Opinion: it is easy to argue that Ireland has never truly been impartial or truly neutral, but merely unaligned

Following the independence and establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the adoption of the 1937 Constitution strengthened Ireland's resolve towards promulgating its sovereignty to the world. The dogmatic goal of maintaining sovereignty, according to Éamon de Valera, could only be achieved through a stance of neutrality. Hence, officially, Ireland maintained a position of neutrality through the Second World War though, evidentially, Ireland was an auxiliary to the Allied Forces.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Archives, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera announces in a radio broadcast in February 1939 that Ireland will stay out of any war that occurs in Europe

Following the war, Ireland decided to abstain from joining the NATO. Even with the advent of the Cold War, Ireland’s position of neutrality remained resolute, although it did ascertain that it was anti-communist. When considering Irish neutrality, it is easy to argue that Ireland has never truly been impartial or truly neutral, but merely unaligned.

Before it joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, Ireland faced some opposition from the founding members. They were concerned about the agrarian nature of the Irish economy and the country’s policy of neutrality. However, this membership was crucial as it meant unfettered access to the European market for Irish goods and services in addition to the much-needed foreign direct investment.

In the past, Irish Defence Forces have played an active role in the UN's peacekeeping endeavours and have served in the Congo, Cyprus and Lebanon. In 1999, Ireland even joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiative of NATO, which has been described by former US president Bill Clinton as a "track that will lead to NATO membership".

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Archives, Kevin O'Kelly meets Irish soldiers on peacekeeping work on UN patrols in Cyprus in 1964

The issue of Irish neutrality became a major cause for concern for the EU during the national referendum on the Treaty of Nice. The main point of contention was the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The European leaders met in 2002 to discuss this issue which led to Ireland making a national declaration that swore allegiance to the EU’s Security and Defence Policy, conditioned on a triple lock approval that involves a UN Mandate along with the approval of both the cabinet and the Dáil Éireann.

Following this, the European Council instituted the CSDP in 2009, and the Council confirmed that this would not interfere with Ireland’s policy of military neutrality. Interestingly former Irish Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea had entered talks about Ireland joining the Nordic Battlegroup led by Sweden in 2006, which was in deep contrast to the position of neutrality taken by the Government.

The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014 not only undermined the eminence of the contemporary European security structures, but also highlighted the lacuna that existed in the Union’s defence and security management. This phase in the EU’s history is marked with precariousness and vulnerability on multiple frontiers, externally as well as internally.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Drivetime in 2014, journalist Tim Ripley analyses what the Russian annexation of Crimea means for the world

Historically, the US and particularly NATO have been reliable allies for the EU, but faith in these tried and tested supporters of late is dwindling due to the geopolitical environment. Some proponents of EU-NATO cooperation have argued that the division of labour between the two is pivotal for the future of the EU, while others argue that it must consider developing independent means for 'European Security’.

To consolidate European defence mechanisms, the European Council established the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in 2017. It is a member state-driven action for the coherent coordination and implementation of all defence capabilities needed to resolve national and multinational predicaments. PESCO was created to enhance the EU’s ability to manage crises of national and international security. While the decision to participate in any of the PESCO run enterprises is discretionary, all policy decisions that follow are governed by the European Council once a member state decides to participate.

In 2018, the Council published a roadmap for the PESCO which introduced the first 17 projects for the PESCO. Ireland decided to participate in two of these and has also promised to work with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain to upgrade maritime surveillance in international waters.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week in 2017, professor of international relations at UCD Ben Tonra and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett on Ireland joining the Pesco EU military structure.

Following the escalation of troubles in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and now in Ukraine, there has been much debate within the EU about need for a Strategic Compass to help the EU actualise plans for security and defence and enhance the EU’s ability to contribute to geopolitically heated situations. The main aim will be to bring intelligibility to the threats that the EU must address and what means it must adopt to address such threats.

As a joint and equitable effort has to be made by all EU members for it to work, this may become a cause for concern for Ireland as it would undermine the Irish policy of neutrality. However, the adoption of some form of a strategic compass is necessary to enable the EU to play its designated role within NATO and also have the freedom to act of its own volition.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ