Ireland’s defence and neutrality to be examined in forum this summer

A forum is to be held this summer to examine issues relating to Ireland’s defence capabilities, security and military neutrality.

The forum will take place across four days in June at three locations in Galway, Cork and Dublin.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheal Martin announced plans for a “consultative forum on international security policy”.

He said that cybersecurity, hybrid threats, critical infrastructure threats and the triple lock mechanism on Ireland’s neutrality will all be “open for debate”.

“There is a very clear need for an open, informed, respectful and evidence-based discussion on our foreign and our security policy,” he said on Wednesday.

“It’s a broad-based approach, it’s not down to a binary issue around military neutrality, but rather the broad spectrum of foreign and security policy, drawing on the principles along the line of the Citizens’ Assemblies model, but we’ll hear from a range of voices, experts and citizens.

The forum is not seen as a fully comprehensive review of Ireland’s security policy and is not intended to override the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces.

It is understood that contributors on up to 20 panels will come from a broad range of perspectives and include participants from other countries re-evaluating their national security position, like Finland and Sweden’s relationship with Nato, as well as neutral countries such as Austria and Switzerland.

It is expected the forum will also assist in the upcoming Strategic Defence Review within the Department of Defence.

The talks may also examine Irish involvement in peacekeeping efforts under UN obligations and EU foreign policy.

One potential avenue for discussion is the risk of the misapplication of a veto from a UN Security Council permanent member limiting the deployment of Irish peacekeepers in jurisdictions the Ireland may want to engage in.

Asked why a Citizens’ Assembly was not set up to examine the issue, Mr Martin said that two are already planned on drugs and on education.

“This model, I think, is a better model for the subject matter, because I think every citizen has an interest in this, every political party has a particular political perspective on this.

“This is a matter of core political philosophy and views and I think it’s important that the forum would facilitate the widest dissemination of those views and the public articulation of those views.”

Mr Martin subsequently told RTE Radio that the Government “doesn’t have any plans” to change Ireland’s military neutrality stance, but added that a broader discussion was needed as “things have changed fairly dramatically with the war in Ukraine”.

He said that Ireland needs to “analyse newer threats” such as the weaponisation of migration and the security of infrastructure such as undersea cables.

“Instinctively when we want to discuss issues like this, people focus in on the narrow subject of military neutrality, but it’s a much broader story and narrative that we want to focus on in terms of Ireland’s role in the modern world with the changing nature of that world,” he said.

Louise Richardson, president of the Carnegie Corporation and former vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, was announced as the chairwoman of the forum.

Mr Martin said: “I am confident that Ms Richardson, who is a native of Co Waterford and a distinguished political scientist with a strong expertise in security policy in her own right, will play a hugely positive role in chairing the discussions.”

The forum will be held on June 22 at University College Cork, June 23 at the University of Galway, and on June 26 and 27 at Dublin Castle.

It will also be open to the general public to attend in person or virtually, and to make written submissions.

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