What does membership of the European community mean for the future of Irish neutrality?

For the second time in six months, An Cosantóir, the Irish army magazine has raised the question of NATO. In an essay, army officer Captain J Harold says,

Ireland as a member of the EEC can reasonably expect at some future date to be requested to join a military alliance.

The question of Irish troops abroad has always been a sensitive one. During World War II, Ireland remained neutral and following the war, Ireland refused to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Irish troops travelled abroad on peace missions. However, as Ireland moved closer to joining the EEC, questions arose about the future of Irish neutrality.

In May 1973, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Garret FitzGerald told the Dáil that it was still government policy not to join NATO. However, he did hold the door open for Irish participation in an independent European defence body.

In the last week, US President Richard Nixon has threatened to pull American troops out of Europe, leaving Europe to go it alone. As the Irish government waits for developments to unfold, there is opinion within the Irish army that would welcome a role in Europe.

The Irish naval and defence forces have found new roles in recent years in relation to the conflict in Northern Ireland. With this came an expansion of the army and the defence budget in order to deal with security along the border. If the security situation in Ireland improves, then the enlarged Irish army will be looking for new outlets.

Colonel Dan Bryan, former Director of Intelligence, author Constantine Fitzgibbon a veteran of the Second World War and journalist John Mulcahy discuss the possibility of Ireland joining NATO or an independent European defence body.

Colonel Bryan believes there would be little public support for Irish involvement in a European defence body and the role of NATO.

Author Constantine Fitzgibbon believes the role of the Irish army is a defensive one.

We should keep our sovereignty at all costs, what little we have left of it after signing the EEC agreement.

John Mulcahy would not be in favour of Ireland joining NATO but might be prepared to look at some form of European defence organisation.

This episode of 'Seven Days' was broadcast on 22 March 1974. The presenters are Brian Farrell and Brendan O'Brien.