ireland is militarily neutral, the country is not politically neutral. We support Ukraine and subscribe to its right to defend against this attack on its territory, in line with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The belligerent response from the Russians to a mere expression of sympathy for a citizen who chose of his own free will to fight with another country is a small illustration of the threats this country can face.

The concept of our national security goes way beyond policing, military defence and participation in UN peacekeeping missions. National security now takes in new threats from pandemics, climate crises, human rights, economic shocks, and cyber and hybrid attacks. Although the internet, technology and travel has shrunk the world, it also means threats can move far faster, which means global insecurity is no longer a question of geography.

An attack can take many forms and come from many places. The most significant cyber attack in the State happened two years ago when the HSE was targeted, causing computer systems to be shut down or curtailed in the midst of the pandemic.

Arguably, the largest known attack against a health service computer system was perpetrated by a criminal gang operating out of St Petersburg in Russia – and may have been either sanctioned or tolerated by agencies in that country.

The Tánaiste is seeking to broaden the debate on Ireland’s global security and the relationship with China. Notably, he is speaking within the context of our membership of the EU and co-operation with our partners. Ireland is small non-militarily aligned nation, but that doesn’t mean we should not work with others to fulfil our duty to enhance security on the global stage​​​​​​​.