By Cillian Sherlock, PA
Tánaiste Micheál Martin has told the Dail that Ireland’s belief in a rules-based international order is not a “magic charm” that protects from malign actors.
The Dáil was hearing statements on the upcoming Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, which Mr Martin hoped would provide a realistic discussion on Ireland’s foreign and defence policy.
The forum is to take place next month across four days in Cork, Galway and Dublin.
“We need a serious and honest conversation about the international security policy options available to the State, and the implications of each of these,” Mr Martin said.
He said the forum would be inclusive and reach a broad audience.
He added: “The forum will involve a wide range of stakeholders, analysts and practitioners.
“As I have said on a number of occasions before, the discussion will not simply be a binary one on the issue of neutrality, but will cover a breadth of areas relating to our foreign, security and defence policy.”
Mr Martin said Ireland’s commitment to global law and human rights does not “inure us from reality”.
He added: “The choice is not between being a vocal and convinced supporter of the UN Charter and the global multilateral system, or unquestioningly taking on the mantle of another country’s foreign and security policy.
“The choice is not one in which military neutrality is a talisman that allows us to do good in the world, whereas any other security policy choice would mean abandoning our commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes and international humanitarian law and human rights.
“Our belief in a rules bases international order goes to the core of who we are as a people. But it is not a magic charm.”
He said the Government had no “hidden agenda” nor prejudged outcome.
He added: “Let’s dispense early on with the notion that this is part of the latest secret plan by the Government to join Nato.”
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence said the increasing use of the UN security council veto created a need to examine what Ireland’s ability to pursue an independent foreign policy, including the implications for the “triple lock”.
The “triple lock” mechanism refers to the need for UN authorisation, Government approval, and Dáil approval for the deployment of contingents of more than 12 Irish troops to any conflict zone or EU Common Security and Defence Policy.
Sinn Féin defence and foreign affairs spokesperson Matt Carthy said Ireland should be “proud” of neutrality.
He said the party wanted Ireland to play a constructive role in the wider world which was committed to diplomacy, humanitarianism, and peacebuilding.
He added: “An independent foreign policy and military neutrality are crucial to allow Ireland to play that important role.”
However, Mr Carthy said public discourse on foreign and security polices has been “sorely lacking”.
He said Irish governments have made crucial decisions without public or Oireachtas debate.
He added: “The starting point to any such discourse must be a recognition that military neutrality has served us well.
“It is for this reason that we want to enshrine the principle of neutrality in the Irish constitution and within the EU treaties.”
Mr Carthy said Ireland’s neutrality and experience with colonialism has allowed the country to earn a reputation as one of the “pre-eminent contributors to peacekeeping in the globe”.
He added: “Because Irish neutrality has never meant isolationism in disengagement or disinterest in the world.
“It has been a positive force for good. It has allowed this small country to play a bigger role than many others.”
The Sinn Féin TD said the Government did not plan to provide a role for the opposition in the forum and instead aims to “reshape public opinion”.
He further accused successive governments of undermining Ireland’s neutrality.
People-Before-Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett accused the Government of “cynically” ratcheting up militarisation of the European Union.
He said Mr Martin’s party Fianna Fáil was attempting to dismantle Irish neutrality.
He said it was advancing a project within Nato and the EU to develop a European army.
Labour foreign affairs spokesperson Brendan Howlin said a citizens’ assembly would have been more preferable to the forum.
He said Ireland was content in “raising the flag of neutrality” as a pretext to low spending in defence.
He said there was a need to unambiguously set out a “clear national stall” on our neutral status.
He added: “Are we proud of it? Do we understand it? Because it seems to be a vehicle that can be whatever you wish it to be.”
He said Labour regards “positive neutrality” as a valuable and internationally precious strategic position.
He added: “One that has been at the core of our international position for the establishment of our State.
“Our history as a colonised people, not a coloniser, our reputation in peacebuilding and peace enforcement gives us potential well beyond our economic might and military strength to make a difference in the world – and we’ve utilised that in the past.”
He said this was internationally recognised.
He added: “Being neutral, does not mean being impotent – which has often been our position in the past.
“Ultimately, we must take responsibility for our own security and our own safety.”