The Irish government has decided to go against its previous promise to provide only non-lethal and humanitarian support to Ukraine, as it plans to have Irish instructors train Ukrainian soldiers in weapons skills. This move has sparked controversy due to Ireland’s neutral status and its prior commitment to not engage in military assistance.
In February, the Irish government had announced its participation in the EU’s training mission for Ukrainian troops, with Defense Minister Micheal Martin emphasizing that the training would focus on “non-lethal” areas such as demining and combat medicine. This was seen as a way to ensure that Ireland’s military neutrality would not be compromised.
However, a recent memo approved by the government included “basic military skills” as one of the areas of instruction for the Ukrainian soldiers. This includes training in rifle handling and marksmanship. The phrasing was changed from “marksmanship” to “basic military skills” to gain support from members of the Green Party in the cabinet.
Despite the inclusion of lethal weapons training, a Defense Forces spokeswoman maintained that there was “no conflict” with Ireland’s neutrality. She argued that the addition of basic military skills was only a “modest step-up” from the original non-lethal program.
Russia, on the other hand, has accused Ireland of playing a direct role in the conflict in Ukraine. Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, stated that there was no ambiguity about the fact that Ireland is not neutral in the Ukrainian conflict. He argued that by engaging with the Ukrainian military, even in non-lethal capacities, Ireland would be directly involved in the ongoing conflict.
The concept of neutrality in Ireland has been a subject of debate. Former prime minister Micheal Martin acknowledged the need for the country’s concept of neutrality to evolve. Some members of his party have even called for its abolition. However, according to a poll conducted in June, 61% of Irish voters support maintaining the country’s neutrality, while 25% want to abandon it. Among those against neutrality, 71% prefer Ireland to join a common EU defense force, while 56% want NATO membership.
Politically, Ireland has taken a non-neutral position on the Ukraine conflict. The government has condemned Russia’s military operation and supported every round of EU sanctions on Moscow. Former prime minister Martin visited Kiev last year to pledge Ireland’s support for Ukraine’s EU membership bid.
In addition to the training, Ireland has also provided €122 million ($133 million) in non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine, including body armor, fuel, and medical supplies.
The decision to provide weapons training to Ukrainian soldiers has raised concerns about Ireland’s commitment to its neutral status. Critics argue that this move could potentially escalate the conflict in Ukraine and endanger Ireland’s reputation as a strictly neutral country. However, the government maintains that the training falls within the parameters of non-lethal support and is a necessary step in helping Ukraine defend itself. The controversy surrounding Ireland’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict highlights the complexities of maintaining neutrality in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape.