Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill seeks the insertion of a reference to neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Essentially, it seeks to amend the Constitution to ensure Ireland could not, and would not, aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for a war, save with the assent of the Dáil. The Bill also affirms that Ireland is a neutral state and that the State would have a policy of non-membership of military alliances. Ultimately, it would give power to the people in that it would trigger a referendum on whether Irish citizens wanted Ireland to be a neutral country. The overwhelming evidence is that they do. A Red C poll carried out in September 2013 found that 78% of Irish people believed Ireland should have a policy of neutrality.
In 2003 Sinn Féin tabled a neutrality Bill. The weekend prior to it being moved in the House more than 100,000 people marched on the streets of Dublin to protest at the impending US and British invasion of Iraq and called on the Irish Government to oppose and play no part in it. Many of us in the Chamber this morning took part in that historic march. Sadly, the then Government did not listen to the demands of the people and instead facilitated the war and the subsequent invasion by allowing Shannon Airport to become a staging post for the US military’s operations in the Middle East.
Article 5, Chapter 1, of the Hague Convention which deals with the rights and duties of neutral powers states a neutral power must not allow belligerents to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across its territory. Successive Governments have clearly breached the Hague Convention and undermined Irish neutrality. They sold Irish neutrality, piece by piece, against the wishes of the people. While in opposition, the Labour Party voted in favour of the Sinn Féin Bill introduced in 2003. At the time, Deputy Joe Costello said, “I too have no difficulty in supporting the Bill” and “The House should not divide on the Bill but allow it to proceed.” Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, who was a Member of this House at the time also spoke passionately in favour of neutrality and the passage of the Bill. The Tánaiste and several former Labour Party Front Bench Deputies voted "Tá" and I appeal to them and Fine Gael to allow this Bill to pass Second Stage and let us begin to openly and honestly debate Ireland’s policy of neutrality.
A referendum would bring greater clarity to the State’s neutrality policy which has become blurred, distorted and riddled with double speak, as successive Governments state one thing and do the opposite. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's most recent 57-page policy paper, The Global Island, references neutrality only twice. The recent and ongoing court case of Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly has done us all a public service. Like other Deputies, both have consistently raised the issue of the failure of and the need for the Garda authorities to investigate and search flights carrying military personnel through Shannon Airport. The ongoing court case has heard important evidence from military experts that details how foreign military forces transport weaponry on aircraft passing through Shannon Airport. During the case Dr. Tom Clonan, a former Defence Forces member and security analyst, played a recording that had been made on a US military aircraft at Shannon Airport which advised US soldiers to "leave their weapons on board." While these aircraft are guarded by the Irish Army and the Garda, neither has ever been given the order to make even a cursory search of them for weapons.
Dr. Clonan claimed in evidence given to the court that he had boarded an aeroplane and interviewed soldiers heading to war and that he had personally witnessed soldiers putting pistols into bins and automatic rifles under their seats. A former driver of in-flight kitchen trucks also stated he had “seen weapons on board US military planes on a regular basis.” Shannonwatch has provided the Garda with all of this information and more but, to our knowledge, no investigation has taken place. Statements are taken and that is it. Shannon is a civilian airport and was not built for military purposes. An accident or crash could potentially result in huge civilian casualties.
Dr. Clonan also stated in his evidence that he believed Irish neutrality had been so diluted by successive Governments that it was questioned by many abroad. He claimed that 2.25 million US troops had passed through Shannon Airport since 2002, making it a virtual forward air base for the US military and the largest invading force to have ever passed through Ireland. The Bill gives us and the people an opportunity to change this. There are many within the European Union who wish to build a military structure to complement NATO and clean up its mess, under the guise of peacebuilding. Ireland’s deeper integration into the European Union’s military system ensures the Bill is timely. A Fianna Fáil-led Government signed Ireland up to NATO’s ironically named Partnership for Peace, PfP, which is generally seen as a stepping stone to full NATO membership. Ireland has a dedicated office in Brussels just for NATO's PfP which brings no financial, security, political or social benefits to Ireland but which costs us hundreds of thousands of euro every year. NATO is a Cold War relic which should be disbanded. Instead we have seen it aggressively grow and encourage greater spending on weapons of mass destruction. The NATO-led operation in Libya may have been declared a success in terms of regime change, but it has left behind a country in tatters, as in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan.
On a visit to Dublin in 2013, the then Secretary General of NATO said he warmly welcomed the prospect of Ireland becoming more involved in NATO. A motion at the 2014 Fine Gael Party conference called for Ireland to join NATO and, while it was defeated, it shows that some are eyeing up that possibility. Decisions such as this should not be left solely in the hands of a Government but should directly be made by the people in a referendum. That is what the Bill seeks to do.
The Government’s Green Paper on Defence wrongly suggests Irish neutrality has its origins in the Second World War. In fact, the Irish impulse to neutrality predates this. Sinn Féin’s support for neutrality is a product of a well developed and coherent Irish republican position stretching back over 200 years, when Wolfe Tone called for Irish neutrality in the face of an impending war between Britain and Spain in the 1790s. In 1914 James Connolly founded the Irish Neutrality League and the women activists of Cumann na mBan republished Wolfe Tone’s pamphlet "The Spanish War" in 1915.
Some argue that neutrality is outdated, but what they fail to rationalise is that we live in a world where half of the population live in poverty, with one person in eight suffering from malnutrition, and where poverty kills approximately 19 people around the world every minute of the day every month. In 2011, $1,738 billion was spent globally on military activities. To ensure we live in a safer and more equal world, greater military expenditure is definitely not the solution. Instead, we need to challenge the very structures that cause poverty, food insecurity and conflict. Sinn Féin believes that if Ireland was to follow a policy of positive neutrality, the State could make a highly significant and powerful contribution towards the long-held global objective of international peace with justice. Through a policy of positive neutrality, the State would not increase its military spending, or take part in the arms trade and profit from war; it would instead focus on guaranteeing the economic, social, political and cultural rights of people worldwide. If we were to redouble our efforts to focus on working with countries to implement global targets on issues such as land rights, climate change, citizen participation, economic equality and government accountability, the world would inevitably become a better and safer place. Neutrality, therefore, is not a policy of opting out of international affairs; rather, it is a commitment to a different type of international politics based on justice, development and human rights. Sinn Féin fully supports the continued role of Irish troops in UN peacekeeping missions around the world and the brave work they carry out. Blue helmet peacekeeping missions and Irish Aid continue to be two of the most positive pillars of the State’s foreign affairs policy during the decades.
I hope all Deputies will support the neutrality Bill and allow the people to decide on whether the Constitution should enshrine neutrality. We have a unique opportunity to send the right message and allow the Bill to pass Second Stage. It is long past time power was given to the people to decide on Ireland’s future and whether neutrality should be at the core of policy. I hope for a full debate and that this marks the start. Other Bills are pending, including the one published by Deputy Mick Wallace which is to be debated in a few weeks time. This Bill provides a useful opportunity. Bearing in mind the new information that has come to light in the court case involving Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, it is useful that the debate is beginning. I hope it will not finish here.