Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said Ireland will have to “reflect” on its long-standing policy of military non-alignment in future European conflicts, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine escalated with an attack on a nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhia.
Mr Martin’s comments come ahead of a meeting of European leaders next week which is likely to discuss a new departure for European defence, raising questions for Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.
“We are not neutral in respect of what’s happening in Ukraine,” Mr Martin told journalists in Limerick.
“As members of the UN Security Council, we uphold the values of self-determination, territorial integration and the sovereignty of people, and we believe in defending those values, and that is why as a country we have been full lock-step with our European colleagues on the sanctions and also in facilitating the deployment of the European Peace Facility – for the first time it has been used at a European-wide level for the deployment of lethal weapons to the defence of Ukraine, whereas up to now [it] was used for the deployment of non-lethal weapons.”
Mr Martin said Ireland has “already evolved” its neutrality policy within the European Union “by participating in Pesco [Permanent Structured Cooperation] . . . and also in terms of threats around cybersecurity, and peace enforcement missions under the EU umbrella”.
“I think the important point I would make is that this war does necessitate reflection on all of that, but it should be of a more deliberate kind,” he said, responding to questions on whether the Government was considering joining Nato and if Europe was pressing Ireland to join.
Mr Martin said discussions around Ireland and Nato were “for another day”, yet he acknowledged that while Ireland was presently “focused” on supporting sanctions against Russia and sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine, “President Putin’s assault on Ukraine threatens the world order and that does cause and is an occasion for reflection”.
Meanwhile, a total of 621 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have arrived in Ireland as of Friday, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A little over a week after Russia invaded its neighbouring country, it is estimated that more than 1.2 million Ukrainians have crossed the borders seeking sanctuary.
If the war continues to escalate and continues into the medium term, Ireland will be expected to host about 2 per cent of all refugees who have been forced to leave their home country.
On that basis, the Government has begun scenario planning based on a minimum of 20,000 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland.
Speaking on Friday afternoon, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he would not be surprised if the figure coming in would easily exceed 1,000 by next week.
Mr Martin has said Ireland had to prepare for the largest humanitarian and refugee crisis facing Europe since the second World War.
Government sources said it was not expected that a large number of refugees would arrive in Ireland in the coming weeks and the figure of 600 fell within expectations.
There are an estimated 4,000 Ukrainian-born people living in Ireland at present and, in the initial stages, Ukrainian refugees arriving into Ireland will go to relatives.
A source said virtually all of the 621 people who have arrived have support networks of family and friends in Ireland and have not sought any help from the State so far.
The vast majority of the 1.2 million people who have fled the country have gone to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romanian and Moldova, and also to Germany and Israel where there are large expatriate populations.