Public opinion may not be ready for membership of the US-led NATO alliance yet, Byrne said in an interview during a visit to France, even though there is no doubt as to where Irish sympathies lie.

“Russia invading Ukraine, totally against the UN charter, against the basic principles of territorial integrity, put the Irish people very firmly, instinctively on the side of right there,” he said to news agency AFP. “We’re not neutral when it comes to an invasion like that, but we’re neutral when it comes to joining a military alliance,” he said.

Irish neutrality has sometimes caused consternation among its EU allies and elsewhere, but Byrne said there were strong historic reasons for its stance. “For a lot of our history, as an independent country, we were overshadowed in our own minds by the British attempt at conscription in 1918,” which sparked angry protests from Irish nationalists and became a factor for the country’s independence in 1922. “I think that’s partly where Irish neutrality comes from. Our neutrality has been characterised by non-membership of military alliances,” he said.