Irish neutrality

Irish neutrality

Irish neutrality has been a policy of the Irish Free State and its successor, Ireland, since independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1922. This article concerns the exact nature of Irish neutrality in practice.

Ireland's concept of neutrality

There are notable differences between Irish neutrality and traditional types of neutral states:
*While most neutral states maintain strong defence forces, Ireland has a relatively small defence force.
*While most neutral states do not allow "any" foreign military within their territory, Ireland has a long history of allowing military aircraft of various nations to refuel at Shannon Airport. Under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, [] the Minister for Foreign Affairs, exceptionally, could grant permission to foreign military aircraft to overfly or land in the State. Confirmation was required that the aircraft in question be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and that the flights in question would not form part of military exercises or operations.

In September 2001 these conditions were "waived in respect of aircraft operating in pursuit of the implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1368". [ [ "Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dail Debate 17 December 2002"] Irish governments have always said that allowing aircraft to use Irish soil does not constitute participation in any particular conflict and is compatible with a neutral stance, instancing the transit of German troops between Finland and Norway through neutral Swedish territory during World War II.

A neutral state may, however, allow its citizens to serve in the armed forces of other, possibly belligerent, nations. Ireland still permits its citizens to serve in the foreign armies and significant numbers of Irish citizens serve or have served in the British and to a lesser extent United States armies.


World War II

During World War II, which the Irish government referred to as the Emergency, Ireland decided to remain neutral. At the time anti-British feeling was still high after the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921, and the government felt it could not aid Britain, which controlled Northern Ireland, while maintaining popular support. The government of Taoiseach Éamon de Valera could not bring itself to support Nazi Germany either. Until the signing of the 1938 Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement three Irish deep water ports remained under British control. By remaining neutral during World War II, Ireland ensured that Britain did not regain naval rights to the ports that would have provided either Britain or Germany exceptional control of the North Atlantic if they were attacked and captured.

Fianna Fáil and the political elite of Ireland also decided that there was no way Ireland could handle a major war due to the economic problems of the time and the neglect of the military since the civil war. De Valera stated in his wartime speeches, based on the experience of the League of Nations, that small states should stay out of the conflicts of big powers; hence Ireland's policy was officially "neutral", and the country did not publicly declare its support for either side – although in practice, while Luftwaffe pilots who crash-landed in Ireland and German sailors were interned, Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) pilots who crashed were usually allowed to cross the border into British territory. The internees were referred to as "guests of the nation". The German embassy had to pay for their keep. If they were on a non-combative mission they were repatriated. While it was easy for Allied pilots to make that claim, it was not realistic for Luftwaffe pilots to make a similar claim. Towards the end of the war, the German embassy was unable to pay, so the internees had to work on local farms. Strict wartime press censorship had the effect of controlling a moral reaction to the war's unfolding events and reiterated the public position that Irish neutrality was morally superior to the stance of any of the combatants.cite web | last = Roberts | first = Geoffrey | title = The Challenge Of The Irish Volunteers of World War II | publisher = Reform Movement | date = 2004 | url = | accessdate = 2008-09-06 ]

USAAF aircraft were allowed to overfly County Donegal to bases in County Fermanagh. Many of these aircraft were manufactured in the United States, to be flown by the RAF. This was known as the 'Donegal Corridor'. Navigational markings are still, faintly, visible on mountains, such as Slieve League. There were many unfortunate crashes into these mountains. The bodies of dead airmen were handed over at the border. At the border the Guard of Honour performed a drill with reversed arms, a Bugler sounded the Last Post and a Chaplain gave a Blessing. An Allied officer, embarrassed that the coffins' journeys were being continued in open lorries, thanked the Irish for the "honour". The reply was: "Ours is the honour, but yours is the glory". [ ["The Donegal Corridor and Irish Neutrality during World War Two."] A Talk given by Joe O’Loughlin, Local Historian, of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.]

USAAF aircraft en-route to North Africa refueled at Shannon Airport, flying boats at nearby Foynes. A total of 1,400 aircraft and 15,000 passengers passed through Foynes airport during the war years.

In the course of the war an estimated 70,000 citizens of neutral Ireland served as volunteers in the British Armed Forces (and another estimated 50,000 from Northern Ireland, although this figure does not include Irish people who were resident in Britain before the war (though many used aliases). Some 200,000 Irish migrated to England to participate in the war economy— most of them stayed after the war. Those who went without proper papers were liable to be conscripted. Irish military intelligence (G2) shared information with the British military and even held secret meetings to decide what to do if Germany invaded Ireland in order to attack Britain, plans which were formulated into Plan W, a plan for joint Irish and British military action should the Germans invade. The Germans did have a plan to invade Ireland called Operation Green but it was only to be put into operation with the plans to conquer Britain, Operation Sealion. Irish weather reports were crucial to the timing of the D-Day landings. When the Irish aircraft sighted any German ships, planes or submarines, they reported back to base by radio knowing that the messages were being picked up by the British authorities.

On Easter Tuesday, April 15 1941, 180 Luftwaffe bombers attacked Belfast. De Valera responded immediately to a request for assistance from Basil Brooke, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Within two hours, 13 fire tenders from Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to assist their Belfast colleagues. De Valera followed up with his "they are our people" speech and formally protested to Berlin. Joseph Goebbels instructed German radio not to repeat their report of the raid as Adolf Hitler was surprised at the Irish reaction, which might influence Irish Americans to bring the United States into the war. Although there was a later raid on May 4, it was confined to the docks and shipyards. "(See Belfast blitz)."

However Ireland wanted to maintain a public stance of neutrality and refused to close the German and Japanese embassies, and the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera even signed the book of condolence on Adolf Hitler’s death, on May 2 1945. Unlike many other non-combatant countries, Ireland did not declare war on the near-defeated Germany in order to seize German assets. Other neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland expelled German embassy staff at the end of the war, as they no longer represented a state, but the German legation in Dublin was allowed to remain open.

Irish neutrality during the war was threatened from within by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who sought to provoke a confrontation between Britain and Ireland. This plan collapsed however when IRA chief of staff Seán Russell died in a U-boat off the Irish coast as part of Operation Dove; the Germans also later came to realise they had overestimated the abilities of the IRA. The American Ambassador, David Gray stated that he once asked de Valera what he would do if German paratroopers 'liberated' Derry. According to Gray, de Valera was silent for a time and then replied "I don't know". De Valera viewed the IRA threat to the authority of the state as sufficiently significant to intern 5,000 IRA members without trial at the Curragh Camp for the duration of the war.

At ceremonies for the first Holocaust Memorial Day in Ireland, January 26 2003, Justice Minister Michael McDowell openly apologized for an Irish wartime policy that was inspired by "a culture of muted anti-semitism in Ireland," which discouraged the immigration of thousands of Europe's threatened Jews. He said that "at an official level the Irish state was at best coldly polite and behind closed doors antipathetic, hostile and unfeeling toward the Jews". In 1966 a forest was planted in De Valera's honour at Kfar Kana near Nazareth, suggesting that any anti-semitism in Ireland was personal and not official.

Many German spies were sent to Ireland, but all were captured quickly as a result of either good intelligence or sometimes the ineptitude of the spies. The chief spy of Abwehr was Hermann Görtz. In 1983 RTÉ made "Caught in a Free State", a dramatised television series about Görtz and his fellow spies.

As Ireland was neutral, Irish ships continued to sail with full navigation lights. They had large tricolours and the word "ÉIRE" painted large on their sides and decks. At that time, Allied ships travelled in convoy for protection from the U-boat ‘wolf packs’. If a ship was torpedoed, it was left behind since the other ships could not stop for fear of becoming a target. Irish ships often stopped, and they rescued more than 500 seamen, and some airmen, from many nations. However many Irish ships were attacked by belligerents on both sides. Over 20% of Irish seamen, on clearly marked neutral vessels, lost their lives.

Irish neutrality during World War II had broad support, with only one vote against it in Dáil Éireann from a Fine Gael TD that demanded Ireland side with the Allies. However, as noted earlier, tens of thousands of Irish citizens fought in the Allied armies against the Nazis, mostly in the British army.

Winston Churchill, the British wartime Prime Minister, made an outspoken attack on the Irish Government and in particular Eamon de Valera in his radio broadcast on VE Day. Churchill maintained that the British government displayed restraint on the Irish state while the de Valera government were allowed to "frolic with the Germans". Churchill maintained that the British could have invaded the Irish state but displayed "considerable restraint" in not doing so. De Valera replied to Churchill in a radio broadcast [] which drew praise from political opponents and the media in general in Ireland for its restraint:

Mr. Churchill makes it clear that in certain circumstances he would have violated our neutrality and that he would justify his action by Britain’s necessity. It seems strange to me that Mr. Churchill does not see that this, if accepted, would mean that Britain’s necessity would become a moral code and that when this necessity became sufficiently great, other people’s rights were not to count….this same code is precisely why we have the disastrous succession of wars….shall it be world war number three?

The Cold War

During the Cold War, Ireland maintained its policy of neutrality. It did not align itself officially with NATO— or the Warsaw Pact either. It refused to join NATO ostensibly because Britain still controlled Northern Ireland. Ireland offered to set up a separate alliance with the USA but this was refused.

However, secret transmission of information from the government to the CIA started in 1955. The link was established by Liam Cosgrave via a Mr Cram and the Irish embassy in London, and was not revealed until December 2007. [cite web | title = Ex Trinity student was CIA's Irish link, records show | publisher = Irish Times | date = 2007-12-28 | url = | accessdate = 2008-09-06 ] In 1962-63, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Seán Lemass authorised searches of aircraft that stopped over at Shannon en route between Warsaw Pact countries, and Cuba, for "warlike material". [cite web | last = Collins | first = Stephan | title = Lemass authorised aircraft searches during Cuban crisis | work = Front Page | publisher = Irish Times| date = 2007-12-28 | url = | accessdate = 2008-09-06]

Recent conflicts

Ireland supported the campaign known as Operation Allied Force, part of the Kosovo War, and the invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Irish government did not take a position on the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. United States Air Force planes were allowed to refuel at Shannon Airport during the conflict. As a member of the UN Security Council, Ireland voted yes to Resolution 1441 which threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq did not comply with weapons inspectors.*

Current policy

It is inaccurate to describe Ireland as a neutral state in the same way as Sweden or Switzerland, it would be more accurate to describe it as a non-aligned state which takes conflict participation on a case by case basis.

Neutrality in Ireland is generally taken to mean non-participation in a conflict unless approved by the so called triple-lock (the Government, Dáil Éireann, and the UN Security Council); when Irish leaders say Ireland is a neutral country, it is this triple-lock that they are referring to. Interpretation disputes arise in two ways:

1. Some disagree with participation in any armed conflict even with UN approval.

2. There is disagreement over what constitutes participation in a war. Supporters of the triple-lock policy would take it to mean active military support or a declaration of war, opponents however say that allowing military forces to refuel on Irish soil when they are on their way to a conflict, is participation and a breach of neutrality.

Although Ireland has not been involved in an actual "war" since its own civil war, it has been a leader and participant in peace-keeping and peace-making missions around the world, much like Canada. It is a member of the NATO-led Partnership for Peace. After Ireland became a member, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said Ireland would never join the main NATO organisation — this was to calm the fears of those who said that PFP was a "backdoor to NATO", since many of its past members had eventually joined NATO.

Irish soldiers have begun to be involved in offensive operations in recent times such as the special forces Army Rangers in operation in East Timor and the peace enforcement mission in Liberia: both missions were in accordance with the policy of having UN approval.

Politically, Irish neutrality is now opposed by Fine Gael who want Ireland to join European Common Defence, which allows the country to choose on a case by case basis the extent of its involvement in conflicts outside the European Union, but commits to collective security in case of actual attack on any member.

Neutrality in its literal sense, in a way similar to Sweden and Switzerland, is supported by the Labour Party, Green Party, Sinn Féin, and the Socialist Party, however they have different ways of defining neutrality.

The Progressive Democrats have generally not supported the idea of neutrality in all circumstances. Former party leader Mary Harney has stated "you cannot be neutral between democrat and dictator, you can't be neutral between right and wrong."

Fianna Fáil formally supports the traditional policy, the "triple-lock".

In February 2006, the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea announced that the Irish government would open talks on joining the European Union battle groups. O'Dea said that joining the battlegroups would not affect Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality, and that a UN mandate would be required for all battlegroup operations with Irish participation. Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson John Gormley condemned the decision, saying that the government was "discarding the remnants of Irish neutrality". []


ee also

*Swedish neutrality
*History of Ireland
*History of Northern Ireland
*Irish Shipping Limited

External links

* [ Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance]
* [ Campaign for Irish Neutrality and Democracy]
* [ Fine Gael "Beyond Neutrality" Document (pdf)]
* [,%20Thursday,%20May%2029.doc/ Beyond Neutrality Questions and Answers]
* [ Second World War online resource for NI]

Further reading

*cite book | last = Brown | first = Terence | title = Ireland: A Social and Cultural History, 1922 to the Present | publisher = Cornell University Press | date = 1985 | location = Ithaca | pages = | isbn = 0801417317

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