Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 3

Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2022: Second Stage [Private Members]

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille don Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

People Before Profit-Solidarity has put forward this Bill which seeks a referendum on the insertion of neutrality into the Constitution. Many people believe Ireland's neutrality is protected in the Constitution because there is a long understanding and overwhelming support for the idea that Ireland should be neutral but, in fact, that neutrality is not protected in the Constitution, and we believe it is seriously under attack.

Successive Governments have sought to undermine that neutrality most egregiously with the decisions of previous Governments to allow millions of US troops to go through Shannon Airport in order to prosecute bloody and unjustifiable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a war based on a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction that led to the death of 1 million people, directly and indirectly, and essentially destroyed Iraqi society, damage from which it will probably not recover for decades if ever. Ireland facilitated that even though it is supposed to be a neutral country. We facilitated the outrageous practice of rendition, better termed as kidnapping and torture by the US, whereby they send Gulfstream jets around the world, kidnap people they consider to be a threat to American security, without due process, and take them to black sites around the world and torture them, often in despotic, brutal regimes that allow the US to carry on this practice.

Most recently, the Government sought to exploit the terrible crisis in Ukraine, what is undoubtedly a bloody imperialist and murderous war that has been initiated by Vladimir Putin. The Government and the wider European political establishment are seeking to exploit that terrible crisis in order to justify moving towards greater EU militarisation, the establishment of a European army, and closer alignment with NATO. The Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, said recently that neutrality is a policy issue that can change at any time. The Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, said, "I think we’ll need to think about deeper involvement in European Defence." The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has suggested that we need to spend more resources on defence as well as co-operate with other EU countries and partnerships with NATO in some areas. That is what he was reported as having said at a meeting he attended in the United States. He can respond to that suggestion during the debate. He has also said that we may get involved in the expanded rapid reaction force of 5,000 troops, which is essentially the embryo of a European army.

Ireland's neutrality and the struggle for an independent Irish republic are one and the same, they always have been. To move away from Ireland's neutrality is not just some sort of interesting tactical or strategic choice. It is, in fact, a betrayal of the essential struggle to establish an independent republic, going back to Wolfe Tone, who first advocated for both Irish independence and neutrality, and to James Connolly and those who led people out in 1916 and the entire Irish revolution. As soon as the First World War broke out, James Connolly established the Irish Neutrality League to argue that Ireland should in no way be a participant or supporter of either warring side in the First World War. At the time he wrote something that echoes strongly today. He wrote:

Should the working class of Europe rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed ... to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world.

Brilliant and so correct. They had vulture funds robbing the world then, just as we have now. Connolly was clear. As soon as that war broke out, when people in Irish politics, in the Home Rule Party, argued that Irish people could be, and they were, slaughtered in that war Connolly said "No". He said that Ireland opposed both sides in that war. In fact, it was the outbreak of the First World War, which led to the slaughter of 14 million people, that prompted Connolly to say that we had to have a rebellion in Ireland, not just for independence but to strike a blow against empires and the slaughter of the First World War. The Irish revolution was significantly accelerated by the conscription crisis of 1918. Upon the end of the war, the Irish revolution was part of a series of revolutions across Europe, in Russia, Germany, France and so on, against the war, a slaughter that was ended by the revolt of working people against all the warmongers of Europe. People Before Profit-Solidarity believe we have to uphold that tradition which is now under serious threat.

Neutrality does not mean indifference. Neutrality means standing against warmongers and empires and standing with the oppressed. If we throw that away, we will throw away what is the identity that was the struggle for the Irish Republic, and we will do so at our peril. We should not do that and I hope the House will support the Bill.

The media reports that the Government opposes the Bill on the basis that it is "unnecessary". People may ask what that means and why it is unnecessary. Perhaps many people assume it is unnecessary because they believe neutrality is already enshrined in the Constitution, which it is not, or the reason the Government believes it is unnecessary is that it is saying "Do not worry; there is no threat to neutrality from this Government". The evidence is very clearly to the contrary. The Taoiseach who leads the Government, as per his own words of two or three weeks ago, explicitly stated that neutrality is a policy issue that can change at any time. The refusal of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, last week during Leaders' Questions to give a commitment, for which I will again ask today, to have a referendum before Ireland signs up to the European rapid reaction force, which the Minister, Deputy Coveney, appears to want to participate in-----

We can do it today. It is called a battlegroup. We have been in it for years.

Exactly. We have opposed it for years. The Minister has participated in this process of European militarisation. The majority of people in this country defend neutrality.

There is nothing new.

Exactly. We will not have a referendum - I thank the Minister for the confirmation - before the Government decides to send working-class young people from this country abroad to serve in a European military operation. Do we get a commitment from the Government before it abandons even the triple lock? This acts as a certain restriction on its ability to, again, send working-class people to fight elsewhere in the world and it is even in the programme for Government, but for which the Minister has floated the idea of the need to be rid of it. Will we have a referendum before that is ditched?

The truth is the Government and its outriders, such as commentators, are engaged in a propaganda war against what is left of neutrality - independence from military alliances. It is presented as if this is a new thing and a necessary, mature response to the horrendous, brutal, criminal invasion of Ukraine by Putin whereas the reality is this is not a new position. It is not a new position from us to say that Ireland should not participate in military alliances, and to propose a law, that we should not use Shannon Airport to transport more than 2.5 million US troops to the Middle East.

It is also not a new position from the political establishment to try to erode neutrality. In 2003, Fine Gael proposed in a policy document, Beyond Neutrality, to move towards supporting participation in a common EU defence policy, abandoning the so-called triple-lock mechanism and describing it as a political straitjacket. At the time, John Bruton said "You cannot create a political union and then say you are not prepared to defend it. That is logical. ...the Taoiseach should now start preparing Irish public opinion for ... [that]." The Tánaiste has regularly paraphrased this "Europe worth defending" line. Let us not kid ourselves that this latest push to fully undermine and get rid of this political straitjacket and to undermine neutrality is a mere pragmatic response to the war in Ukraine. Instead, it is shock doctrine in action to use a real crisis - a horrendous invasion and humanitarian catastrophe - to try to drive a pre-existing ideological agenda from Fianna Fáil and, in particular, Fine Gael. It has now just reached its most extreme point of the Government feeling confident to almost totally do away with neutrality and raise the idea of joining with NATO.

The important point is that NATO is being rebranded as some sort of peace force as if it was simply the neutral teacher on the playground stopping the bullies. Tell that to the ordinary people of Afghanistan whose country was invaded and occupied by NATO for years. Who gave NATO or the US the right to consider themselves the world police? The people of Iraq, more than 1 million of whom died at the hands of the US invasion, must be left wondering if their suffering at the hands of NATO members has been completely forgotten. When we say "neutrality", we do not mean neutral is not being on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor. We say we should take the side of the oppressed against the oppressor. What we mean, and what is outlined in our Bill, is that Ireland should stand up against invasion, war and imperialism. We should be a voice for justice and the rights of nations to self-determination, especially given our history of colonial oppression. To do that with any credibility, we must not join any of the imperialist clubs, such as the US-led NATO or the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

We propose that people be given a choice. The Government wants to do away fully with neutrality, and any semblance left of it, behind the backs of the people. It has cut away at it again and again, making a joke of it when it comes to the use of Shannon Airport, but we say have the debate. Let us have the debate publicly, allow people to decide, and give them a chance to vote to block the Government from joining NATO or any other imperialist alliance as well as blocking participation in a European process of militarisation.

I will make a point to the Green Party, although no Deputies from that party are present. The Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has voted to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution on three previous occasions in 2003, 2016 and 2018. The question of neutrality is very clearly in the Green Party manifesto. What will its members do? Will they stick to their principles, or supposed principles, stick to what was decided by their membership regarding what is in its election manifesto and stick to the promises made to the electorate or will they, as on so many other issues, fold under the pressure of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the drums of militarisation and the complete abandonment of neutrality? I do not have time to give the many quotes from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on neutrality, which would be very appropriate and would indicate he should be on this side of the debate rather than backing up the militarisation agenda.

Our neutrality should never be confused with the idea of Ireland being indifferent or uninterested in world affairs or indifferent to the suffering of oppressed peoples globally. A constant snide attack on those of us on the left who are on this side of the House has often been how obsessed we are with far-flung conflicts and the plight of oppressed people in other parts of the world, for which we are often criticised and slagged off. That is why we stood with Black Lives Matter, why we protested against Donald Trump, why we marched against the war in Iraq, and why we highlighted and opposed the brutal thugs and dictators, wherever they came from, be it Saudi Arabia, China, Burma and Egypt. It is why we marched and defended refugees coming here and why we railed against the treatment of thousands who drowned, and are drowning, in the Mediterranean or freeze, as we speak, on the Poland-Belarus border.

I welcome the new-found conscience of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael regarding Ukrainian refugees but I cannot help but measure, and we have been trying to do this over the past few weeks, the spectacular hypocrisy involved in the attitude to those from Afghanistan, Yemen or Syria who seem less worthy of human empathy than we are now told is officially sanctioned and paid for. That is not to detract at all from the suffering of the Ukrainian people. We are not neutral when it comes to human solidarity and opposing warmongers and dictators of any colour or creed. As has been said, we are always on the side of the oppressed. In the words of James Connolly and the generation of socialists and republicans whose struggle gave birth to this State, "We serve neither King nor Kaiser". Today, we serve neither Putin nor NATO, or any other imperial block.

Neutrality is not the absence of feeling or action. It is a defiant pledge of independence from all imperial blocks and military alliances in a world that is increasingly and dangerously dividing into competing blocks and breeding conditions for more and more wars, deaths, immense suffering and displacement of millions of people around the globe. Whatever about our concern regarding the double standards when it comes to the treatment of refugees, it is nothing compared with the revulsion we feel when we hear commentators and Deputies salivating at the thought of Ireland growing up and joining NATO or some NATO-aligned military set-up. We need a version of mature debate without showing our willingness to send off young men and women to die in foreign fields.

In fairness to the Minister's party, and others who have been consistent, it has never hidden its desire to ditch neutrality. Neither has Fianna Fáil, when it has inventively ignored the policy of neutrality whenever the opportunity arose. For that party, neutrality was more honoured in the breach than the observance. That inventiveness has meant genuflecting to neutrality, while also doing whatever it wanted in many cases. Article 28 of the Constitution states: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann." Despite that, the inventiveness of this establishment's attitude to neutrality has meant acceding to whatever whims the US empire has had. If it wanted to move 3 million troops through Shannon in pursuit of criminal wars, it was told to go ahead. It has also meant the following: joining permanent structured co-operation; Ireland joining the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan in 2001; Irish troops being deployed on NATO-led missions in Europe in 2017; Ireland joining NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1999; Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voting against a Bill to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution in 2003; and co-operating with rendition flights, turning a blind eye to the horrors of western-backed regimes, such as the Saudis, and promising to bump up military expenditure and co-ordination with the European Union and NATO armaments and hardware.

Our traditional policy of neutrality, like many other traditions, has always been seen by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as something that it is useful to genuflect to from time to time but which can always be rendered redundant when it is convenient. We have now discovered that the horrors of the Russian invasion have given the Government the right to ditch that genuflection to neutrality. It has now professed that alliance must mean full-blown support for NATO or another European Union alliance. The only problem, of course, is that the Government intends to march us to war under future alliances without giving the people of this country a say in the matter via a referendum. It is imperative that we have a mature debate. The Minister said we need to have mature debate. Let us do so and let us also have a referendum.

I appeal, as Deputy Paul Murphy did, to the Green Party. I call on it to live by its conscience and principles, if it still has them, and refuse to vote against this Bill.

If copies of my speech are not already in the Chamber, they will be shortly.

For today's debate, we first need to clarify what we mean when we talk about Ireland's long-standing policy of military neutrality. In practical terms, and as practised by successive Governments for many decades, the policy means that Ireland does not participate in military alliances, nor in common or mutual defence arrangements. As the Taoiseach has said on a number of occasions in recent weeks, military neutrality does not mean we are politically or morally neutral. Neutrality has never stopped us participating in world events nor, self-evidently, from being affected by them. It does not mean that we are inactive in situations where we see flagrant breaches of the UN charter and clear violations of international law, including international humanitarian law.

Addressing our Dáil in 1963, John F. Kennedy observed that Ireland pursues an independent course in foreign policy but it is not neutral between liberty and tyranny, and never will be. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." That is the approach we take.

For more than 60 years, not a day has passed when Ireland's peacekeepers were not on duty in blue helmets somewhere across the world. Our Defence Forces' record of continuous service is the longest of any UN member state and, with more than 500 Permanent Defence Force personnel serving as peacekeepers today, our contribution to UN peacekeeping is Europe's highest per capita and sixth highest globally. We have also actively shaped and contributed to the development of the UN's common security and defence policy, and we are significant contributors to UN-mandated and EU-led crisis management missions around the world. Ireland was among the member states that championed the development of a civilian as well as a military crisis management capability by the EU so that today we have Irishmen and Irishwomen advising on policing and security sector reform, border management, judicial reform, human rights and gender policies, and cybersecurity and hybrid threats in Georgia, Iraq, Kosovo, Ukraine, Somalia, Libya, Niger and the Central African Republic. Ireland was also to the forefront of designing a new European peace facility which allows for the strengthening of military and defence capabilities of partners and supports the military aspect of peace support operations, notably those carried out by the African Union and other regional organisations. Ireland ensured that the facility was designed in such a way that countries which did not wish to finance or provide lethal weaponry as part of measures adopted under the peace facility could instead finance non-lethal and protective equipment. We have seen this work in practice in the crisis in Ukraine, where Ireland's share of €22 million of the €1 billion support package to the Ukrainian military has gone solely on non-lethal equipment and support.

In the view of the Government, the Bill we are discussing would serve to seriously undermine our proactive international role. Indeed, the Bill would be likely to curtail Ireland's efforts to contribute to international peace and security, rather than in any way enhance it. On this basis, the Government opposes the Bill. I will outline a number of our key concerns. The Bill could constrain the Executive's ability to exercise its authority in respect of the conduct of international relations, as already articulated in Article 29 of the Constitution. In particular, the Bill, if enacted, could constrain the Government's scope to participate in UN peacekeeping missions, particularly missions with a mandate under chapter 7 of the UN charter, which is a peace-enforcement mandate. The same would hold true for UN-mandated and EU-led or NATO-led peacekeeping or crisis management missions. Currently, the main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 344 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria, with 132 personnel. Other missions include the UN-mandated and NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo, with 13 personnel; the EU-led Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzogovina, with five personnel; and the EU-led training mission in Mali, with 20 personnel. These missions are undertaken in pursuit of the UN principles of making international peace and security, taking collective measures to prevent and remove threats to peace and protect civilians. In apparently seeking to prevent all military action other than defence of our own national territory, this Bill would potentially neutralise the ability of Ireland's Defence Forces to serve overseas. It would remove, or at least significantly constrain, a pillar of our engagement in the world which has been characteristic of this State for 75 years.

The Bill, as presented, could also potentially go a step further and preclude even the provision of non-lethal equipment and support to regional organisations, such as the African Union, or to third-country partners, such as Ukraine, through our participation in the European peace facility. It could prevent a current or future Irish Government from using the instruments and tools at our disposal, either bilaterally or through the EU, to give practice expression to our foreign policy. To be blunt, it would prevent us putting our money where our mouth is.

The Bill also purports to provide constitutional guarantees that the State shall not allow its territory to be used by other states to transport war material or personnel to third countries for the purpose of war or other armed conflict. Everyone in this House already knows that foreign state and military aircraft that are permitted to land at Irish airports, including Shannon Airport, must comply with strict conditions. These include routine stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, and must not engage in intelligence gathering.

The flights in question must not form any part of military exercises or operations.

Pull the other one.

These conditions are applied to all international partners and are not specific to individual states. They will continue to be applied. Moreover, as Deputies will be aware, there are already provisions in the Constitution that underpin Ireland's foreign and security policy framework. In particular, Article 29 establishes the framework within which Ireland conducts its international relations. For example, Article 29.1 states, "Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality." Article 29.2 confirms that Ireland adheres to the principle of the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Article 29.4.9° sets out that, "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty of the European Union where that common defence would include the State." Indeed, the protocols attaching to the Lisbon treaty specifically recognised Ireland's policy of military neutrality, stating inter alia, "The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality."

Of course, international deployments of the Defence Forces other than for humanitarian purposes are subject to the triple lock of a UN mandate, Government approval and in the case of deployments of more than 12 personnel, Dáil approval.

I will add a few words about the current international and geopolitical context. We are living in completely unprecedented times. Russia's appalling actions in Ukraine demonstrate an utter disregard for international law, the UN charter and Europe's collective security architecture, including Russia's own commitments under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE.

We need a fresh conversation here in Ireland about our own approach to security and defence, a mature and honest debate about the world that is and Ireland's place in it today. The Taoiseach has already made clear that Ireland's neutrality is fundamentally a policy decision. He has indicated that the issues involved could, at an appropriate time, be discussed through a citizens' assembly or a similar framework. To an extent, part of this conversation has already begun through the work of the Commission on the Defence Forces. We have already had a long debate on that commission and I suspect we will have more.

It is important these conversations are allowed to take place in an open and evidence-based way and at an appropriate time. Inserting provisions now into the Constitution on military neutrality without allowing for a serious discussion of the threat environment Ireland and its EU partners now face and the appropriate response to that threat simply closes off that conversation before it has properly even begun. This is the context in which the Government opposes this Bill and the constitutional amendments proposed here by the Deputies.

I will begin my contribution with a personal reminiscence. I remember a crowd of kids standing out on the sidewalk, as we used to say, on the street corner in Columbus, Ohio. I think the year was probably 1970, which would place me at age six or seven. There was a big conversation and it was all about the so-called crazy kid who lived around the corner. We were convinced this teenager was crazy because he had decided to go for a little walk right off the roof of his mother's garage. Inevitably, he broke his legs, so as far as we were concerned he was crazy. Of course he was not, because in doing so he escaped the draft, avoided Vietnam, possibly saved his own life and he probably saved the lives of others. It was only years later I realised what was going on and that maybe to be crazy in a crazy world makes a person one of the sanest of the sane.

Since then I have read many history books and I have studied a few wars, including that particular war in which 58,000 US soldiers died and in which 3 million Vietnamese people died. That reading, study and maybe a few childhood experiences such as that - it was not the only one - brings me to a point in this Dáil where I approach this discussion as a socialist opponent of imperialist war and militarism and as a person who casts a very sceptical eye on the pronouncements and propaganda of capitalist spokespersons on these issues.

The Irish State has never been a genuinely neutral State. It was neutral in the Second World War, and maybe more so than some other wars, but on the side of America and Britain. It was neutral in the Vietnam war on the side of Uncle Sam. It was so neutral in the Iraq war that Shannon Airport was given over as a refuelling pit stop for the American war machine.

This State came into being on the back of a counter-revolution that overpowered a revolution which had been driven by the working class and the poor for both national and social liberation. The revolutionary movement of 1917 to 1923 was so powerful that the leaders of the new State felt they had to tip the hat to its most dearly held sentiments. Clearly, a mass movement that had challenged the power of an empire had created a strong anti-imperialist sentiment in the country. Hence the official policy of the leaders of the new State was neutrality with no overt connections with imperialist power blocs, but unofficially it was to give as much political and, where possible, practical support to such blocs. Such has been the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Irish capitalist class down through the decades that only now, with the Russian invasion, do they dare to lower the mask and reveal their real ambitions more fully.

Socialists are not neutral on issues of foreign policy either. In the battle between the black South African masses and apartheid capitalism, they were unequivocally on the side of those masses. In the struggle between the Iraqi people and the US invaders, who were gifted Shannon, our sympathies were on the side not of some of the factions but of the Iraqi people themselves. Similarly, in the struggle between the people of Ukraine and Putin's invading army we stand 100% on the side of the Ukrainian people, support their right to armed self-defence and resistance, and call for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops.

As a socialist I support this Bill because it seeks to tie the hands of capitalist governments in the State, to restrict their ability to make military alliances, and to restrict their ability to declare war, allowing this only in circumstances where the country has been invaded and only then by way of a decision of Dáil Éireann. I also support it because it asks for ratification of that position by way of referendum, placing the decision in the hands of the people rather than those who want to strengthen Ireland's military muscle whether they be in the Cabinet or the editorial rooms of the capitalist press.

What would a European army or rapid reaction force look like? You might get a glimpse of this if you looked at what is happening today in Africa. A leaked document from the European Union-African Union Summit earlier this year stated the EU wants to scale up its military presence in Africa. The document describes Europe's existing military deployments in Africa as stretching from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea, and from the Horn of Africa to the Mozambique canal, which echoes 19th century imperialist talk. The EUobserver states the EU currently has 11 military and naval missions in Africa. Many of these missions are led by France in west Africa, which is where France was formerly the direct colonial power. All of them serve to prop up pro-EU governments as the EU battles for influence on the continent with the rival imperialisms of China and Russia. The aim of the exercise is not so much to protect democracy. It is to protect sources of cheap minerals and cheap labour. Many of the European capitalist states-----

The Deputy really insults our own Defence Forces and their work in Mali with comments like that.

It has nothing to do with insulting.

Deputy Barry is a disgrace. He should educate himself on what we are doing in Mali.

You are the Government.

I am well educated.

The Deputy is entitled to speak uninterrupted, please.

We have Defence Forces personnel laying their lives on the line and we have to listen to this kind of stuff.

The Minister will be able to come back so please allow Deputy Barry to speak uninterrupted.

Who is putting their lives on the line? Of course many of the European capitalist states, such as France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, used to be colonial rulers in Africa and, collectively, have the blood of millions of people on their hands. That is an historical fact, Minister.

What about today?

On the question of peace, stopping war and today, the key to stopping war and ending the rule of autocrats lies with people power and, more specifically, with workers' power. The Vietnam war, which I spoke of at the outset, was defeated by a pincer movement with key resistance by the Vietnamese people and the US anti-war movement. The Stalinist dictatorships of eastern Europe were toppled not by NATO tanks but by people power. The beginning of the end of the First World War was protests and strikes by Russian workers on the streets, which toppled a Tsar and went on to defeat capitalism. The key to defeating Putin's war lies with the resistance of the Ukrainian people and the actions of the Russian anti-war movement itself. By the way, the more NATO is involved, the more Putin is strengthened at home, as seen with the comments regarding regime change that were made by Biden in Poland at the weekend.

I want to say a word about those, including the Minister, who want to increase military spending in this country. I want to see more spending on pay and conditions for Defence Forces members. We defend the interests of Defence Forces members, despite the comments of the Minister earlier.

I want this country to be secure from cyberattacks. There is a certain hypocrisy in Fine Gael Ministers highlighting the issue of cybersecurity when Fine Gael's underfunding of the HSE's security system for years and years left it open not just to attack but to being crippled last year. If more money is needed to defend the likes of the HSE's computer system, that is no problem.

Nevertheless, I am totally opposed to massive increases in spending on arms and the weapons of war. The PESCO target of spending 2% of GDP on military would bring Irish military spending to €3.6 billion. The Minister does not support that position at this point but he might think about what we could do with €3.6 billion. Let us look at the cost of living crisis and the rising prices of oil, food and fuel. A total of 70% of Irish households could be given a cheque for €1,000 each to offset those fuel and food price increases. That is how we will fight this campaign, namely, with class politics. We will make the point we need money for our nurses, our health system and housing, not to be spending on arms.

The Minister stated there is a good chance Ireland will be involved in the rapid reaction force. There is no chance of that without major opposition in society because it is not the sons and daughters of Ministers who will be sent to risk their lives. It will be sons and daughters who come from working class homes, as has always been the case.

I will support the Bill. Much can be said of the historical antecedents that have been used to underpin the principle of neutrality and the strong currents of support that neutrality has enjoyed in this country. They provide a strong foundation for contemporary arguments in favour of military neutrality. Today we take our place in a world that exists amid a geopolitical storm. The rules that have traditionally provided stability and order for the international system have been torn asunder by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amid the chaos, there are those seeking to take advantage of this human tragedy and to reawaken from the cold sleep of forced hibernation old, tired, and worn-out arguments for the abandonment of Irish neutrality. This is all in the hope the natural empathy, compassion and sense of identity of the people with the cause of the oppressed against an imperial aggressor would cause us to give leave of our senses and join them in their jingoism. I reject the arguments of those who would have us abandon our neutrality and surrender our sovereignty. The people, too, reject these arguments, evidenced in opinion poll after opinion poll, in which time and again they have asserted their support for military neutrality.

I believe in Irish neutrality. I believe our Defence Forces need to be given the means to guarantee our military neutrality. I believe the exemplary record of the Defence Forces in support of United Nations peacekeeping missions has not only provided a vital contribution to global humanitarian projects but has acted as a major contributor to the international esteem in which our country is held. Women and men in our Defence Forces represent some of the very best of what our nation has to offer in terms of patriotism, sacrifice and commitment to democratic ideals, yet Government after Government has failed them utterly. They have marginalised them and undermined their democratic right to participate in collective bargaining, as is the right of many militaries of the EU. Successive Governments have stood by as the strength of our Defence Forces has been decimated through neglect. Under the Government, our country is dependent on other states to guarantee the security of our seas and skies. The international order, the new Europe, needs to be rebuilt with imagination and diplomacy, not military posturing. Ireland is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in these efforts. By enshrining the principle of neutrality in our Constitution, we will codify the principles, the characteristics and the record of what it is to be Irish in the eyes of the international arena.

Many nations are qualified to wage war, but precious few have the qualifications, the record or the standing to act as the builders of peace. Rather than view neutrality as a retreat from international responsibilities, I view active neutrality as a means for the Irish nation to advance its contribution to international affairs and to reverse the current circumstances in which Ireland struggles to meet our UN mandate. The pursuit of a policy of active neutrality allows us to amalgamate the contributions of factors that have established the essence of Irish soft power on the international stage. The peacekeeping record of our Defence Forces, the humanitarian record of our NGOs and the influential record of our diplomatic service have contributed to the establishment of an Irish identity in global affairs, an identity that allows Ireland access and credibility in dealing with international issues that is denied to other nations whose past and current configuration leaves them better prepared for war.

Sinn Féin will support the Bill.

Ireland's position of military neutrality is an honourable tradition. As we speak in this Chamber, we are surrounded by the busts of the heroes of 1916, who took their stand in the midst of the First World War. In that awful war, tens of thousands of Irish nationalists and unionists were slaughtered. That has been burned into the minds of the Irish people ever since, such that when we achieved independence for 26 of our 32 counties, we would be separated from imperialism and empire and we would have our own, independent foreign policy. That approach over the decades has served us well but, let us be honest, it has been undermined again and again by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments.

An independent foreign policy and military neutrality give Ireland the unique opportunity to be honest brokers in conflict resolution throughout the world. It is the reason our peacekeepers, in blue helmets or blue berets, are so respected internationally. In our experience of conflict, those involved in our peace process have travelled to the Basque Country, Sri Lanka, Colombia and the Middle East to try to build peace. Military neutrality, as Deputy Brady said, can be active neutrality and can play a positive role in the world if we truly believe in it. We need to learn from all the conflicts of recent times that if Ireland had a Government that truly believed in active neutrality, we could play a significant role in conflict resolution internationally, and more so than we have done. We have not taken the opportunity. We have not built on the considerable respect for the peacekeepers in our Defence Forces, of whom we are immensely proud. Rather than go down the road too many in Fine Gael have gone down, to move towards scrapping our military neutrality, we need to embrace it and take the opportunity that is there.

I thank People Before Profit for tabling this legislation and giving us the opportunity to have this important debate. Like many Deputies across the House, I am a passionate believer in Ireland's military neutrality. That is because I am convinced our geopolitical, security and defence interests are best served by not being part of any military alliance. Because of that role, Irish Governments, historically, have had a stronger hand in the promotion of diplomacy, de-escalation and conflict resolution, and our Defence Forces have played a very proud role in UN peacekeeping missions.

That is why I, like many others, do not support Ireland joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. That organisation, in many of its members’ roles in recent conflicts in modern times, speaks for itself.

I also have a genuine concern with the proposition and ongoing debate around an EU common defence. Unlike some people, I have been clear that the advance of an EU common defence has been incredibly slow. The Minister knows that as well as I do. That speaks to the fact that the geopolitical, strategic and defence interests of the member states of the European Union are not aligned. Ours, in particular, are not aligned with many of the more powerful interests that would be the driving forces behind such a common defence. While to date progress, as some would see it, on that front has been limited, I am genuinely concerned that the appalling, unjustified and illegal war that is currently taking place by Russia in Ukraine is being used by some to try and advance a separate EU common defence agenda. That is something I, as well as other colleagues, strongly oppose.

My strong view, and I think the Minister agrees with some of this, is that we should be spending far more time on promoting the reform of the United Nations and on strengthening the role of the United Nations so that it can become an even better player on the international stage to advance many of the issues in which the Minister himself is directly involved in his position on the UN Security Council. These are the key issues of conflict resolution, de-escalation and peacekeeping. That is where our efforts, and indeed those of our European partners, should be and not on a common defence.

The one area on which I agree with the Minister is that we should have a reasoned and evidence-based debate. I can think of no better way of doing that than in a referendum, as we showed through marriage equality and repeal. It is on that basis I am wholeheartedly supporting this call for a referendum and participating in the debate that follows.

At the outset, I offer my support and my sympathy to the people of Ukraine in the face of the vicious war of aggression caused by the illegal Russian invasion. I also thank the Deputies who have brought this Bill to the floor of the House and who have given us the opportunity to have this very important debate. Many progressive Deputies down through the years, including some of whom have been in my own party, have produced similar Bills to enshrine our neutrality into the Constitution.

On these occasions, those politicians have been castigated. They have been lectured by successive governments, which say our State's position as a militarily neutral country is safe and we do not need constitutional protection. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, we have seen some politicians in this House, in particular in the Upper House, opportunistically trying to push for Ireland to join military alliances, such as NATO or an EU army. These same few politicians were joined by a chorus of voices in the opinion pages of our newspapers and across the airwaves expounding the values of militarisation, safe, as always, in the knowledge that it will not be their kids who are called up to be conscripted into any army. It will be the sons and the daughters of ordinary, working people who will have to suffer that.

I have a picture on my phone of my grandfather in his British Army uniform. In my own family, we have had men who were forced to join armies and fight in wars. At the age of 14, my father's father joined the British Army. He was 14 years of age. He did not want to go to war. He just wanted money. He wanted a job. He wanted work. He was forced into the army. My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather died too young.

I am sure there will be plenty of faux outrage when I say, though we all know it, it is mainly middle-aged, middle-class men who are banging the drum of militarisation and of abandoning our neutrality. These people seem to think war is easy and somehow it is better or simpler than peace. This is not the case and it never, ever has been. We should never give up the pursuit of peace. We should be proud of our peacekeeping and of our reputation abroad, as has been mentioned previously. We should never abandon that position. In fact, we should cement it.

The right to self-determination is and always will be the first principle of the foundation of our Republic. Neutrality and sovereignty are equally second. The history of our own country and the blood of generations of the working class are testimony to that. Now more than ever, neutrality must be cherished and protected. It is not right that prominent Ministers are undermining neutrality and drawing our nation to the military alliances through their support of the EU defence policies, thus leading into the funding of the arms industry. This, I may add, is against the wishes of the Irish nation and its citizens and is thus eroding our esteemed peacekeeping reputation and our extensive experience in conflict resolution around the world.

No one has the right to sell our neutrality and to negotiate our neutrality without the full, democratic consent of the people. This is a position we have held for centuries. We are a small nation and we have never invaded any other country. That is a sacrosanct and noble position to hold. We listen to the arguments of our own Taoiseach, Ministers and MEPs that we must evolve and change with the times and that neutrality must also be part of that change. This is an alarming warning sign of the Government’s intentions to erode our neutral status. It must be challenged every step of the way and it will be challenged every step of the way. This is why I welcome this Bill, which solidifies and galvanises our stance on neutrality. This is too precious a thing to be left in the hands of vested interests.

The Bill states categorically Ireland is a neutral state, that it shall maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances and that it shall not allow its territory to be used by other states to transport war materials or personnel to third countries for the purpose of war or armed conflict. Ireland’s peacekeeping missions go back over 64 years. We proudly hold the longest, unbroken record of any nation in the world. This is a tradition of which Irish people are very proud. We must play our part with promoting peace throughout the world. We must offer every humanitarian assistance to our suffering neighbours. However, we must remain steadfast in our neutrality and remain as we have done for the past 64 years, as a United Nations peacekeeping force that is respected throughout the Far East and around the world. We cannot do this if we are militarily aligned with foreign armies. I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing forward this important Bill.

Sinn Féin wants Ireland’s neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution following a referendum. With this in mind, we fully support the People Before Profit-Solidarity Bill. Ireland is a militarily neutral state. We are not aligned with any military alliance. This legislation seeks to provide that the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in the preparation for war.

Several opinion polls that have been conducted, including one in the middle of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, have clearly indicated that there remains an overwhelming level of support for Ireland’s position of neutrality. Above all, we should be using our seat on the UN Security Council to search for an end to the conflict and leading the drive at the UN for the opening of humanitarian corridors to provide relief and assistance to civilians.

Ireland has a long and distinguished history of peacekeeping missions, and this must be protected and cherished rather than giving up our neutrality and the relationships built up in many countries across the world. However, neutrality comes at a cost and the Government needs to commit to funding the Defence Forces to allow them to do the job they are qualified to do. From reports from the Defence Forces' representative groups, the Government is failing to support the Defence Forces here and in their obligations to the UN.

It seems that many in Fianna Fáil, and in particular in Fine Gael, over recent weeks are using the Ukrainian crisis to further their long-held agenda to involve Ireland in some form of military alliance with those countries that have long histories of brutal colonial murder and war crimes. They were most recently involved in horrific wars in Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and many African countries. Let us be clear, and it has been stated already, it will not be the children of the proponents of military alliances who are sent to war zones, based on lies such as those relating to the Iraq war. It will be ordinary, working-class young people, who come from my area and from areas around the country. This clamour for involvement in military alliances is disturbing. It is not what this country needs or wants.

I also thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing the Bill before the House. The recent attacks on Irish neutrality that we have heard from certain Members of this House are examples of how some people get their priorities and, indeed, their ideas about Ireland’s role in this world wrong. The main priority in this current situation must be to bring the war in Ukraine to an end. Indeed, that should be our focus when it comes to every armed struggle and conflict across the globe. When it comes to Ukraine, ending the conflict means securing the withdrawal of Russia. The best way for that to be done for the people of Ukraine is through diplomacy and our ability to impose sanctions, thus isolating the aggressor, which in this case is Russia.

When it comes to those who may question our neutrality in current times, let me ask them why they are more prepared to do that than expel the Russian ambassador. Let me go one step further. Deputy Mairéad Farrell, who has been Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on public expenditure and reform since September 2020, raised on three occasions the issue of the funnelling of €188 billion through the IFSC using section 110 of the tax code. Not all options are yet being used, yet Members of this House thought it more prudent to raise concerns about Ireland’s neutrality. It shows the contradictory nature of comments uttered within this House by certain individuals.

Ireland's neutrality should be seen as our strength and not presented as a weakness. We have a history of conflict resolution, despite not being a military country. We are recognised as such and have a seat on the UN Security Council as a result. More than that, we are the only European country on the Security Council not a member of NATO. Furthermore, the Member who seems to have been unable to wait to question Ireland's status as a neutral country has a colleague in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who said the following when we secured out seat on the council:

Our membership of the UN has played a major part in our development. We not only support a fair rules-based order in international affairs - we exist, survive and prosper because of it. And we see no viable alternative.


For Ireland, multilateralism strengthens our independence, self-confidence and security, rather than diminishes it.

Our neutrality is our strength. We are a principled nation that has global renown for its neutrality and work on conflict resolution.

What about the countries that are not neutral? Are they glowing examples of restraint? If you were to ask the people of Iraq, Yemen or Palestine for their views on non-neutral states, what would they have to say? As a militarily neutral state, Ireland has played an important role in peacekeeping and in the battle against nuclear proliferation. How does that lead us to questioning our neutrality? In a poll at the beginning of this month, three quarters of those surveyed supported maintaining neutrality. Only 15% looked for it to be changed. Furthermore, Ireland is well aware of the consequences of imperialism. We know the importance of a country maintaining its sovereignty and its right of self-determination. We need to be focused on peaceful resolutions to conflict and not exacerbating the current conflict or rescinding our principles.

Speaking immediately after her election as Labour Party leader last Thursday, Deputy Bacik said the following:

I am committed to Irish neutrality.

But I believe our non-aligned status isn’t about opting out.

It has to be about opting in:

Opting into humanitarian missions, to peacekeeping, to diplomacy, and to the prosecution of war criminals.

We are not, and we never have been, neutral against barbarism and aggression.

As an internationalist party, we in Labour want Ireland to play a full role in the evolving European debate about security, a debate that must focus on protecting our democracies in the 21st century.

That is the Labour Party's position and always has been. We as a nation should remain neutral and not aligned to any military pact but enthusiastic to use our vast experience in peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian relief and our diplomatic and soft international power in defence of diplomatic norms and democracy, the defence of human rights and international law. We are immensely proud of our peacekeepers and the role the Irish military has played in the UN and wearing with pride the blue beret and blue helmet. We are proud also of the role of our NGOs and of the history of Ireland's diplomatic activity on issues like nuclear non-proliferation. All these matters have combined to define this nation's international standing. It is a unique standing where we are seen internationally as honest brokers not involved in armed oppression but there to bring peace, diplomacy and relief to those who are oppressed.

This is a debate about a constitutional amendment so I wish to deal with what is in the Constitution at present. It is important we do that. Article 28.3.1° states: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann". Article 29 begins:

1 Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.

2 Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.

3 Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States.

Article 29.4.9° states, "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State." That is the current position. It merits and needs change to enshrine without doubt the neutral position I think is supported by the overwhelming majority of the people. If I had more time, I would be able to go into that in more detail.

The Constitution Review Group that published its findings in May 1996 recommended one change to Article 28.3.1°, namely, that reference to "war" be extended to include "or other armed conflict". The group recommended no other change. The report stated that since "Article 29 commits the State to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations and to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes" and since Article 28.3.1° establishes Dáil control over the State's involvement in armed conflict, no other amendment would be necessary to retain the policy of neutrality. The group noted, "Neutrality in Ireland has always been a policy as distinct from a fundamental law or principle". It is time we changed that policy and my party supports the notion it should be a matter of constitutional law.

However, concern about Irish neutrality arose from the proposed adoption of the Common Foreign and Security Policy by the EU. This concern was, among other things, instrumental in the defeat of the first Nice treaty referendum in 2001. The second Nice referendum was passed, as the Acting Chairman will remember, in November 2003 to insert the new Article 29.4.9° I read a moment ago. Even without Nice, it would probably have been unconstitutional for Ireland to have joined such a defence alliance. Article 28.3.1° provides, "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate ... save with the assent of Dáil Éireann." Any binding commitment made in advance to commit the State to go to war in future in any unknown circumstances without first complying with domestic constitutional requirements would be an unlawful overriding of the State's sovereign discretion in that matter. I therefore think that safeguard was already there but we needed to, and did, make it explicit. As the power of war belongs to the Executive and the power to assent to war is vested in the Dáil, it is not constitutionally possible to bind these organs in advance one way or the other, and a binding commitment never to declare war would be as unconstitutional as a commitment in a mutual defence treaty.

I do not have time to go into the experiences we had in the Gulf war of January 1991 and the second one and the litigation that clarified our constitutional position subsequent to that save to say that when a challenge was taken on the constitutionality of the action of Ireland in facilitating the belligerents during the second Gulf war through the use of Shannon Airport, the High Court held that what constituted participation was a matter for the Dáil itself to decide. In other words, it seems under the current law that not only does the Dáil have the constitutional discretion to assent or withhold consent to participation in a war, it also gets to define the extent of its own constitutional discretion by defining what constitutes "war" in the first place. These are matters that are now rightly being focused upon and require clarification. That is why I commend the tabling of this Bill. I have difficulties with the content of it but what is important is we agree on a form of words we can put to the people to put these matters beyond doubt. This debate on Ireland's future with respect to the posture of our armed forces and our constitutional certainty needs clarity.

I hope that this is merely the start of a deep and profound debate to put these matters beyond doubt.

The Social Democrats welcome this People Before Profit Bill which provides for a referendum to properly define our neutrality stance. As it currently stands, Articles 28 and 29 of our Constitution outline our position of neutrality. However, the wording around the definition of neutrality is vague, to say the least. Essentially, in the main it allows the Government of the day to determine how the country responds to threats. Irish neutrality has been a core principle of our foreign policy since the foundation of the State. It was clear during the referendums on both the Nice and Lisbon treaties that the Irish people continue to place enormous value on neutrality and our place in the world as peacekeepers.

We can understand why this Bill is before us today. The rhetoric from a number of EU leaders around common defence over the last few years and more recently by some in the Government would indicate that there is a desire to debate our position of neutrality. This is a Parliament and to debate policy means, of course, a wish to change it and so we welcome this opportunity to make very clear that we oppose any move towards a watering down of our policy of neutrality.

The unfolding of a war in real time through our televisions, social media feeds, in newspapers and on radio leaves us in no doubt as to the horror and brutality of this latest war. Of course, the war in Ukraine is one of many raging across the world today. Our hearts go out to all of those experiencing war and armed conflict, be that in Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan as well as in Ukraine and many other countries. Thousands have already died and millions are now displaced. Women and children are fleeing their homes through unsafe humanitarian corridors, sometimes crossing multiple borders to reach safety. It is estimated that 6.7 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced and 3 million are seeking refuge elsewhere. There are those who, by choice or conscription, are left behind to defend their communities, democracy and independence against a brutal regime waging an illegal and unjust war. We have watched as the Russian army has attacked civilians, mothers and babies in maternity hospitals, people with disabilities in residential care, medical staff and journalists. Putin has broken almost every international law that governs the rules of war. Countless war crimes have already been committed but it remains unclear just how far Putin will go or where and when this will end. It is a frightening time for the people of Ukraine and Russia and for the rest of the world. I am very conscious, as we talk here about being anti-war, that this is not a luxury being afforded to the people on the streets of Mariupol or Kyiv at this time. We are horrified to witness such brutality.

It is not so long ago that Ireland also experienced the horror of invasion and illegal occupation. The collective memory on this island is one of the trauma of colonisation that is still with us today. As a small country, we have endured war, violence and colonisation for centuries. It is important to assert that Ireland has never acted as the aggressor and has never been an oppressor. The very history of this country is one of fear of the threat of invasion and conquest by foreign forces. It is actually a luxury in the context of Irish history that we no longer have such a fear. The British playbook on how to wage war and how to oppress a native population, with such tactics used by them and others successfully all round the world, was written in the blood of the Irish people. The British empire trialled ways to keep the native population down, determined to destroy our autonomy, language, education and culture. We know only too well the detrimental impact that this has had, and continues to have, on our shared island.

Our peace here was hard won and came at great cost. It remains as fragile as ever. There are constant efforts in the background to ensure that our peace lasts. It is not something we can take for granted and must be consistently nurtured if it is to be retained. We are proud that we now have a generation of children who have no concept of war, and who grew up outside of the Troubles, the checkpoints, the bombings and the horror. We have worked hard for this and continue to work hard for peace. We know what it is to work towards peace and to sustain it. Peace is, to us, a process that must continue. This is exactly what gives Ireland the legitimacy to play a leading role in helping to bring about peace, to end violence, to be diplomats and to use all of our experience as well our seat on the UN Security Council, to do so.

How can we look to promote peace and stability without neutrality? We are members of the UN and uphold our obligations under the UN Charter, including chapter 7, to use our experience to help to bring about peace and security throughout the world. Our unique place on the UN Security Council furthers that legitimacy to remain militarily neutral to advance and maintain international peace and security. To be very clear, military neutrality does not mean that we remain silent and passive. Indeed, the Irish people are leading the way on this by donating generously to agencies that can help people on the ground such as the Irish Red Cross. Thousands have offered sanctuary in their own homes to those displaced by war. Irish UN peacekeepers have played a leading role in promoting peace and security for more than 60 years in many conflicts including in Lebanon, the Congo and Mali, to name but a few.

In his opening comments the Minister referred to the need to have a mature and honest debate about our shared defence. As he was speaking, I was thinking that if I was a young recruit in our naval base in Haulbowline, in McKee barracks or at the Curragh Camp, listening to a Government politician talk about "mature" debates while at the same time enforcing poverty on those who stand up and wish to engage in defence and peacekeeping missions, I would feel particularly hard done by. Any conversation in relation to our "shared defence" and the role of defence should start by determining how we can improve the pay and conditions of those who already stand up in this country, build up our defence infrastructure, invest in our radar systems and get our ships back out to sea.

We may be neutral but that does not mean we cannot act. Currently the Constitution allows the Government to decide what exactly our neutrality means. The saying goes that one should never waste a good crisis but we cannot allow this war to be used to push Ireland towards a more integrated EU common defence policy. The EU, by its very nature, is a peace process. It is a movement for peace and that is where its real success lies.

We must stand against the use of Ireland's airports as corridors to transport US troops to the Middle East and elsewhere. We must not be fooled into thinking that we have no choice but to join military alliances such as NATO. What we should be focused on is peace and stability abroad and at home. This war is sending shock waves across the world that will impact us all. We have already experienced a sharp rise in fuel prices. Fuel and food shortages are very possible, not only here but throughout the African continent, which increases the prospects of famine. We need to lead the way in combating that. Potentially, we will welcome up to 200,000 displaced people over the coming months. Our population could increase by approximately 1% in the weeks ahead. We have to play our part by being a place of sanctuary for those fleeing war and are doing so. We are doing so while knowing that we have a housing, healthcare and childcare crisis, a lack of school places and limited access to mental health services to deal with the trauma that many of those fleeing war have experienced.

I will finish by reiterating the point made by others that being neutral is not a passive position. Being neutral allows us to play our own role in world affairs, to be peacekeepers and to stand for humanitarian endeavours. If there is to be a debate about neutrality, it should be about how we can advance those policies.

I thank People Before Profit for bringing this very important Bill to the Chamber for debate this morning as it allows us discuss Ireland's military posture. It is very topical and timely.

In the limited time available to me I will focus on a niche area that has not been discussed yet this morning, namely, how dependent our Defence Forces are on training and cross-training with other militaries. My big concern about the Bill relates to the wording therein. It says that the State should not "aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict". While I can totally understand the motives behind that, the issue on the ground is that the cross-training that is continuing at the moment with other militaries may not be able to continue as a result of this. I will provide five examples to the House to illustrate my point.

First, many Deputies and people at home may not be aware that in my own constituency six Maltese cadets are currently training at the Curragh Camp as part of a 15-month residential course. They are actually being commissioned or graduated next Tuesday and my concern is that if this Bill proceeds such an exchange, which is preparing a foreign power for war or armed conflict, may not be able to proceed in future. I ask representatives of People Before Profit to elaborate on whether that would be an issue for them.

Another example relates to our bomb disposal people. Again, in my own constituency of Kildare South, we have an ordnance school which is a recognised centre of excellence for bomb disposal training in the world. Every year, numerous students and instructors come from other countries to cross-train with Irish students and instructors. I am concerned that this programme would be prohibited under this legislation.

Third, from a hostage rescue point of view, our special forces cross-train with other militaries all across Europe and north America. Would that still be allowed under this legislation? If there was a hostage incident in Dublin Airport tonight or if a ferry was hijacked, would we be able to maintain the standards that the public quite rightly expects if that training channel was closed off?

The fourth example relates to cybersecurity. This country was attacked through cyberspace only last year. We have people in Estonia at the moment at the NATO centre of excellence, one civilian and one military. Would it be possible for that arrangement to continue under this Bill?

Fifth, from a medical perspective, our troops have benefitted enormously from links with the armed forces in the United Kingdom, both in Northern Ireland and in Britain.

There is a lot of training going on from the point of view of life support for battlefield defence trauma, and also for the control of catastrophic haemorrhage. British troops come to Ireland to train, and Irish troops go to the UK to train. It is very important from the point of view of the cross-pollination of ideas.

My big concern with the Bill is that it might isolate Ireland militarily. If any reassurance could be given that that is not the case, it would be greatly appreciated. We have benefitted enormously from interacting and cross-training with other military forces. My concern is that if those channels were closed off, the proficient standards the Defence Forces have achieved would start to degrade and deplete in a matter of months.

I welcome the Bill. Ireland has a long history of neutrality which goes back centuries, to the days of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Daniel O'Connell and James Connolly, who all advocated neutrality for Ireland as a way of protecting the common good and preventing militarism. Historically, small countries have always been sceptical of the intentions of military blocs. In general, historically, military blocs have orientated their military actions to their economic objectives. We cannot escape that with any analysis of history. For example, NATO's involvement in the Middle East is a perfect example of a large military bloc acting on behalf of large countries in large part because of their own economic objectives. Small countries have very little influence on the decisions of large military blocs. If the State aligns itself with a large military bloc, there is no doubt that our young men and women will be involved in their military actions, but we will have precious little influence over the decisions on those military actions.

Much of the debate that is happening at the moment is informed by the shocking experience of Ukraine. I am struck that there is a desire within Fine Gael at the moment not to waste a crisis. There are two elements within Fine Gael policy in the past 30 to 40 years. The first one is federalism. There is an instinct within Fine Gael to push towards a more integrated EU at all stages. We see that at the moment with regard to Fine Gael outsourcing our foreign policy to the EU in many ways. Ireland is afraid to make decisions, for example, on the Russian ambassador, because it says it is waiting for the rest of the EU. The Government says it is not making those decisions because collective decisions are stronger decisions, but there has been no collective decision to remove the Russian ambassadors from European Union member states. I welcome the expulsion of four staff of the Russian embassy yesterday, but it is not enough. The Government must go further than that.

There is also a militaristic instinct within Fine Gael. We saw many of the party's Deputies come out in favour of NATO involvement and also in favour of increased militarism in this State. It is in sharp contrast to the fact that we have Naval Service patrol ships tied up right now in our ports. The EU is investigating Ireland's inability to patrol its own waters. We had to rely on an EU patrol boat for the first time to patrol our waters. Cybersecurity is brought up on a regular basis. If we were serious about this, we would invest in our own defences. Two years ago, the National Cyber Security Centre had a budget of €5 million. The PR spend for the Department of the Taoiseach in the same year was €15 million. One Department spent three times the amount of money on PR than the country spent on its National Cyber Security Centre, which as a result, has cost us approximately €100 million.

There is a necessity for Ireland to be active. We need active neutrality. We have a competency built up from years of peacekeeping, anticolonialism and working against nuclear proliferation and from the fact that missionaries have left this country to help the developing world to develop. As a result, the Irish passport opens doors and minds across the world. We should be using our neutrality, in an active sense, to put pressure on Russia to de-escalate. People might say we would have no influence in that regard, yet how come the Israeli Prime Minister can ring up Vladimir Putin and make an effort at de-escalation? How come President Macron can do that? Why have we outsourced so much of our foreign affairs actions to the European Union? We are reducing our own sovereignty in the name of protecting Ukraine's sovereignty and that does not make sense.

I too support this Bill, but there are pitfalls in it. I salute what the Army did as peacekeepers all over the world. Ireland was recognised as being a neutral country as far back as Seán MacBride and his attempts in that regard. I am very concerned about Fine Gael and the noises emanating from that party, and from some in Fianna Fáil as well. We are in the EU club now and it is almighty. There has been much talk of NATO and Ukraine getting involved in it. Now that we are in a mess, they are afraid to do anything. We must give a clear signal that we are a neutral country and that we have dignity and respect for ourselves and for all peoples.

We have the experience of what happened in the Middle East. They went in and bombed the hell out of Saddam Hussein and all the rest of them and left messes after them. I am no spokesperson for him, but under Saddam and others, minority Christian, Muslim and other traditions were allowed to practise with freedom and impunity but now they are being slaughtered and we walked away from it. When I say "we", I mean the rest of the world who did this in the name of I do not know who. We must be very careful here with words.

Our sisters, brothers and priests went all over the world as missionaries training and educating people and providing water, and they still do it. NGOs are replacing them somewhat now, but we must never forget what those people did with so little. They gave up their lives to their vocation with dedication and passion.

Our Army has been run down to nothing. It is an insult to the good officers in the Army. The Government for the past ten or 11 years has done it spectacularly. We depend on everybody else to come in and help us. Those who cannot help themselves cannot help anybody else. We need a decent Army here to help with flooding, famine or any kind of catastrophes that might arise here, not to be sidekicks for Europe or anybody else. We must make haste slowly here, protect and value our neutrality and be really neutral, not with the pan-European views held by Fine Gael and now Fianna Fáil as well. We saw President Biden attending the EU Council. I ask what is going on.

We must retain our neutrality because it has served us well since de Valera stood up to Churchill in the Second World War. We want no part of military alliances, but we should not abandon our own Army. It was ridiculous to have them on income supplement to feed their families. We must keep a proper peacekeeping force. We must modernise the Army, Naval Service and Air Force. We need a navy to protect our fishermen and not to be depending on fishermen from Berehaven, Dingle and other places to talk to the Russians about their proposed involvement off our shores. We need a proper navy and air force.

In maintaining our neutrality, we need to have our own liquified natural gas, LNG, plant for access to gas. We should reopen Bord na Móna to ensure we have energy security until we have other alternatives of our own and not be dependent on Russia for coal and gas. It is ridiculous that we must have our finger in some other mouth when we need energy. Now we see where we are; we are drawing coal from Russia to keep Moneypoint going. We have to keep it going. We are drawing woodchip from Germany and importing peat from Latvia and other places. We see where we are now.

I will finish on that note as I am cutting into another speaker's time.

Ireland has been neutral in international relations since the 1930s. The nature of Irish neutrality has varied over time and has been contested since the 1970s but many people believe that Irish neutrality means whatever the Government of the day wants it to mean. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced some to consider where we stand when it comes to global affairs.

A recent Sunday Independent poll reveals a clear, significant division in Irish society when it comes to foreign policy. These are divisions that will need to be resolved if emerging splits in Europe become sharper. It looks like there are two sides to this argument: those who would prefer Ireland to engage in military action in the current conflict and those who would prefer this country to maintain its policy on neutrality. I read with interest in the poll carried out by Irish Independent on whether Ireland should remain military neutral in relation to the war that there was majority 2:1 support for continuing our current policy. However, this support was weakest among Government parties with just 53% of Government supporters supporting the continuation of Ireland being neutral. My reading of this shows a weakening of Ireland’s stance on neutrality. While I would like our neutrality to continue, I would not support Shannon Airport being refused its use for a base for US soldiers going to other countries. Common sense must apply. While neutrality is important, we must have spending in the Department of Defence to protect our country from sea and air traffic from other countries. It is scandalous that this country does not have proper capability to protect itself from issues that are not out of our control. While it is important to continue our policy on neutrality, it is far more important that we could become peacemakers in the world. Our navy was referenced. Our navy and Army are under-resourced. Our navy is attacking our fishermen instead of working to protect our country.

I would like to thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing this important Bill before the House to debate this issue. The issue of Ireland’s neutrality into the future is of massive importance to present and future generations. In light of what is happening to the poor unfortunate people in Ukraine and the fact they need so much assistance and support, it is timely to bring this Bill before the House to have this debate. My view is that our neutrality is sacrosanct. It is extremely important. I thank the peacekeeping missions that have gone abroad over many decades, the NGOs from all sectors of Irish society and the people who have served us well. Our credibility throughout Europe and the world is extremely high when it comes to sending people abroad, whether it be our workforce, our religious or our peacekeeping Army who are highly respected and highly regarded, as were our religious who travelled the world doing their best in what they sought to achieve in the good work they did. It is right to recognise that during a debate like this one.

With regard to the political football that is our neutrality, we should protect and strengthen our Army. We should ensure members of our Defence Forces are properly and adequately paid, that the Army can be considered a career upon which families can rely and that members of it can enjoy serving their country. They are to be highly regarded and respected, whether they are serving at home or abroad, but they must be adequately resourced. This Government and previous governments have neglected them. They did not pay them properly, treat them with respect or acknowledge the important role they play. During different strikes in the past, the Army was always called upon to assist the Government and different Departments in doing much necessary work that had to be carried out. I thank the promoters of the Bill for bringing it to the floor of the House for debate.

In my three minutes I will be as focused as I can be. I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing forward this Bill. I support it 100%. In case there is any doubt as to why we need it, that was set out clearly almost 20 years ago in the High Court when the very courageous Ed Horgan took a case seeking to highlight what was going on in our country regarding Iraq and Shannon. The judge clearly stated:

Despite the great historic value attached by Ireland to the concept of neutrality, that status was nowhere reflected in ... [the Constitution], or anywhere else in ... legislation. It is effectively a matter of ... policy ... albeit a policy to which, traditionally at least, considerable importance was attached ... [but a policy that could change at any time].

We see that happening all the time.

It is very disappointing that the Minister used his long speech to say he cannot agree with this Bill when every opinion poll has shown us the people want to keep our neutrality but to use it in a most positive and active way. It was one of the main reasons we gained respect and got a seat on the Security Council. The Minister has left, and I respect he is always here for as long as he can be, but he chose to quote selectively from Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace prize winner who died in December last year. He quoted him but did not include it in his speech. He said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." I certainly agree with Desmond Tutu but I do not agree with the Minister using that to back up an argument against neutrality. It is a selective quotation. It was taken out of context. I and any of my colleagues here are totally against injustice, recognising that it is wrong and it leads to wars in any event. None of us are neutral when it comes to injustice. None of us are neutral when it comes to the illegal war by Russia on Ukraine. That is not what neutrality is about. If we are to quote Desmond Tutu, let us quote him in context, the man who was fearless in criticising all power, no matter where it was or the colour of it. He said he had been involved in the peace business. We talk about peace-making now, which is more war-making, but he had been involved all his life in the peace business. He said he had learned a lot about the business of war and I will come back to that. Interestingly, he also said: "Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are." That is exactly what he did. He spoke out clearly against nuclear weapons, the Iraq War, the siege of Gaza, the bloated military budgets and so on. When it came to the arms industry, which is what is happening in Europe today and has been going on openly - I note I am over my time and I will stop now in mid-sentence.

I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing this Private Members' Bill to the Dáil this morning to seek a referendum to enshrine neutrality in our Constitution. Nobody in this Chamber or in the Seanad will openly argue that we should abandon our traditional neutrality and join NATO because they do not have to. Structures for an EU military alliance have been carefully and steadily put in place. An EU army separate from and able to act independently of NATO but closely linked to it is the objective, and our Defence Forces are already part of this project. We already have 850 military personnel in the EU rapid reaction force. We have signed up to permanent structured co-operation, PESCO. PESCO was established on the basis of Article 42.7 of the Lisbon treaty. People will remember that the treaty was rejected in a referendum. An important fact of that rejection was due to fears it would lead to an EU army. After being given an opt-out from Article 42.7, the treaty was passed in a second vote. Despite the opt-out, Governments have opted into PESCO and the common European defence policy. Now the latest development is the strategic compass, which calls for increased military spending and research, building the rapid deployment capacity to 5,000 strong brigades and giving the EU strategic military autonomy while co-operating with NATO.

The involvement in these military alliances, which is what they are, gives rise to serious ambiguity as to what our neutrality actually means now. The programme for Government uses the term “active military neutrality”. What does that mean? Why is it in the programme for Government? Was the Tánaiste being serious when he questioned the need for a UN sanction given the fact that certain countries sit on the Security Council? Is the issue of the triple lock mechanism being looked at in government?

Our neutrality is not enshrined in any law, in any treaty or in the Constitution. It is time to change the situation and do away with the ambiguity and this Bill will do that.

I thank the Acting Chair for the opportunity to speak on this. I support this Bill and I want to thank People Before Profit for bringing this important issue to the House today.

The importance of Irish neutrality cannot be overstated. Our neutrality is more important than ever following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which, I fear, may threaten our country’s vital role in being militarily neutral on an international level.

Irish neutrality is under attack by many of the Members in this Chamber and I completely oppose the way many Deputies have come out in support of militarisation.

It is very important that neutrality is defended and nurtured. We are a small, neutral nation. Our strengths have always been in peacekeeping and speaking out against injustice, not in military might. This is something to be incredibly proud of. Neutrality gives us a standing. It gives us an important voice that other countries will listen to.

Our focus should be on looking after people at risk, taking in refugees, and ensuring they have safe travel and a secure place to go. We would bring far more to a crisis in focusing and providing this type of assistance than we could in any military assistance. The focus should always be assisting those affected and this focus is taken away when military gain becomes the main priority, which would be the case if we were to join NATO or any type of EU military intervention.

By maintaining our neutrality, it does not mean we condone the terrible conflicts occurring around the world. To be militarily and politically neutral are two very different things. We will always stand up for what is right and do all in our power to sanction the perpetrators and assist the victims.

There has been a concerted move to undermine our neutrality over the past number of years. The most glaring example of that, which I glad is mentioned in this Bill, is the use of Shannon by probably one of the biggest criminals in the world, the American army, in destroying Iraq and much of the Middle East. What is the difference between that and what the Russians are doing in Ukraine now? That is what I would like to know. I would like the Government to explain what the difference is because that is what we have to defend against. Whether it is America, Russia or any other country, or whether it is the EU, we have to stand against this as well because it is wrong no matter where it is and no matter who does it. That is what we have to stand up against at all times.

We need to stress the importance of our focus. Our focus should always be on the victims of oppression, and assisting them.

I have the honour to make the closing intervention on behalf of the Government to this important debate. We have been reminded here today of the importance of the Constitution as the expression of our values. The preamble of Bunreacht na h-Éireann speaks of "due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity" and of Ireland striving so that "concord" can be "established with other nations". We have differences of opinion - some of these were expressed here today - but I believe we are all in agreement with those fundamental principles.

Prudence is a quality which is rightly valued in matters of state. It argues against hasty or intemperate action. It also argues against needlessly limiting the options upon which we may rely in the future. Not all things can be foreseen. Just six weeks ago, we would not have believed that we would be in the middle of a new war in Europe or that 3.8 million Ukrainians would have fled for their lives from their homes.

When we negotiated the European Peace Facility, EPF, just over a year ago, we ensured that, in line with the programme for Government, it included the option for constructive abstention in the case of a decision by member states to provide lethal equipment to a partner organisation or country. In negotiating prudently, we did not shut off the possibility of Ireland providing any support at all. Before the EPF had reached its first anniversary, Ireland did, in fact, exercise constructive abstention from lethal military support to Ukraine, but instead provided financing for protective and non-lethal equipment.

We must retain flexibility to react to world events and that is one reason it would not be prudent to change the Constitution in the ways proposed in this Bill. Nor do I believe that it would be just to do so in advance of a full national discussion.

Justice is a value which is expressed not only through national legislation but also through international law. Since 1945, there has been a legal prohibition on the use of force other than in self-defence or when authorised by the UN Security Council as part of a collective security mechanism. The Bill before us today would limit us to the first, by excluding the second.

Our foreign policy champions the rules-based international order and the primary role of the UN Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. That is precisely why we worked so hard to gain our current seat on the Council. The UN Charter makes clear that, where the Security Council has mandated action to restore international peace and security, all states are required to assist it. Impeding our ability to do so in any way runs contrary to the core values underpinning our foreign and security policy.

Charity, as a concept, is not normally thought of as relevant to security but in a broad sense it encompasses empathy and support. It describes a country which engages proactively with the world. Ireland has been generous in sharing its expertise, including in the provision of peacekeeping training. For example, we contribute a Defence Forces trainer to the UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda, providing counter-improvised explosive device, IED, training to mainly African peacekeepers. Improvised explosive ordnance is one of the most lethal risks for UN peacekeepers. Two personnel from Egypt were unfortunately killed by an IED in Mali only this month. Could this training also be helpful in armed conflict and, therefore, prohibited under this Bill? I see that as a real possibility, and as a good example of the unintended consequences of a Bill such as this.

I reiterate the point that our EU membership is entirely consistent with our existing policy of neutrality. The Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, which is an integral part of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, provides the Union with an operational capacity to undertake missions outside the EU for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter. In line with these objectives, last week saw EU leaders agree the Strategic Compass – an important strategy document that will guide the EU's CSDP for the decade ahead.

The Strategic Compass is not a common European defence policy. Rather, it enables the EU to better anticipate threats, respond to crises and deepen our co-operation with partners. In particular, it sets out a series of concrete actions in areas such as crisis management, resilience, capability development and the EU's partnerships with key international actors, including the United Nations. There is also a strong focus on work to strengthen the EU’s ability to respond to new and emerging challenges such as cyberattacks or hybrid threats.

The EU treaty makes clear that there will be no common defence without the unanimous agreement of the European Council. Moreover, Ireland's participation in a common defence is already prohibited under Article 29.4.9° of the Constitution. This is reinforced by the Irish protocol to the Lisbon treaty. Any change in that position could take place only with the approval of the people in a referendum to amend the Constitution.

I note also that there is simply no discussion at present among EU member states of the idea of a common defence. Throughout the two years we have spent discussing the Strategic Compass, states have focused on improved crisis management capacity, on capability development, on doing more to counter cyber and hybrid threats, on doing more to support our partners outside the EU to provide for their own security, on developing closer partnerships with other international and regional organisations, on improving interoperability – on everything, in fact, bar turning the EU into a military organisation with a common defence.

Ireland is not a member of NATO but participates in the Partnership for Peace to ensure that our Defence Forces can co-operate more effectively with contingents from partner countries in increasingly challenging UN-operated or UN-mandated missions led by the EU and NATO. In Lebanon, for example, which I visited and where I represented the Government on St. Patrick's Day, this has allowed the Defence Forces to operate side by side with their Polish counterparts in a joint Irish-Polish battalion in the UNIFIL mission, which also involves troops from Malta and Hungary.

I have already referred to the European Peace Facility where, in a context we could never have predicted, Ireland is paying for medical supplies, protective equipment and rations for Ukrainian soldiers, who are defending their country from illegal aggression by a larger neighbour. To accept the contents of this Bill would be to prevent the Government or any future Government from providing similar support - in other words, to ignore an urgent request from a partner, which is defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, fully in line with international law and with Article 51 of the UN Charter, or to, by our inaction, draw a false equivalence between an aggressor and a victim – between the violator of the UN Charter and the violated – and then to pat ourselves on the back and to call this neutrality. Is that what this House wants? These are merely some examples of the ways in which the provisions of this Bill potentially constrain the exercise of the authority of the Executive in respect of the conduct of external relations, as outlined in Article 29 of the Constitution.

I thank the Acting Chair for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. There is a strong argument for continued discussion and reflection on Ireland's security and defence policy and on our long-standing policy of military neutrality. However, these conversations must happen at the appropriate time and in an open and informed manner. I do not believe this House wishes to limit Ireland's ongoing work to contribute to international peace and security. However, this is what enacting this Bill would amount to.

We can have a referendum.

The concept of neutrality in this country is under threat like never before. Commentary in this House and other forums is now advocating for a different approach and policy. Ireland has a proud history of neutrality, going back centuries. That concept is never, ever to aid and abet militarism and war. Neutrality is never to be complicit in other states' wars of domination and conquest. It is against militarism and joining any military pact by stealth, since those promote conflict, regardless of where they are. Ireland's reputation across the world is second to none with regard to social justice, peacekeeping and standing up for the oppressed across the world. We should know, because Ireland has a proud history of standing up to oppression, imperialism and the terrible effects of war. That is an ongoing factor in what we feel ourselves.

There is a bloody blot on neutrality in Ireland. That is the use of Shannon Airport in the last three decades. Does the Minister of State know how many people have been killed in the two Iraqi wars in the last three decades? Half a million people have been killed, an incredible number. The vast majority were civilians. Ireland has facilitated American personnel coming through Shannon Airport on the way to Iraq. People in this country are brutalised by the idea that ordinary people in Iraq were subjected to the worst violence by the most powerful country in the world, which Ireland was complicit in. That is why we stand with the oppressed. We should have no truck whatsoever with militarism, whatever its form. That is a fact and a bloody blot on Ireland's neutrality. Ireland was complicit with the American army and in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

The vast majority of people in this country support neutrality. They understand the concept and want to keep it that way. That is why we have tabled this legislation. It forms a debate and copper-fastens neutrality in this country.

The Government's representation of its position on neutrality and this Bill, as well as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's representation of their position on neutrality, is dishonest and misleading from beginning to end. The position on this Bill is dishonest. This Bill is to create a conversation and debate for the entire country about the position on neutrality. We need to do that when there is a greater threat of war globally than there has been for many decades, between powers that have nuclear weapons. The Bill proposes to maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances and not allowing our territory to be used to prosecute war or to transport personnel or war material for the purposes of war. It prevents us from adopting a decision by the European Council to participate in a war. We can only participate in a war, with the assent of Dáil Éireann, if we are attacked ourselves. That is what the Bill proposes.

I believe it is in line with the wishes of the vast majority of people. It is certainly in line with the traditions of James Connolly, who helped to found this State, and of Wolfe Tone. It is in line with the tradition that established this State, in opposition to the slaughter of the First World War and the colonial domination of the British Empire. That is what it proposes to do. In answer to Deputy Berry's question, we do not believe in any way that it inhibits our proud tradition of peacekeeping or humanitarian assistance for the oppressed or people suffering around the world. Any concerns about that could be addressed by changing wording on Committee Stage. We are open to amendments on the wording, but the key principles of this are copper-fastening our military neutrality and not being involved in military alliances.

The dishonesty of this Government is that while it has to pay lip-service to neutrality, in reality it has eroded, breached and undermined our military neutrality as have successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments . They are now seeking to use the terrible crisis and Putin's bloody invasion of Ukraine to do something they have long tried to do, which is to move closer to EU militarisation and to the NATO military alliance. That is the truth. By doing that, they are betraying that proud tradition of opposition to imperialism.

Putin's war in Ukraine is disgusting, imperialist and bloody. He should get out of Ukraine. We have been consistent in opposing Russia's imperialist adventures in a way that our Government and the European Union have not. We opposed Russia's involvement in Afghanistan and in Chechnya, with the bloody levelling of Grozny. Only a few months ago, we opposed the Collective Security Treaty Organization, CSTO, which is Russia's version of NATO, intervening against workers in Kazakhstan. We opposed Russia in Georgia, Syria and everywhere it has gone, because Putin is an imperialist and a warmonger, and Russia has a long history of imperialism. We are consistent, as was James Connolly, with the tradition of neutrality, in opposing all warmongers and imperialists. The Government is silent on that.

If CSTO and Russia are imperialists, so are the powers that dominate NATO, which the Government is silent about. In the NATO war on Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people were slaughtered and blown up with drone missiles at weddings, in buses and so on by NATO forces. The US and UK led a war in Iraq, which directly killed 500,000 people, as Deputy Gino Kenny just said. It indirectly resulted in the deaths of more than 1 million people. It completely destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq and destabilised the entire Middle East. The disaster that we have seen in Syria would not have happened if not for the US and UK-led war in Iraq.

Recently, Amnesty International and UN Human Rights Watch confirmed something that Palestinians have been saying for decades, that we have said to the Government and European Union for years, that Israel is an apartheid state involved in ethnic cleansing and committing crimes against humanity. No sanctions were imposed on it by the European Union or NATO. It is quite the contrary. The powers that dominate NATO arm Israel to the teeth, even though it is guilty of committing war crimes on an ongoing basis, for 70 years, against the Palestinian people.

The war in Yemen is conducted by Saudi Arabia. The Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, sends people from Ireland every year to develop trade relations with the most despotic dictatorship in the world, in Saudi Arabia, that has been at war for seven years in Yemen, killing 377,000 people, including 10,000 children, and has brought 14 million people to the brink of starvation according to the UN. It is armed by the US, the UK and France. They are directly involved in that war.

Are there any sanctions against them? None. Why? Because it is in US interests to support the Saudi dictatorship as part of its project of controlling and dominating that area for the purposes of oil. I could go down through the list. The Government is silent on those things. That is what neutrality means. It means not being silent. It is not about being indifferent; it means being consistent in opposing oppression, imperialism and war-mongering rather than being selective in the way the Government is. The Government is against some wars but for other wars if its allies are involved in them and arming people to conduct those wars. This is now more vital than ever, as two nuclear powers engage in a stand-off. Why would we be involved in any alliance with powers that have nuclear weapons that could destroy the world? Now more than ever, we need to protect neutrality and have a constitutional referendum in order to secure that neutrality.

Cuireadh an cheist.
Question put.

Insofar as a vote has been called, it is deferred until the weekly voting time this evening.