criticism | 

Taoiseach denies meeting with EU and Nato members ‘undermines’ Ireland’s neutrality

He rejected a claim from TD Paul Murphy of "sidling up" to the nuclear powers tonight at a leaders' meal dubbed the "EuroAtlantic" conference
Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Picture: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Picture: PA© PA

Senan MolonyIndependent.ie

The Taoiseach has denied that his presence in Madrid at an EU-Nato meeting is a deliberate move to chip away at Ireland's military neutrality.

He rejected a claim from solidarity People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy of "sidling up" to the nuclear powers tonight at a leaders' meal dubbed the "EuroAtlantic" conference.

Mr Murphy said the Taoiseach was "undermining what's left of this country's neutrality."

Mr Martin said it was not a fair analysis. "First of all, all of the world's democracies are here. I don't know why Paul Murphy would have a problem with me meeting with the President of the United States, for example, or indeed other leaders across Europe, all of whom, by the way, had sought and tried to prevent war and sought peace," he said.

Leaders from Joe Biden to Emmanuel Macron "did everything they possibly could" to prevent the war in Ukraine," he said, calling the gathering tonight at the Prado Museum a "watershed moment."

The democracies involved shared values of freedom of speech and assembly and a free media, he said. "I think it's important at international gatherings like this that we in Ireland are part of the conversation,” the Taoiseach said.

"The world is going through a watershed moment in terms of having huge impacts from energy to food to the migration crisis, and Ireland should be there as part of that conversation with like minded democracies."

The criticism of his taking part was thus "wholly unfounded”.

Asked whether the possibility of Ireland joining NATO was suddenly becoming thinkable for Ireland, Mr Martin first emphasised that other neutral countries are in attendance at the dinner and conference in Madrid.

"There are positives to Ireland's neutrality. We're not politically neutral. And obviously to change neutrality is something that ultimately the Irish people would have to have a say in,” he said.

"I've put forward the idea of a Citizens' Assembly to have a reflective, informed debate on that issue of military non-alignment. That is the essential definition of Ireland's neutrality. We are politically part of the European Union, and we were strongly supported of democratic principles and values.

"We're not neutral on those matters, and our membership with the UN Security Council reflect reflects our commitment to universal values of the United Nations."

Mr Martin arrived into broiling Madrid today to attend a EuroAtlantic dinner that will see an Irish Head of Government sharing a meal with NATO members for the first time.

A consultative dinner of democratic countries is being hosted by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, which includes all 27 EU member states and all 30 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), with much crossover between the two.

But the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are also attending, making it the largest international security summit since the end of the Second World War.

The Taoiseach said he was there in listening mode, as the leader of a neutral country.

“I look forward to engaging with a number of other leaders in Madrid," he said.

But his staffers emphasised Ireland's official line - that this country backs continuing cooperation as a militarily neutral state. Such communication - now taking place on the margins of the main Nato summit - is seen as benefitting "international peace and security."

While in Madrid, the Taoiseach will also have a number of bilateral meetings with other leaders, including with PM Jonas Støre of Norway, which is a NATO member, PM Katrin Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, also a Nato member, and Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria, which - like Ireland - is one of the shrinking number of neutral countries in Europe.

Mr Martin, who will also attend an Irish-Spanish business event, made no apology for consulting with heavily-armed NATO countries, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose United Kingdom is one of several states that have deployed nuclear weapons in readiness for attack - although NATO is a self-declared defensive alliance, pledged to make no first strike.

"Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has highlighted more than ever the importance of solidarity and cooperation between likeminded partners. In particular, it is a keen reminder of the absolute necessity of upholding a rules-based international order, and the dire consequences for all of us when that order is undermined," Mr Martin said ahead of his meetings.

"As our societies face complex and unpredictable threats aimed at destabilising the foundations of our democracies, it makes sense to bolster international cooperation to work to uphold democratic values and our commitment to that rules-based international order."

The Taoiseach first attends a reception at the official residence of Ireland's Ambassador to Spain, Frank Smyth, to meet key members of the business community - and personnel representing Irish agencies working in Spain, such as Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland.

A spokesman said all the countries that Ireland would hold talks with shared a commitment to multilateralism. There is no scheduled meeting with Boris Johnson, whom the Taoiseach has accused of acting in a unilateral way on the Northern Ireland Protocol and legacy issues.


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