I CAN’T say I’ve ever fully understood Ireland’s neutrality.
I appreciate we’re a small country with neither the capability or desire to be a military power.
I appreciate that in World War II we were still struggling to establish ourselves as a State. I appreciate that NATO isn’t necessarily a simple force for good.
I appreciate that simply allying ourselves with ‘western values’ often begs the question, well, what are those values?
I appreciate that a small nation has to play clever when it comes to global powers.
But I still don’t fully understand our neutrality.
I didn’t, for instance, ever feel neutral when reading about De Valera attending the German consulate to pay his respects on hearing of the death of war criminal Adolf Hitler.
When wrongness, or even evil, is at large isn’t being neutral, at heart, simply wrong?
As an Irish person I haven’t felt neutral watching the bombing of Ukraine.
I haven’t felt neutral watching Vladimir Putin deny that Ukraine was even a real country.
I didn’t feel neutral watching Vladimir Putin deny an entire people’s right to be.
I didn’t feel neutral watching the footage of a bombed residential block.
I didn’t feel neutral watching ordinary citizens crowding on to a train as a gun blast sounded.
I didn’t feel neutral listening to RTE Radio One as they interviewed a Ukrainian MP hiding in a basement from bombings and nearly breaking down as she described her non-soldier boyfriend being out on the frontline somewhere fighting.
I didn’t feel neutral watching on RTE Ukraine people living in Ireland crying as they discussed the war.
I didn’t feel neutral when they sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
I didn’t feel neutral hearing that all men, men my age, in a fellow European democracy, were being conscripted to fight the invasion of their country.
I didn’t feel neutral looking at the newspaper pictures of a child on an operating theatre, with doctors and nurses gathered around, as she died.
I didn’t feel neutral when it was reported that one of her doctors responded to the six year old’s death by saying ‘show this to Putin. The eyes of this child and crying doctors.’
I didn’t feel neutral at the report that he then leant over and gently closed her eyes.
I didn’t feel neutral when I read that a family of five had been killed in their car.
I didn’t feel neutral seeing the picture of an 11-year-old girl called Polina, wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt, who had been killed.
I didn’t feel neutral when Ukrainian President Zelensky said that some 16 children had been killed in Russia’s invasion.
I didn’t feel neutral watching a democracy being demolished by a dictatorship.
I didn’t feel neutral hearing Nigel Farage admiringly say, ‘it made no sense to poke the Russian bear’; a man, who has already helped undermine British democracy, disregarding a European democracy.
I didn’t feel neutral hearing another man who’d helped undermine democracy, Donald Trump, speak admiringly on the day of the invasion, of Vladimir Putin being ‘pretty smart’.
I didn’t feel neutral seeing Boris Johnson, dodging his own abject behaviour, which, like his proroguing of parliament, undermines democracy, do his music hall Winston Churchill impression.
I didn’t feel neutral about the hypocrisy of words around Russia from a Tory party so keen to accept Russian money.
I didn’t feel neutral seeing that the idea of democracy was to be protected by those who had done so much to weaken democracy.
I didn’t feel neutral reading about the Russian money swirling through the Irish Financial Services Centre in Dublin.
I didn’t feel neutral because you can only ever feel neutral about things that don’t matter to you. Certainly what’s happening in Ukraine shows that neutrality is, essentially, without moral value. Ireland, indeed, can refuse neutrality without taking up arms.
There are lots of ways of supporting people under threat.
Lots of ways of helping. What is important, though, is making it clear where you stand.
That is not being pro-war or indeed pro any particular bloc.
But sometimes a grown-up country has to make it clear where it stands and who it stands with. It has to make it clear what it believes in.
Because neutrality in the face of the murder of a democracy is at best to believe in nothing and at worst to believe in Putin.