Where exactly does Sinn Féin stand on Neutrality?

Eoin Ó Murchu,

28 May 2023.

WHERE exactly does Sinn Féin stand in relation to Irish neutrality, and, in particular, to Irish participation in the European Union’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) and to NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP)?

This question has been given a sharp edge by recent confusing – and at times contradictory – statements from senior Sinn Féin figures.  Party President Mary Lou McDonald, foreign affairs spokesperson Matt Carthy and prominent TD David Cullinane, have all outlined strong support for neutrality in recent weeks, condemning the Government’s plans to abandon the Triple Lock, and accusing the Government of using Pesco to undermine neutrality.

But – and it’s a big But – both Carthy and Cullinane have reluctantly admitted that the party has abandoned its previous commitment to withdraw both from Pesco and from PfP.  Cullinane was particularly gruff and short in conceding this on RTÉ television last week.

Cullinane was clearly unhappy with the new position, and Carthy seems to share that view.  But where exactly does the party now stand?  There is, it seems, considerable confusion and anger within Sinn Féin about this, but the membership need to challenge this u-turn and demand a reversal to the original policy before their protestations can be taken seriously.

Certainly, from the outside, it seems that policy developers in the head office are paying greater attention to the Irish Times than they are to their own membership.  Do they assume that they have the working-class vote sown up and just need to draw in some of that middle-class vote, whose wishes the Irish Times and RTÉ have taken on themselves to express?

If so, this is a major mistake, coming as it does hot on the heels of Mary Lou McDonald’s anchoring of the party in the context of the European Project.

In any case, with opinion polls showing that 67% of the population in the South back neutrality, even the middle class are not a hotbed of militarism and imperialism.

Currently, of course, the Dublin Government – aided by a pro-NATO media – is manoeuvring to try and overturn the so-called Triple Lock.

The Triple Lock is a key part of Ireland’s neutrality stance, requiring a mandate from the United Nations, a Government decision and a Dáil vote to send more than 12 troops overseas.

The Government is now arguing that this gives Russia and China a veto over Irish foreign policy, since both countries have a veto at the Security council of the UN. But, so, of course, do the United States, France and Britain.

The Russian ambassador, Yuri Filatov, has criticised the Government inspired debate on this issue as deeply flawed, pointing out that Russia, for example, has never vetoed Irish involvement in any UN operation. Micheál Martin and his accomplices are setting up an Aunt Sally of an argument so that they can knock it down.

The Triple Lock was brought in in response to the debate about the Nice Treaty 20 years ago.  That Treaty was opposed by many on the grounds that it would commit Ireland to participate in EU military operations, thus compromising our neutrality.  The Government announced the Triple Lock as part of its campaign to reverse the first referendum rejection of the Nice Treaty.

Now, the Government is planning to do away with that policy provision.

Staying in Pesco and PfP would, of course, implement participation in EU military operations, especially if the Triple Lock is done away with.

This makes it all the more vital that Sinn Féin explain why they are abandoning their previous commitment to withdraw from both institutions.

Sinn Féin have cited legal problems, but the only legal problems that could arise do so in the context of EU foreign policy being mandatory on all member states, exactly the reason, among others, that Sinn Fein traditionally opposed EU membership.

Becoming a vassal state of the West’s war machine is a price too high to pay for a reunification of Ireland that doesn’t give us sovereign control of our own land.  It is also a price that is not necessary, as the massive majority in favour of maintaining neutrality shows.

Even in relation to the Ukraine War, the latest Ipsos opinion poll shows that 87% of the Southern population support peace talks now to end this war – a stance in conformity with our tradition of neutrality.

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