French ambassador: Neutrality will not stop Russia harming Ireland

French ambassador: Neutrality will not stop Russia harming Ireland

French ambassador to Ireland Vincent Guérend said Russia has carried out so many breaches of international law that neutrality will not stop it, if it intends to 'harm' a country.

Neutrality is not respected by Russia and China in the way Ireland would like to think it is, the French ambassador to Ireland has warned.

Vincent Guérend said Russia has carried out so many breaches of international law that “something like neutrality” will not stop Russia if it intends “to harm a neutral country”.

The ambassador said that while France fully respects Ireland’s long tradition of neutrality, this does not mean the policy “cannot evolve” and should not be adapted to a changed security environment.

He said Russia’s war on Ukraine  represents an “existential threat” to the EU, particularly for those member states bordering Russia, but also beyond that.

“So, this is something that was looming, but it’s now a reality,” Mr Guérend said, in an interview at his Dublin residence.

Commenting on whether states such as Russia or China respect Ireland’s neutrality in the way Ireland expects it to be, he said: “No. The answer is no.” 

He said this was true in the First World War and again in the Second World War, when the neutrality of some states was ignored by aggressors. 

Mr Guérend said: "There’s so many breaches of international law by Russia that something like neutrality would not withstand one second if the intention is to harm a neutral country."

Does that mean Ireland should follow other neutral or non-aligned countries such as Finland and Sweden, and join Nato?

“Well, we believe that that’s really for each and every member state to decide based on a sovereign decision, like now Sweden and Finland are doing,” he said.

That’s not at all for any of us and certainly not for France to decide or encourage or discourage.

On the back of deepening cooperation within the EU, seen in the agreement last March of the EU Strategic Compass for Security and Defence, the ambassador stressed the document places no additional obligations on Ireland.

"This document doesn’t corner member states in the EU that are neutral. It does, and agreed by all, oblige them to cooperate and raise their guard."

He said France respects Ireland’s foreign policy and its neutrality: “But it doesn’t mean that this policy cannot evolve [or] this policy cannot or should not be adapted to a new environment.” 

He said his understanding is that Irish neutrality has evolved between independence and today.

“We completely respect Irish neutrality,” he said. “At the same time, we consider that it has also to be adapted to the new environment and that it is for the Irish people and the Irish Government to see how this adaptation is to take place, at what pace, and with which objective and goal — but, like everything, it has to adapt.”

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