This article on Irish Neutrality was written by Phillip Clark, Chair of Veterans For Peace UK.
The public perception is that Ireland is a Neutral Country and has acted as such in words and deeds since its founding as an independent Free State in 1922.
The Hague Convention 1907 lays down the basic framework for a country to be considered neutral . Effectively this is to not allow its own military or land be used by any of the belligerents and not initiate any actions. Countries have declared their neutrality by a neutrality clause the constitution (eg Moldova), by convention or treaty (eg Austria), or tradition (eg Sweden).
Ultimately, a country is neutral in the words and deeds of the government and military.
It is generally accepted by the United Nations and the member states that being a neutral country does not preclude deployment on UN mandated peace keeping operations. Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland are all considered neutral yet still contribute these operations, the vast majority monitoring ceasefires. At present (Aug 2018) Ireland has 406 troops as part of UNFIL, the ‘Blue Line’ between Israel and Lebanon, as part of UN Resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978) and 1701 (2006) .
Ireland does not have a neutral clause in the constitution, nor is it neutral by any international treaty; Ireland has been neutral by tradition and the public words and deeds. Most importantly, successive Irish governments of different ideologies have declared that they are a neutral country. Neutrality seems to be a settle discussion in Ireland – most polls indicate an overwhelming majority of Irish citizens are in favour of neutrality, although in 2016 there was a failed attempt to enshrine neutrality in the Irish Constitution .
Being an island off the west coast of Europe does mean Ireland can be more secure in its neutrality, geography enabling this unlike Belgium and The Netherlands during WW1 and WW2.
Ultimately though Ireland has few enemies that are threatening to invade. Which means that the government can spend less on the military than a state with perceived threats to their territorial integrity.
However, this was not always the case. During WW2 there was the possibility of invasion by the Axis and Allies. While maintaining a neutral position recent research has shown that there was cooperation between Ireland and the Allies, such as ‘Plan W’ in the event of an attempted Nazi invasion of Ireland, allowing Allied aircraft to fly over Ireland, and cooperation with weather repost (Duggan 2003). In addition, many Irish citizens joined to support the Allies, joining the British military or as civilian workers in. Members of the Irish Defence Forces also deserted to join the Allies.
During the Cold War the successive Irish governments refused to join NATO, stating that they would only join as a united Ireland and would not be part of an alliance including the UK . However, Irish airspace was used by trans-atlantic military flights by the US, UK, and Canadian armed forces.
Being a member state of the European Union has caused discussion within Ireland about neutrality, with the EU recognising Ireland’s tradition of neutrality. In addition, Article 29 of the Irish Constitution allows Ireland to effectively opt out of EU common defence policies. However, the Irish High Court has found that this clause is ‘merely aspirational and not enforceable’ , with the Irish Constitution explicitly stating that EU law has primacy.
There are a number of issues, however, that may undermine the traditions and that Ireland in the 21st century is not a neutral country in words and deeds:
• Afghanistan and Iraq Wars . The Irish government since2001 has allowed US military aircraft to use Shannon Airport to refuel and allowed US military aircraft to fly in Irish airspace. A neutral country should not allow foreign military to traverse in its territory.
• Rendition. The Irish government allowed US aircraft operated by the CIA to secretly render suspects, to refuel at Shannon airport. In addition, there is speculation to suggest that prisoners were exchanged between US CIA and military aircraft whilst they were on the ground at Shannon airport.
• Ireland is a member of the EU which brings integration of a common foreign and defence policy . A neutral country would have a wholly independent foreign and defence policy, not one dictated by any alliance or treaty.
• The Irish government has signed a bilateral agreement with the British government that RAF assets can be used in the event of a terrorist action in Irish airspace .
Allowing foreign militaries to use Irish airspace or Irish airports could be assessed as violation of Section 5 of The Hague Convention 1907 Article 2 (movement of troops) and Article 7 (transport/supply of military materials).
So, is Ireland a neutral country? In deeds successive Irish governments have breached their tradition of neutrality by allowing foreign militaries to use Shannon airport. And in words the present Irish government has effectively allowed the EU to dictate what it’s foreign policy should be.
Prior to being elected Taoiseach in 2011, Enda Kenny stated ‘the truth is, Ireland is not neutral; we are merely unaligned’ . Perhaps a more accurate answer to this question is ‘no’.
It is intended that the information on this website develops over time. To suggest amendments and corrections to this article please comment below.