The war in Ukraine has put Ireland's long-held policy of military neutrality back under the spotlight.

The government’s approach to the war has faced criticism from some who say Ireland is not doing enough to assist Ukraine to repel Russia’s invasion, and others who say we’re not being neutral in the conflict.

Since the war began, Ireland has been providing Ukraine with "humanitarian, political, financial and non-lethal material assistance."

When asked at a recent EU Leaders’ Summit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland was militarily neutral but "not politically neutral".

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett in November said the government has been attempting to "soften up public opinion on abandoning neutrality."

It’s expected that plans will be announced in the coming weeks by Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin for a process similar to the Citizens’ Assembly.

It will examine the policy of neutrality, as well as wider foreign policy goals.

As part of The Conversation from RTÉ's Upfront with Katie Hannon, we asked two people to join our WhatsApp group to discuss the future of Irish neutrality.

Roger Cole is the founder and chairman of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA).

Declan Power is an independent security and defence analyst and a former Irish soldier.

Declan Power: I think Ireland needs to explore bespoke arrangements to allow for defence cooperation where appropriate. I think we need to clarify our needs and work from there. As it is now accepted, we cannot provide for our own defence on a unilateral basis.

I might add, that although I’m not suggesting signing up to a mutual defence pact like NATO, we do need operational coordination arrangements to be in place or else we get left out of the conversation in a time of crisis.

Roger Cole: Ireland's history is one long struggle between imperialism and those that sought Irish independence, as part of a world of independent neutral states working together in a global organisation such as the United Nations (UN).

The alternative to this is integration into the wider United States military network.

We are surrounded by NATO member states but there is not a shred of evidence that any of these intend to go to war with us.

Declan Power: I’m not really interested in an historical debate here. We are in a new reality. The UN was never the only game in town in relation to international security.

We should not limit ourselves. My point is that we should maintain open and transparent relationships with the EU and NATO in relation to defence options.

We need to have interoperability* so in a time of crisis we are not making it up on the hoof.

[*Editor’s Note – Interoperability is the ability of military groups to operate in conjunction with each other.]

If we do not do this, we will be abdicating important decision-making roles.

Also, all these countries around us are already partner nations in many other sensitive spheres.

The boat has long sailed that we can hope international crises will not touch us.

If we want to engage in international commerce or if we want to stand up against human rights abuses on the international stage, then we need a proper national security stance.

We are already doing a lot of this on an ad hoc basis, but I would argue for consistency and transparency.

We do not have a proper defence policy. This is hugely irresponsible in the times we live in.

Roger Cole: Ireland is a small country, surrounded by countries that have no intention of invading us and we have no intention of invading them.

We're a small state with a small army. For a long time that army has served with honour as UN peacekeepers. Ireland ended the war in its own country by promoting a ceasefire and negotiations.

We can help promote this approach in international conflicts if we remain neutral.

As regards transatlantic cables, their destruction would only happen as a small part of a major global war. A war in which we will all die.

Many years ago, when I went to a British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) conference as a member of the Irish CND, I was introduced as the man, "From the land of saints and scholars".

I was dubious about the 'saints’ part but welcomed the title as hailing from a country that had never invaded another.

In a country (UK) that had a long history of foreign conflict, I took it as a compliment.

These are the traditional values that poll after poll has shown are still supported by the vast majority of Irish people.

Declan Power: We have already contributed to the creation of the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).

Then there is also the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) which allows for multilateral cooperation on mutually relevant defence issues between EU member states and third parties.

However, as there seems to me a bit of empire building going on by the French, I would suggest we don’t put all our eggs on the one defence basket.

We should also explore Enhanced Opportunity Partnership with NATO.

We don’t have to join it, but, like the Jordanians, Australians and others, we maintain an open line for communication, cooperation training and intelligence sharing.

This can all be done without being bound by Article 5*, allowing us maintain Ireland’s version of neutrality.

[*Editor’s Note: Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states that the parties to the treaty "Agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all."]

Incidentally, I think since the Nice Treaty, we are bound to render assistance to other EU member states in time of disaster or attack.

It doesn’t stipulate military assistance, but whatever can be offered in line with the rendering states foreign policy and capacity.

So really, unless we divest ourselves of our EU membership, stop cooperation with the UK on air policing and air sea rescue ops, we cannot consider ourselves ‘neutral’.

You keep thinking the only threat is physical invasion. You are out of date. But there is myriad other threats, from cyber to disinformation that affect us.

My other key point is that by not engaging in defence cooperation with our physical neighbours and economic partners, we leave ourselves open to being out of the loop on decisions that would be made in a crisis that would have a direct effect on our citizens’ safety, territorial integrity and democratic stability.

You know Roger, it’s not a binary option. I share a lot of your values and views. They do not have to be sacrificed for our nation to take its responsibility to look after our citizens' security and safety.

We are in blurred and confused territory, as proven by my point about Micheál Martin earlier. In relation to your points about the cables - you are incorrect.

Such assets can be sabotaged quite easily as part of a hybrid operation. A ‘global war’ as you put it would not be required.

Roger Cole: We are both Irish and as such have a great deal in common.

I am a traditionalist because of my knowledge and understanding of history, and because my father was a hardline Fianna Fáil supporter.

Ireland however is in a much smaller world, which is now being split between the USA/NATO axis v the Russia/China axis.

Whatever role a tiny country like Ireland can play is as a neutral country seeking a role, however small, to ensure that there will not be a nuclear war.

Ireland cannot do that if it seeks stronger military links with the EU or NATO.

We need to remember the struggle for independence in other countries like India and Vietnam.

Ireland is primarily known globally as a country of music not war, especially during the last 25 years.

Also, the countries that were invaded by Britain and all the other European empires no longer dominate the world.

And most of them support neutrality, as PANA and as the Irish people do.

Not of course, the Irish corporate media that supported Redmond and Carson. They have not changed.

Read last week's edition of The Conversation, where we asked if we should scrap daylight savings, here.