During the two decades I've lived here I've grown used to hearing from the same protest groups as they have railed against every small bit of assistance that the Irish government has afforded the United States in matters military. For the most part that assistance has consisted of allowing American planes on their way to Iraq or Afghanistan to refuel at Shannon.

Generally the protest groups would say something like 'Allowing the Americans to use Shannon makes a mockery of our neutrality.' You know what? I'd agree with them, but I didn't think much of "Ireland's tradition of neutrality" anyway.

These protesters rarely represent a majority opinion, but always they manage to get a lot of publicity for their various causes because, well, they seem to have little else to do. They're professional objectors who seem to spend their days bombarding media outlets with press releases and organizing regular demonstrations.

Lately those protesters have turned their attention to Israel and Gaza. Not for the first time, it has to be said. While most of the protesters have stayed here in Ireland organizing marches and 'blockades' of the Israeli embassy, etc. a few of them have actually been part of the flotilla that's been all over the news here recently.

Now if that's what they want to do, if they feel that strongly about the plight of the people of Gaza, that's fine. I don't share their perspective, but part of me applauds their determination.

But, they should be forced to admit that the things they've been doing are not 'neutral' acts. Will they now stop pretending that Irish neutrality is the sacred cow they often make it out to be?

They don't agree with Israel's blockade of Gaza. Organizing protest rallies, etc. is fine. But, fitting out a ship, loading it up with items that Israel has banned and declaring that the ship is going through Israel's blockade is NOT a 'neutral' act. {By the way, have a read of this if legal stuff on conflicts at sea is your thing.}

And whatever about the protest groups, the Irish government's more than tacit support for those involved in the Gaza aid project is not the act of a neutral state. A truly neutral state would have detained the Rachel Corrie {photo} and not allowed it to leave Dundalk port on its well-publicized mission to run the Israeli blockade.

The Irish government did not do anything to stop the Rachel Corrie, other than force it to paint over the Irish flag with which the ship was initially adorned. MV Rachel Corrie is registered in Cambodia.

However, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin have been pretty strident in demanding that the Israelis allow the Rachel Corrie to pass through to Gaza. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) also warned the Israelis that they would face "the most serious consequences" (whatever that means) if any Irish citizens were harmed.

A neutral state would not be asserting itself so forcefully on one side of a conflict. A neutral state would be seeking ways to avoid confrontation with a belligerent party. So let's just ditch this 'neutrality' charade once and for all.