Is Irish Navy participation alongside NATO off the Greek coast this week another dent in our neutrality?

The Irish Naval Service participated last week alongside a significant NATO force in Exercise Ariadne, an anti-mine warfare exercise held off the Greek coast.

Ireland was invited by the Greek Navy to participate in the exercise because of its membership of the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation (Pesco).

The Naval Service’s participation in Exercise Ariadne is revealed in departmental documents released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information request.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin was asked last week during his visit to the US if Ireland would ever join Nato. He responded by saying he did not see Irish military neutrality changing any time soon but said Ireland would need to look at “new threats” and how to respond.

An Irish Times opinion poll in April 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine found seventy per cent of Irish voters opposed to Ireland dropping its military neutrality and applying to join Nato.

The Behaviour & Attitudes poll also found that two thirds of voters were opposed to Ireland taking part in a joint European military defence organisation.

Just 35 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Ireland should send military aid to Ukraine, even if this affects our neutrality”, while 55 per cent disagreed.

A similar majority are opposed to Ireland’s involvement in greater EU military co-operation. Just a third of voters (33 per cent) agreed with the statement: “In the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I want to see Ireland play a greater military role to defend the EU”, while 54 per cent disagreed.

In spite of widespread opposition to ending our neutrality, it’s being incrementally chipped away. This week’s Irish Navy exercise alongside NATO and the planned Irish Defence Forces participation in a Nato exercise in Indiana in the US in 2024 called Thor’s Hammer.