Neutrality and Irish identity: Lessons from International Experience – TCD and Religious Society of Friends Conference

Posted on: 08 May 2009

The Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin and Dublin Monthly Meeting Peace Committee of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) organised a conference on Irish neutrality in a European context on May 8th and 9th last.

Many Irish people identify neutrality as a distinctive feature of Irish foreign policy. The status and future of Irish neutrality played a significant role in political debates during the Nice and Lisbon Treaty campaigns.  However, there is a significant level of uncertainty about what Irish neutrality actually is and means.

The aim of the conference was to contribute to a better understanding of the legal, political and cultural dimensions of Irish neutrality by comparing our experience with other European neutral countries.

Conference co-organiser Dr Iain Atack of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin commented:  “Irish people are proud of Ireland’s neutral status, and yet many of them are unsure of its meaning.  We need opportunities such as this conference to engage in an open discussion of the place of neutrality in Irish politics.  Comparing our experience with other European neutrals will help us do this.”

Co-organiser Seán McCrum of Dublin Peace Committee feels that:   “It is very worrying that any discussion of Irish neutrality is clouded by confusion. Very few people know that the Irish constitution does not mention neutrality. Do we really know what we are proud of? Are we even aware of other European neutral countries?”

Professor Ivana Bacik of Trinity College Dublin examined the meaning of neutrality in international law, and Senator Deirdre de Burca of the Green Party evaluated its place in Irish politics.  Speakers from other European neutral countries included Dr Magnus Petersson from Sweden, Professor Edward Dommen from Switzerland, and Wiglef Puerschel, a journalist from Austria.  Other Irish speakers included Dr Noel Dorr, former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Professor John Maguire of Afri (Action from Ireland) and Paddy Smyth, Foreign Editor of the Irish Times.

The conference consisted of:

– a public meeting at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on Friday, May 8th from 6-8pm;

– a seminar at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Milltown Park, Dublin on Saturday, May 9th from 9am-4pm.

A full programme for both events and brief biographies of conference speakers may be found at