I move: That Dáil Éireann confirms the principles which have guided the defence policy of the Government and their predecessors.
I welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to restate the principles that have guided and continue to guide the defence policy of this and previous Fianna Fáil Governments.
At the outset, I wish to state unequivocally that the Government are not discussing or negotiating any kind of secret agreement on defence with Britain or with any other country or group of countries. As far as this Government are concerned, any major change in Ireland's defence policy would have to be, in accordance with the Constitution, the subject of the fullest public debate, both inside and outside the Dáil. But this is not an issue at the present time, nor would we lightly give up the very considerable advantages our present defence policy has, not only for ourselves, but, I believe, in a number of respects for our friends and partners in the Western world.
The deep attachment of the majority of the people of this country to this policy arises out of our own particular historical experience. The Government see it as their duty and responsibility to ensure that the policy is clearly and realistically stated, having regard to changing circumstances and the international environment. If at any time some modification in the policy seemed to be required in the overall national interest, then it would be the Government's duty in a matter of such high importance to put the position fully before the people and their representatives prior to any decision being taken.
Our overriding objective is and has always been to establish firmly and to maintain Irish sovereignty and independence and to preserve the safety of our people. Article 1 of our Constitution affirms the Irish nation's sovereign right to choose its own form of Government and to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its political, economic and social life in accordance with its own genius and traditions. That is the basis of our foreign and defence policy; that is the rock on which we stand. In every policy of Government, in every aspect of our policy, our guiding principle is the national interest, the sovereignty, welfare and security of the people of Ireland and their right to decide their attitudes and courses of action as defined in the widest possible sense. The provisions of the Constitution, in so far as international relations are concerned, are expanded by Article 29, which states that Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations.
Other provisions of that Article specifically require that every international agreement, other than those of a technical or administrative character, to which the State becomes a party shall be laid before Dáil Éireann. That requirement would clearly relate to any pact or treaty on defence.
In the formulation of defence policy every country has to take some account of the situation, the attitude and the interests of its closest neighbours. In our case this is particularly so in regard to Britain.
We have always recognised Britain's legitimate concern that her western flank should be secure. As far back as 1921, Eamon de Valera stated quite clearly that we would provide for our own defence, that we would guarantee to repel by force any foreign power, and that we would allow no outside nation to use Ireland as a base for attack on Britain. That policy clearly enunciated many times by Eamon de Valera is still our policy. Britain and ourselves are destined to live as neighbours. The two countries have, as Eamon de Valera said, more interests in common than they have with other nations. There is, in the words of the Joint Communique issued after my meeting with the British Prime Minister last May, a unique relationship between us; and it is in the interest of the people of both countries that we should seek a solution to our outstanding problems in that context.
I believe there would be general agreement on the proposition that one of the really important contributions that could be made in the circumstances of today to the security of these islands and indeed of Western Europe as a whole would be a lasting peaceful, political solution to the problem of Northern Ireland.
A peaceful friendly Ireland would be of significant strategic value to Britain and Europe. The Northern Ireland situation requires a peaceful solution principally on the grounds of ordinary, humanitarian considerations. The people of the six counties of Northern Ireland are entitled to live in peace and security and in the better economic and social conditions which peace will bring.
It is also true, however, that in a world in which the threat of war looms and recedes, a solution to the situation in Northern Ireland becomes increasingly urgent. When a satisfactory political solution is arrived at, we would of course have to review what would be the most appropriate defence arrangements for the island as a whole. It would be unrealistic and improvident not to do so. It would also be mandatory that any such arrangements would require the full authority of the Irish people deciding on them as a specific issue.
I want to assure the Dáil that we are not under any pressure from any quarter to join NATO. On the issue as to whether or not we would ever contemplate doing so, I believe I can do no better than quote what Seán Lemass said on this question.
`There is no possibility that this or any other Irish Government would give an undertaking, in any circumstances, which would impede in any degree the fulfillment of the National will to restore the territorial unity of Ireland. (Dáil Official Report, Vol. 193, No. 1, Col. 11, 14 February 1962).
That is still our position.
I want to clearly re-affirm, however, that these are matters for the future. They are not at present under discussion. Our pre-occupation at present is with the political and security problems of Northern Ireland.
The question of our neutrality also arises in another context, our membership of the European Community. Let us be clear about one thing. This country stands for certain values, enshrined in the Constitution. Our place is with the Western democracies, and we share common concepts of human rights, freedom under the law, individual liberty and freedom of conscience. Our economic interests also are tied in with the Western industralised world. We are, therefore, neither ideologically neutral nor politically indifferent.
On the other hand, we are not a member of any military alliance. The European Community is not a military organisation or alliance. The Community does not have a common defence policy. Nevertheless, we have always accepted and said publicly as far back as 1970 that a new political entity within the Community could develop out of the process of integration to which we are committed and which was endorsed by our people in a referendum. As head of the then Fianna Fáil Government, Jack Lynch said in 1969: "Being members of that Community, we would naturally be interested in the defence of the territories embraced by the Communities. There is no question of neutrality there", (Dáil Debates, 23 July 1969, Vol. 241, No. 8, Col. 1157).
In the event, therefore, of the European States being organised into a full political union, we would accept the obligations, even if these included defence. We could not, and would not, wish to opt out of the obligations and aims inherent in the achievement of the ideal of European unity.
In thinking about our defence policies, we should not resort either to emotionalism or ideology but rather should we calmly and realistically consider every aspect from the point of view of our own fundamental interests. The security interests of other countries may be best served by membership of military alliances. Ours at present are best served by a policy of military neutrality.
We know from past experience that the position of a non-combatant country in time of war is a far from comfortable one. Our primary obligation, in such a situation, both from our own point of view and that of our friends, given our strategic position in the North Atlantic, would be to protect and defend ourselves and this island. We do not wish to become a cause of concern or danger to others.
While it is not profitable to speculate about an unpredictable future, I do not think we should be unduly apprehensive about alleged plans involving attacks on, or seizure of, parts of Ireland in time of war. We can be certain that in the thinking of a number of the great military powers, there are plans for all contingencies. The military mind apparently seeks to encompass and plan for every possible eventuality, no matter how improbable some of them may be.
The possible existence of such contingency plans as well as the appalling destructive capacity of modern weapons point clearly the path we should follow. They underline the urgent need on our part by every political and diplomatic means at our disposal to work on the international scene to secure a reduction in armaments and to promote the cause of peace. It is in our own self-interest that we do not shirk our responsibilities in seeking to promote world peace and security.
Our record to date is an honourable one. We have been at the forefront of those who proposed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and we have always argued forcefully for comprehensive disarmament. In addition, we have consistently taken up responsible positions on world issues designed to reduce tensions and to solve problems which, left as they are, constitute a serious danger to world peace.
As members of the UN Security Council we are involved in searching for urgent solutions to world conflicts, wherever they may arise. We have always supported the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations, and an Irish officer at present commands the UNIFIL contingent in the Lebanon. Our role and contribution in these operations, which is out of all proportion to our size and population, and which is welcomed and appreciated by our friends and partners, might well be compromised if we were to become members of any particular military alliance.
Our political commitment to Europe and the western democracies, our military commitment to the UN are the principal determinants of the policy that the Irish Government have followed and will continue to follow.
Defence policies are expensive. It is a matter for continuing judgment how best we can meet our essential needs within the limits imposed. As a developing economy the amount of resources we can provide for our defence must necessarily be limited. What is certain is that in our circumstances there is no scope for military status symbols. What we need rather is a commonsense, hard-headed, realistic approach to the basic requirements we have to meet.
I now invite the House and the country to consider the attitude of the principal Opposition party. Fine Gael, to these issues as revealed by the statements of three of their principal spokesmen. Deputy Garret FitzGerald, Deputy Richie Ryan and Deputy John Kelly. I turn first to Deputy FitzGerald. He is quoted inThe Irish Times of 8 February 1980, as saying:
There really isn't such a thing as neutrality today: we are part of Western Europe and our interests coincide with theirs. Our non-membership of NATO can be useful if we use it properly but we have to face situations like this positively and not dodge them.
Now hear Deputy Richie Ryan, the official party spokesman on foreign affairs. He said on 8 January 1981:
If pressure is being applied on us by anybody to alter our neutral status we should be told clearly who is doing it so that we can roundly say no.
Next we have Deputy John Kelly. He not alone repudiates any policy of neutrality today but he also condemns any such policy which was adopted in the past. He furthermore, apparently, believes that we should join NATO. He said on October 7 1978 that the policy of neutrality did not have "respectable antecedents" and that "if the rest or most of the rest of the free western world is already taking part in a defensive alliance, then self-respect, if nothing else, should require us to review our supposed policy of neutrality".(The Irish Times, 20 October 1978).
If anyone can construct a coherent defence policy out of these three separate and clearly conflicting attitudes I would be greatly interested in seeing it elaborated.
I think we are all agreed that Ireland's defence policy is a matter of key national importance. On our side of the House we have a clear and consistent policy adapted to our circumstances and in keeping with our traditions and behind which we are united. In the main Opposition party diametrically opposing views are explicitly expressed by at least three front bench spokesmen.
It is this confusion, I think, which causes them to seek refuge in this unprecedented "no mention" amendment. When before has any parliamentary assembly in the western world been asked to vote on nothing more substantial than whether a particular topic was mentioned or not mentioned.
The Labour party amendment at least has the virtue of being couched in recognisable parliamentary terms. Because it speaks, however, simply of "neutrality in international affairs" it cannot for the reasons I have outlined be accepted by the Government. Political neutrality or non-alignment is incompatible with our membership of the European Community, and with our interests and our ideals, as I have already explained. Neutrality, in the sense of not trying to reach common political positions with our European partners, is not a course which the Government could adopt nor would it, we believe, recommend itself to any substantial section of the general public. We can and of course do influence those common positions, so that they reflect our views. And we can, and do, express these views independently if we choose or if we have to.
We have a clearly defined national policy on defence. Our position in international affairs is equally clear and leaves no room for ambiguity and doubt. So, too, is our stand in pursuit of the aspiration of a united Ireland. This Government will not be deflected from calmly and firmly pursuing the policies which we are convinced are the right policies for our country and for all her people.
The studies on which the two Governments are embarked pose no threat to anybody. The subjects of those studies are set out in the communiqué debated in this House on 11 December 1980. The studies, which must for the present remain confidential if they are to be worth while and productive, do not represent decisions. They represent a process of exploration by experienced officials of the ground to be covered and when they are completed they will be submitted to the British Prime Minister and myself for whatever political decisions we may be in a position to take.
A way forward must be found. There is no section of the population on this island that can benefit from a perpetuation of the present situation. In our view progress can be made by the two sovereign Governments acting in concert and re-examining all aspects of their relationships. Let me give this final assurance. No matter what the circumstances nothing will ever be done by this Government that would jeopardise or prejudice the safety of our people, the security of the State, the independence and sovereignty of the nation, or the eventual unity of Ireland in peace and harmony.