Departing U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Thomas Foley certainly left Dublin with a bang with an editorial piece in The Irish Times on Monday that called into question Ireland's neutrality. If there is one hornet's nest in Irish politics it is the question of Ireland remaining neutral. Ever since President Eamon de Valera paid his condolences to the German ambassador after Hitler was pronounced dead and the war lost, the question of neutrality has come up again and again. Always, however, the Irish people have strongly defended their right to stay aloof from all conflicts, though troops do serve in trouble spots for the United Nations. Foley clearly disagrees with the stand and had the gumption to say so. He wrote, "Ireland's neutrality seems out of sync with Ireland's culture and temperament. For reasons that made sense at the time, Ireland didn't choose to enter into an alliance with Britain during the Second World War. There was no historical or cultural precedent for Ireland's neutrality - it was merely circumstantial. "Circumstances having changed, and yet, acceptance of neutrality as a long-term policy persists. Some here interpret neutrality as pacifism, which shares even less with Irish history. Does this make sense? Small countries benefit most from alliances. "Ireland has many assets, including its diaspora, strong moral authority, a sympathetic historical experience, and now its considerable public and private economic capacity, which give it the ability to engage influentially in geopolitics. This ability is limited, however, by a policy of neutrality and eliminated entirely if the policy is pacifism." Interesting point, and no doubt the chattering classes will have a field day with his statements and much outrage will be expressed. Foley is right, though. Ireland lost out heavily by remaining neutral against the forces of fascism in the Second World War. One wonders where the country will be when the next rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem to be born in Yeats' immortal word.

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