[Sinn Fein]

16th January 2003

Defence Minister's comments expose truth behind Government lies on neutrality

Purchase of Military Aircraft suggests further moves to erode Irish neutrality and bring us closer to NATO

Sinn Fein spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD this evening said that Defence Minister Michael Smiths comments that there can be no military neutrality have exposed the truth behind years of government lies. The Minister made his comments as he announced details of the signing of a contract for NATO compatible military aircraft. Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked if this contract signalled a ``further erosion of Irish neutrality by stealth.''

``Throughout the Nice Treaty campaign we listened to statement after statement from government spokespersons telling us that our neutrality was intact and not influenced by the ongoing militarisation of the EU. But this evening the truth was exposed by Defence Minister Michael Smith when he bluntly stated that there is no such thing as military neutrality.

``Earlier today the Minister announced that a €60 million contract has been signed for 8 Pilatus PC-9M military aircraft for the Air Corps. This aircraft is one recommended and endorsed by NATO.

``We need the Minister to come clean on whether this contract is in fact part of a NATO standardisation effort. If so, the public needs to know where the Government intends this to lead. The last two Nice referenda proved that Irish people value Irish neutrality. If the Government intends to change this policy, in the interest of accountability and transparency they must put their case to the people, not shift their policy incrementally and by stealth.

``In light of the Government's about-face on the Partnership for Peace; their failure to secure a neutrality Protocol to the Nice Treaty; their insistence on allowing Shannon airport to be used for US war preparations and especially in light of the Minister's comment earlier today - the time has come for the Government to clarify their true position on Irish neutrality and to ensure there is a full public debate on this issue and a opportunity for the people to have the final say by way of a referendum.''

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