The Irish President criticizes the government’s recent suggestions to join NATO, arguing that Ireland should not be buried in “other people’s agendas.”
Following a debate about Ireland’s military neutrality and the possibility of joining NATO, the country’s president, Michael D Higgins, condemned the government’s statement and said ministers were “playing with fire”.
In an interview with the Business Post newspaper on Sunday, he accused the government of a dangerous “drift” from an unshakeable part of Irish foreign policy and argued that it would be “burying” Ireland in other people’s agendas.
A government-sponsored forum on international security is expected to take place on June 22-27 in Cork, Galway, and Dublin, where Ireland’s neutrality will be debated. The consultative forum includes experts, academics, and service personnel as well as citizens.
However, Higgins apologized on Monday for a “throwaway remark” about the forum’s independent chair, Louise Richardson who is an Irish academic and counter-terrorism expert, who he claimed had “a very large DBE – Dame of the British Empire” – insinuating she was biased towards the UK.
He said: “I think it’s grand but, you know, I think there were a few candidates I could have come up with myself.”
After his comments were labeled as ‘unfair,’ his office released a statement saying: “He apologizes for any offense which he may have inadvertently caused to Prof Richardson by what was a throwaway remark.”
‘Close to the line’
Justice minister Helen McEntee defended the forum on Newstalk radio network by claiming that Higgins “knows what the boundaries are here, and he expressed his views. Many would agree with him, there are many who would disagree, and that’s why we need to have this forum”.
With that, deputy prime minister Micheál Martin claims that the government did not plan to abandon military neutrality but that the forum serves as a way to explore evolving security needs. Meanwhile, junior enterprise minister Neale Richmond said Higgins came “close to the line”.
Although Ireland has joined UN peacekeeping missions around the world, it has invested little in defense and has condemned military alliances. Ireland’s critics believe that it is saving money and hiding beneath a NATO umbrella.