Ireland to consult the public in preparation for joining NATO after Finland abandoned military neutrality

Simon Coveney TD, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense, discusses Ireland's foreign policy. Photo The Government of Ireland.

Ireland’s government is to ask the public for their views on the country’s tradition of military neutrality in a consultative forum, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, the latest sign of a possible shift in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said the forum, which will be held in June in three different cities over four days, will focus on various security issues and allow for a discussion on the decades-old neutrality policy.

“The international security environment has changed significantly over the last year. We have seen blatant and brutal disregard by Russia of international law,” Martin said in a statement.

“Ireland’s commitment to a rules-based international order and our traditional policy of military neutrality do not inure us from the need to respond to this new reality.”

The forum will hear from security, defence and foreign policy experts, as well as political representatives, civil society, academics and other relevant bodies. Members of the public can attend and submit written submissions in advance.

Martin told national broadcaster RTE that there is “no preconceived outcome” to the discussions and that the government has no plans to change its policy of military neutrality.

The move comes as Finland formally joined NATO on Tuesday, ending seven decades of military non-alignment in a historic policy shift brought on by Russia’s invasion.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar last year said the country was likely to reconsider the policy in the wake of the invasion, and suggested the country might get more involved in common European Union defence policy.

Ireland’s neutrality, justified by prime minister Eamon DeValera in World War Two as allowing the country to avoid becoming a pawn in the games of great powers, has been official policy for much of its history and remains widely popular.

Critics say the policy, and the country’s low level of spending on defence, leaves it dependent on the good will of allies.

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