[Sinn Fein]

18th February 2003

Twenty-Seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2003

`Time to put Irish Neutrality in the Constitution'

Introducing the Sinn Fein Bill to write Irish neutrality into the Constitution, the party's Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said that if the Government is, as it claims, committed to non-membership of military alliances then it should support the Bill. He called for a free vote to allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Bill ``could not be more timely'' following the demonstration of 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin demanding independent Irish foreign policy, defending Irish neutrality and opposing war on Iraq.

``Irish neutrality is in flitters after the Government's mishandling of international affairs and this Bill is designed to re-establish our neutrality on a solid foundation,'' said Deputy Ó Caoláin. He said the Bill ``would write neutrality into the Constitution for the first time. It is straightforward as constitutional provisions should be. It is also in line with what the Government claims is its policy - that is, non-membership of military alliances''.

He said Ireland should ``campaign for a reformed and strengthened United Nations as the real guarantor of collective security and the UN should be the site of our engagement on international security and peacekeeping.''

Full text - ``Time to put Irish Neutrality in the Constitution''

In April 2001 I moved a Neutrality Bill in the Dáil and I pledged that when we had sufficient strength in the House we would progress it to Second Stage. I am glad to do so now and the very strength in numbers of those progressive parties and independent deputies here today who support Irish neutrality is itself a testament to the growing demand of the Irish people for truly independent Irish foreign policy. Such is the importance of the issue, Sinn Fein has decided to present it at our first opportunity to bring a Bill to Second Stage in Private Members time.

This Bill could not be more timely. Last weekend witnessed the largest political demonstrations in Ireland and around the world in our lifetimes. None of us will ever forget the sight of 100,000 people transforming the streets of our capital city and demanding that the Irish Government oppose the threatened US-British war on Iraq. These were not people marching for material gain or sectoral interests. This was a demonstration of selflessness and idealism and a declaration that the policy and actions of the Irish Government should be, in the words of Article 29.1 of the Constitution, ``founded on international justice and morality''.

This Government has strayed very far from the principles set out in Article 29. Throughout its two terms of office since 1997 it has steadily eroded Irish neutrality and independent foreign policy. This was done by joining NATO's so-called Partnership for Peace without the referendum promised by the Taoiseach, by signing the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, and most recently and most shamefully, by their conduct in the current international crisis. Irish neutrality is in flitters after the Government's mishandling of international affairs and this Bill is designed to re-establish our neutrality on a solid foundation.

In an effort to mollify public opinion when it entered NATO's PfP in 1999 the Department of Foreign Affairs issued an Explanatory Guide which makes interesting reading today. It stated that Ireland had never been ``morally indifferent to the major international and security challenges of the day''. Yet what can we call the attitude of this government now but ``morally indifferent''? There is no basis of principle for its policy and it acts not only as if it were already a member of NATO but a member of the US-British faction of that now divided camp.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has stated: ``Irish military neutrality is a policy to which this government is deeply attached?It is a policy espoused by successive Irish Governments and its core defining characteristic is non-membership of military alliances.''

Very well, then. If that is the case let the Government support this Bill. I will now turn to the provisions of the Bill.

Article 28 of the Constitution currently reads:

``War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dail Éireann.''

We seek to amend Article 28 to read:

``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 Dail Éireann.''

It has been argued that the Government is already in breach of Article 28 as it stands by facilitating US troops and military material at Shannon. The Hague Convention, Chapter 1 on the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers, Article 5, states that a neutral power must not allow belligerents to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across its territory. I would argue that the government is in breach of the Hague Convention. It may say that war has not commenced. But the US and Britain are already carrying out bombing raids on Iraq. If a full-scale attack commences and the Government here continues to allow the use of Shannon it will definitely be in breach of the Hague Convention.

It is felt necessary to include the words ``or other armed conflict'' because the definition of war in international law may be too narrow. The example of Vietnam is often cited where the US was never technically at war with North Vietnam. This matter has been considered by the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution in discussions on its draft report on Government, which is covered by Article 28. It has been proposed that the words ``other armed conflict'' be added to 28.3.1.

Our proposed amendment seeks to put the responsibility of Government beyond doubt. It would prevent a Government acting as this one has done without a vote of the Dáil. The kind of underhanded and dishonest approach we have seen would be precluded because the government would be accountable to this assembly. Taken together with our proposed amendment to Article 29, the new Article 28.1 would ensure that governments in future adhere to neutrality in policy and in practice.

Article 29.1 and 29.2 of the Constitution read:

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

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

We seek to insert a new Article 29.3 as follows:

``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.''

This is the key provision of the Bill and would write neutrality into the Constitution for the first time. It is straightforward as constitutional provisions should be. It is also in line with what the Government claims is its policy - that is, non-membership of military alliances.

It is interesting that while the government claims to follow a policy of non-membership of military alliances it does not set out the case for non-membership. Why does it not join NATO? It is not sufficient simply to say that it will not join. It must give reasons or else its failure to do so will be interpreted as prepartion for eventual entry.

NATO is a nuclear-armed military alliance of the wealthiest states in the world who are using economic and military might to maintain their dominance on this planet. It is an engine of injustice which produces poverty and inequality on a vast scale as military budgets devour the resources that should be used for a war on poverty and hunger. The military budget of the United States now stands at 379 billion dollars and Britain's is 35 billion dollars.

The end of the Cold War should also have marked the end of NATO and a renewal of the United Nations in its role of providing collective security. Instead we have seen the authority of the UN further eroded as the dominant powers on the Security Council assert their privileged position, and never more so than in the present crisis.

Ireland should be leading the way in working for a reformed and strengthened United Nations. That would be positive neutrality and independent foreign policy in action. Some argue that what is needed is common defence among the EU states to counterbalance the US, and successive EU treaties have been bringing us in that direction. But the last thing we need is more military alliances and power blocs and make no mistake, that is what the EU is becoming.

This Bill provides a foundation stone for what could be a new Irish approach to international relations. So how do we build the new structure?

Ba mhaith liom an Bille seo a mholadh don Dáil agus iarraim ar gach Teachta tacú leis. Is féidir linn, faoi dheireadh, an neodracht a chur sa Bhunreacht. Ba chóir dúinn é seo a dhéanamh le cinntiú nach mbeidh rialtas in ann deireadh a chur leis an neodracht diaidh ar ndiaidh mar atá siad faoi láthair. Tá dualgas orainn mar Theachtaí an phobail, toil an phobail a chur i bhfeidhm agus is léir, ní hamháin go bhfuil an pobal ar son na neodrachta, ach tá siad ag éileamh go neartódh an neodracht. Beidh an bhunreacht mar bunús do pholasaí an rialtais amach anseo. Is féidir linn é sin a dhéanamh leis an mBille agus molaim é don Dáil.

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