Disarmament and non-proliferation, international humanitarian law, in addition to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and a discussion on Ireland’s policy on military neutrality were the main issues on the agenda at Ireland’s first-ever international security forum, held over a four-day period in Cork, Galway and Dublin respectively in late June.
The Forum reviewed Ireland’s current international partnerships within the realms of peace and security, particularly as a member of the UN and the EU, and our engagement with NATO through the Partnership for Peace framework. It also provided an opportunity to examine the experiences and choices of other partners in responding to the new security environment in Europe.
A veteran of both the Irish and British armies, Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, was very vocal prior to the Forum when he questioned if President Michael D. Higgins and the Government fully understood the meaning of neutrality. The Hague Convention of 1907 states that for a country to be considered as neutral it must firstly state its position as neutral, and secondly it must be able to defend its neutrality. “The statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1995 further refines the definition of neutrality as supporting neither side, neither belligerent in the event of a conflict,” he said.
“The number of people who make passionate speeches about neutrality and being militarily non-aligned never ceases to amaze me. These are two opposite poles – you’re either one or the other – you can’t be both. Neutrality isn’t in our constitution. With the Nice Treaty we cannot engage with a European army and there is no question of that happening in the future,” he added.
When Ireland voted against both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties one of the issues for the electorate was whether or not security and defence developments within the EU would in any way impact on Ireland’s status as a neutral state. When the Government decided to re-run those referendums, they asked for and received additional guarantees and explanatory text in the form of protocols.
Essentially what this says is that the EU is cognisant of Ireland’s status as a militarily neutral state and that we will not be forced within the EU to do anything without its agreement. This is a guarantee that developments in the EU on security will not alter the status of Ireland without political change – in order words, a referendum.