Irish military neutrality to be redefined, says foreign minister

If Ireland wishes to remain a neutral country, the foreign minister added that military neutrality will need to be redefined in the broader context of common security needs. [EPA-EFE/PHIL NOBLE / POOL]

Ireland’s traditional military neutrality will need to be redefined, but a referendum on it is not currently on the government’s radar, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said.

If Ireland wishes to remain a neutral country, the foreign minister added that military neutrality will need to be redefined in the broader context of common security needs.

The longstanding policy in place since the 1930s has shaped Ireland’s response to the war in Ukraine. As part of the EU’s support package, Ireland has chosen to contribute non-lethal materials such as medical supplies and bulletproof vests rather than weapons.

It remains to be seen whether a referendum on the constitutional principle of neutrality will be held, said Coveney, adding that, for the moment, the attention needs to be on Ukraine.

“If there needs to be a referendum…then, of course, we will plan for that, but that isn’t the issue on the table right now”, he told broadcaster RTÉ.

“The issue that’s on the table right now is how can we contribute to ending this war and the suffering and murder that’s going on in the back of it,” said Coveney.

Ireland, particularly in terms of cybersecurity, is still vulnerable, he added.

“We might not be vulnerable to a conventional military attack, but we’re certainly vulnerable to cyberattacks which we know come from both non-state and state actors”, he said.

“No country is safe and being so-called neutral doesn’t mean that you’re safe,” he added.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Ireland’s military neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not make the country politically or morally neutral.

“The order has been turned upside down by President Putin”, he told the BBC. Ireland will need to consider what this means in the long term and for the future of military neutrality, he said, adding that, for now, the focus is needed on resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

“One cannot, in the middle of a crisis, change a long-held policy overnight”, he said. “There will be a debate in Ireland, but we don’t have time for it right now”.

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