At the beginning of February, Ireland woke up with a feeling of worry and, to be honest, unease as the Russian navy carried out military maneuvers to the south-west of its coasts, the first in twenty years.
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What to question the sacrosanct “Irish neutrality”, which is part of “Irish nationalist identity, as well as the Catholic Church and the Gaelic language”, according to Thomas E. Hachey, American historian specializing in Ireland.
Quite different from that of Finland, Sweden or Switzerland, this neutrality must be understood as “a historic legacy”explains Pierre Joannon (1), historian, member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Neutrality to assert its autonomy from its British neighbour, based on “the assertion of its full and complete sovereignty vis-à-vis Great Britain, while it was considered a dominion within the Commonwealth. It is also explained by the partition of Ireland in 1921 and by the desire not to be embarked during the Second World War in a war alongside England which would rekindle the badly extinguished firebrands of the civil war. continues Pierre Joannon.
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Historian Ronan Fanning saw a more “geographical” neutrality in this: “If England, as General de Gaulle would have said, was only an island off the coast of the European continent, Ireland was an island off this larger and more powerful island to the domination from which its native inhabitants had struggled to escape for centuries. »
Nevertheless, although neutral, Dublin did not deter thousands of Irish people from enlisting and fighting in the British Army during World War II. But it was in the name of this same neutrality, in April 1945, after the death of Adolf Hitler, that the head of government Eamon De Valera went so far as to present his condolences to the German ambassador in Dublin.
… sufficiently “elastic”
Irish neutrality “elastic enough to adapt to all circumstances”, observes Pat Leahy, columnist at theIrish Times. In fact, during the Cold War, the country lived under the nuclear umbrella of NATO, without joining the Atlantic Alliance. During the American invasion of Iraq, Parliament voted in 2003 to allow American troops to use Shannon Airport, without calling Ireland’s neutrality into question, and the island has always provided blue helmets at the United Nations – Irish soldiers even took part in a peace enforcement mission in Chad.
While the war in Ukraine is raging at the gates of Europe, can Ireland, an EU member since 1973, still invoke this neutrality in a Europe on the front line against the Russian threat? Admittedly, Dublin has announced its support for Ukraine by supplying non-lethal weapons, thus preserving its neutrality, but is it ready to go further?
When does a State become co-belligerent in a conflict?
Ireland’s participation in any European Common Defense Initiative requires a “referendum”, replied the Taoiseach (head of government), Micheal Martin, but neutrality “is a matter of policy that can change at any time”. He recalled that Ireland is part of the European Union, supports its values under pressure from regimes like Russia, and that“it would be naive in the extreme not to think about it”.