Tuesday, 26 May 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
12. Mr. Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a policy statement on the meaning, the significance or the purpose of neutrality as an instrument of Ireland's foreign policy in the modern world of 1992; and if he will outline his views on the way in which the policy will evolve over the next five years.
Mr. Daly: The basic principles governing the conduct of Ireland's international relations are outlined in the  Constitution. Article 29 affirms Ireland's devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality. It affirms Ireland's adherence to the peaceful settlement of disputes, and it accepts international law as the basis for the conduct of relations between states. Successive Irish Governments have considered that these principles and Ireland's interests are best served by a policy of remaining outside of military alliances.
That policy has served Ireland well. It has helped us consolidate our sovereignty and independence. It helped spare the country from the ravages of conflict during the Second World War. It has enabled Ireland play a constructive and positive role in international affairs — at the UN for example, in international peacekeeping, and in our relations with the Third World. Since we joined the European Community in 1973 we have sought to promote our principles through active co-operation with our European partners in European Political Co-operation.
The principles and policies we have followed in international affairs will continue to be important in the years ahead. Many of the recent developments in international politics go in a direction that Ireland has long advocated and worked for. They provide an unprecedented opportunity to achieve our fundamental goals. The end of the Cold War in Europe and of the system of hostile and antagonistic alliances to which it gave rise open the way for further disarmament in Europe and for new European security structures based on dialogue and co-operation. We will be pursuing these in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which is currently meeting in Helsinki, and through the new Common Foreign and Security Policy under the Treaty on European Union.
That treaty does not establish a military alliance or require Ireland to join one. It looks to the farming of a common defence policy in new negotiations in 1996. The Taoiseach said recently, and  again today that we never ruled out the possibility of the European Community developing eventually and in stages a stronger security defence dimension and that Ireland would enter into any future negotiations in good faith. The outcome of these negotiations will have to be agreed unanimously and will have to take account of the changes in Europe's security landscape that I have just outlined.
Mr. Connor: I thank the Minister for his reply, but the Taoiseach's replies were in many ways more interesting. I do not say that with any disrespect to the Minister. Could the Minister of State say one way or the other, against the background of what the Taoiseach said here today, is this country neutral anymore, or not?
Proinsias De Rossa: In view of the Taoiseach's statement recently and again today in the Dáil that neutrality has lost its relevance because of the changed circumstances in Europe, will the Minister state clearly does that mean that this Government no longer pursue a policy of neutrality?
Mr. Daly: ——that it is very difficult to determine what the Opposition are trying to get at. Ireland's position of neutrality has been a long-established policy. Nothing has changed. There is nothing further I can add to what has already been said on numerous occasions, even by the Taoiseach, as late as a few minutes ago.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Would the Minister not accept that not alone are red herrings passing us by but perhaps a few sacred cows as well and that it might be salutary for the Minister to confront the reality of our situation? Does the Minister accept that in so far as the implementation of the decisions of the UN Security Council are concerned we are not neutral, that in the confrontation in the Cold War between East and West we were not neutral but were firmly on the side of the West and that in so far as the decisions of the European Community in international affairs are concerned we are not neutral but are firmly on the side of our EC partners? Does the Minister accept those three basic points? After that, perhaps he might tell us where is our neutrality.
Mr. Daly: The Deputy knows as well as I do that the Cold War is over, that the Warsaw Pact has been dissolved and that the military doctrines that governed European security have become obsolete. Russia and other Eastern European countries are developing a close relationship with NATO in the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. The Eastern European countries are entering into a relationship with the Western European Union. All these relationships are going in a direction that Ireland has  long advocated and worked for. That does not change our position on neutrality. I cannot see where the Deputy has any difficulty with that.
Mr. M. Higgins: As a member of a party that goes back to James Connolly who was involved with others like him in the anti-conscription league, and who see neutrality as not being a sacred cow, a party who have published policy papers on positive neutrality, I would ask the Minister does the Taoiseach's recently reported statement that the world of mutually antagonistic alliances which gave neutrality its relevance has gone, not indicate an absolute major shift in Irish foreign policy? How and why was this statement of a major shift in Irish policy made just at the time when so many are telling us that we can welcome the contribution of other neutral countries into an enlarged European Community? I am sure that those who suggest that we Irish must never have sacred cows would not suggest that Sweden or Austria have sacred cows. Does the Taoiseach's statement not make it necessary to have either a full debate or a position paper on neutrality. Why drop neutrality now when other neutrals are applying to become members of the Community?
Mr. Daly: The Taoiseach has said that we have to recognise how much circumstances have changed. The Taoiseach has also pointed out that in a new era we have a chance, with the other countries in Europe, to build a new positive framework for security which will reflect and incorporate the ideas we have held all along rather than any type of obsolete Cold War thinking. That is basically what the Taoiseach said. He also said that we can do this without in any way doing violence or damage to our traditions.
Mr. Connor: The Minister of State's responsibility is in the area of development co-operation and relations with the Third World. I agree with the view that our neutrality has been a valuable instrument in that area. Will the Minister use that instrument of neutrality in the future as part of the way we operate our relations with the Third World and development co-operation?
Mr. Daly: The Deputy is fully aware of the way we operate our overseas development policy. I will deal with any questions he wishes to put down on our overseas development aid programme and policies and relations with developing countries.
Proinsias De Rossa: Acknowledging, as I have done repeatedly in this House, that the world situation has changed and that therefore Irish foreign policy has to adjust, will the Minister tell the House in relation to the policy of neutrality whether it is in any way affected by the statement of the general secretary of the Western European Union that since Maastricht we can regard the Western European Union as the European pillar of NATO?
Mr. Deasy: On a point of order, I am not being facetious when I say that I do not know if the air conditioning system in this House has ever worked. It certainly is not working at present and the conditions in the House are pretty dreadful. I would ask the Chair to use his good offices to see if something could be done about it.
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