Dáil debates

Thursday, 24 November 2016

An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Neodracht) 2016: Second Stage [Private Members] - Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]


5:05 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

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

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Seán Crowe.

The Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill that Deputy Crowe and I have jointly signed and tabled allows for a referendum to amend Articles 28 and 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann to ensure Ireland is prevented from aiding in any way a foreign power in preparation for or during a war unless it has the assent of the Dáil. Ireland's neutrality should be cherished, protected and enhanced so that we can reaffirm our commitment to a different type of international politics focused on peace, justice, equality and human rights. The Government, regrettably, has made clear it will oppose this Bill and today it published an amendment – exhibit A in the case – that supposedly reaffirms our neutral status by citing what is in Article 29 of the Constitution, as if I did not know it already. I am seeking to change it. The Government's supposedly strongly worded amendment is nothing of the sort. It is not worth the paper it is written on, in many ways. It is a cynical attempt to hide the fact that the Government is running scared of allowing the people a vote in a referendum that would enshrine Irish neutrality in the Constitution.

Despite the claims of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that our neutrality is allowed for in our Constitution, the opposite is the case. This was made clear by Mr. Justice Kearns in the 2003 High Court case of Horgan v. An Taoiseach:

Despite the great historic value attached by Ireland to the concept of neutrality, that status is nowhere reflected in Bunreacht na hÉireann, or elsewhere in any domestic legislation. It is effectively a matter of Government policy only, albeit a policy to which, traditionally at least, considerable importance was attached.

The Bill addresses that anomaly by allowing for a referendum in which citizens could vote to reaffirm our neutrality. The Taoiseach, however, claims that by reaffirming our neutrality and inserting a clause to that effect in the Constitution, the Judiciary may constrain the Government's capacity to fulfil its obligations in support of UN-mandated actions. By this very reasoning, no amendment could be made to the Constitution on the grounds that citizens seeking clarification on what is constitutional would constrain Governments from implementing policy. What is the purpose of the Constitution at all if one is worried the Judiciary or citizens may interpret it? The idea is that we put in a constitution principles that we uphold and then add laws to protect it and give effect to it.

Spin doctors, the Taoiseach and perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, have been complaining about the cost of a referendum. Nowhere did I state in the publicity material circulated before the introduction of this Bill that the Bill had to be a stand-alone initiative. The public has shown quite ably that they can deal with several concepts at the same time. Several referendums have been held at the same time. The proposed referendum can be held with the others the Government has already committed to holding. Therefore, the cost is negligible. One way or the other, whether there is a cost or not, it should not be the key point if we believe in neutrality as a principle. In that case, the principle should far outweigh the cost given what is at stake.

The views expounded by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in rejecting this Bill are totally false. In some ways this is why the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, argued so forcefully during this week's Cabinet meeting for a free vote on this Bill. It is why both, in addition to Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, supported the exact same Bill when it was tabled in 2015 and it is why they have been so strident in their criticism of how successive Governments have abused Ireland's position of neutrality. I hope, therefore, that they will remain true to the positions they adopted in the past and will vote with us to enshrine Irish neutrality within Bunreacht na hÉireann when the vote is taken next Thursday. By so doing, they will have reaffirmed their support for a policy of non-membership of military alliances at a time when Ireland, like other neutral countries such as Sweden and Finland, are being pressurised to join NATO or to support and be part of ever-growing EU military architecture.

This Government, like its predecessors, seems hell-bent on adopting policies that compromise and undermine our neutral status. By so doing, it is at odds with the majority of Irish citizens who value and support our neutrality. In a document I presume all Deputies were given by the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance, PANA, I saw a reference to the only poll I know of that was carried out to ascertain the public's view on neutrality. It was a Red C poll carried out in 2013. It was found that 78% of the public supported in full Irish neutrality.

Probably the most obvious example of how successive Governments have discredited Irish neutrality is the continued use of Shannon Airport as a military stopover for US armed forces. Since the illegal invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, over 2.5 million US troops have travelled through Shannon in transit to and from conflict zones in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan, countries where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, maimed or left displaced and destitute.

There is evidence that indicates Shannon Airport is a stopover for CIA rendition flights, involving a blatant and perverse contravention of our neutrality. The State has never investigated the possibility that we have facilitated torture. By the failure to act, successive Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour Party Governments have made the State complicit in gross violations of human rights.

This contravention of Ireland's neutrality has contributed to deaths, torture, starvation, forced displacement and a range of other shameful human rights abuses that could have been stopped had the Governments called halt or had this legislation enshrining neutrality in the Constitution been passed.

5:15 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I tabled a similar Bill in the previous Dáil that was supported by members of what is now the Independent Alliance. I hope that they will be consistent and vote in favour of this Bill next week rather than the Government's weak amendment, which is a continuation of the status quoand the undermining of Irish neutrality.

In the 2003 version of this Bill, we got the support of the Labour Party, which was in opposition at the time. Rather strangely, when Labour was in government last year and could act on the issue, in its wisdom it chose not to support my neutrality Bill. Let us hope that, now that Labour is back in "radical mode", it will again support this Bill.

The aim of the Bill is to give power and choice to the Irish people to decide by referendum if they want to enshrine neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Who could be afraid of that? I appeal to all parties and Teachtaí Dála to allow the Bill to pass Second Stage and let us begin an honest and open debate about Ireland's policy of neutrality. It is important to enshrine such a fundamental principle in Bunreacht na hÉireann because successive Governments have breached the Hague Convention and undermined Irish neutrality. The Government amendment is a continuation of that. It claims that there are already constitutional protections for neutrality, but the reality is that neutrality is not mentioned once in Bunreacht na hÉireann. This has allowed successive Governments to tear strips off neutrality piece by piece against the wishes of the majority of Irish people.

As neutrality is not protected in the Constitution, previous Governments have signed Ireland up to NATO's Partnership for Peace and allowed and facilitated the civilian airport in Shannon to become a virtual forward airbase for the US military. The current Government continues to support Ireland's involvement in the emerging EU military structures. A referendum to insert neutrality would bring greater clarity to the State's neutrality policy, which has become blurred, distorted and riddled with double speak as successive Governments say one thing but do the opposite.

Given that the momentum behind the creation of a EU army has been accelerated by Mr. Donald Trump's election and Brexit, the Bill is timely. This week, the European Parliament voted in favour of a report on the creation of an enhanced EU armed force. The report called on the EU to develop a European military-industrial complex and set aside EU and national funds in order to do so. Children go to bed hungry while taxpayers' hard-earned money is wasted on military funding. Sinn Féin's MEPs voted against this disastrous project and attack on Irish neutrality.

The Government amendment references The Global Island foreign policy document, which only mentions neutrality twice in 57 pages. That Fine Gael's MEPs abstained on the recent European Parliament report shows how much these empty commitments mean to them. It is also significant that, in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's most recent strategy statement for 2015 to 2017, Irish neutrality is not mentioned once.

We do not need to look to Brussels to find the Government's undermining of neutrality, we just need to focus our attention on Shannon Airport. Some 2.25 million US troops have passed through Shannon Airport since 2002. Like many others, Teachtaí Wallace and Clare Daly have consistently raised the issue of the failure and the need for the Garda authorities to investigate and search flights carrying military personnel through Shannon. Their recent court case heard important evidence from military and security experts that detailed how foreign militaries transport weaponry on aircraft passing through Shannon. These airplanes are guarded by Irish Army personnel and the Garda, but they have never been given an order to do even a cursory search of these craft for weapons. Shannonwatch has provided the Garda with all of this information and more but, strangely, no investigation has taken place to our knowledge. Shannon is a civilian airport and not built for military traffic. An accident or crash there could cause major civilian casualties.

Some Deputies will argue that neutrality is outdated. I do not agree. We live in a world where half of the population lives in poverty, with one person in every eight suffering from malnutrition, and where poverty kills approximately 19 people every minute of every day, yet trillions of euro are spent on military expenditure every year. To ensure that we live in a safer and more equal world, greater military expenditure is not the solution, nor is supporting the creation of an EU army and assisting NATO. We need to challenge the very structures that cause poverty, food insecurity, conflict and division.

If Ireland followed a policy of positive neutrality, the State could make a significant and powerful contribution towards the long-held global objective of an international peace with justice. Through a policy of positive neutrality, the State would not look to increase its military spending or take part in the arms trade and profit from war and people's misery. Instead, it could focus on enhancing the economic, social, political and cultural rights of people worldwide.

If we redoubled our efforts to focus on working with countries on implementing global targets on issues such as land rights, climate change, citizen participation, economic equality and government accountability, surely the world would become a better and safer place for us all. Irish neutrality is not a policy of opting out of international affairs. Rather, it is a genuine commitment to a different type of international politics that is focused on justice, development and human rights.

Sinn Féin supports the continued role of Irish troops in UN peacekeeping missions around the world and the brave work that they do. Blue helmet peacekeeping missions and Irish Aid continue to be two of the most positive pillars of the State's foreign affairs over the decades. Surely it is long past time that power was given to the Irish people to decide on Ireland's on future and on whether neutrality should be at the core of that policy.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading in order to protect the authority of the Executive to conduct external relations pursuant to Article 29.4 1° of the Constitution;

noting also, for example, that the Bill, as currently framed, may constrain the Government’s capacity to fulfil its obligations to support United Nations, UN, mandated actions, in particular peace enforcement missions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter;

reaffirming its commitment to Ireland’s longstanding policy of military neutrality;

acknowledging the constitutional framework within which the policy of military neutrality operates, in particular the following Articles of Bunreacht na hÉireann:
-- Article 29.1 which affirms Ireland’s "devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly cooperation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality";

-- Article 29.2 which affirms Ireland’s "‘adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination"’; and

-- Article 29.4.9° which 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.";
noting that the legally binding Protocol to the Lisbon Treaty negotiated by Ireland, states that "the Treaty of Lisbon does not prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.";.

reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the "Triple Lock" principle provided for under the Defence Acts which govern the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas. The Triple Lock mandates that:
-- deployment for overseas peace support operations may only be made if that operation is mandated by the United Nations;

-- deployment must also be approved by the Government; and

-- if it is proposed to deploy more than 12 personnel, a Dáil resolution must also be approved;
noting that the Triple Lock provides for strong parliamentary oversight of deployment of Defence Forces personnel;

reaffirming the Government’s strong commitment to the principles of the UN Charter which states that "All Members shall settle their international disputes in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.";

further reaffirming its strong commitment to UN peacekeeping and notes that 573 Irish Defence Force personnel are currently serving with UN missions; and

restating its commitment to the implementation of the 2015 statement of foreign policy, The Global Island, approved by a Government decision of 6th January, 2015, which states "Our policy of military neutrality remains a core element of Irish foreign policy", page 29. Moreover, noting that the Government decision to approve The Global Island also stated that the Government "affirmed that, as the policy states, our policy of military neutrality remains a core element of Irish foreign policy.";

further affirming its commitment to the implementation of the White Paper on Defence, 2015, approved by a Government decision of 13th July, 2015, and re-committed to in the Programme for Partnership Government, 2016. Noting that the White Paper, which sets out a ten year strategy for Ireland’s Defence Policy, states, inter alia:
— "The Government’s recent review of foreign policy confirmed that Ireland will continue to maintain a policy of military neutrality which is characterised by non-membership of military alliances and non-participation in common or mutual defence arrangements.", page 24; and

— "While many EU member states are also members of NATO, there is full acceptance across the EU that a sovereign state has the right to choose its own defence policy, which in Ireland’s case is one of military neutrality." page 27.".

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this important Bill. The text of the Government's reasoned amendment has been circulated to the House.

The Government is clear in our policy on military neutrality. As Deputies will be aware, the policy dates back to the Second World War. Over subsequent decades, successive Governments have restated their commitment to the policy and it remains as strong as ever under the current Government. We are also clear, however, that the proposed legislation is unnecessary and would impact negatively on Ireland's ability to contribute positively in the international community. On that basis, we are proposing an amendment.

While I cannot support the Bill, today's debate affords a useful opportunity to restate our continuing commitment to Ireland's long-standing policy of military neutrality and to set out how and why we strongly support this policy. That commitment was most recently set out in the White Paper on Defence, which was published in August 2015. This reaffirmed that our policy of military neutrality remained a core element of foreign policy, as had been previously restated in the review of foreign policy, The Global Island, published in January 2015.

There are substantive provisions in the Constitution that underpin Ireland's policy on military neutrality. Article 29 establishes the framework within which Ireland conducts its international relations. In particular, Article 29.1 reads: "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.

Further safeguards on this issue are provided in Article 29(4)(9) which imposes a constitutional block on Ireland’s participation in a common defence policy under Article 42 of the EU treaties. This safeguard will remain in our Constitution unless and until the people decide otherwise by referendum on some future occasion. Moreover, the protocols attaching to the Lisbon treaty specifically recognise Ireland’s policy of military neutrality stating, inter alia, "The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality".

It is suggested that one of the bases for the current proposal is to ensure that we do not deploy our Defence Forces in support of military operations in international conflicts. As all Members of the House are aware, the Defence Acts set out the parameters within which Defence Forces personnel may be deployed on international operations. Any such deployment is constrained by the provisions known as the triple lock. The triple lock provisions also form part of Ireland’s declaration under the Lisbon treaty.

Successive Governments have pursued a policy of military neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances and non-engagement in mutual defence commitments. Ireland’s concept of military neutrality has served us well. While we choose to remain neutral, that is not out of any lack of interest in issues underpinning conflicts or any isolationist stance.

Ireland’s approach to international relations is founded on full and active engagement in the international community in support of international peace and security and the rule of law. We follow and will continue to follow this policy approach of being militarily neutral but fully engaged, because, as committed members of the United Nations, we subscribe fully to the principles set out in the UN charter.

In particular, we believe that disputes between states should be resolved in a peaceful manner. That is set out in the provisions of Article 2(3) of the UN Charter which states that "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." We subscribe to, and are bound by, the provisions of chapter 6 of the charter, which deals with the peaceful settlement of disputes and chapter 7 which sets out provisions for joint action in respect of threats to the peace and acts of aggression. We are also committed as a UN member to meeting our obligations to contribute troops for deployment on UN-mandated missions, whether those are peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations requiring combat ready and capable troops. Since 1958, the Defence Forces have made an extraordinary contribution to such UN missions. As a nation we are very proud of the role that the Defence Forces have played, and continue to play, in very challenging and difficult missions. As of last Friday, Ireland is contributing more than 570 Defence Forces personnel to UN mandated missions throughout the world.

The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 379 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in Syria with 136 Defence Forces personnel. I have just returned from Lebanon this week where Ireland has entered the next chapter of our participation in the UNIFIL mission under the overall control of the head of mission and force commander, Major General Michael Beary. He is the first Irish person to hold this important post in more than 30 years. Since Tuesday last, Ireland has once again taken over the lead nation role in the joint Irish-Finnish battalion and will undertake this role for the next two years. Other missions include the UN-mandated, NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 12 personnel, the EU-led operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with seven personnel and the EU-led training mission in Mali with 18 personnel. These missions are undertaken in pursuit of the guiding UN principles to maintain international peace and security and to take effective collective measures to prevent and remove threats to peace.

Concern has been expressed at various times about Ireland’s participation in NATO-led operations. I wish to again put on record in the House that the NATO-led operations, in which Ireland participates, such as the NATO-led KFOR Mission in Kosovo and, previously ISAF in Afghanistan, have been authorised by successive UN Security Council resolutions. They are operations undertaken at the behest of the UN, authorised by the UN, and very often working with a UN mission. Ireland’s participation in them in no way infringes on our traditional policy of military neutrality and our participation is both welcomed and strongly supported by the UN, as is Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups.

Ireland’s co-operation with NATO is conducted through the Partnership for Peace, PfP. Our purpose in participating in the PfP is to improve our military capabilities so as to be able to participate effectively and safely with other nations in UN-mandated operations. In joining the PfP, Ireland, in common with other PfP nations, reaffirmed its commitment to fulfil, in good faith, the obligations of the United Nations Charter, and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ireland’s decision to participate in PfP is in full accordance with Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.

Concerns have also been expressed at various times that our participation in the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, of the European Union has posed a threat to our military neutrality, most recently in the context of the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. That is not true. Ireland’s traditional policy on military neutrality is completely unaffected by our membership of the EU or by any treaties or policies associated with the EU.

Similarly, concern has been expressed about the recent joint EU-NATO declaration on co-operation. I can confirm to the House that the declaration clearly states that future co-operation between the EU and NATO will fully respect the decision-making autonomy of both organisations and will not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of any member state, which in our case is one of military neutrality. The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy clearly does not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. That has been consistent treaty language in EU treaties since the Maastricht treaty in 1992. It was included at Ireland’s behest to fully protect our specific policy of military neutrality. It has been replicated and referenced consistently in all related policies since then, including in relation to the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, as part of CSDP.

There are no proposals to create a standing EU army and we are not and will not become part of any alliance or permanent military formation. Indeed, there are no provisions whatsoever under the existing EU treaties which would facilitate or enable the creation of a European army. The guarantees under the Lisbon treaty and Ireland’s declaration make this very clear. Moreover, any form of common defence that may be agreed can only come about if all the member states agree unanimously. Even if the member states were ever to agree that, Ireland could not participate without a separate referendum. What has developed in the context of EU-CSDP operations with military elements, is that the Union now engages in a wide range of

crisis management operations, invariably in support of or in partnership with the UN. These are the sort of tasks already undertaken on UN-mandated crisis management operations combining the efforts of both civilian and military personnel.

In regard to EU missions and operations overseas under CSDP, the launching of any such missions requires the unanimous approval of the Council. As such, Ireland has the right of veto over launching any such mission. Also, it must be recognised that our triple lock would prevent Irish troops from participation in any such mission without a UN mandate and Dáil approval, as appropriate. I have highlighted the Government’s continued commitment to military neutrality, as evidenced through successive policy statements, the Lisbon treaty guarantees and, most recently, the Government's White Paper on Defence. While Ireland is committed to a policy of military neutrality, we must be clear that Ireland is not ideologically neutral. Political neutrality in international affairs has never been part of Ireland’s foreign policy tradition. Ireland is an outward looking country that has played a proactive role and continues to play a proactive role in preventing and managing conflicts and the maintenance of international peace.

Accordingly, in view of the strength and long-standing nature of this commitment reiterated by successive Governments spanning the political spectrum, the Government is satisfied that there is no need to insert a constitutional provision relating to this policy and has therefore proposed amendment No. 1. Not only are the proposals in the Bill unnecessary, they are also potentially fraught with difficulties. Enshrining these provisions in the Constitution could, for example, constrain the Government's flexibility and scope to respond effectively in emergency or urgent circumstances where speed is of the essence.

More serious are the potential effects which cannot be foreseen and indeed how the proposal may be interpreted in time to come. As a State, we have seen how constitutional provisions inserted at various times with apparent clear objectives have subsequently been subject to differing interpretations and the cause of ongoing dispute on both sides of the argument. I would be concerned, for example, that inserting the proposed text in the Constitution might constrain the Government's scope to support UN-mandated actions, particularly in conflict zones and fragile states involving both state and non-state actors. Moreover, I see no groundswell of public or political opinion to the effect that the people would wish to constrain the Government and Dáil Éireann in this way.

Our military neutrality has always been a matter of policy and principle rather than a matter of law. The instigators of the policy never sought to enshrine it in law and successive Governments have continued to maintain the policy but have not proceeded to give it legal or constitutional effect. This pragmatic approach has enabled successive Governments to respond to international crises through both civilian and military means in both peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of the Government's policy in respect of the use of Shannon Airport by US aircraft and the inevitable claims that will be made that this policy is incompatible with our neutrality. Successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the US for well over 50 years. These arrangements are governed by strict conditions, including that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and not engage in intelligence and that the flights do not form part of military exercises or operations. We impose these conditions to ensure compatibility between these arrangements and our neutrality.

This is the context in which today's amendment to the motion has been proposed. Government policy on neutrality is unambiguous. There are effective safeguards in place to protect Ireland's military neutrality while enabling Ireland to continue actively to play its part internationally through a range of actions, including diplomatic activity, humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping, peace enforcement and crisis management operations. The inclusion of the proposed provisions in the Constitution is neither necessary nor appropriate.

5:35 pm

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil opposes the Bill. I see possible issues with the proposed amendments. In respect of the amendment of Article 28, in the event of an international emergency where the UN Security Council has unanimously approved a humanitarian intervention involving military forces, it could mean that the Dáil would have to be recalled so that planes might refuel at Shannon Airport. We have to ask ourselves whether this is necessary. While those who propose this may feel that it would not apply in this case, it is still possible that a court challenge might arise on this basis.

In respect of the amendment of Article 29, the definition of a military alliance is open to interpretation. Is it NATO? Could it also be interpreted as an EU battlegroup on a peacekeeping mission with a UN mandate? Is our participation in UNDOF or UNIFIL a form of military alliance? Furthermore, in the event of Ireland being attacked, would such an article not render it unconstitutional for us to form an alliance to repel the attack? A constitutional declaration of neutrality is no guarantee that our neutrality will be respected. We must be practical and take a long-term view. We must leave ourselves in a position to react to whatever may come at us.

Fianna Fáil is dedicated to Ireland's policy of military neutrality. It is a policy which we have pursued both in and out of Government and it has as a key defining characteristic non-membership of military alliances. This policy of military neutrality has gone hand in hand with strong support for international co-operation for peace and stability, as manifested in Ireland's participation in UN-mandated peacekeeping operations. Various Defence Acts passed by this Oireachtas mean that Ireland only takes part in missions which are unambiguously authorised by the UN and on the basis of a sovereign decision by Government subject to the approval of the Dáil - the triple lock system. Furthermore, in Article 29, the Constitution also confirms Ireland's dedication to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice and morality. Article 29 also upholds our observance of the principle of peaceful resolution of international disputes. Our neutrality is a policy rather than a status. Fianna Fáil does not see a case for amending the Constitution in this area.

The second Nice treaty referendum introduced a provision in the Irish Constitution affirming that Ireland could not partake in common defence without further amendment to the Constitution. This gave constitutional effect to the solemn commitment in the national declaration by Ireland at Seville that a referendum would be held in Ireland on the adoption of decisions taken by the EU to move to a common defence. The Seville declarations clarified that there was nothing in the Treaty of Nice or previous treaties that posed a threat to Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. In order for Ireland to join a common defence, the people would first have to vote to delete or amend this constitutional prohibition. At the Seville summit in June 2002, the State secured the agreement of our EU partners to declarations that reflect Ireland's position on military neutrality and European security and defence policy. Two declarations were included in the Nice treaty to underline the Irish position.

The first was the national declaration by Ireland, which states that Ireland is not party to any mutual defence commitment, is not party to any plans to develop a European army and will take a sovereign decision on a case-by-case basis on whether the Defence Forces should participate in humanitarian or crisis management tasks undertaken by the EU based on the triple lock of a UN mandate, a Government decision and approval by Dáil Éireann.

The Declaration of the European Council at the time confirmed that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is in full conformity with the treaties on which the European Union is based, including the Treaty of Nice, and that there is no obligation arising from the treaties which would or could oblige Ireland to depart from that policy. These declarations are solemn political declarations of a formal kind which will be deposited at the United Nations and we stand by them. We also stand by the triple lock.

Ireland has always conferred fundamental importance on the United Nations since we joined 58 years ago and working with other UN members we have supported international action in areas such as disarmament, peacekeeping, development and human rights and we are proud of this. We are strong and committed supporters of collective security through the United Nations. This has been the stated policy of many Governments over the past 58 years. Alongside this, we have endorsed and supported the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. This emphasis on the UN is not one we should lightly discard. While we are conscious of the opposition to the triple lock from some military and political commentators, we do believe that there is overwhelming public support for the mechanism. Furthermore, the legitimacy conferred by a UN mission bolsters the safety and security of our Defence Forces when they participate in peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. Obviously, no mission will be without risk but the absence of the blue hat will heighten the risk.

While neutrality was the given policy of successive Governments prior to the Second World War, it was that conflict that put it to the test. In 1940, Eamon de Valera told this House that:

We have chosen the policy of neutrality ... because we believed that it was the right policy for our people. It is the policy which has been accepted, not merely by this House, but by our people as a whole, and nobody who realises what modern war means, and what it means particularly for those who have not sufficient air defences, will have the slightest doubt that policy was the right one, apart altogether from any questions of sympathy on one side or the other.

In 1946, as the Dáil debated a motion to see admission to the newly formed United Nations, he provided another illuminating insight. He said that "I would like our people and the Members of this House to bear in mind that for six years of war the question as to whether our neutrality would be respected or not depended ultimately upon the will of, perhaps, two men." He acknowledged that those two men were President Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He went on to say with regard to the United Nations that:

It is the small nations particularly that should welcome an organisation which is intended to give collective security. But the small nations, just like the big ones, will, if they become members of such an organisation, have to be really loyal members of it. They will have to make up their minds that the obligations which are necessary, if the organisation is to be successful, will be fulfilled and carried out.

As has been pointed out in this house before, the war from 1939 to 1945 showed clearly that military neutrality by itself is not sufficient to maintain conditions of peace and security internationally. It is also essential that we work actively for international peace and security taking account of the prevailing circumstances. This support for collective security has essentially been followed through the United Nations.

Let us recall very clearly that when our neutrality was most tested from 1939 to 1945, Sinn Féin and the IRA did everything but respect that neutrality and for that organisation to present itself now as a champion and guarantor of Irish neutrality lacks any semblance of credibility.

Ireland is not alone in not providing a constitutional provision for its neutrality. A number of our EU partners do the same thing. Sweden has a long-standing policy of neutrality but it is not a feature of its constitution. Similarly, its neighbour and also our European Union partner, Finland, is not in any military alliance but does not feel any need to provide for a constitution prohibition.

What would happen if we made a provision for neutrality in the Constitution? We must consider the impact of passing this legislation. Can the definition of a military alliance also be open to interpretation? Is it NATO and only NATO? Could it also be interpreted as an EU battle group on a peacekeeping mission with a UN mandate? Is our participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, in the Golan Heights or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, a form of military alliance? If the provisions of the Bill became law, it could fall to the Supreme Court to decide because I have no doubt there would be a challenge to such missions.

The truth is that a constitutional provision could be too rigid, too doctrinaire. It could also have a detrimental impact on the ability of the Government to manage foreign policy issues. Neutrality should not mean neutering.

It is not long since Sinn Féin started recognising the courts of this Republic, but we do not need to confer these additional powers on them. It could undermine the whole purpose of collective security and the United Nations that Ireland is so committed to.

Let me return to what De Valera said in 1946:

It would be fatal for the small nations, including ourselves, who have any hope of collective security, to think that they can in the end dodge their obligations, if they attempt to do so, they are going to bring the whole edifice down and they might as well never have had anything to do with an organisation of this sort. Therefore our people should realise that when we enter into an organisation of this sort we are committing ourselves to take collective action with other people.

The difference between a war, such as may arise under the obligations of the charter, and other wars is as follows. This type of war would be a war of enforcement - enforcement of obligations, and also enforcement of rights. If there is ever to be a rule of law, nations must make up their minds that they will take part in such enforcement, because if there is not enforcement, then, of course, the duties and the rights that are guaranteed will be all thrown aside.

The reality is that the inclusion of a specific reference to neutrality in the Constitution could have a serious impact on our capacity to support the United Nations. There would be serious doubt as to whether we could fulfil our obligations as a member of the United Nations.

Resorting to the courts would be a clear implication of this plan to amend the Constitution and it is simply not a suitable area for judicial decision. These are not matters to be settled in the Supreme Court rather than by those of us who have been elected by the people. The people are sovereign through our electoral system and that is where sovereignty must reside. We are the legislators in this regard, elected by the people to do this job.

Another myth that Sinn Féin and other supporters of this Bill peddle is that of increasing militarisation. Throughout Europe military expenditure has declined rapidly in the past 20 years. Recent events in the Ukraine may reverse that in some countries, but here in Ireland we have reduced our Defence Forces from around 14,000 in 1990 to less than 10,000 now. In the ten years after 1997, defence spending in this country halved as a share of GDP.

Of course, the period known as the Troubles crippled our country in many ways with needless loss of thousands of lives, people maimed and a massive annual bill for defence which has been reduced due to the ending of the campaigns of terror by the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organisations.

This Bill represents a backwards step. It would do nothing to enhance the protection of military neutrality that already exists and I restate my party's opposition to it. We did not support a similar Bill proposed by the same party while we were in government in 2003 nor did we do so in 2015, and we will not do so now.

5:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before proceeding to the next speaker, I feel the Chair should apologise to Deputy Clare Daly. I find that the list of speakers before us is based on the traditional rota, when, in fact, for a Thursday evening session the list should be based on the order in which Deputies present themselves.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I should have been first so; I was here very early.

The Labour Party unequivocally supports Irish military neutrality. More importantly, we also believe that the principle is supported by the bulk of the Irish people, and that it should therefore be incorporated into the text of the Constitution. We will, therefore, be supporting this Bill. It is bizarre that the Government should oppose a Bill to amend the Constitution on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Yet that, effectively, is what the Government amendment argues.

In the hope that the Bill reaches Committee Stage, I will outline the reasoning for some of the amendments we will propose, which I believe will improve its effectiveness. First, we need to distinguish between neutrality in time of peace and neutrality in time of war. Neutrality in time of peace means that the State is not a member of a mutual defence alliance and therefore does not commit itself in advance to the defence of its allies even if it is not, itself, attacked. That is the rule which the Sinn Féin Bill seeks to enshrine in the Constitution. Ireland is not a member of any mutual defence alliance. I think it would probably be unconstitutional for us ever to join such an alliance.

Some members will recall Raymond Crotty's case against the State. His case arose from the proposal to sign up to the Single European Act, with its very tentative arrangements for European political co-operation, without a referendum. In the event, the Supreme Court held that European political co-operation interfered with the unfettered discretion of the Government to conduct foreign affairs and would be unconstitutional without a referendum.

In the same way, a binding advance commitment on the part of the State to go to war in future, but unknown, circumstances would seem to be an unconstitutional overriding of the Dáil's sovereign discretion and choice. Article 28.3.1° provides that: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann". For that reason, it seems highly likely that the courts would hold that, under the Constitution as it reads at present, it would not be possible to sign up to a military mutual defence alliance.

The second aspect of neutrality relates to our obligations in time of war. This has directly arisen in the context of the two Gulf wars and the assistance provided to the US military by governments here. Neutrality in time of war relates to the rules of international law that impose requirements on non-belligerents. Neutrals are entitled to have their territory respected and unaffected by the consequences of an armed conflict, but only as long as their activities do not benefit one belligerent at the expense of the other. It is self-evident that a state that supports either of the parties to the conflict loses its neutral status.

Therefore, in time of war, states that proclaim themselves to be neutral in a war cannot aid or hinder either side of the conflict and must keep the conflict from entering their neutral territory. However, this is subject to one overriding consideration. Ireland is a member of the United Nations. Chapter VII of the UN Charter confers on the Security Council a capacity to instruct member states as to how to react when there is a threat to international peace and security. Those instructions could include, for example, the taking of sides in a time of war and the loss of neutrality. Compliance with Security Council resolutions may entail loss of neutrality in time of a war in which the State is not a participant. The first Gulf war is a case in point.

In the event of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, the Security Council is authorised to make recommendations, to call for the employment of measures short of force, or to take forcible measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. If a state is called upon to take military action against an aggressor, or to assist those taking such action, that state loses its right to remain neutral and actually loses its neutrality to the extent that it complies with the direction of the Security Council.

An important issue arises here. Because of the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the Crotty case, Irish membership of the UN may in fact be unconstitutional. This proposition is realistically discussed in learned legal circles, but it has not been given much political prominence. The reasoning in the Crotty case is that the State is not entitled to fetter its sovereign discretion in the conduct of its foreign relations, by entering into prior and binding commitments as to how it will act in the future. Yet a central purpose of the UN Charter is to bind and commit each member state to comply with future resolutions of the Security Council. So, for the same reasons that signing up to European political co-operation required a referendum, so also, probably, would membership of the UN if it were to happen tomorrow. Any proposal to amend the Constitution to deal with neutrality should deal with this issue. I believe the text should specifically reference and approve our membership of the United Nations.

The text should also deal with the enforceability of these rules in our courts. Can the courts intervene if the State breaches neutrality? I have given some thought to this. It is instructive to look at the different ways in which the Dáil responded to the two Gulf wars. The difference between the two is that there was a UN mandate for military action after the invasion of Kuwait, but there was no mandate for the second, disastrous episode.

In the first case, the Dáil noted that under the United Nations Charter all member states were bound to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the charter. The Dáil declared its support for the decisions of the Security Council and it specifically noted Resolution 678, which requested all states to provide appropriate support for the actions taken in pursuance of the resolution. It was under the terms of Security Council Resolution 678 that the State was bound to provide support, including overflight and Shannon stopover facilities for the US military.

On the other hand, in 2003 the Dáil regretted that the US-UK coalition was launching a campaign against Iraq in the absence of agreement on a further UN Security Council resolution. The Dáil, however, went on to recall what the resolution referred to as the long-standing arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft and it supported the decision of the Government to maintain those arrangements. In other words, the Dáil supported the Government in abandoning Ireland's neutral status, without any UN mandate or justification. Just for the record, it is important to remember that the US-UK coalition returned to the UN Security Council at a later stage and sought and secured a mandate for its efforts to return some peace and stability to the region. The overflight and Shannon stopover arrangements that were in place as and from that date therefore have a UN mandate. I would argue that our Constitution, which is now proposed to be amended, should provide us with some assistance in differentiating between these two scenarios. In both cases US aircraft were permitted landing and overflight facilities at Shannon. In the first case there was a UN Security Council resolution requesting all member states to provide appropriate support, while in the second case there was no UN mandate. Edward Horgan, a Limerick man, sought court declarations that the Government decision to permit US military aircraft engaged in the second Gulf War to overfly the State, to land and be refuelled at Shannon was clearly in breach of Ireland’s neutral State duty and constituted participation by the State in a war without Dáil assent, in breach of Article 28.3 of the Constitution. That case was heard by the High Court. The High Court held that the State’s compliance with generally recognised principles of international law was not enforceable by the courts. In fact, the High Court went further and held that the discretion of the Government in international relations could not be fettered by reference to rules of international law. The High Court also held that what constituted “participation” in a war, within the meaning of Article 28.3.1 of the Constitution, was a matter to be decided by the Dáil. I think it is noteworthy that, for the purpose of these arguments, the High Court accepted that international law imposed duties on non-belligerents. The question was whether the court could enforce them. Although this rule exists in the international plane, the High Court’s position was that under the Constitution as it stands, the rule is not enforceable. This Bill presents an ideal opportunity to remedy this defect and it could be very useful in that regard.

In summary, the Labour Party, which supports the amendment, believes that a constitutional amendment should do five things. First, it should secure Ireland’s membership of the United Nations which, as I have said, is open to question. Second, it should explicitly prohibit the State from membership of a military alliance for mutual defence. Third, it should prohibit the State, unless authorised by the United Nations and with Dáil assent, from declaring war, participating in war, sending the Defence Forces to participate in any form of armed conflict or providing any assistance to belligerents in time of war. Fourth, it should be made clear that the Defence Forces could continue to take part in training, joint exercises, rapid reaction forces and the like, in preparation for UN-mandated international missions, a task with a UN mandate and for which the missions have won plaudits and admiration across the world. We, as a nation, are very proud of the role played by our Defence Forces and soldiers in many challenging and difficult roles and situations. Some are from our own areas, including the former Columb Barracks in Mullingar, Custume Barracks in Athlone and across the midlands. They have played a vital role and we must continue that. Finally, but most importantly, the amendment should provide that its terms are justiciable, meaning that the text is cognisable and enforceable by the courts of the land. That is an important situation. This is a worthwhile Bill and the Labour Party will be supporting it fully.

5:55 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his apology. He does not need to apologise to me - nobody does - these things happen. I just hope that next time around the rules of the House are upheld because it is a matter for all individual Deputies rather than the priority of the parties, which normally prevails in here. It is nobody's fault, this stuff happens. I am absolutely delighted to be here and I am very glad that the Bill was selected from the lottery. I compliment the Deputies for bringing it forward. We have been given the opportunity to do something very positive here tonight. This motion is not about standing idly by. It is about being proactive, internationalist, standing up for human rights and the peaceful organisation of the world. It is very interesting to see how language has changed. Time after time the Minister of State kept talking about military neutrality but this is about positive neutrality. It is not a stand at the seams and do nothing policy. It is not about Ireland just not being involved in armed conflict. The Bill is very clear that it is also about not aiding foreign powers in any way in the preparation for war or other armed conflict. That, in and of itself, is a proactive policy which should be supported. When listening to the Minister of State I did not know whether to laugh or to cry because he told us his commitment to neutrality was as strong as it ever was, and maybe that was when we started to get worried. It is another Irish solution to an Irish problem. The Minister of State talks the talk about neutrality but he ignores the elephant in the room or rather the Hercules C-130 on the runway at Shannon. This does not happen arbitrarily but on average at least two times a day. Last month Shannonwatch photographed such aircraft six times in the one day at Shannon Airport. Two weeks ago a NATO warship docked and refuelled at Cork Harbour with armed personnel on board. Last year the Department gave 600 exemptions for military aircraft to land at Shannon Airport and 700 exemptions for aircraft to carry weaponry.

What does the Minister of State think these aircraft are doing? The figures are there. Since 2001 some 2.5 million troops have passed through Shannon, over 60,000 in the last year alone, en route to the Middle East. The Government has given permission for hundreds of millions of tonnes to pass through Irish airspace to locations such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. What does Minister of State think all that transit is about? It costs substantial amounts of money to move this type of aircraft. It does not come cheap. It defies credibility that this is being done in compliance with the regulations laid down that to adhere to our neutrality we are not involved in military conflict operations and do not carry weapons, ammunition and the like. It could not be the case. Not only must we speculate on the bounds of credibility, we know this for a fact, as Deputy Crowe has said. In our court case in 2015, three people gave direct evidence of seeing, personally and directly, weaponry on board US aircraft. This is a fact. In fairness to the judge in that case, he made a point in his summation that he accepted without any doubt whatsoever the bona fides and the expertise of the witnesses we had assembled but that he could not adjudicate the picture because of the charge that we were there. I would actually have more respect for the Minister of State if he said we are not really neutral at all, we want to allow the US military to basically operate in Ireland whatever way it likes because we might get a few jobs out of it, it is good for the economy and it is good for multinationals. In reality, that is the Government's position and rather than dressing it up in this duplicitous way which is very disrespectful to the Irish people, we know from our history that it would be entirely appropriate and possible for the Government to deny permission for such aircraft. We know that previous taoisigh such as Seán Lemass ordered planes to be checked. For the Minister of State to say that a referendum could not be put to the people because of cost is incredibly insulting when one looks at the human cost of the global war machine and the consequences. We are complicit in this by allowing Shannon Airport to be used. There are 65 million people displaced by war. Last year 24 people every minute were forced to flee their homes as a direct result of military conflict. One in every 113 people globally is now a refugee, an asylum seeker or an internally displaced person and 51% of those people are children. We are complicit in that situation. It is a fact and we are not even speculating on it.

The international arms trade is a huge contributor to this situation yet we continue to do business with countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, transporting dual use goods there when it is not clear what the end use will be. Freedom of information requests have shown many of these exports are on their way to countries, for example Saudi Arabia, where it is indisputable they are getting co-operation from the United States which has used its aircraft to refuel Saudi aircraft on the way to unleash appalling butchery and hardship on the people of Yemen.

Based on the information we have seen through freedom of information requests, we have to be complicit in this. The figures tally with the number of refuelling US aircraft that went through Shannon Airport and onwards in that direction. There could be no other conclusion drawn from the situation. To come in here and say we are neutral, we love being neutral and we want to keep neutrality belies the reality on the ground. The position of the Minister of State is not akin to the wishes and intentions of the Irish people, because Irish people do not want to be part of this situation. We know an online poll conducted yesterday indicated 57% of people are in favour of enshrining neutrality in the Constitution. Deputy Wallace commissioned a Red C opinion poll last year, which gave figures of approximately 60% of the population supporting neutrality. If the same poll were taken now it would probably be higher, given the outcome of the US election and the imminent presidency of Donald Trump, which is a little ironic because Donald Trump's interest in foreign invasion is probably a little less than President Barack Obama, who signed off on a record number of assassinations and an unprecedented level of military activity.

Historically, our neutrality has probably got a lot more to do with the war against Britain and the insurgent nationalism in the early days of the State when Irish people were justifiably trying to shake off British imperialism. The anti-conscription campaign politicised a layer of Irish people, who went on to join the struggle for independence. It may have started in this way but it has developed into something very different. Our neutrality is something that Irish people hold very dear. When they go on holidays they like to be recognised as Irish. They do not get insulted when they are called English because they do not want to be identified with an aggressor nation. They are, if we like, affiliated with the idea of being part of the peoples of the world rather than facilitating armed imperialist world powers. Given this outlook and because Irish people are all over the world, we have the potential to punch way above our weight in terms of a positive contribution to world relations for a world that would be dominated more in terms of peaceful co-existence rather than imperialist pursuit. The Minister of State told us one of the most serious issues he has with the Bill is the potential effects which cannot be foreseen. This utterly ridiculous for a constitutional amendment. The attitude the Government has taken to this beggars belief. What is it afraid of? To paraphrase the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, why not let the people decide because they are the best arbiters.

6:05 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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In many ways the Bill could not be more timely. On Tuesday, the European Parliament backed plans to create a defence union by 369 votes to 255. The non-binding resolution states 2% of GDP should be spent on defence, the establishment of multinational forces and an EU headquarters built for crisis management operations, enabling the EU to act where NATO is unwilling to do so. The resolution tasks the European Council to lead the creation of common union defence policy.

All types of arguments have been put forward for this move, from Russia to the victory for Donald Trump, with Brexit being the most recent, but the military union has been in the works for a while. The main strategy is laid out in the document Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe, which was published last June. The strategy reads like an Orwellian nightmare. It states NATO and the battle groups are not enough to stand up to global threats, we need a European army, Europe's soft power needs to be backed by a hard power and Europe must stabilise the Middle East, stop smuggling networks and fight terrorism. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief and one of the central drivers of the move, has said it is starting to be clear to everyone we can only succeed in providing security to our citizens if we work together as a true union with the full potential of a superpower in the field of security and defence.

The whole issue of the European army is worrying to say the least, particularly in light of the fact most European countries are busy bombing the Middle East back to the Stone Age. Perhaps this move will mean every European country will join the carnage and invest more in the industry of death. The defence plan speaks about pre-emptive peace building missions in the Middle East and northern Africa. Is this doublespeak for aerial bombing campaigns? It is hard not to think so given the track record of the countries beating the drum for the EU army. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK all participated in the NATO-led air strikes on Libya in 2011 and what a disaster that was. Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and the UK are among the European countries that have been bombing Syria in the US-led strikes over the past two years. Germany, France and the UK have all publicly expressed support for the ongoing war crimes in Yemen being perpetrated by Saudi Arabia with direct support coming from the US, France and the UK, and from Ireland through allowing the use of Shannon by the US military. The death toll of the war there over the past 20 months is so high the Red Cross has started to donate entire morgue units to Yemeni hospitals. Not a single word of condemnation has come from our Government. Instead, in direct contradiction of the stated policy of neutrality, we facilitate this death and destruction.

Freedom of information documents obtained by Shannonwatch on permits for landing and flyovers in 2014 reveal a total of 272 flights were given permits to take weapons or explosives through Shannon Airport. Machine guns, troops, missiles, rocket mortars, explosives and other war materials were routinely given permission to fly to Irish space. On six flights alone, 190 metric tonnes of bullets passed through our borders on the way to Afghanistan from the US. God knows how many people they killed.

On 20 May 2014, we allowed missile parts to be flown through Ireland on the way to the United Arab Emirates. On 15 and 16 November 2014, cluster bombs, a brutal instrument of war that Ireland helped to get banned years ago, were given permission to go to our trade partner Saudi Arabia. Both of these brutally authoritarian regimes and the US have been committing war crimes in Yemen for 20 months, directly targeting civilians using cluster bombs sold by the US, bombing markets, hospitals and public gatherings. We know for a fact permissions for munitions landings and overflights granted by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport lead directly to the deaths of countless civilians. Why are we taking part in these crimes? It makes a mockery of the notion we might be neutral.

Only a few weeks ago, five US military planes were in Shannon Airport on the same day. Aside from the ongoing assault on Yemen, there is a big build-up in support of the assault on Mosul in Iraq. According to Shannonwatch, each of the military planes must be on a military operation in spite of US and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade assurances they are not. No such aircraft ever leaves its home airbase unless it is on an authorised military operation. They are not playing golf in the Middle East.

The same information Shannonwatch obtained through freedom of information to discover for certain we are helping drown the Middle East in weapons is not now forthcoming. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is refusing to give us details it gave previously, with no legitimate reason for keeping the public in the dark about this. This is particularly worrying as the number of requests for landings and overflights are higher than they have been for a number of years. An incredible amount of aerial bombing is going on by the US and its sidekicks, and much more is planned in the coming months. It is soul destroying when we see the images of destruction in the Middle East, knowing our Government helps it happen and we help to kill people, including women and children, and the Government does not seem to care. We certainly do not seem to care about the people who suffer from our actions. We agreed to the EU sending Afghans back to a country we have helped the US bomb for 15 years.

They are still bombing there. A few weeks ago, two US soldiers were killed in a firefight with the Taliban and, in retaliation, air strikes were called in and 36 civilians were killed, including a significant number of children and infants. In late September a drone struck the celebration of a tribal elder's return from his pilgrimage to Mecca and 15 civilians were killed. We are sending people back to a war zone but many of the children we are sending back have nothing there any more. Family members are either dead or living abroad and, sometimes, by going back to places like Afghanistan they put their lives in danger. They left because they had to save their lives, but if they or their extended family had fallen foul of the Taliban or ISIS or had relatives who had worked with the US army, they were targeted by some of the groups in retaliation.

We have been sending refugees back to Turkey which, far from being safe for refugees, is hardly safe for Turkish people. Mr. Erdoğan is talking about bringing back the death penalty and has thrown 130,000 people in jail, including a record number of journalists. Refugees continue to face many obstacles to registration and access to education, employment and health care. Turkey has effectively sealed its border with Syria and has shot at forcibly returned women, men and children fleeing violence, persecution and human rights abuses in that country. It is not a safe third country and the continuation of the Turkey-EU deal is just another signal of our inability to take responsibility for our actions in the Middle East and beyond.

Successive Irish Governments have made a mockery of Irish neutrality. They have facilitated the US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and openly criticised Russia but they cannot see the part that they themselves played in this chapter of human history. Russia should be criticised and we will never defend its actions, but let us call a spade a spade and criticise everyone involved in this destruction. The Minister said in his opening statement "we believe that disputes between states should be resolved in a peaceful manner". So do we. He quoted the UN charter by saying, "All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." What we facilitated in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other parts of that region has not done anything for international peace, has done nothing for world security and certainly has not done anything for justice. I do not believe the Irish people are in favour of this. In a Red C poll, referred to earlier by Deputy Daly, the Irish were asked whether they approved of Shannon Airport being used as a US military base. In response, just under 60% said they did not. I do not just hold this Government accountable for this because Fianna Fáil has behaved the very same. When in Opposition Fine Gael, and even Labour Party Members, wanted planes inspected and wondered how we could know whether there were arms on military planes if we did not inspect them, but as soon as they went into power they did not want to know. I know that the Ministers present do not agree with us but I do not think it would affect our business if we stopped Shannon being used as a military airport. It would be a positive thing worldwide, for everyone's sake.

6:15 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I often get a sense of the surreal when I am in this Chamber because of the common disconnect between the assertions and statements of this Government and the reality, outside in the real world, to which those statements relate. On no issue is that feeling more acute than on the issue of Ireland's supposed military neutrality and the repeated assertions of the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and the Government about their commitment to military neutrality and peace as against the reality of what this country is doing on the question of war and militarism. In this context, the Government's commitment to military neutrality brings to mind George Orwell's famous references to doublespeak and Big Brother's slogans that "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength".

I do not see how the Government could possibly contend that Irish Government policy, now or previously under Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, adheres even to the principles set out in the Government's amendment to Sinn Féin's neutrality Bill. Article 29 is quoted in the amendment as affirming Ireland’s "devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality". Article 29.2 affirms Ireland’s "adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination". Will the Minister of State please explain to me how those imperatives, set out in the Government amendment, tally with allowing Shannon Airport to be used in the context of US military action and the destruction and devastation it has inflicted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Syria? How could any of those things be described as according with "devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation" or the "pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination"? That is not what they are doing.

There is no international arbitration or judicial determination in the decision of the United States, as confirmed on 23 October, to use depleted uranium weapons in Syria. Do the Ministers condemn that? Do they abhor it? Does it concern them? Has it got anything whatsoever to do with international arbitration, judicial determination or the pacific settlement of international disputes? No, it has not. It involves using disgusting weapons of mass destruction to kill people, poison people, irradiate the environment in which they live and poison their water and their land, producing higher infant mortality rates and a disgusting spike in the levels of cancers and deformities among young children. Syria has been ravaged as a result of the recent war, as was Iraq. These are the same depleted uranium weapons used by the same US-led military coalition as in 2003 and the previous war to poison Iraq, leading to enormous, obscene rises in the level of infant deformation, disability and mortality. In the lowest estimates 250,000 people have been killed in Iraq and, in the highest estimates, 1 million have been killed, directly or indirectly, as a result of US military action.

What the hell does that have to do with the imperatives the Minister of State claims to uphold? What does it have to do with what is happening in Iraq, where 5,000 US military personnel are working with Iraqi and Kurdish forces in trying to retake the city of Mosul, where the United Nations fears there will be an enormous humanitarian crisis which will result in 700,000 people fleeing the city? The UN camps can accommodate only 60,000. More destruction will be wreaked on Iraqi cities that have already been decimated as a result of the US-led war starting in 2003 with all of the spillover effects that have led to the destabilisation of Syria and the obscene destruction and killing that is taking place, in which the United States continues to participate. It recently killed 56 civilians in Manbij.

What does it have to do with what they are doing in Yemen? It has just been announced that in October alone there were 1,400 cases of cholera in Yemen where a major outbreak was declared as a result of 18 months of war. The majority of health facilities and clean water supplies have been destroyed by the US-supported, Saudi-led coalition which is bombing the hell out of Yemen.

What does it have to do with the peaceful settlement of international disputes? It is just warmongering and wanton destruction of innocent civilians, causing millions to be displaced, using obscene weapons, and we are facilitating it at Shannon Airport. Any reasonable definition of neutrality, as the Hague Convention makes clear, does not allow for weapons of war to be moved through neutral states when used in that sort of military action. What is worse is that we have had a small number of troops under NATO command in Afghanistan in what was clearly a retaliatory war, led by the United States in response to the horrendous events of 11 September 2001. There have been 15 years of war which have destroyed society in Afghanistan which we have facilitated every inch of the way.

How can the Minister of State say we are upholding Ireland’s military neutrality or adhering to the principles he asserts? It is self-evident that are not and Orwellian to suggest we are. That is why we need this neutrality Bill to lock into the Constitution the bringing into effect of the principles the Minister of State says he is upholding in order that there would be no swivel room to allow him to shred military neutrality by implicating us in these wars, mass destruction and killing and supporting a major imperial power in its vicious, brutal, cruel and destructive military actions in the Middle East. It is even more the case with Mr. Trump who says: “We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned.” That is his policy. Are we going to facilitate a state that has that attitude towards military dominance, a clearly expressed imperial perspective? If we are, it is an affront to any claim that we uphold military neutrality. If the Minister of State is serious about the principles he has included in his amendment, he has no choice but to support the Bill brought forward by Sinn Féin. Anything less would be hypocrisy and show him up as trying to fool the people, but they are not fooled.

6:25 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and fully support the Bill. The Minister of State has left the House. If one wanted to be generous about his contribution at the start of this debate, one could think the Government was presenting a reasoned argument. If one did not know very much about what was happening, it might seem the Government was trying to balance all of these difficult issues to arrive at the most practical position on neutrality. Then one gets to the second last paragraph of his contribution in which he talks about the Government granting permission for the use of Shannon Airport as a de factoUS military base. He said:

Successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements are governed by strict conditions, including that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, that they do not engage in intelligence and that the flights do not form part of military exercises or operations. We impose these conditions to ensure compatibility between these arrangements and our neutrality.

That gives the lie to the Government’s contribution to this debate. We have never checked any of the flights transiting through Shannon Airport. We do not know and do not want to know. We have turned a blind eye to it. A total of 2.5 million US troops have travelled through Shannon Airport on their way to Afghanistan and Iraq, as has been outlined by other Members, to kill civilians in these countries. Shannon Airport has also been tied to dozens of CIA rendition flights on which prisoners illegally seized in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were shipped to various black sites in Europe and Asia and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, yet we do nothing. As Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly said, we have given permission for thousands of tonnes of armaments to be carried in overflights, about which we never ask. They said we had given permission for cluster bombs to be flown through Irish airspace on their way to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to kill civilians there. In 2008 we passed a Cluster Munitions And Anti-Personnel Mines Act 2008 to instruct State investment agencies to divest from investing in munitions companies involved in the manufacture of cluster bombs, yet we give the Americans an exemption to overfly the State with cluster bombs on their way to do their deadly work.

The Government’s argument is disingenuous and duplicitous. It is afraid of the answer it would get from the people if it allowed the proposal for a referendum to be debated by them because they would back it very strongly and forcefully. Deputy Willie Penrose’s contribution on behalf of the Labour Party was thought-provoking and it would be interesting to tease out the Bill further on Committee Stage. It is hard, however, to escape the reality that when the Labour Party was in government, it voted down the Bill and did not present the same reasoned arguments. It was a lost opportunity.

I was struck by the similarity between the Government's and Fianna Fáil's contributions in terms of the arguments and language used. They could have been written by the same person, with a few tweaks along the way. The message is that a referendum to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution would signal that we were withdrawing from international relations and going to become an insular country, but is far from the way it would be. Why would the fact that we had enshrined neutrality in the Constitution mean we were withdrawing from international relations? It would, in fact, probably increase our credibility in international relations. If we were proactive, stopped the use of Shannon Airport as an American military base and stopped granting permission for overflights to transport armaments to war zones, we would strengthen our standing in the international community. The problem for the Government is that it would not strengthen it with the people to whom it wants to cosy up - the Americans, the British and the French, all former colonial powers that want to bomb people into oblivion around the world. That is why the Government does not want the Bill to move forward or have the proposal for a referendum to be discussed or see the light of day.

The Bill needs to be changed and it would be interesting to see it being tweaked along the lines the Labour Party outlined. I have concerns about the wording "save without the assent of Dáil Éireann for participation in war zones". We have that already in what the Government calls the "triple lock". In effect, it is a dual lock because all one needs is a UN resolution and then one has the Executive which controls the Dáil anyway. In effect, if the Executive goes for it, the Dáil will go for it as well. The triple lock is actually a dual lock and that is all we have in terms of protecting the citizens of the country and our neutrality. The Government amendment states that the triple lock comes into play when it is proposed to deploy more than 12 military personnel. It is interesting that we had 12 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan for the duration of that invasion there. I wonder if the figure of 12 was useful because it meant that deployment did not have to be endorsed by the House; not that such an endorsement would have caused the Government a real problem other than the slight embarrassment of having to go through a vote on it.

We should move forward with the Bill. Obviously, Fianna Fáil will combine with its coalition partner to defeat it, which is regrettable. These Bills will keep coming forward and we will get to a situation where a Government on those benches will stand up for neutrality and place it in the Constitution.

6:35 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I am disappointed but not surprised that Fine Gael and its partners in government, Fianna Fáil, are rejecting the Bill. In doing so, they remain true to form. In the past, they have denied citizens the opportunity to vote in a referendum that would enshrine our neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. The Minister's comments are not far removed from those of past and current Fine Gael Deputies who have been explicit in their contempt for Irish neutrality. As far back as 2002, Fine Gael Deputy and later MEP Gay Mitchell spoke of his party's willingness to depart from neutrality and take part in an EU defence entity. In 2012, the then Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter, stated that Irish neutrality was a principle of moral bankruptcy. He was also explicit in his support for NATO which he said provided standards of excellence which are important with regard to missions in which we can participate. As recently as 2015, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, told the House that we were not a neutral country, that we never had been and that to say otherwise was ridiculous. It just shows where they are coming from.

Fianna Fáil is equally responsible for undermining and discrediting our neutrality. In justifying their rejection of our Bill twice in the past, Fianna Fáil Ministers and Deputies spoke of their dedication to Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Their contention that the Constitution already enshrines neutrality is simply not true. The Bill makes it very clear that neutrality is not mentioned in the 1937 Constitution. It only addresses foreign affairs powers indirectly. While Article 29 contains a rhetorical comment on the ideals of peace, friendly co-operation and pacific settlement, nothing in that article obliges Ireland to be neutral or prohibits the Government of the day from departing from that policy. That is why the supposed commitment of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to the peaceful resolution of international disputes belies the fact that they are the architects of policies which have resulted in successive Irish Governments aiding belligerents in war, most notably the USA. In doing so, they have violated international laws on neutrality.

Even more shameful has been the deafening silence during this debate from the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath and John Halligan, who in the past have been exceptionally vocal in their support for Irish neutrality and justifiably critical of past and present Governments' foreign policies. When Deputy Crowe tabled this same Bill in 2014, the Minister, Deputy Ross, spoke of how Ireland was not a neutral nation but a neutered one. He demanded that the then Government object to the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, spoke of how Ireland was respected because of its independence and neutrality and as recently as August, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, castigated the Government for the US military's use of Shannon Airport, which he said made a mockery of Irish neutrality. Unfortunately, they are not here tonight. Reports in this week's media of a row during a meeting of the Cabinet when the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, sought a free vote on the Bill do not hide the fact that if they do not vote for the Bill next week, they are capitulating to the Taoiseach's demand to toe the line. In doing so, they have discredited themselves and undermined their past commitment to Irish neutrality. I urge them to reconsider their position as, indeed, I urge the Government to vote in favour of the Bill when it comes before the House next Thursday.

Most of the focus on Irish neutrality is the result of what has happened in Shannon where US planes land on a daily basis. It is opportune to thank organisations like Shannonwatch, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and others who have done great work to bring attention to this issue. Many ordinary people across the country know what is going on and want it to end. It is time the Government stood up and stopped it.

The vote on the Bill is a test for those Deputies who believe in Irish independence and the sanctity of our neutrality and those who support the European superstate with a military to match. If it is defeated, as it appears will happen, it will not be the end of our call for a referendum on neutrality. However, it will be a black day for everyone who believes Ireland is truly neutral. When the Dáil finally votes on the Bill next Thursday, it is clear what the Government and its partners in Fianna Fáil will do. They will step out and say, "We want a Europe which is a military superstate aided and abetted by the superpowers of the world". The example of that is what is going on at Shannon Airport on a daily basis. Members of the Government can hang their heads in shame when they see what they are doing. In reality, the Irish people will one day lift their heads high and support through a referendum the enshrining of neutrality in the Constitution.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois, Fine Gael)
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I reiterate the opposition of the Government to the Bill. Indeed, while I oppose the Bill strongly myself, I acknowledge that it has been valuable to have a debate. In particular, I am grateful for the opportunity to make it perfectly clear that the Government remains committed to Ireland's long-standing policy of military neutrality. During the last Government's term of office, this was reinforced again and again. In my own Department, the statement on foreign policy, entitled "A Global Island" approved by the Government in January 2015, clearly states that our policy of military neutrality remains a core element of Irish foreign policy. This was further reinforced in the ten-year strategy for defence policy set out in the White Paper on defence approved by the Government in July 2015 and committed to in the 2016 programme for partnership Government as set out in the amendment. That makes clear the policy the Fine Gael Party has consistently pursued in government. I brought the Global Island policy to Cabinet myself while my colleague, the then Minister for Defence, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, brought the White Paper on defence to Cabinet as stated by the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, earlier this evening. In shaping these policies, we were operating in a robust constitutional and legal context.

As is made clear in the Government's amendment, Article 29 of the Constitution provides a framework for our policy of military neutrality. It commits the State to uphold the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations and to the principle of pacific settlement of international disputes. In respect of EU law, the Lisbon treaty contains a legally binding protocol negotiated by the Irish Government which recognises explicitly Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. In terms of primary legislation, the Defence Acts provide for the triple lock which continues to govern the deployment of Irish Defence Forces personnel overseas. It mandates that deployment for overseas peace support operations may only occur where the operation is mandated by the United Nations. Deployment must also be approved by the Government. If it is proposed to deploy more than 12 personnel, a Dáil resolution must be approved. The triple lock provides strong parliamentary oversight of the deployment of Defence Forces personnel. Ireland's strong commitment to the policy of military neutrality is complemented by a strong commitment to the United Nations and its work around the world. Irish troops participate in peacekeeping and, where necessary, peace enforcement around the world.

Our Defence Forces personnel have a well-deserved high reputation internationally for their contribution, which extends unbroken over more than 50 years. We are all immensely proud of our peacekeepers. As the House is aware, 573 Irish Defence Forces personnel are currently serving with UN missions in places of the most difficult and challenging conflict across the world. If the provisions before us today were to be inserted into our Constitution, a question mark would be placed over whether Ireland could continue to fulfil its obligations to support UN-mandated actions, particular peace enforcement missions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

I submit that there is an even more fundamental point as to why this Bill should not be passed. Being a member of the executive of any state is an immense responsibility. It requires Ministers to take what are quite often difficult decisions in what they determine to be in the public interest at the time. The fundamental responsibilities of the Executive branch of the Irish Government are clearly set out in Bunreacht na hÉireann. These are solemn duties to be discharged with care and diligence. They are not to be lightly transferred to another branch of Government as an unattended consequence of an unnecessary constitutional amendment. It would be wrong for the Executive to abdicate its responsibilities under Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. Moreover, in cases where the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution mandating action to maintain and restore international peace and security, all UN member states, including Ireland, may be obliged under the terms of the resolution to offer appropriate assistance. This Bill could have the effect of constraining the ability of the Executive to fulfil these obligations.

In other cases, a decision by the Dáil to respond to a UN request for support could end up before the courts should the provision proposed in the Bill be inserted into the Constitution. The grounds for challenging a decision of this nature would be considerably expanded by the Bill. That goes to the heart of my opposition to it.

The Constitution mandates that the Executive power of the State, in its external relations, is conferred on the Executive branch, not on the judicial branch or the courts. These are the solemn duties and responsibilities of those of us who have the privilege of serving in government. We take these responsibilities extremely seriously, as I know all Members of the Oireachtas take their responsibilities as elected representatives most seriously.

There has been considerable comment on Shannon Airport. I reject the assertion by Deputies that the use of the airport is in some way at odds with our long-standing policy of military neutrality. The Government permits foreign military aircraft to land at Shannon Airport if, and only if, they comply with a series of conditions, including that they are unarmed, carry no arms or ammunition, do not engage in intelligence gathering and are not part of any military exercises or operations. By any measure, these are conditions of the most strict nature and are imposed because of our military neutrality.

Our policy on Shannon Airport has been in place under successive Governments for decades - almost as long, indeed, as our policy of military neutrality. There is no incompatibility between the two policies. I wish to stress that these conditions are applied to all landings of foreign military aircraft, including those from the United States of America. That the largest numbers of applications are received from the US results from geographical factors. We do not vary the conditions depending on the state from which an aircraft comes. There is no favouritism as far as this is concerned.

Ireland remains strictly neutral and objective in applying the same strict conditions to the use of our airport by military aircraft belonging to all member states. Therefore, I am satisfied that Ireland's long-standing policy of military neutrality is efficiently safeguarded through existing constitutional provisions, the protocol of the Lisbon treaty, the Defence Acts and the long-term policy strategies adopted by Governments. Moreover, the policy enjoys widespread public support and all democratically-elected Governments can only govern with the support of the people.

I wish to thank all Members who contributed to the debate. I reaffirm my opposition and that of the Government to the Bill.

6:45 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leo siúd ar fad a bhain páirt sa díospóireacht seo agus go háirithe iad siúd atá tar éis a léiriú go dtabharfaidh siad tacaíocht dúinn nuair a bheidh an Bille seo os comhair na Dála an Déardaoin seo chugainn. Bhí sé tábhachtach go raibh an díospóireacht seo againn, go háirithe agus athrú suntasach ag tarlú go hidirnáisiúnta maidir le míleatú agus a leithéid.

It has been a very interesting and, at times, bizarre debate. I will return to some of the issues. I do not know where the scriptwriters for Fine Gael Deputies, in particular, and Fianna Fáil came from. What was said was absolutely bonkers and out of touch with any reality.

I was very interested in what the Labour Party and Deputy Pringle had to say in terms of the wording of the Bill. I am fallible, as are we all. I accept criticism and that the wording I proposed today could be changed. Somebody might be better at developing wording that would stand up in the courts and more effectively capture what is intended by the Bill.

Reference was made to the UN and whether we are even legally entitled to be in it, which is an interesting point. I would like to see the full legal opinion which, I presume, the Labour Party received. If that is a fact, it opens up the question of the Houses having to address our foreign policy and our role at the UN, and, therefore, the question of neutrality in a more urgent manner than has been the case heretofore.

I want to thank, in particular, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and Shannonwatch. The Peace and Neutrality Alliance helped us put the wording together and circulated information to many parties over the years to try to ensure that military neutrality was contained and inserted into the Constitution.

I will now turn to some of the bizarre comments that were made. I have a copy of script from the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, who has left the House. I do not know what the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, or the members of the former Fianna Fáil Government think that US planes are doing in Shannon. What the hell are the transport planes doing? They are not bringing soldiers on holidays to Gibraltar or to wherever it is they go. The planes landing in Shannon are military aircraft which never move from their bases unless they are involved in major operations or wars. Any cursory look at their contents or the soldiers wearing combat uniforms who have been in the duty-free shop in Shannon Airport over the years would tell one exactly where they are coming from and where they are going.

The history of extraordinary rendition is a sorry and disgusting one, particularly in the context of what has happened at Shannon and around the world. It is scary that only this week the President-elect of the United States appointed Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA. Mr. Pompeo is a supporter of the war on terror. He openly opposed the closing of the CIA black sites that were used for torture, criticised the requirement that interrogators adhere to anti-torture laws and opposed the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He also supported waterboarding and much worse.

We are living in a new era. In some ways, it is a case of back to the future.

It is, therefore, opportune that we would take the position that we now need a clearer statement of Ireland's military neutrality.

Irish neutrality goes a lot further back than the Second World War, as stated by the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe. The Irish Neutrality League, of which James Connolly was a leading member, existed in 1914. Even before that, way back in 1790, Wolfe Tone espoused neutrality in The Spanish War. I suggest to the Minister that he read it. He might then understand that the concept of military neutrality has been around for republicans for many years.

Fianna Fáil stated that it believed military neutrality was a policy and not a status. Given the flip-flopping over the weekend about its policy on Irish Water and water charges, we see that a policy can be changed overnight. However, a constitution cannot. I, therefore, believe that we should properly enshrine military neutrality in the Constitution in order that it stands the test of time and cannot be changed willy-nilly by a Government. The flexibility that the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, decried would be lost is exactly what we want to prevent. We do not want a Government such as the Minister's, as has happened in the past, riding roughshod over the policy.

This is not a neutered policy but a positive one that looks to ensure positive action. It allows us to protect ourselves, but it should also allow us to promote peace around the world and the UN. It should not allow us to undermine it by aligning ourselves with military groupings in Europe and those who were previously imperialists and are now hankering after the empire they once had.

The Minister denied any militarisation was happening and the Fianna Fáil representative stated that military expenditure had reduced. Given the European Defence Agency's stated policy that we have to increase the capacity of all EU military apparatus, I cannot see how those assertions stand up. Further, that the EU has just committed itself to a €4 billion subsidy towards military research also contradicts those assertions in their totality.

I ask that Deputies on all sides of the House, in the next week, before the vote is held, look at the wording we are seeking to be inserted in the Constitution. Why are those Members afraid of allowing the people debate these words, form their own view and decide whether to insert it them in the Constitution? Other referendums could also happen on that day. The people could make the choice. I trust the people on the issue. I remember standing with more than 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin when they opposed the illegal war in Iraq. We are proposing to insert these words: "War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war or other armed conflict, nor aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for war or other armed conflict, or conduct of war or other armed conflict, save with the assent of Dáil Éireann." Those words recognise the primacy of this House in setting laws.

We are not proposing the deletion of articles in the Constitution, so the triple lock, as some call it, and other provisions dealing with international relations would still stand. However, to me, this is the key provision:

Ireland affirms that it is a neutral state. To this end the State shall, in particular, maintain a policy of non-membership of military alliances.

That is required so that we do not have a repeat of the summary of Mr. Justice Kearns on the position:

Despite the great historic value attached by Ireland to the concept of neutrality, that status is nowhere reflected in Bunreacht na hÉireann, or elsewhere in ... domestic legislation. It is effectively a matter of government policy only, albeit a policy to which, traditionally at least, considerable importance was attached.

Stick it in the Constitution. Allow the public the right to accept or reject the proposal. Do not be afraid of the public.

Amendment put.

6:55 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with an order of the Dáil on Tuesday, 22 November, the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 1 December 2016.

Leis sin, tá gnó na seachtaine críochnaithe.

The Dáil adjourned at at 7.45 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 29 November 2016.