Irish president slams government for attempting to ditch neutrality and join NATO
U.S. President Joe Biden and Irish President Michael Higgins have differing opinions on NATO expansion. Higgins says Ireland should never ditch its traditional neutrality and get wrapped up in NATO wars. Here, the two speak as Biden arrives at Aras an Uachtarain, the Irish presidential residence, April 13, 2023, in Dublin. | Patrick Semansky / AP

DUBLIN—The Irish Presidency is primarily a ceremonial position, which precludes the incumbent from commenting on government policy. However, Ireland’s President, Michael D. Higgins, has on occasion broken with convention. Late June was a case in point. He spoke out in a newspaper interview to voice his concern at the apparent moves by the government to jettison the country’s traditional policy of neutrality.

There has been uproar from both members of the government and the mainstream media at this intervention. However, Higgins is standing on solid ground. He is not only guardian of the Irish Constitution, but he is also the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces.

What caused the president to speak out was the setting up by the government of a Consultative Forum on International Security Policy. In the context of the current war in Ukraine, the ruling Conservative coalition is trying to use it to abolish existing controls on the deployment of Irish military personnel in conflict zones. The Forum is a perfect vehicle to carry out this coup.

The controls consist of the so-called “Triple Lock.” Under the law, for more than 12 members of the defense forces to participate in overseas operations in a peacekeeping capacity, their mission must be approved by government, parliament, and the U.N. The Irish government is now seeking to abolish the condition of U.N. approval on the basis that the Russians hold a veto in the Security Council. If the “Triple Lock” was removed, it would mean that Irish army personnel could then be deployed in EU and NATO missions in regions of conflict.

Higgins warned, “Ireland must not drift into NATO and become buried in other people’s agendas.” Instead, he argued for Ireland’s foreign policy to return to “positive neutrality.” His intervention was particularly critical as to the make-up of the Forum. It was disturbing, he said, that those selected to participate were mainly military personnel or from military think tanks. Irish neutrality experts were not welcome. He also questioned why a Dame Commander of the British Empire, Louise Richardson, had been chosen to both chair the Forum and pen the final report for the Irish Cabinet. Also, he expressed concern that representatives of neutral countries such as Austria and Malta were being excluded, while representatives from Sweden and Finland that recently joined NATO were attending.

Article 29 of the Irish Constitution deals with International Relations, and commits Ireland to “peace and friendly cooperation amongst nations founded on international justice” and “adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes.”

Opinion polls over the last number of years affirm that 80% of the Irish people support Ireland remaining a neutral country. The most recent opinion poll (June 2023), conducted by IPSOS for the Irish Times, found that only 14% of people in Ireland would be willing to join NATO. In contrast, the government, the media, the universities (especially the EU-embedded Jean Monnet lecturers), the think tanks, and the EU are working together to lie, manipulate, and threaten the Irish people into dropping neutrality and ultimately joining NATO.

Critics and activists are calling for the convening of a public Citizens’ Assembly to discuss these issues and enshrine the country’s neutrality in the constitution. Citizens’ Assemblies, made up of 99 randomly selected people living in Ireland, discuss serious legal and political issues. Over the past decade, Citizens’ Assemblies have become an essential part of the Irish democratic process and play a crucial role in the wider public debate.

In relation to specific issues, Assembly members consider different views, take into account reports and studies as well as experiences in other countries, and listen to experts as well as the experiences of those affected. This leads to a series of recommendations to be considered by government and parliament. Significant issues included, for example, same-sex marriage and legalizing abortion. Presently, there is a Citizen Assembly on Drug Use in Ireland.

Sinn Féin, which will in all likelihood lead the next government, is also in favor of enshrining neutrality in the constitution.

Irish neutrality has been undermined for many years. Since 2001, the U.S. military has used Shannon airport to transport millions of troops and armaments en route to war zones in the Middle East. Even the Guantanamo Express has used the airport while carrying out “extraordinary rendition” missions.

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Niall Farrell
Niall Farrell

Niall Farrell is originally from Belfast. He now lives in Galway where he is Administrator of the Galway Alliance Against War and a member of the Free Assange Ireland campaign.