Debate on foreign policy and neutrality needed, says McEntee

Debate On Foreign Policy And Neutrality Needed, Says Mcentee
The Minister for Justice said she was not prepared to debate comments made by President Michael D Higgins over the weekend about the State's neutrality. Photo: PA Images
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Olivia Kelleher

Updated: 10.30am

A debate about foreign policy is required, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said while declining to say if she thought it was inappropriate for President Michael D Higgins to criticise the Government on issues relating to neutrality.


Speaking to Newstalk, Ms McEntee said the President has "expressed his views", but switched focus to a consultative forum on the matter, which will bring together international experts to examine the State's policy.

"[President Higgins] has expressed his view on many things before, I am not going to get into a debate on that. The President himself knows what the boundaries are here, and he expressed his views," the Minister said.

She added: "Many would agree with him, there are many who would disagree, and that's why we need to have this forum.

"That is why this is so important that we bring together those who have different views, different opinions, and that we reach a consensus, and then we decide where we go from here."


Ms McEntee said it was her understanding that all embassies were invited to the forum, including those in neutral countries, such as Malta, Austria and Cyprus.

"There have been a number of surveys and a lot of people engaged with prior to this and what is clear is that people hold dear our neutrality, but we live in a changing world, and we have war happening on the edge of Europe," Ms McEntee said.

"While we may be furthest away from what is happening, that doesn't leave us immune to any threat. We all want to discuss what are our capabilities, how do we defend ourselves, and how do we talk in this space in an open way."

She added that "sitting on our hands and doing nothing while the world around us changes, while increased threats are happening, would be the wrong thing to do".


"That is what we are moving with this forum, to make sure that everybody's views in this instance are taken on board."

Polarising debate

Later, Independent TD and former member of the Defence Forces, Cathal Berry, warned the debate on neutrality needs to be "respectful", adding that it should not "polarise or demonise anybody".

Speaking to RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Berry said some of the comments made by the President were not appropriate at a personal level.

Mr Berry was critical of what he said were polarising comments made by President Higgins in relation to some of the panellists due to attend the forum.


He added that there were "very personalised comments" on the forum's chair, Dame Louise Mary Richardson, with Mr Berry claiming there was an insinuation that her damehood was an "imperialistic award".

"The reason she got that award was because of her devotion to medical science. She was involved with the vaccination with AstraZeneca, but also for increasing the accessibility at Oxford University to disadvantaged families.

"This is a very important thing. I don't see why you would embarrass someone for chairing a conference in Ireland," Mr Berry said.

He added that the purpose of the forum was to talk respectfully about the State's defence in a safe place.


"It is a topic that has been a taboo area for so long, so having respectful debate is number one and second is to establish the common ground of consensus. It is time to have a normal conversation like any other EU country," Mr Berry said.

However, People Before Profit/ Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett claimed the forum is "heavily biased", compromised of people who have "Pro-Nato, pro-EU militarisation views".

Also speaking to Morning Ireland, Mr Boyd Barrett said: "The forum is dominated by people who have worked in the military, have associations with Nato or have a record of arguing for Ireland to move away from neutrality or towards Nato or in to the project of EU militarisation.

"I happen to be President on the Irish Anti-War movement. We were not even notified about the forum. Why aren't the people who have a known record of campaigning against militarism not equally represented on the panels?" he questioned.

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