Editorial: Our neutrality is sacred and must not be diminished by war

Former defence minister Frank Aiken


SOME sleeping political dogs are best left unkicked – many may feel the issue of our neutrality is one of them.

But the first all-out war in Europe since 1945 brought a very rude awakening to that particular slumbering canine.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has raised the question of whether the triple-lock mechanism remains “fit for purpose”. It ordains that in order to deploy Irish troops abroad for peacekeeping or European Union missions, approval of the Government, and the Dáil and the backing of a UN resolution must be secured. This all comes in a context of the new consultative forum on international security policy which is examining our neutrality.

Mr Martin was anxious to dispel ideas that Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is a stepping stone to a European army.

No country in Europe would want or was considering such an option, he said.

He added that the Government had no hidden agenda nor was the forum to be prejudged.

Nonetheless, some may take a view that putting the “triple lock” up for discussion as to whether it is fit for purpose in the current global security ­environment, is a loaded question.

Both Sinn Féin and Labour have concerns about the matter. Sinn Féin believes neutrality should be enshrined in the Constitution via a referendum.

Meanwhile Labour’s Brendan Howlin said any report of the forum must come back to the Dáil for discussion and not go directly to the Government.

There is nothing unhealthy about examining the issue. At the same time, it is equally important to recall there is a tradition of Irish neutrality that goes back to Wolfe Tone and Daniel O’Connell.

Neutrality was aligned with independence.

During World War II it was central to defence policy. In truth, many saw it as the only realistic option to preserve the Irish State.

But it was never easily defined, as Defence Minister Frank Aiken explained in 1940: “Neutrality is not like a simple mathematical formula which has only to be announced and demonstrated in order to be believed and respected. It has in fact always been one of the difficult problems ... Instead of earning the respect and goodwill of both belligerents, it is regarded by both with hatred and contempt.”

It was our neutrality and the legacy of Irish UN resolutions in the late 1950s and 1960s from which the Non-Proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Weapons originated. By then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken highlighted the widespread fears about the threat posed by such weapons.

Ours is an ever-more interdependent world. But it is also more militarised than ever.

The war in Ukraine and Chinese aggression towards Taiwan will dominate discussions.

It is both symbolic and significant that today the G7 meets in Hiroshima – the first place where an atomic bomb was dropped. The war in Ukraine will dominate discussions. If “peace comes dropping slow”, war is shockingly sudden.

Any shifting in neutrality must be measured and considered with maximum public consultation.